After Kia dropped the Stinger on us, (a car that won our car of the year when it debuted) many were left wondering how the automaker would follow up on its success. The Stinger was premium, well equipped and matched cars from a class above it.
With the Telluride, we’re seeing the post-Stinger plan. Kia is focusing on making vehicles that are impressively premium yet focused on the mass market audience.
That’s quite the tightrope to walk, though, so we brought out another favorite three-row SUV to compare it with: the new Subaru Ascent.
Both of these crossovers are big, but it’s fair to say that only the Telluride is eye-catching. It looks like it dwarfs other SUVs, and it draws people’s attention with its Range Rover-esque typeface on the hood and tailgate. Designed in Irvine, California, this is the first Kia specifically designed for the American market, and it shows. It’s broad and tough looking.
The Ascent looks a little bit too much like a large Forester and lacks its own distinct personality as other Subaru SUVs do. It’s big and spacious without drawing a lot of attention. It’s been awarded a Top Safety Pick Plus rating by the IIHS, which is a huge bonus for family buyers while the Kia doesn’t have this honor.
See Also: 2019 Subaru Ascent Review
But while the Kia looks capable, it has less ground clearance than the Ascent. Both offer only one engine and transmission combo. In the Subaru, it’s a turbocharged 2.4-liter boxer four-cylinder that makes 260 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque. Naturally, it’s paired to a CVT and Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive. This combination earns 22 MPG combined, which is better than Kia’s 21 MPG, but not exactly impressive.
However, Subaru does impress with its interior. The automaker used to get a lot of criticism for its interiors, but the Ascent really steps up with this classy brown leather and this matte wood trim. The layout is pretty basic and nothing in here is super fancy, but the benefit of that is that everything is exactly where you expect it to be and that makes it user-friendly.
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Getting up to speed in the Subaru
What stands out about the Ascent’s interior is how family-friendly it is. Beyond the 19 (!) cupholders, there are grab handles on the second-row captain’s chairs that the passengers back there can use to hoist themselves out, thanks to doors that open nice and wide. The Ascent has a ton of storage cubbies and compartments to put your stuff. There are also fast-charge USB ports in the front and back and even an AC plug. You can get up to eight USB ports in this crossover! The second row can be optioned with heated seats, but the Telluride one-ups this with optional vented seats.
The Ascent’s touchscreen is just OK, unfortunately. It can be a bit slow to respond at times, but luckily there is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. There is also a front-facing camera, which is useful for parking, and a rearview mirror display, with a jarring refresh rate and awkward viewing angle. It takes some getting used to. It doesn’t have the Telluride’s 360-degree camera, but the Ascent is still easy to park, despite its huge size.
And of course, it comes standard with EyeSight, Subaru’s suite of driver assistance and safety features like lane departure warning and assistance, rear automatic braking, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, and steering responsive LED headlights. All of this is what helps it get that IIHS Top Safety Pick rating.
On the Road with the Ascent
One of the things that stands out about the Ascent is that, yes, it’s an enormous vehicle, but it drives like a much smaller car. It doesn’t feel like an elephant on the road that needs constant corrections for wind and shifting weight. Visibility is also superb, and the chassis is balanced so it doesn’t roll too dramatically when turning. The suspension is soft enough that it irons out rough roads but the Ascent still handles decently. It doesn’t feel floaty, but it’s also very comfortable. The steering is weak and light, but unless you’re in an Alfa Romeo, all steering kind of feels the same these days anyway.
When the Ascent first came out, there were concerns that the four-cylinder engine wasn’t a good match for such a large car, but it actually feels pretty good. It jumps off the line, like a lot of other Subaru products, and the CVT surprised me by how invisible it was. If you need to pass on the highway, it does so without the unresponsiveness or droning of other CVTs, so this one is pretty good. I wouldn’t call this a fun or engaging SUV to drive but it’s definitely composed and confident.
