As demand for three-row SUVs continues to grow, every automaker has scrambled to get a slice of the pie. One of the newest entries, the 2020 Kia Telluride, promises head-turning looks and luxurious trappings at a value price. A new generation of Ford Explorer arrived this year, too. Riding on a new rear-drive architecture shared with the Lincoln Aviator, the 2020 Explorer aims to entice families with its power, tech, and rugged looks. Both three-row SUVs offer strong propositions, but which one is the best all-around family rig? Let’s find out.
The 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Ford Explorer both offer roomy first- and second-row seating, but things go awry when the third row enters the equation. In our 2020 Kia Telluride SX tester, accessing the third row requires a single push of a button, and there’s respectable head- and legroom for adults on a quick lunch run. Kids will be comfortable back there for long road trips provided you limit capacity to two. Features editor Christian Seabaugh complained about the higher floor, which cut into headroom and forced him to sit with his knees at an odd angle.
Moving on to the 2020 Ford Explorer, you’ll find that the third row only has two seats, and as with the Telluride, entering is easy. With the seats on the floor, you’ll be sitting with your knees at an awkward angle, though, and there’s noticeably less space. Executive editor Mark Rechtin noted that if second-row passengers move their seat up to ease the suffering of third-row passengers, they’ll also be cramped. There’s just not enough room for adults to sit in both the second and third rows at the same time. With all seats taken, the Telluride’s underfloor storage has more space than the Explorer’s, but it’s only enough for a stroller and a couple knickknacks.
Look closely at the interior details, and you’ll notice the Telluride’s superior build quality. Everything you touch feels expensive and substantial, and our SX tester’s two-tone Nappa leather upholstery further enhances the cabin’s premium ambiance. In comparison, the Explorer XLT’s interior reeks of cheapness, putting it way behind the Telluride in terms of quality. Multiple staffers criticized the Explorer’s interior for cost cutting and the extensive use of substandard bits throughout the cabin. (Editors had similar opinions about two more expensive Explorer testers.)
Safety and Multimedia Tech
Considering kids’ (and adults’) tech obsession these days, a family vehicle must keep mobile devices charged. Both the Telluride and Explorer have you covered with multiple USB ports across all three rows. They’re placed strategically close to passengers so you can easily reach your devices. Ford distinguishes the Explorer from competitors with fast-charging USB-C ports in addition to the more common USB-A.
Kia has one of the most user-friendly infotainment systems currently available. The Telluride sports the latest UVO interface, which is quicker and more responsive than its predecessor. Its 10.3-inch touchscreen (standard on the EX and SX grades) doesn’t overwhelm you with information and has the right amount of customizability. All of its controls are logically arranged in tiers, further improving usability. An available 10-speaker Harman Kardon surround sound system elevates the multimedia experience with a vivid, well-rounded listening experience.
The Explorer’s Sync 3 system also prioritizes user-friendliness and has bigger icons than Kia’s UVO interface. “Ford’s newest infotainment software is its best yet, and I like all the animations in the instrument cluster screen,” features editor Scott Evans said. Our tester had the standard 8.0-inch unit, which was responsive, intuitive, and crystal clear despite the lack of real estate on the display. You can get a 10.1-inch touchscreen on the ST and Platinum grades.
The 2020 Telluride and Explorer come with effective driver assistance suites. Ford’s Co-Pilot360 works as advertised, but it’s tuned conservatively. Its lane keeping and centering systems jerks you back when they detect that you’re drifting past the lane lines. Kia’s system operates smoother and will even take mild turns on the highway. However, it too has its quirks; for example, the lane centering system has a hard time detecting faded lane lines after you take a turn or when you drive on roads with inconsistent markings. Adaptive cruise control in both vehicles leaves too much space between you and the vehicle ahead, allowing others to cut in between.
Hitting the Road
With a 2.3-liter turbo-four making 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, the Explorer has more power than the Telluride and feels more responsive. However, don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s a powerhouse. “The four-cylinder does yeoman’s work powering this three-row SUV,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle noted. “Acceleration is not neck-snapping but is adequate.” Credit the 10-speed automatic for extracting the most out of the little engine. Too bad the transmission isn’t smooth; it sometimes shifts roughly at wide-open throttle and stumbles at city speeds.
