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Test Drive Review: The 2023 Kia Telluride Is Redesigned, But Can It Take On More Rugged 3 Row SUVs?

Even the vaguest associations with off-roading have become a surefire way for automakers to inject a little excitement (and sales) into nearly any SUV in the line-up. We're entering an era where even the most milquetoast of people movers now offer models that allude to adventure, typically through some type of plastic cladding that simulates the bulkier fenders of traditional trail machines, or with a more aggressive tire designed to startle and shock in a mall parking lot filled with more sedate hardware.

2023 Kia Telluride front 3/4 view

The redesigned Kia Telluride offers a pair of pathways meant to meander through the deep dark woods of their owners all-terrain imaginations. This popular mid-size sport-utility has no past associations with go-anywhere ambition, yet for 2023 it matches rival sub-brands like Honda's TrailSport and Subaru's Wilderness by offering the X-Pro and the X-Line editions. Both provide a smidgen of extra ride height and a dose of visual attitude, but splits the difference when it comes to rubber, with the former riding on 18-inch A/T tires, and the latter sticking with a 20-inch street-friendly setup.

2023 Kia Telluride interior dashboard

The Telluride was already one of the most appealing three-row haulers on the market. How does the arrival of X impact its excellent reputation? I spent a week with the X-Line to find out whether the revised Kia continued to hold one of the top spots in my personal SUV index.

Mild Refreshment

As with its platform-mate, the Hyundai Palisade, Kia stuck to primarily cosmetic updates for this 2023 refresh. The impact is most visible at the front of the vehicle, where a new grille and bumper are framed by revised headlights and topped by a smoothed hood. At the back, similar bumper and lighting tweaks separate the '23 from the '22. For the X-Line, there are subtle cues that you're driving something different, but the key giveaways are the taller stance of the Telluride (0.4 inches total) along with its previously-mentioned 20-inch wheels.

2023 Kia Telluride side view

Inside, the X-Line announces its presence by stitching the trim name into the vehicle's leather bucket seats. As with the X-Pro, technically there are three versions of the rugged-look Telluride: the EX X-Line ($47,000), the SX X-Line ($50,000), and the SX Prestige X-Line ($53,000).

2023 Kia Telluride rear view

Given its starting price, the SX Prestige X-Line version of the Telluride I drove was well-equipped throughout the cabin, with colorful details and larger screens on the dashboard (including a 12.3-inch infotainment setup and a broader digital gauge cluster). What's most striking about the Telluride's new interior design is that it manages to push into near-luxury territory in the same way as the Palisade.

2023 Kia Telluride infotainment

Previously, Kia's three-row felt a little more pedestrian inside as compared to its sibling, but while the X-Line might not touch the lofty aspirations of Hyundai's top-tier Calligraphy trim, it's no longer possible to draw a firm dividing line between Telluride and Palisade based on passenger compartment alone.

Good V6, Middling Transmission

Power-wise Kia keeps things status quo for 2023. The X-Line shares its 291 hp, 3.8L V6 with every other Telluride, and this motor (which also generates 262 lb-ft of torque) carries over from the year before. It's enough to move the SUV with authority, yet the tuning of its eight-speed automatic transmission feels soggy at lower speeds, something that the same-engine Palisade doesn't display under similar conditions.

2023 Kia Telluride rear 3/4 view

Aside from that, it's difficult to find fault with the Telluride's on-pavement demeanor, which is likely a testament to the street tires that come part and parcel with the X-Line. Of course, the lack of knobby tread limits the Kia to more modest two-track paths, and even though it's a wee bit taller than the standard version of the SUV, its total ground clearance is just 8.4 inches—less than you'd get from the similarly-sized Subaru Ascent, which doesn't even have off-road aspirations.

Stick With X-Line

It's clear that the Kia Telluride X-Line is more marketing plan than mud pit champ, but there's truly nothing wrong with that. Faux-roader makeovers have been an effective sales strategy for many other automakers, and the Telluride's high level of equipment that can be enjoyed when not taking an ill-advised plunged across a rocky stream balances out its tough truck pretense.

2023 Kia Telluride front view

It makes more sense to go Line over Pro unless you're absolutely in love with the look of the latter's more aggressive rubber. Pushing past the X-Line's limits with the X-Pro's added tire traction is likely to only get your stuck farther from a tow than if you'd acknowledged the Telluride's trail limitations and restrained yourself to soaking up bumpy gravel roads on the way to the fishing hole. As a bonus for avoiding Pro, you'll also save a thousand dollars on the window sticker.

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