The Ascent also has something called X-Mode with hill descent control which is used when off-roading. Additionally, there is a trailer stability assist that helps keep things feeling more secure while towing.
All in all, this is a great vehicle for a family on the go but the competition is no slouch.
Can the Telluride keep up?
The Telluride features a 3.8-liter V6, which makes more power than the Ascent, but less torque. It’s rated at 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. That’s paired to an eight-speed automatic. Buyers in the US can choose between front or all-wheel-drive, the latter of which is what we have here.
While the powertrain of the Telluride isn’t awe-inspiring or new, the interior of the vehicle is very impressive, more so than the Ascent. There is more cargo room in the Ascent, especially with all the seats in place. Sure the Subaru boasts a bajillion cupholders and can be equipped with more USB ports, but the Telluride is plainly a better place to be, and it has the tech to back it up.
See Also: Subaru Ascent vs Honda Pilot vs VW Atlas
Parents will like the microphone feature that lets passengers in the rear hear them clearly. There’s a quiet mode in case kids in the back are asleep but the passengers in the front want to hear their media. There are other important features like rear-seat alert, and a safe exit alert as well.
Impressive, high-end interior
Beyond the family-friendly technology, the cabin is also high end. The materials are great, the seats are comfy, and even the headliner is fancy. It’s surprising, no one believes that this is “just a Kia”
There is a big ten-inch screen up on the dash, which looks great and supports Android Auto and Apple Car Play. The SUV is also available with a wireless phone charger, and an upgraded Harmon/Kardon audio system.
On the road, the Telluride drives really confidently. Everything works together well, and the Telluride makes you feel like you’re driving a commanding, tank-like vehicle. People get out of your way when they see the grille and headlights in the mirror and gawk as they watch the big boxy SUV drive by. It’s like living in a real-life Canyonero commercial from The Simpsons.
The big V6 is very smooth and the transmission shifts gears without issue. And while the car is kinda boring to drive, it is very easy to get comfortable and tackle the highway. I truly think this is a fantastic road trip car, and whether you’re driving or in a passenger seat, you’ll be able to relax and take it in.
Confidence-inspiring, useful technology
The Telluride has a number of interesting features to help with the drive. For starters, there is a Kia approach to Honda’s Lanewatch, which displays a camera feed in the gauge cluster of what’s happening beside the car. Now, I find that kind of distracting, but it helps in the city and looking out for cyclists and pedestrians. That’s not the only blind spot indicator though, as there are notices in the mirrors and even in the color head-up display. Kia has put a lot of effort into the Telluride to make it feel safe and easy to drive. Many people are intimidated by driving such a large car, and Kia seems to be trying to address that.
There are other safety and driver assistance features. The adaptive cruise control system is very good, while the lane-keeping assistance actually tries to keep the car centered in the lane, rather than have it bounce all over the place.
Speaking of bouncing all over the place – the Telluride has a self-leveling rear suspension setup, so if you’re towing or hauling a lot of stuff, it’ll help keep things even.
The car also has a few drive modes. They’re not all that useful, but some buyers will like what it has to offer. On the left side of the drive mode selector dial are all the regular, on-road modes, and they change the way the power is split between the front and rear axles. It also adjusts the steering effort. On the right side of the knob, after you push the button on the dial, new off-road settings are offered, which change the way the all-wheel-drive system behaves on different surfaces.
There are some downsides to the Telluride though. It can sometimes feel a bit too floaty, suspension-wise, with a suspension bobble that is like an old Cadillac at times. Finally, the big Telluride costs $47,725 when fully equipped, which includes special paint and the fancy interior we have here. The Ascent is a bit more affordable, not to mention fuel-efficient in comparison at $46,055 fully loaded.
The Verdict: 2020 Kia Telluride vs 2019 Subaru Ascent
While the Ascent is a well balanced three-row offering, the Telluride is fully equipped, with more space, more technology, a more stylish profile, and a prettier cabin. It’s the ideal family car and a signal that Kia has truly shed its economy-car label.