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First drive: 2023 Kia Telluride X-Pro wants to be your all day, every day driver

Review: Is the 2023 Kia Telluride worth your money?

Kia tried to check all the boxes with Telluride, an SUV designed specifically for the U.S. market which the company proudly notes has outperformed expectations. Now the company wants to check another box to sell even more Tellurides: mild to moderate off-roading. With the new X-Line and X-Pro trim levels, Kia hopes its largest SUV will entice those who do a touch of driving off the beaten path after making a Costco run.

The question was never whether you could take a four-wheel drive Telluride off the road, it was whether you should. The X-Line and X-Pro seem to be Kia’s way of setting expectations for its lineup, moving forward, to entice an even broader audience. Kia says the average Telluride buyer is young, has plenty of money to spend, and often finds its way to Kia from luxury brands. Will off-road capability grow Kia’s market share?

Sure, you could take any Telluride off-road, but with the X-Line and X-Pro Telluride trim levels, you might want to. And that’s the important bit.

What’s new with the 2023 Kia Telluride?

These “X” trim levels for the Kia Telluride bring distinct options for specific buyers. The headlights and taillamps have a slightly altered design, and both the front and rear fascia have changed incrementally. There are new wheel options, and three new exterior colors: Midnight Lake Blue, Dawning Red, and Jungle Green.

Inside there are new upholstery color packages, a redesigned steering wheel and dashboard, and new 12.3-inch gauge cluster and center displays. The dual displays follow the latest trend of marrying two unique screens behind a unibody dash panel.

The real improvements are not as noticeable. There’s 10mm more ground clearance on the X-Line and X-Pro which allow for better approach and departure angles (8.4-inches total, now). Kia also improved the traction control system on the X-Line and X-Pro Telluride trims and added a tow mode with increased towing capacity (up to 5,500 pounds from 5,000).

There are several other small changes (lumbar support in the driver’s seat is dynamic and pretty cool), but our favorite 2023 Kia Telluride party trick is the optional Full Display Mirror, a new rearview mirror that can toggle between being a — well, rearview mirror — and a screen for rear-facing cameras. In our testing, we found the Full Display Mirror does a stellar job of truly mimicking a rearview mirror’s field of view and will come in handy when you’ve loaded the X-Line or X-Pro up with stuff to take camping and just can’t see out the back of the car.

The 2023 Kia Telluride X-Pro: A story of $5,000

The median car price in the United States is around $48,000. The 2023 Kia Telluride tops out at $52,785 (SX Prestige X-Pro AWD trim). The nearly $5,000 delta is where we’ll focus. How much more are you really getting with the 2023 Kia Telluride X-Pro or X-Line?

The average car price has gone up $5,000 in the past year or so as car manufacturers reckon with supply chain constraints and an eager market. Demand is crushing supply. This is also why Kia is increasing its output for the Telluride, a vehicle the company seems pleasantly surprised is so resonant with buyers. This increased output should help with throughput to consumers who are in the market for a large SUV and don’t want to break the bank. It may also help you avoid sketchy dealer mark-ups on new vehicles, something Kia dealerships are unfortunately notorious for in these trying times.

Kia could do what so many other manufacturers are doing and increase the price of Telluride while leaning into supply chain constraints as the cause, but it’s not doing that. Kia seems content to sell the Telluride as far and wide as possible at an approachable price. “We call them ‘Selluride,’ and that’s because we just can’t build them fast enough,” notes Kia’s Chief Operations Officer, Steven Center.

Kia allowed me to take the Telluride X-Pro through Texas hill country on a closed course to experience its off-road capabilities. Sure, it was a curated and guided path, but Kia didn’t take it easy on me or its Telluride. Kia had me driving in conditions I’d balk at without having driven the closed course. We went over steep hills linearly and laterally, bounced over some rocks, traversed a dried creek, and drove through bumpy terrain throughout.

