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2020 Kia Telluride S Long-Term Update 1: SX Appeal

The difference in the four Kia Telluride trim levels and why you should go for the SX-iest one!

If you're in the market for a three-row SUV, the Kia Telluride should be on your list. From its victory in our SUV of the Year competition to more recent comparison test wins, it has thus far retained its place on top.

What makes the Telluride such a powerhouse? Everything. When you're doing battle in one of the most contested automotive segments, you can't be a one-trick pony. From its exterior styling to its interior fit and finish to its driving dynamics, the Telluride has positioned itself as a leader. Even before the arrival of our long-term Telluride, I started to see them everywhere. Turns out, all you have to do to sell a ton of vehicles is make a good-looking, good-driving, class-leading car at a competitive price, and people will flock to it.

Once you've made the decision to buy a 2020 Kia telluride, the next question is, which one? I figured it would be easy to work our way up from the bottom LX trim level and toward the premium Telluride SX model.

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Kia Telluride LX

The entry-level Telluride LX starts at $31,890. Many of the Telluride's excellent features are present in the base model, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also included in the base LX trim are all the safety features, like rear blind-spot collision avoidance assist, driver attention warning, forward collision avoidance, lane departure warning and assist features, and more. One feature I've found helpful in our long-term Telluride is the safe exit assist. After you've parked, this system uses the lane departure and blind-spot sensors to look for cars and other things coming up behind you before you open the door. I occasionally have to park on a narrow street, so I appreciate that the Telluride reminds me to check my mirrors before exiting.

The LX sits on painted 18-inch wheels. One of the more noticeable differences between the LX trim and the other models is its less glitzy, gray-colored grille and body-colored trim accents. The grille actually has a sort of stealth look, and I wish it were an option on some of the other trims. Although the LX lacks some of the higher trims' brightwork, it's still a very handsome vehicle.

You're limited to five exterior colors, excluding the cool Dark Moss green (available on the S and higher trims) and the Black Copper metallic dark brown (available exclusively on the SX model). Everlasting Silver, the bluish silver that adorns our long-term tester, is available on all trim levels.

On the inside, the LX isn't available with second-row captain's chairs, though I don't consider that much of a downgrade. I think a 60/40 split-folding second-row bench seat is much more useful.

You also don't get leather, but the black Sofino leatherette feels good enough, and the seats are decently comfortable, even for a long trip. An easy-to-use 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen rounds out the notable features.

The LX is available with all-wheel drive, a $2,000 option. We didn't spec our long-term Telluride with AWD, and honestly, I wish we would have. The 3.8-liter V-6 makes 291 hp, and that's a lot of power going to just the front wheels. The tires quickly lose traction under acceleration, and if you have to accelerate though a corner, you're presented with a dose of torque steer.

Kia Telluride S

We had the opportunity to drive the EX and SX models during our SUVOTY evaluations, but when the time came to spec our long-term Telluride, we decided to aim lower on the trim ladder and opted for the S model.

Starting at $34,290, the S gets some nice visual add-ons. Machine-finished 20-inch alloy wheels replace the LX's 18-inchers, and you get a dark metallic grille as well as satin-finished front bumper air ducts. The 20-inch rims help fill out the fenderwells and make the Telluride look more attractive. You also get dual chrome exhaust tips, a more premium silver finish on the skidplates, and a satin-chrome window surround. Up top, the SUV sports low-profile roof rails and a sunroof.

Inside the S trim, you get the same black Sofino leatherette. With some exterior colors, like Dark Moss, you get the option of gray leatherette.

The S trim also gets upgraded seats, including a 10-way-adjustable driver's seat with adjustable lumbar support and heated front seats —a nice luxury on a crisp morning. The S trim comes standard with second-row captain's chairs, though we opted for the 8 Passenger Seating package ($100), which comes with a second-row bench seat instead. I don't have kids, but my dog doesn't like captain's chairs—he tends to fall between them, even with our dog hammock set up in the back.

