Over the past 10 years or so, South Korean brands Hyundai and Kia have transformed themselves from builders of cut-rate penalty boxes to legitimate mid-market automakers. But despite their meteoric rise to respectability, neither brand has been able to completely crack the lucrative SUV/crossover markets yet. When it comes to anything larger (or more capable) than the Hyundai Santa Fe, the sister brands have seemed to be at a loss. In fact, Kia’s earlier attempts at a full-size SUV began and ended with the Borrego, a seven-passenger people-mover that only made it one year in the American market.
But that may change very soon, because Kia has introduced the Telluride concept at the Detroit Auto Show, and while the company is adamant that it’s just a concept — it “suggests styling of a possible future premium large SUV in the brand’s lineup,” according to Kia — the Telluride looks like the brand may have finally cracked the SUV formula. This thing isn’t just good-looking for a Kia, it could be the best-looking SUV at the entire auto show, production or otherwise.
For a company with very little experience in the field, Kia has spliced in DNA from some of the biggest SUVs in history with the brand’s Peter Schreyer-penned styling language to create something entirely new and recognizably Kia. Look at the Telluride, and you can see hints of the original Range Rover, the Jeep XJ Cherokee, and the ’90s-era Chevy Suburban, with a little modern Volvo XC90 thrown in for good measure. And that may just be the most surprising part of the Telluride; in an era when most mid-market three-row SUVs have gotten in touch with their inner-minivan — the Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder quickly come to mind — Kia is quick to assert that the upright, boxy SUV named after a western mining town is an SUV in the best sense, not another car-based people-mover moonlighting as a truck.
The Telluride is the three-row SUV we never knew we needed until this week. From Kia:
A finger-print activated push-button start unleashes Telluride’s tremendously potent yet extremely efficient PHEV powertrain. Utilizing a 3.5-liter gasoline direct injected (GDI) V6 engine and powerful electric motor, Telluride’s transverse-mounted powertrain combines to produce 400 horsepower (270 horsepower from V6 and 130 horsepower from the electric motor) while achieving more than 30 mpg on the highway. Power is routed to all four wheels via an advanced all-wheel drive system.
A 400-horsepower hybrid powertrain would instantly plant the Telluride at the top of its segment, and put it within reach of the superb Volvo XC90 T8. What’s more, the SUV is based on architecture from the existing Kia Sorrento, meaning that it’s tantalizingly close to production, if only Kia wanted it to be.
Inside is likely why the Telluride is merely a concept. Kia says the “Telluride pushes the boundaries of technology with unique in-cabin health-and-wellness technology and luxury,” making the rugged SUV sound like a health spa. Again, from Kia:
All four seats include a series of precise diamond-cut openings in the seatback, each embedded with Smart Sensors to capture a passenger’s vital health information. Once obtained, these vitals are displayed on the interior door panel screens, which then systematically synchronize with a Light Emitted Rejuvenation (LER) system. The LER system utilizes a massive, wing-shaped LED panel mounted beneath the oversized sunroof that displays a pattern of therapeutic light to treat desynchronosis (jetlag) and improve the passengers’ energy levels.
On top of a host of other electronic goodies (plus suicide doors), this is largely why the Telluride is staying “purely conceptual” for now.
But there is hope for the Telluride. According to the brand: “While there are currently no plans to bring the Telluride to production, Kia has a history of delivering production vehicles that bear strong resemblance to preceding concepts, and Kia’s large SUV is anything but a utopian fantasy.” We think that’s very good news. Rip out the wellness goodies and sunlamps, make sure it can do at least half the off-roading a Range Rover can, and market it against the Toyota Highlander, Kia. We’re certain you’d have a winner on your hands.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.