Let’s also be clear that nobody is going to strap a winch to the front of a Kia Telluride and do any deep off-roading – but you may want to go deep into the trails and find a spot to camp. You may also want to drive down an embankment onto a field to drop supplies off for a kids’ soccer match. Or maybe some hunting or fishing in the Texas hill country and beyond. There are several “light off-roading” scenarios where you could envision the 2023 Kia Telluride X-Pro or X-Line shining.

The X-Line and X-Pro are each $1,000 more than any AWD trim Kia Telluride. Beefier wheels and tires and more ground clearance in the X-Pro dominate the reasons you should upgrade, and Kia made some tweaks to its downhill descent control and suspension as well to make off-roading easier and more comfortable.

It’s difficult to knock the 2023 Kia Telluride X-Pro and X-Line trims. We can nitpick about plastic components not being premium, of course, and I’m no fan of the large plastic backing on the driver and passenger seats. The plastic seems particularly misplaced when you consider the 2023 Telluride X-Pro and X-Line have suede headlining. The juxtaposition of materials throughout only stands out because I was looking for problems, though.

Kia made no errors, per se. Plastic lining driver and passenger seatbacks are fairly standard, and let’s be honest many who buy a Telluride will have kids or rowdy friends in the back, and plastic is pretty kids-and-drunk-friends-proof.

Kia had a price point in mind with the Telluride and did what it felt best to hit that mark. Sales prove the team made the right calls with interior trim and accouterment.

Kia is still holding onto the design ethos of cluttering the center console and dash with buttons. It’s not my preference; I’d much rather see a large dashboard display with menus and a great voice assistant to complement a vehicle that doesn’t ask that you select what drive mode you want to be in or whether you’d like your seat ventilated or heated. This is a more complex “ask” than Kia can reasonably deal with (all vehicle software platforms rely on integrations from third-party services to some degree, which can cause issues with accessing information like playing specific music stations, for instance) but it would be prudent of them to start the process in earnest now.

Is a 2023 Kia Telluride X-Pro or X-Line worth buying?

Yup.

Light-hearted brevity aside, consider all you get with the 2023 Kia Telluride and how it sits in the broader market. For about $53,000 you get a well-equipped large SUV with decent gas mileage. In our testing driving the X-Line and X-Pro Telluride off-road and in general city/highway conditions, we averaged 21 miles per gallon.

The 2023 Kia Telluride X-Line and X-Pro aren’t meant for off-road enthusiasts, but for those who have dynamic lives and may encounter situations where a bit more ground clearance and other tweaks will come in handy. The vehicle is named after a popular Colorado ski and snowboarding resort. You should want to take it snowboarding or skiing. The X-Pro or X-Line absolutely will.

Best of all, Kia managed to add all off-road-ready features without compromising an already excellent Telluride. What Kia has accomplished with the 2023 Telluride X-Pro and X-Line is simply amazing.

I found it capable on and off-road, equally but uniquely. In normal day-to-day driving, the 2023 Telluride acquits itself well. It drives well for a large SUV and has a ton of bells and whistles. The Telluride doesn’t feel like a large SUV, which might be its most charming feature. Some large SUVs feel cumbersome, but the Telluride avoids this pitfall. The 2023 Kia Telluride X-Pro and X-Line also feel premium and assured inside, much like SUVs costing far more.

I like that Kia didn’t try to be masculine with its off-road trim level as some other manufacturers do. There are no aggressive splashes of orange, for instance. There’s a new front fascia for the two trims, but it’s not obnoxious. Your X-Pro or X-Line Kia Telluride will look about the same as the neighbors’ Telluride. They won’t know yours is different until it’s your turn to drive for couples’ date night.

The 2023 Kia Telluride is a large SUV that drives “smaller” than its footprint, has more tricks up its sleeve than many in its class, more bells and whistles than most cars at its price point, and can handle itself off the beaten path. What’s not to like?

If you’re overlooking the Telluride, stop doing that. For slightly more than the average cost of a new vehicle, you get a lot more than anticipated in all the best ways.

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