Kia Telluride EX

Stepping up another rung on the trim ladder is the EX model, starting at $37,290. This is where the Telluride starts to get really nice. The additional $3,000 premium over the S trim is mainly visible once you look inside, and the difference is noticeable.

In the EX trim, actual leather replaces the leatherette. Interior color options depend your exterior color choice. All exterior colors are available with black or gray leather; Snow White Pearl, Ebony Black, and Dark Moss have the option of a really cool Butterscotch light brown leather.

A larger 10.25-inch touchscreen sits prominently on the EX's dash. There's also a very nice-looking woodgrain finish on the dash and door trims, and it's very pleasing to the touch.

With the jump up to the EX model, you get a dual climate control, as well as eight-way power adjustable driver's and front passenger seats, both of which are heated and ventilated. Other notable features on the EX trim are integrated shades for the back windows, sound-absorbing front window glass, and a smart power liftgate.

The addition of the leather seats, a large infotainment screen, and wood trim goes a long way in making the Telluride EX feel a lot more premium than the LX and the S trims.

Something to note is the fact that the EX model loses the 20-inch rims available on the S trim and instead rolls atop 18-inch alloy wheels, albeit slightly more premium-looking ones. The EX does maintain the S trim's dark metallic front grille, but it reverts back to the same chrome window surround found on the base LX. If exterior looks are important to you, you might want to stick with the S trim and forgo the added interior amenities.

Kia Telluride SX

And here is where the Telluride goes from good to great. The fully loaded SX model, starting at $41,790, is the sweet spot of the lineup. For most vehicles , the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle of the lineup where the price and standard features come to a point of equilibrium, but in the Telluride's case, the top-trim SX is worth the extra scratch.

Take every good feature from the S and EX trims, and use that combination as a starting point to improve upon.

All of the cool stuff that comes in EX model—the leather seats, wood dash, and larger screen—are found in the SX. Then add upgraded 12-way heated, cooled, power-adjustable front seats with memory feature. A premium 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, including an external amplifier and subwoofer, adds even more refinement to the SX's interior. You also get stainless steel door sill scuff protectors, stainless pedals, and dual sunroofs.

Also available on the SX trim is the special SX Prestige package ($2,300), which includes a head-up display, automatic rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated and cooled second-row seating, and a premium headliner. The crown jewel of this package is the premium Nappa leather seats. Available in light gray, black, light brown, and espresso brown depending on your exterior color, this turns the good interior found in the Telluride into something you'd find in a luxury vehicle.

On the outside, the SX model gets very attractive black 20-inch wheels, LED foglights, and LED projector-beam headlights, with a different style than what are available on the lower trim models. You also get the option of the Black Copper exterior color, which looks awesome with the black wheels.

These may seem like small touches, but they add up to a fairly significant improvement in the exterior styling.

Which Telluride Trim Should You Get?

The SX model is the nicest of the bunch, but then again it should be at $9,900 more than the base LX trim. If you have the scratch, the SX model is worth it. You'd be hard-pressed to find a nicer three-row SUV at the mid-$40K price point. I was talking with international bureau chief Angus Mackenzie during our SUV of the Year testing, and he remarked that the top-of-the-line Telluride "feels like a Mercedes GLS that you can get for $40K."

If the SX trim is too rich for your blood, though, the important stuff—like all the safety features—is available on the base LX model. You can't go wrong with any of the trims. The one thing I'm adamant about, though, is that the $2,000 all-wheel-drive system is worth the investment, as it makes a difference in how the Telluride drives and handles.

Our Long-Term Telluride S

So what does all of this mean for our long-term Telluride? Sure, I wish we had some of the premium interior features of the EX and SX trim lines. Still, I think our S trim long-termer looks great with the 20-inch wheels and the other exterior tweaks that are exclusive to the S trim. Woodgrain trim, leather seats, and a larger screen would be nice, but I've so far been content with the base level accoutrement in our Telluride.

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