The 2020 Kia Telluride Isn’t an Off-Roader It Only Plays One on TV

The Kia Telluride has taken the SUV world in a flash. Kia is selling so many of these that they can hardly keep them on the proverbial shelf. The Telluride is killing it across the board with safety, reliability, and other such practicalities. But, In a world now crawling in a host of legacy off-road models that are more capable than ever while also getting tech and interior updates, can the 2020 Kia Telluride hang with the old boys of the dirt track? 

Honestly, you can look at the Telluride and see that more than likely, it probably can’t hang with a Wrangler, Bronco, or 4Runner. I’d argue It isn’t really made for that though, is it? Well, the folks are Driving Sports TV gave it a good run through the dirt to find out. 

2020 Kia Telluride as tested

Driving Sports TV got the fully loaded SX trim to test. The Telluride is Kia’s newest model filling the three-row big boy part of their line. The SX is fully loaded with piles of tech and sensors to help make the driving experience as easy and comfortable as possible. The driver’s view is slathered in leather, metal, and even a touch of fake wood to bringing the driver back to reality. OK, OK, but how is it off-road?

2020 Kia Telluride
2020 Kia Telluride | Kia

Off-road drive settings

There are several driving modes that change throttle mapping, gear holds, and AWD power distribution. Driving Sports TV’s tester set the drive mode to “sport,” locked the power split to send maximum power to the back wheels, and turned off the traction control. 

The first hole in the Kia Telluride’s off-road prowess is the claim of having a “locking” differential. According to Driving Sports TV, the Telluride’s “locking differential” is actually just a mechanism that locks the rear power transfer clutch. Not to mention, it will let go if it feels overworked. I mean, that’s just not a locking differential. The whole point of locking diffs is that, well, they lock. 


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What’s really going on here is an E-diff. This system, while very smart and kind of cool applies brakes to individual wheels to redistribute torque where needed. Again, not a bad system, but it is simply not the same as a locking diff sending equal power without fail. 

Off-road specs

First of all, the 2020 Kia Telluride doesn’t have a dedicated 4×4 transfer case. It uses all-wheel-drive, which is different. The various driving modes, in theory, give you the option to crawl in four-wheel drive, but again, the Telluride isn’t a hard locking 4×4 crawler. 

The 2020 Kia Telluride does tout a ground clearance of 8 inches; however, those 8 inches aren’t very useful, seeing as the approach and departure angle are not great. The front and back overhangs are reportedly pretty extreme, severely limiting how steep you can really climb or descend. 

Driving Sports TV continues on there off-road test on gravel roads and dirt tracks. While climbing a slightly-wet bit of trail, the tester hits the AWD lock button and reports that the “crawl” motion feels smooth and surprisingly good. One cool feature the 2020 Kia Telluride has is the front mount camera. It allows the driver to see debris and trail conditions beyond whats visible from the cockpit. 

Where the wild things are, the Kia Telluride ain’t

In the YouTube clip of this test, the Telluride is shown spinning tires, the front almost solely, even though it’s in AWD. After a bit of tactical driving to ascent the seemingly small hill, the Kia gets up the trail. The Kia Telluride requires the driver to get out frequently to spot underwhelming obstacles. Whether wet rocks or a medium pothole, the Kia did not seem overly confident. 

While it is excellent for the road and has a lovely interior, the 2020 Kia Telluride seems average at best off-road. The Kia adds might have us believe the Telluride is ready to take on the Dakar with shots of the Telluride fording rivers and carving the desert some new canyons. That is a silly and preposterous idea. Kia included features that allow Telluride owners to feel as if they could go off-road if they want or need to, but the reality is, the Telluride isn’t a real off-roader; it just plays one on TV.