Dubbed a midsize by Kia, the Telluride will slot above the entry-level, compact Sorento as the flagship of the Korean automaker's utility-vehicle lineup. Michael Cole, Kia's North America chief operating officer, said the midsize segment is forecast to grow from 1.6 million units sold in the U.S. in 2018 to 1.8 million in five years. "This was somewhere we needed to be," he said.
It's also the first Kia designed specifically for the U.S. market, with its off-road features like on-demand electronic all-wheel drive transferring torque between the front and rear wheels and its strong, stiff body, further emphasized by its unveiling in Detroit on a landscaped "torque track" assembled in surplus space on the Cobo show floor. It'll also be built at Kia's plant in West Point, Ga. "It's very much a U.S.-targeted vehicle," Cole said. "We will have some export. But the message is, made in America, made for America, it's a U.S.-centric car."
Designers at Kia's design center in Irvine, Calif. "wanted to get back to a traditional SUV styling," Chief Designer Tom Kearns said. "So many EVs and SUVs these days are trying to look sporty and more car-like, more sedan-like. We didn't want to go with that approach."
Kearns said his design team members referenced old-school SUVs like the Ford Bronco, old Land Rovers and the original Chevrolet Blazer when creating the Telluride, Kia's largest SUV yet.
"It's not retro, but we like the genuine feel and look, the purity of old-school SUVs with the long hoods, little bit more upright windshield, not a lot of glass angles, tumblehome a little more upright, just feels more purposeful and genuine to us," he said.
"Our goal is very clean, very simple, not a lot of ornamentation, just a pure, nice form that's hopefully conveying a clean, functional appearance."
Inside, the designers took largely the same approach, with a clean console that emphasizes horizontality and width, matte-finished wood and simulated brushed metal accents and big grab handles flanking the shifter that emphasize the vehicle's sense of adventure. It'll be available in a seven-seat variant, with second-row captain's chairs, or as an eight-seater with a second-row bench.
Kearns said the interior was deliberately kept clean and modern. "We were trying to make it look sophisticated at the same time. But not overly styled and not overly decorated. Very pure and minimalistic approach to luxury."
Speaking of that word, while Kia hasn't announced pricing, look for the Telluride to be priced a good bit above the Sorento, which starts at $27,335 including destination, when it goes on sale in late March or April — especially given the raft of available safety technologies that will be firsts for a Kia SUV.