Drive: The 2021 Kia Telluride SX is an automotive techie's dream

Kia detected the winds of change in the U.S. automotive market early, importing a compact sport-utility vehicle called the Sportage in 1997. In most years since then, it's been a strong and even dominant seller for the South Korean automaker, reaching 89,278 units sold last year. Other SUVs came along thick and fast, snatching existing markets and even creating new ones. The latest addition, the Telluride, may be Kia's most daring thrust into the SUV market.

Now in its second year of production, the Telluride fills the gap between midsize and large SUVs. It competes with its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Palisade, as well as the Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent and Volkswagen Atlas. These may be classified as midsize SUVs, but make no mistake, they're big vehicles. The 2021 Telluride - named for a former mining town, now a ski resort, in southwestern Colorado - can be put to work as a people-mover carrying as many as eight passengers, or as a cargo truck with 87 cubic feet of space behind the front seats.

The Telluride does a lot of things well. It rides serenely, yet handles competently; attains 24 mpg on the highway despite weighing about two and a quarter tons; and pampers its occupants with luxurious accommodations and features.

It's also an automotive techie's dream. Base-priced at $44,090, the Telluride SX is packed to the rafters with safety, comfort and convenience features, all standard: blind-spot collision-avoidance assist; rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist; forward collision-avoidance avoidance assist; lane keeping Assist; parking-distance warning; adaptive cruise control; rear-occupant alert with ultrasonic sensors; and safe-exit assist. (The latter feature prevents drivers and passengers from opening their doors into oncoming traffic.)

On top of that, our Telluride had cameras linked to the turn signals and reverse gears. Backing out of our somewhat complicated driveway, we could watch the car's progress via a conventional rear-view camera and also could see it from above, as if the images were being projected by a low-flying drone.

The Telluride SX essentially is a luxury SUV, with leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, satellite radio, navigation system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, tri-zone automatic climate control and all-wheel drive. With a relatively short option list, it priced out at $48,720.

The base Telluride LX starts at $31,990, and is well equipped in its own right - even to the point of having blind-spot monitors as standard features. All Tellurides are powered by a 291-horsepower V-6 with an 8-speed automatic transmission.

Tellurides have been selling briskly, even with the mid-2020 downturn experienced by most if not all automakers: 58,604 last year, and a record 8,829 in September 2020.

2021 Kia Telluride SX V6 AWD

Price: $48,720

Engine: 3.8-liter V-6, 291 horsepower, 262 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 8-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: all-wheel

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear

Ground clearance: 8 in.

Curb weight: 4,482 lb.

Wheels: 20x7.5-in. black finished alloy

Tires: 245/50R20 all-season

Seating capacity: 7

Luggage capacity: 21 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 87 cu. ft.

Towing capacity: 5,000 lb.

Fuel capacity: 18.8 gal.

Fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 24 highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline

The Telluride also has done well in crash tests, earning a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for the 2020 model year, and an overall five-star rating in government crash tests for 2021.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.