When we first drove the Kia brand’s boxy-chic new entrant in the emperor’s-new-minivan class, we declared the 2020 Telluride’s chief competitors to be the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander, and the new Ford Explorer. There are enough other rivals to warrant a MotorTrend-certified Big Test of the class, but it takes a while to round up all those opponents. Patience, please. Besides, it just so happens that we currently have a really close competitor conveniently parked in our Detroit office long-term garage: the 2019 Subaru Ascent.
Sizing Them Up
By the tape measure, these two are darned close peers, measuring within a tenth of an inch in length and four-tenths of an inch in wheelbase. The Telluride is, however, a significant 2.3 inches wider and 2.7 inches lower (0.7 inch of which comes from reduced ground clearance).
Yet surprisingly, it’s the Telluride holds the interior height advantage (with headroom bonuses of 1.5 inches in the middle row and 1.8 inches in the way back) while the Ascent that prevails in third-row shoulder room, hip room, and cargo space width (by 1.9, 2.2, and 2.5 inches, respectively).
It appears the Kia engineers programmed their design computers to maximize passenger volume (perhaps driving that boxy exterior shape). When we look at the three-row crossover class—comparing base vehicles—the Telluride tops the list in overall passenger volume with 160.7 cubic feet, followed closely by its Hyundai sistership at 159.1. (Adding sunroofs shrinks front- and middle-row results without changing the order.) The Chevy Traverse is the big winner in third-row passenger space with 41.1 cubic feet to the Telluride’s and Ascent’s 36.0 cubes.
Chevrolet also trumps the class in cargo space, accommodating 98.2/58.1/23.0 cubic feet behind the front/middle/rear seats. The Telluride and Ascent carry 87.0/46.0/21.0 and 86.0/47.0/17.6.
Riding in Them
If Kia optimized for size, Subaru optimized for comfort. But just like when choosing a mattress, you can’t just look at both interiors, you have to try them out. The Telluride’s interior makes a fabulous first impression with a wider touchscreen. Thanks to the $2,000 Prestige package, it also has more interesting stitch patterns on the seats, an Alcantara-look headliner, and a head-up display. It has even discovered a new fake open-pore wood technology that fools both the eye and the hand better than most (and better than the stuff in Subaru’s fanciest Touring trim— our Limited arguably looks better without the mock maple).
But spend a couple of hours in the seats, and you’ll find the Subaru offers more comfortable long-term support. The Ascent’s third row is also better suited for taller kids or adults; it’s wider, and the seat cushion is about an inch higher off the floor than the Kia’s—though middle-row passengers will need to scoot their seat forward to provide adequate legroom. The Ascent is also easier to climb into, with 10 inches of foot clearance between the door opening and folded middle row to the Telluride’s 8.5. Props go to Kia for providing a quieter interior, however.
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