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Before the stripped-down, bare-naked bodyshell of every new Kia Telluride SUV is given a final, gleaming coat of color, there’s one key preparation process it has to go through. 

It’s dusted with emu feathers.

Not any old feathers. But the slightly shaggy, gray-brown plumage of Australia’s non-flying, somewhat oddball native bird. 

“Emu feathers are electro-statically charged, so can pick up the minutest specks of dust. And because the feathers have a large surface area, they provide a lot of coverage. There’s nothing man-made that can match them.”

That’s T.J. explaining. As in T.J. White, the all-knowing paint production manager at Kia’s KMMG West Point, Georgia assembly plant, who before the coronavirus shutdown gave me an in-depth tour of his pride-and-joy facility. 

“In this day and age, it seems crazy that we’d use bird feathers in such a hi-tech environment,” he explains. “But they help give us the quality paint finish we demand. If they didn’t work, we wouldn’t use them.”

Quality. That’s the word  you hear over and over again in any conversation with T.J. and his team. 

It’s a word you’ll hear repeated when talking to any of the 2,700 workers employed at this state-of-the-art assembly plant alongside I-85, an hour’s drive from Atlanta. 

And having just spent a week driving a top-of-the-line, Georgia-built 2020 Telluride SX, it’s the overwhelming feel of quality that oozes out of every pore of this $47,000 SUV that impresses the most.

Yep, that’s the bargain-basement price of this flagship model. And that’s with it loaded to its roof-rails with seemingly every conceivable luxury feature. 

That means gorgeous nappa leather trim that’s double-stitched, quilted, perforated and extra-padded. And front and second-row seats that are heated and ventilated.

Then there’s the stunning open-pore wood on the dash and stylish brushed metal trim. The cabin is just gorgeous. 

And this is a bona-fide three-row, seven-seater — or eight-seater with the second-row bench. The second-row captain’s chairs come standard with the SX, and they’re like mini La-Z-Boys. 

What’s also impressive here is that the third row can actually seat adults — perfect when you need to socially-distance yourself from Aunt Peggy. 

As a load-carrier the Telluride also nails it, thanks to its barn door-like tailgate opening and easy-fold seats. Flip forward the second and third rows and the Kia will swallow up to 87 cubic feet of cargo. That’s huge. 

See it out on the streets and it is definitely a looker. I love its clean-cut lines, the bold Kia-trademark “tiger’s nose” grille, those cool, halo-ringed, stacked headlights and macho 20-inch gloss-black wheels. 

All this, and it drives great, too. Just climb aboard, hit that pushbutton start, dial up “Sport” and punch it.

Power comes from Kia’s trusty, though admittedly a little old-school, 3.8-liter direct-injection V6 cranking out 291 horseys. It’s mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. 

Sport mode livens up the throttle and and speeds up the steering to give the Telluride a sportier feel. But I was happy to dial back to “Comfort” mode and enjoy the creamy ride and near total lack of engine noise.

And for a tall-bodied, three-row SUV, the big Kia feels remarkably nimble and composed through the curves. There’s little to no body lean, turn-in is precise, and there’s more grip than a case of Fixodent.

Kia designers and engineers have done an astonishingly good job creating this new Telluride, while the folks at the West Point plant are doing a fine job building it. 

And the best part? No emus are sacrificed in the pursuit of paint perfection. These are feathers that fell out during molting. 

Test-drive the 2020 Kia Telluride at Century Kia of Tampa, Crown Kia of St. Pete, Lokey Kia of Clearwater and Courtesy Kia of Brandon

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