What’s the difference between a good car and a lovely one? Perhaps it’s great design, or outstanding comfort, or unexpected luxuries or great attention to detail. The 2021 Kia Telluride Nightsky Edition features all of the above while adding the current fad of blacking out trim for the sake of style. But is this a case of sacrifice in the name of style, or does the Nightsky Edition deliver the range-topping experience expected of its price tag?
So what exactly is the Nightsky Edition? In short, it’s Kia cashing in on the trend of blacked-out everything. The Telluride’s grille, emblems, window surrounds and other assorted trims get a dark finish, the headlight innards are blacked-out and the standard wheels are swapped for a set of blacked-out 20-inch units. But what the Nightsky Edition giveth, so shall the Nightsky Edition taketh away.
The lovely Nappa leather of the SX Limited trim is replaced by lower-tier leather and the premium cloth headliner is replaced with cheaper material. For those who like this trend, the Telluride will suit their tastes. For those who believe that black trim is for base models, the SX Limited trim would be a better fit.
On the outside, the Telluride impresses with restrained, tasteful styling. Too many new cars have enough lamps and character lines to style three cars with, but the Telluride keeps things proper with a strong beltline, cohesive greenhouse, enough unbroken metal to let the styling breathe and enough distinctive touches to stay unique. We’re particularly fond of the amber daytime running lights and distinctively flared window trims that stretch up at the b-pillars. The Telluride looks far more upscale than its price tag and segment suggests and we predict that it will age well.
On the inside, the Telluride continues to impress with great design and an astonishing array of gadgets. The centre console features two sturdy grab handles reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz GLE and Porsche Cayenne, a damped lid for the wireless charging cubby and USB ports, a chunky traditional shifter and well-damped switchgear that imparts a feeling of solidity. The dashboard features a horizontal layout, metal hard keys for the infotainment, a separate display for climate control and plenty of soft-touch materials. Even the speaker grilles on high-trim models are trimmed in aluminum, an unexpected and lovely touch in this segment.
In terms of interior room and functionality, the second-row captain’s chairs in our Telluride test car are very comfortable with stadium seating and loads of adjustment. Moving back to the third row, there’s plenty of space for three adults and a wide pass-through to access the rearmost seats without folding the second-row seats. There’s also enough space behind the third row for the weekly shopping, something not all three-row crossovers have.
When it’s time to carry larger items, the third-row drops into the floor by pulling straps on the seatbacks and the second row folds remotely by pressing buttons in the cargo area. With all seats down, cargo space is positively cavernous.
Moving on to gadgets, the Telluride Nightsky Edition certainly gives owners plenty of toys for the money. Aside from the expected heated front seats and heated steering wheel, the front seats are also cooled and the driver’s seat features power adjustable thigh support. Two moonroofs are on hand, one for the front row and one for the second, USB charging for second-row passengers is integrated into the front seatbacks, there’s adjustable multi-colour mood lighting on hand and heated and cooled second-row seats that are so choice, not even a BMW X7 has them. It’s an astonishing selection of kit for a three-row crossover.
As for infotainment, the Telluride comes equipped with a 10.25-inch widescreen system that’s crisp, responsive and has a little matte ledge beneath it to brace hands against without leaving obvious fingerprints. Quite good then, other than one detail. There is no permanent, physical hard key for home. A small omission, sure, but an annoying one. Happily, the rest of the tech is quite superb.
The gauge cluster starts with easy-to-read analogue gauges and places a seven-inch display in between them. Linked via CANBUS to the cameras in the wing mirrors, the cluster screen actually displays a live video feed of either blind spot whenever the corresponding indicator is flicked on. In addition, the cluster screen displays trip computers, a digital speed readout and active driver assist status, among other things. What can’t be displayed on that screen is the current song playing over Apple CarPlay, something we hope Kia will address in the future.
Augmenting the gauge cluster is a large colour heads-up display that displays current speed in a cool, soft green sans-serif font. It’s easier on the eyes at night than white text and a very welcome touch. As for audio, the Telluride Nightsky Edition’s Harman Kardon premium stereo is a bit bright and can’t quite match the Toyota Highlander’s available JBL system for staging, but it still bumps Waka Flocka Flame with enough ferocity to garner dirty glares from pensioners. It’s a massive step up from the standard stereo in base-model Tellurides and worth the extra cash.
Powering the Telluride is a 3.8-litre naturally-aspirated V6 making 291 horsepower and 262 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s a smooth unit but it’s peaky, making peak torque at a high 5,200 RPM. As a result, the eight-speed automatic gearbox is eager to downshift to delivering the desired thrust. That aforementioned eight-speed gearbox is extremely smooth, swapping cogs with deft precision and never exhibiting any brusque or uncouth tendencies.
Fuel economy is rated at 11.3 L/100km combined, although our economy was hampered by the absolutely heinous winter tires fitted to our test car. They were Arctic Claw Winter WXIs, rather cheap tires with very poor noise and rolling resistance characteristics. We’ve tested Tellurides on their factory tires before and found them to beat rated fuel economy ratings and be rolling isolation chambers with absolutely superb noise insulation that keeps the cabin several decibels quieter than its platform mate, the Hyundai Palisade.
The Telluride’s active driver assist suite is effective, if intrusive. On numerous occasions during our test, the blind-spot monitoring sounded the alarm for a car two lanes over. We also found the lane-departure warning system to be a bit hyperactive, but thankfully quite easy to switch off. That being said, it’s always better for active safety features to work too well than intervene too late, and some drivers will enjoy the safety net the Telluride provides.
So then, the 2021 Kia Telluride Nightsky Edition is handsome, comfortable, quiet and fitted with more gadgets than Q branch. It’s fair value too, clocking in at $55,945 as equipped, including $250 for the Dark Moss metallic paint. That’s $600 more than a Honda Pilot Black Edition and eight dollars more than a Chevrolet Traverse Premier with the Redline package, but the Telluride offers luxury tech that those competitors can’t touch. While we’d likely go with the SX Limited trim, save a grand and gain Nappa leather, a well-specced Telluride is still top-dog in the three-row crossover segment.