The Telluride never feels like it’s rushing. Its 291-hp 3.8-liter V-6 delivers power in a linear fashion. Kia’s eight-speed automatic shifts smoothly and at a more leisurely pace. The transmission calibration also makes the engine’s lack of torque apparent, something Seabaugh thinks will only get amplified when you’re hauling passengers and cargo in the SUV.
Both SUVs offer a comfortable ride, but dynamic differences become apparent once the road starts to twist and turn. The Telluride clearly has refinement and stability in mind. Evans appreciated that the Kia drives smaller than it looks and handles better than expected, and MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina was impressed by its body control and nice suspension. “It absorbs broken pavement and railroad tracks really well,” he said.
The Explorer also rode well over broken surfaces, though it lacked composure. “The suspension is quite bouncy, and the cabin movement was quite notable,” Cortina said. Its vague steering also felt overboosted, and the cabin of our tester suffered from so much wind noise at highway speeds that Evans thought one of the rear windows wasn’t fully closed. When driving through twisty roads, the Explorer flopped around more, and its poor body control made it feel unwieldy through tight roads.
And the Verdict Is …
Both the 2020 Kia Telluride and the 2020 Ford Explorer bring a lot to the table, but the Kia is simply the more well-rounded vehicle. The big Korean also comes with features found in pricier luxury SUVs, such as heated and ventilated second-row seats, a blind-spot monitor, and a self-leveling rear air suspension, while topping out at $46,860. An equally equipped 2020 Explorer costs well into the $50,000 range, yet the quality, road manners, and comfort pales in comparison against the Telluride. For those reasons, the 2020 Kia Telluride wins this matchup.
|2020 Ford Explorer XLT||2020 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||60-deg V-6, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||138.1 cu in/2,264cc||230.5 cu in/3,778cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||300 hp @ 5,500 rpm||291 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||310 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm||262 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,500 rpm||6,500 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||14.6 lb/hp||15.3 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||10-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|AXLE/FINAL DRIVE RATIO||3.58:1/2.58:1||3.65:1/2.36:1|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|TURNS LOCK TO LOCK||3.1||2.9|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.6-in vented disc; 12.6-in disc, ABS||13.4-in vented disc; 12.0-in disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.5 x 20-in cast aluminum||7.5 x 20-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||255/55R20 107H M+S Pirelli Scorpion Zero All Season||245/50R20 102V M+S Michelin Primacy Tour A/S|
|WHEELBASE||119.1 in||114.2 in|
|TRACK, F/R||66.9/66.9 in||67.2/67.6 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||198.8 x 78.9 x 69.9 in||196.9 x 78.3 x 69.3 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||7.9 in||8.0 in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||20.1/22.0 deg||17.0/20.9 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||38.7 ft||38.8 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,367 lb||4,460 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||50/50%||56/44%|
|TOWING CAPACITY||5,300 lb||5,000 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/M/R||40.7/40.5/38.9 in||39.5/38.8/37.8 in|
|LEGROOM, F/M/R||43.0/39.0/32.2 in||41.4/42.4/31.4 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/M/R||61.8/61.9/54.6 in||61.6/59.9/55.3 in|
|CARGO VOLUME, BEH F/M/R||87.8/47.9/18.2 cu ft||87.0/46.0/21.0 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.2 sec||2.5 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.6||3.7|
|QUARTER MILE||15.3 sec @ 89.6 mph||15.4 sec @ 90.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||121 ft||126 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.81 g (avg)||0.76 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.7 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)||28.7 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,600 rpm||1,700 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$43,415||$46,860|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee||7: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 years/36,000 miles||5 years/60,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 years/60,000 miles||10 years/100,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 years/60,000 miles||5 years/Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||19.2 gal||18.8 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||20/27/23 mpg||19/24/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||169/125 kW-hr/100 miles||177/140 kW-hr/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.86 lb/mile||0.93 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular|
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