Are the 2021 Jeep Wrangler and 2021 Kia Telluride That Different?

By definition, automotive journalism probably isn’t supposed to get too philosophical, but it’s January 1, and it’s a day for trying something new. If we are honest with ourselves, we know cars and trucks often come down to emotion and philosophy. No one buys a Ferrari because it’s perfect for going to the store. Even a segment that is expressly for practicality and work, like pickups, isn’t immune to people buying them for some esoteric reason or to match the image they have of themselves in their head. My point is, two SUVs that seem so vastly different as the 2021 Jeep Wrangler and the 2021 Kia Telluride may not be as far apart as we might think. 

Consumer Reports has them at the polar opposite ends of the spectrum

The 2021 Jeep Wrangler scored a 29 out of 100, earning it dead last in the midsized SUV class. Meanwhile, the 2021 Kia Telluride scored an incredible 97. Nothing else has even come close to that. Needless to say, Consumer Reports and the people love the Kia Telluride. But people also love Jeep Wranglers despite the horrid reviews. Final sales numbers for each model aren’t finalized for 2020, but I would wager the Jeep outsells the Kia. Granted, Jeep has a much longer reputation and built-in fan base, but the Telluride’s popularity will catch up with Wrangler, no doubt. 

The Jeep Wrangler and the Kia Telluride are both trying to scratch at the same thing

I haven’t completely lost my mind. The Wrangler and the Telluride are super different mechanically, but all SUVs, these days are moving closer to the middle rather than accepting what they are and doing one thing well. For instance; Jeep Wranglers are still loud, bumpy, and crude, but they have heated leather seats and new tech and fancy bits and pieces. At the other end of the spectrum, the luxurious, three-row Telluride has four-wheel drive and electronic “locking” differentials. Why? Why does either model have either of these things? 

A black 2021 Kia Telluride midsize SUV parked next to a canyon
The 2021 Kia Telluride on display | Photo via Kia

RELATED: The 2021 Jeep Wrangler Has the Same 4 Problems It’s Always Had

They can’t both be everything

Listen, I don’t necessarily think these things are a problem; it’s just a trend that has been making the SUV and truck sector get more confusing. The truth is, these two polar opposite trucks are getting closer because we want to feel prepared and capable of anything without sacrificing. A Jeep Wrangler is massively capable off-road and mostly uncomfortable, and the Telluride is massively comfortable and mostly incapable off-road, but we want it all. 

A grey 2021 Jeep Wrangler driving on a snowy road
The 2021 Jeep Wrangler in action | Photo via Fiat Chrysler Automobiles

As seen on The Drive, YouGov Brandindex did a study a few weeks into the pandemic and found that 16 percent of buyers said they wanted a Wrangler. In a time when people are talking about Mad Max and the apocalypse, people become more interested in the idea of something more capable and spartan. But 16 percent of Americans don’t own a Jeep, so what does that mean? It means people like the idea of a tough 4×4 more than the reality of living with one every day. 

What powers the 2021 Jeep Wrangler and the 2021 Telluride?

CR’s top-rated SUV, the Kia Telluride, sports a 3.8-liter V6 that does 0-60 in 7.2 seconds and gets 21 mpg. The Wrangler, ranked the lowest, has a 3.6-liter V6 that hits 60 mph in 7.3 seconds and gets 18 mpg overall. The Telluride has a fancy four-wheel-drive system, and the Wrangler now comes in a hybrid option. You see, the off-road legend and the luxurious family SUV are getting closer and closer by the day. 

The Kia Telluride and Jeep Wrangler are still plenty different 

Of course, these are two very different SUVs. I don’t think they are for the same person or do the same things at all. My point is just that the car makers seem to be trying to make every model do everything – or at least claim they can. The Telluride doesn’t have four-wheel drive and press photos of it in the wilderness because the people who buy them plan to go mudding, it has it so that people can say it has it. Jeep doesn’t have a fancier interior because Jeeps are now luxurious; they have it, so people buying it feel like their Jeep is a practical purchase. 

Chew on it a while. See what you think.