The 2021 Kia Telluride gets pretty bad fuel economy, I thought, returning 23 mpg over 800-odd miles of driving. “I’d get something smaller and more fuel-efficient,” I thought to myself. What a fool I am! Turns out, pretty much every other car even remotely similar to this gets the same numbers.
The Telluride, and I will say this as succinctly as possible, is big. It is large. Vast. Voluminous. Very sizable. It is cavernous inside and grandiose outside. It takes up a great deal of space. Every time I looked behind myself, there was more car. The Telluride stretches unto infinity.
It is boxy and blocky and heavy and it only comes with a large engine. Its 4,200 pounds (give or take 100 pounds depending on your spec, per Kia) get pushed around by a 3.8-liter V6, with 13:1 compression and 291 horsepower. I was driving the AWD version, which the federal government rates at 21 mpg combined, 19 city, 24 highway. That tracks with what I saw in my time with the thing, mostly driving on smaller highways, rural undivideds, and a brief digression up and down a tractor path. (The AWD works just fine on muddy grass on the side of a farm, if you need to pick up a Bianchi in a pinch.)
It was a similar kind of journey as I took in a Kia Seltos a few months back. That vehicle is about a thousand pounds lighter than the Telluride, has two fewer cylinders and makes nearly half the power of this bigger Kia. It only has two rows of seating versus the Telluride’s three. Let’s say that you, an environmentally-conscious buyer on a Kia lot, turned away from the Telluride to the Seltos. How much better fuel economy do you get for such a noble sacrifice? How many more MPG?
There is no human alive who would make a car buying decision based on four MPG between two 20-something mpg cars who wasn’t already sold on one or the other. It’s a difference of half a gallon for every 100 miles you drive, converting from MPG to gallons per 100 miles.
Conveniently, both Kias cover the same amount of ground to cover in a tank, so the only real difference between the two at the pump is a cost of $54 to fill up the Telluride versus $38 for the Seltos. Downsizing from a hulking behemoth to a reasonably-sized crossover saves $16 when you fill up and not much else.
The strange thing about the Telluride is that it is a very large and heavy car, but it’s not actually as large or as heavy as other three-row SUV/crossover things. No surprise, then, that the “big” Kia returns better mileage than actually-huge three-row SUVs you could also buy if you had three kids to take to on a road trip and no more used Volvo wagons in your area.
Even if you are the most nostalgic car buyer around, still thinking that there was nothing wrong with the Clinton years, and you went and bought a similarly-priced minivan, you’re not actually getting any better MPG unless you get a hybrid. The size, shape, and weight of the vehicle just isn’t enough to make a meaningful improvement in economy.
It’s surprising that going hybrid is pretty much the only way for a consumer to make a significant change in fuel consumption. Less surprising is that the European auto industry that is under pressure to meet stricter standards is shifting towards hybrids. Mass adoption of all-electric cars is still a number of years out. The dream of downsizing — making efficiency gains by putting smaller engines in smaller cars — was apparently a lie this whole time.
Even if you went out and bought a van, like the lovely Transit Connect, you’re still in pretty much the same boat mileage-wise.
I am a rube, and as a rube I foolishly believe that by now, in the year 2021, the environmentalists in the U.S. government would have made it so that normal-ass cars get more than 20-odd miles per gallon. I guess not.