2020 Ford Explorer vs 2020 Kia Telluride
By Jakob Hansen,
In the world of hockey practices and camping trips, which third-row SUV comes out to be the champ?
Today we explore two vehicles of similar proportions, build quality, and purpose,—but from two very different companies. The Ford Explorer vs Kia Telluride is a comparison that is not only indicative of the vehicles that we're testing, but the brand identities themselves. Ford is a brand that has been established from nearly the beginning of time. They solidified their place in the market extremely early in their lifespan, and have occupied relatively the same space since the first Model T’s were rolling off the assembly line in all black paint.
Kia, on the other hand, is a company that has struggled with their identity from day one. From the early "Buy One Get One" deals to the K900, a luxury sedan designed to compete with German flagship luxury cars, Kia has never completely solidified their market share. Finally getting into the swing of things, the Korean manufacturer has slowly started to find their home in the market, and carve out their space. Their direction can still get muddled, The Kia Stinger, for example, as good of a car as it is, doesn’t completely have a reasonable home for itself in the market, but overall Kia has established themselves as a real competitor to some of the biggest brands in the business.
Now that Kia has begun to finally find themselves, they have started to create some great, competitive vehicles. The Kia Optima is a great mid-sized sedan that has established itself as a reliable, feature-rich Fusion, Camry, and Malibu competitor. The Kia Sportage is a strong contender in the extremely competitive sub-compact SUV.
And now, we come to the 2020 Kia Telluride. The new-comer in the game. The young buck challenger to the great contenders that have been here since the early 90’s. Can the new kid in class actually compete? Or will it suffer the same fate as the Kia Borrego, the SUV that failed so badly you didn’t even know it existed?
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These two SUV are the pinnacle of value, space, and performance for third-row vehicles. The clever packaging and effective use of space mean that every inch is used in these SUVs, and the priority is clearly designated to cabin space.
Interior dimensions are nearly identical, though the Ford offers slightly more passenger space while the Telluride offers more cargo. The Kia Telluride has 155 ft3 of passenger volume, while the Ford Explorer is gifted with 156 ft3. Front leg room in the Ford is up by 1.6 inches and down by 3.4 inches. Cargo volume is where the difference is most evident, with 18 ft3 for the Explorer and a slightly larger 21 ft3 for the Kia. 3 ft3 may not sound like a lot, but 3 ft3 is roughly 22 gallons, and that's a lot more milk the Kia can carry. In real world useability, we could easily fit our largest testers in the rear seats of the Kia Telluride without changing from the normal driving position of the front seats. That is an important distinction that could not be said for the similarly sized Ford.
Looking around the interior, the Kia appears much nicer. The quality of materials used are far superior, as are the actual aesthetics. The wood dash combines well with the heavy use of real metal trim pieces and buttons. It’s also surprising how well-built everything feels. The buttons have a great tactile feel and every lever or switch you push feels like it can handle Hulk Hands.
As good as the Kia may look, the Ford has it beat in tech. The massive, vertically mounted optional touch screen may look like someone tacked on an iPad onto the dash, but is that really such a bad thing. Sync 3 is super easy to use, with quick reaction and seamless transitions. After you’ve finished messing around on the iPad sized screen on your dash, turn your eyes to the gauge cluster. There you will find the pièce de résistance of the Ford Explorer, the gauge cluster screen.
Ford uses an amazing 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster instead of traditional gauges. Something that we love about the screen is the ability to put it into “Mindful Mode”, which strips the screen of all non-essential information, replacing them with a cool blue that Ford claims to help calm your mind and ease the stress and burden of long drives. Honestly, it looks so “cool” (Get it? This is why my son makes fun of me) and is a smart idea. In our digital age, sometimes we can get so inundated with data, it’s nice to have something to bring some serenity into your life, even if it’s just from the screen on your dash.
The good thing that the Kia has going for it is its value. For our test vehicles, the MSRP of both vehicles were close enough to change your monthly payment by only $1.60 a month over a 60 month period, so not much difference. Yet the Kia came with heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, advanced traction control with terrain selection, seat memory, a heads-up display(!), sunroof, wireless charger and a full 360-degree camera. ALL of which are available in the Ford, but were not included on our test model of the same price. A clear and definite win for the Kia.
Exterior and Driving
Typically, I would separate these two dynamics of the test, but since I know you are supposed to be watching your kids soccer practice (don’t worry, I’m skimping on watching hockey practice as we speak), and none of us are planning to take our third-row SUV to the track, I’ll keep it more concise.
If there is one thing to be said about both of these SUVs, us that they are some damn good looking vehicles. Boy have we come so far from what we used to get with SUVs. At one point, we had to just make do with the massive blobs of metal and glass they used to call “styled”. Now, on the other hand, we get real vehicles with real design. These SUVs are styled by real artists, not Dan from accounting.
The Ford has an attractive front face with sculpted sides that give the entire vehicle depth and life. The fenders have a slight flair to them, especially up front, that look both meaty and classy at the same time.
Hop behind the wheel and you’ll find that the Ford has some real driving skill. The composed chassis was clearly well designed and the suspension feels very well sorted. Getting into the twisties it starts to lose its composure slightly and show its size and unwieldy dimensions. The body roll isn’t terrible, but it’s bad enough to make you think twice about pulling a Scandi flick into a hairpin turn.
What we haven’t discussed is the optional Explorer ST. The ST is an entirely different vehicle, and has a far more powerful engine, better suspension and ST specific styling. As much as we love the Explorer ST, it’s not entirely relevant in this comparison, so we have decided to leave it out.
The Kia is a handsome vehicle in itself but does have one fatal flaw. The bodywork is muscular but subdued and gives the Kia an imposing but inviting posture. Where the Ford has massively sculpted sides, the Kia’s tall flat bodywork works well with its upright posture and stately stance. The problem is, when you look at the Telluride, something just seems...off. The issue lies with the lights. It’s not the design, I love the LED amber running lights and the overall headlight and configuration look exceedingly attractive. No, they’re just a little too low and far apart when compared to the grill. It looks like the Kia has a wide nose, and low, wide eyes. It’s not always noticeable, and the rest of the vehicle is really quite handsome, but from some angels, those are the eyes of a child only a mother could love.
Behind the wheel, all is well again. A composed, confident family hauler. The ride is softer than we would have expected and liked to see from the brand. The Telluride is marketed as a tough, off-road ready SUV, but the suspension is clearly designed for road comfort rather than tackling some of the trails around Telluride, Colorado.
From where we once were, there has been massive improvement SUVs and crossovers. Once the switch from truck chassis to car chassis took place, there were some real learning lessons that needed to be sorted. However, we’re starting to see those lessons come in to play and some excellent vehicles are starting to hit the roads.
These two SUVs are great examples of what can be achieved when proper care goes into vehicle development. The compliant road-handling and excellent styling (despite the “eye” situation) leave the Kia Telluride and Ford Explorer in good terms with our office.
Overall, the Ford has more than met its match in the Kia. From a value perspective, the Kia has the Ford more than beat. The amount of features in our test Kia over the Ford is simply amazing. Value isn’t the only place the Kia stands up to the Ford, however. When taking price and trim out of the equation, the Kia still stands up strong to the Ford and I would even give a win to the Kia if it weren’t for an optional Explorer ST in top trim. Kia, give me a Telluride with your twin-turbo V6 and we’ll have another discussion. The Explorer ST needs a real competitor. In the meantime, the Kia will take the win in every trim but the very top of the line up.