“I really like that Audi you drove today!” My barber, Lesley, is a bit of a car gal. Her second-story barbershop overlooks U Street Northwest, and she had glanced ever so briefly outside, catching me backing in to a “princess parking” spot right out front. But I wasn’t in an Audi. I was in a 2022 Kia Telluride.
Kia’s Telluride has been a hot seller from the minute it went on sale in 2020. Though I spent time with its platform-mate Hyundai Palisade two years ago, I’d not driven the Telluride until last week. More importantly, I hadn’t been able to see how well the Palisade could tow its rated 5,000 pounds – the press loaner local to me didn’t come with a trailer hitch. When I realized the 2022 Kia Telluride SX in the Washington, D.C. fleet had a hitch, I sent a request to drive it immediately. I wanted two questions answered – how well does the Telluride actually handle 5,000 pounds, and why is every hot mom and hot dad snapping up the Telluride in particular?
What Is It?
This is a 2022 Kia Telluride SX, the top trim level of Kia’s largest crossover. It’s a unibody design with three rows of seats, able to seat seven or eight depending on your second-row configuration. While the mechanicals are shared with the Hyundai Palisade, the Kia Telluride wears entirely unique styling and offers a very different interior. Where Hyundai goes for expressive styling and more futuristic interior layout, Kia keeps things simple with straight lines and clean design. It’s a bit old-school, but it works.
Every 2022 Telluride is powered by the same 3.8-liter naturally-aspirated V6, which produces 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Power flows through an eight-speed torque-converter automatic – a Kia in-house design – and to either the front wheels or all four. If you choose all-wheel drive, Kia includes a button to lock the center differential on-demand, plus the requisite drive modes for snow and “sport,” should you think your Telluride is a canyon-carver.
Kia included the $800 Towing Package on my 2022 Telluride SX, and while it adds that hitch and associated 5,000 pound towing capacity, it also adds load-leveling rear suspension. Even if you’re not towing often, or ever, self-leveling can be handy if you frequently have a Telluride full of cargo or people, keeping headlights aimed properly and tire wear consistent.
Towing 5,000 Pounds with the 2022 Telluride
My usual open trailer wasn’t available for testing, so I stopped by the local U-Haul and rented one of theirs. U-Haul car trailers are sturdy things, built with steel and perhaps a bit over-built. U-Haul claims an empty weight of 2,210 pounds, which is between 200 and 400 pounds more than something you’d buy yourself.
With a heavy trailer, I had to find a lightweight car to load, which came in the form of my friend’s 2015 Volkswagen Jetta. Her Jetta is a fairly basic model, which VW says tips the scales at 2,859 pounds. Bam, right on that magic 5,000 pound number.
U-Haul’s trailer design requires the car be loaded very far forward, which means you can’t reposition things to even out your tongue weight. Kia allows up to 500 pounds of tongue weight, which we absolutely used all of with this setup. After loading the Jetta, the Telluride’s rear suspension was sitting l-o-w. I put most of my faith in the self-leveling suspension, but had to drive a mile or so before I could tell what was happening.
Kia doesn’t use air suspension to load-level the rear. Rather, they use a shock absorber design called Nivomat, first introduced by Sachs decades ago. Nivomat shocks are self-contained, and have a reservoir of oil that gets displaced into the shock valving as the rear of the car is loaded. As the oil is displaced, the shocks “pump themselves up” and the rear levels out.
The load-leveling worked, raising the back of the Telluride several inches to its normal ride height. Ride quality was as good loaded up as unloaded, another benefit to Nivomat. Damping rates are supposedly unchanged with a setup like this, and the big Kia offered a comfortable ride while displaying excellent body control with the trailer over bumps and undulations.
Given the lack of forced induction, I did have to work the Telluride’s V6 to get away from a light. We’d drop a few gears on hills. That’s all normal for a naturally-aspirated engine, and thankfully the 3.8 sounded pretty good being wound out under load. Peak power is made at 6,000 rpm, but peak torque comes in a bit lower, at 5,200. In any case, it’s gonna sing if you’re towing up a hill.
Past the hitch receiver and Nivomat-style suspension, Kia’s towing package also gives you a seven-pin trailer connector under the back bumper, and wiring under the dashboard for an electronic trailer brake controller, with a wiring pigtail in the glovebox. I appreciated the pre-wiring, though my U-Haul trailer used surge brakes with no controller. Braking performance was solid, though I would have had finer control with electronic brakes.
Payload of the loaded Telluride was rated at 1,367 pounds, which is enough to leave 867 pounds for people and things if you’re towing at the maximum stated capacity. Is that enough for your needs? You’ll have to do the math and see.
I found the 2022 Kia Telluride to be a good tow partner for what it is. Loaded to the hilt, it drove well and didn’t feel overwhelmed in the slightest. Gear ratios in the eight-speed offered flexibility for hills and while it wasn’t the fastest, the V6 got the job done.
The Telluride is Sweet… If You Can Buy One
Aside from an oddly-rear-biased sound stage from the Harman/Kardon sound system, I really had no complaints with the Telluride. The dash and belt line are low, so it feels pretty airy, a bit trucky, and provides generally good visibility. Seats are comfortable, and it has a usable third row for adults, something not guaranteed in a vehicle of this size and segment. Kia has made the Telluride stand out in a segment of mostly-the-same thanks to its clean, handsome styling, simple-yet-elegant interior, and cohesive vibe. It hasn’t been focus-grouped to death, and buyers cannot get enough of it.
I am clearly not the only one who likes the Telluride a lot. It’s a winner in a supremely competitive segment of family cars. But where things go a little sad trombone is if you try to actually buy one.
One of my friends and his wife are actively in the market for a new three-row crossover, and their decision has come down to the 2022 Telluride and the Mazda CX-9. Both are excellent, and I offered to connect him with another friend whose family runs a dealership group that includes Kia. “Hey, I have someone ready to buy a Telluride SX Prestige at MSRP today,” I started off.
The conversation didn’t go very far, as I was informed that the Telluride SX – the top trim – has been difficult to find in much volume since its launch in 2020, and the inventory shortage of recent has only made things worse. Every Telluride in the Washington, D.C. area, regardless of trim, is being marked up for $5,000 to $10,000 above MSRP – some are priced even higher still.
Even in today’s high-demand-low-supply market, I’m of the opinion that buying any average car above MSRP is a foolish idea. This will all correct eventually, and some buyers will be left holding a gigantic car loan for a vehicle suddenly worth a lot less. And even if you’re willing to pay cash… the Kia Telluride is an excellent vehicle, a competitive vehicle at Kia’s MSRP.
My Telluride SX Prestige carried a suggested retail price of $49,235. That’s about what you’ll pay for any of its competitors, give or take a few thousand. Despite being handsome and excellent and spacious, it’s not a $60,000 car. Nothing in the segment really is.
If you can find a 2022 Kia Telluride in stock, priced appropriately, it’s a hell of a big crossover and it tows well, too. It’s such a shame, then, that they’re so difficult to actually purchase.