Forget about the Kia you think you know because the little Korean car company that could is completely different today.
With the debut of the 2020 Kia Telluride 8-passenger SUV, the automaker offers one of the most diverse lineups of any vehicle manufacturer. There are 12 Kias in all, ranging from the entry-level Rio to the luxurious K900, and the company builds five different hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric vehicles. All that’s missing from the lineup is a sports car and a pickup truck.
Kia is also expanding and refining its Drive Wise suite of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). The latest of these technologies are available in the new 2020 Telluride SUV, including Highway Driving Assist, which company spokespeople refer to as a Level 2 autonomous driving system.
To learn more about Kia Drive Wise systems and to test the Telluride’s Highway Driving Assist for myself, I headed for (where else?) Telluride, Colorado in order to spend a day behind this family-sized SUV’s steering wheel.
Safety Comes Standard on the Kia Telluride
You may have noticed that some car companies still reserve their ADAS for more expensive trim levels. Then, even after you’ve bumped yourself up in price in order to access them, you’ve still gotta pay extra for a package that includes ADAS.
For example, take one of the Kia Telluride’s direct competitors, the Chevrolet Traverse. To get any ADAS on the Traverse, you need to choose Premier trim and buy the Driver Confidence Package, resulting in a price tag of $47,170 (including a destination charge of $1,195).
Meanwhile, Kia offers ADAS as standard equipment on the new Telluride, which is priced from $32,735 (including $1,045 for destination charges). Below, you can see the breakdown of ADAS technologies for the Kia Telluride:
LX and S Trim Levels:
- Driver attention monitoring system
- Adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability
- Forward collision warning with pedestrian detection
- Automatic front and rear emergency braking
- Lane departure warning with lane keeping and lane centering assist
- Blind spot monitoring with collision avoidance assist
- Reversing camera with dynamic guidance lines
- Rear parking assist sensors
EX Trim Level Adds:
- Highway Driving Assist
SX Trim Level Adds:
- Blind-Spot View Monitor
- Automatic high-beam headlights
- Front parking assist sensors
- Surround-view monitoring system
This is an undeniably impressive array of driver assistance and collision avoidance systems, and most of it is standard equipment on the least-expensive version of the Telluride.
Using the Telluride’s Highway Driving Assist on the Road to Telluride
Colorado 141 is one of those epically gorgeous and epically empty two-lane roads, winding up, down, over, and through the topography of the state’s western slope. Not far past Naturita, it connects to Colorado 145, the road to Telluride.
This served as my testing grounds for the Kia Telluride’s ADAS. It was not ideal. Without freeways, traffic, and other situations that most Telluride owners will encounter on a daily basis, my experience with Kia’s Drive Wise technologies was limited, yet instructive.
Let’s begin with the adaptive cruise control system. It operates in a refined and smooth fashion, maintaining a safe following distance without the subtle braking and acceleration evident in less sophisticated technologies. On the bendy sections of Colorado 145, which has a posted speed limit of 65 mph, I needed to disengage the system because it carried a dangerous amount of speed into some of the curves.
At a construction zone, the Telluride ahead of me came to a stop, and so did my test vehicle. This action was confident rather than hesitant, bringing the SUV to a hitch-free halt. When we were cleared to go, a prompt recommended using a steering wheel cruise control button or a push on the accelerator pedal to re-engage the system, and Kia allows drivers to tailor this response to Slow, Normal, or Fast settings.
On these narrow ribbons of road, the Telluride’s lane departure warning system became a nuisance, even though you can choose from three different volume settings. Personally, I’d prefer a steering wheel vibration to a beep. That’s because a beep tells everyone aboard how sloppy your lane discipline is, while a vibration is a more private communication between you and the technology.
Lane keeping assist and lane follow assist work well. You’re aware of the added inputs, but they’re muted enough to encourage continued use. The Highway Driving Assist is downright impressive, too, proactively steering into kinks in the road and excelling at centering the SUV in its lane. Kia says you can allow the Telluride’s software to autonomously steer for up to two minutes before it requests your hands on the steering wheel.
As good as Highway Driving Assist was, I did not trust the system on tighter curves. Also, many stretches of the route had puddles or wet slush on the road surface, and since departing the pavement anywhere between Grand Junction and Telluride is ill-advised if you plan to live a long and productive life, I wasn’t comfortable with testing it in such conditions.
Because we were limited to two-lane roads the entire day, I never needed the Telluride’s blind-spot collision avoidance system or the blind-spot view monitor that shows a video feed of what’s on either side of the SUV within the instrumentation. Nor did I need to sample the rear cross-traffic avoidance system.
Snow Caused the Level 2 Self-Driving Technology to Surrender
Following lunch in Telluride, we headed back from whence we’d come, traveling the high, flat plateau between the legendary ski town and western slope canyon country. A snowstorm blew in, its wind-driven and fluffy flakes coating the SUV’s front end in an icy mask.
After we’d descended below the snow line, I tried to re-activate the Highway Driving Assist technology. Unfortunately, the radar and lidar units that control this system were covered in slushy muck, disabling the ADAS.
This illustrates one of the challenges on the road to fully autonomous vehicles. If people no longer require driving skills, what happens when weather moves in, whether its heavy snow, dense fog, wind-driven rain, blowing dust or sand, or even a tornado? If you’re in an automated pod without a steering wheel or pedals, and the technology is rendered inoperable, and you’re out in the middle of nowhere Colorado without a Kia-supplied satellite phone like I had, what will you do?
Here’s another scenario for you.
Let’s say you’re on a road trip, visiting national parks across the western U.S. You see an interesting dirt road leading to who-knows-where, and decide to explore. But recent rains have turned the road’s surface into a muddy, slippery substance, not unlike plaster. How will the future’s autonomous vehicles work in such an environment?
I can’t answer that, because as I prepared to turn left off Colorado 141 onto Z6 Road, I turned off the Telluride’s Highway Driving Assist for the splattering run into Salt Creek Canyon. But my bet is that they’ll balk at such assignments.
Sophistication, Thy Name is Kia
I’m impressed with the Kia Telluride’s Drive Wise suite of ADAS technologies. They work as well as others I’ve experienced, including systems installed in vehicles that cost double what this SUV commands. Unfortunately, neither Cadillac’s Super Cruise nor Tesla’s Autopilot is among the measurements on my personal yardstick. I hear, though, that when properly used they’re outstanding.
So is the new 2020 Kia Telluride. Highway Driving Assist aside, this is a stylish, comfortable, value-laden family-sized SUV.