Mountain Wheels: Kia’s accomplished Telluride blasts through snow – in Telluride |

Mountain Wheels: Kia’s accomplished Telluride blasts through snow – in Telluride

It’s become an impossibly crowded world in the business of three-row, mid-size SUVs with what seems like a zillion models aiming for oversized, family-friendly motoring that appeals to everyone, everywhere.

So as the aggressively and increasingly upwardly mobile Kia Motors comes to the market with its new Telluride, the largest vehicle ever produced by the South Korean auto company, expectations are high.

We Coloradans also hope that by hitching their saddle to that storied ski town name, the results are more rugged and long-lasting than, say, the long-defunct Chrysler Aspen.

Good news, fans and doubters: The Telluride is a pleasant, tech-heavy and competitively priced machine that walked the walk.

This week we were invited to the Gateway Canyons Resort, south of Grand Junction, to check out the month-old Telluride, and to somewhat ironically (I guess) drive it to actual Telluride, on a Thursday travel day that promised as much as 5 inches of snow.

Kia’s Georgia-assembled Telluride, like its mechanically similar offering, sister company Hyundai’s soon-to-be-released Palisade, brings a level of gloss and sophistication to the busy three-row segment, with lots of pleasantries to set it apart.

Photos might make it look gargantuan, especially as the company likes to reiterate “bulky” as one of Telluride’s positive modifiers. But it manages to provide a lot of full-size whallop in a comfortably scaled package that’s more appropriately aimed at mid-sizers like the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer or the Subaru Ascent.

VW’s newish Atlas is a reasonably close comparison — Telluride is gigantic based on Kia’s automotive track record, but not so imposing to drive or to live with. It’s 197 inches long and up to 69 inches high with bigger wheels and roof rails, and inside, you get 87 cubic feet of seat-stowed storage space, with seating for seven (or eight, with a second-row bench seat). That’s more interior space than a Tahoe.

The vehicle’s overall physical profile certainly suggests much higher-end targets like the Cadillac Escalade or even Range Rover — a name dropped repeatedly in the company’s refreshingly light-hearted sales presentation — with big wheels, a massive chrome grille and (optionally) orange-rimmed, double-stacked LED headlamps. Chrome window and body trim, unique L-shaped tail lamps and a variety of glossy paint schemes make Telluride look very attractive, as well.

And with prices starting at $31,690 for a front-wheel-drive version ($33,960 for an all-wheel-drive edition, and $43,490 for the top-end SX model — plus a $1,045 destination and delivery charge to all of those), it does bridge the gap between Kia’s long traditions of affordability and newer, upscale efforts like its Stinger sports-luxe sedan.

We did indeed get a day of on-and-off rain from Gateway all the way up the striking Unaweep Canyon to Naturita, and after a brief lunch on the devastatingly potholed streets of Telluride, we hit full-on blizzard conditions on our return trip.

More aggressive winter tires would, as a result, add a bit of extra bite to the package — something you hear me saying over and over again as I drive Southern California vehicles in Colorado on a tremendous snow year. But the 20-inch all-seasons on our Telluride did a reasonably good job in the deep water and hydroplaning conditions on winding Highway 141, and also got other drivers through a precariously greasy off-road route near the resort.

The ultra-off-road edition with the snorkel you might have seen from my Detroit Auto Show visit is, sadly, a bit of a fantasy. Telluride offers 8 inches of clearance and has an automatic leveling rear suspension that helps with the ride, but I would not necessarily subject the real vehicle to repeated rock crawling or stream crossings.

Ours did have the vehicle’s optional electronic AWD and six switchable driving modes, offering automatic on-demand front-and-back torque (with as much as 50 percent to the rear wheels), and an AWD lock function that can be dialed in up to 40 mph when you do hit deep snow.

Telluride’s single-engine choice is a 3.8-liter gasoline direct injection V-6, generating an appropriate 291 horsepower and as much as 26 mpg. With the optional trailering package, it’s capable of hauling up to 5,000 pounds.

It’s certainly pretty on the inside, as well, with entirely tasteful faux wood and metal trim that looks awfully real. Oversize grab handles in the center console and pillowy, perforated Nappa leather seating also added more upscale appeal.

On more traditional highway journeys, Telluride’s suite of driver assistance programs also push the car ever so gently into semi-autonomous driving, with stop-and-go traffic self-steering and braking options we opted not to explore in the heavy snow and rain.

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