Review: 2020 Hyundai Palisade
Late to the three-row SUV party, the new Palisade has quickly cemented itself as one of the best in the segment.
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Good: Impressive safety, comfort, and luxury in all three rows; more than you expect at a price point you don’t.
- What’s Bad: Polarizing front-end styling.
Three decades ago Hyundai was a relatively unknown company in North America and with the poorly made, rust-prone Pony its first foray at selling cars here (they didn’t pass U.S emissions standards), the automaker’s future was questionable at best. While the Pony might not have been the company’s best foot forward it represented the break they needed to sell cars in the lucrative North American market.
Today the vehicles Hyundai produces are a winning cocktail of thoughtful engineering and intelligent design placing them at the top of their classes in many segments. Now encompassing three distinct brands (Hyundai, Kia, Genesis), they’ve cracked nuts like the German sport sedan and developed one of the largest EV portfolios in the business. Over the years the Korean auto giant has proven that there isn’t anything it can’t do.
These aren’t small things, and Hyundai’s massive success has directly resulted in cars that keep getting better at an astonishing rate.
Lacking a mid-size three-row SUV entry to play in the massively hot and competitive segment where the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander live, the new Hyundai Palisade and fraternal twin Kia Telluride went on sale earlier this year and have already picked up numerous awards.
In 2019 I drove nearly 50 vehicles of all shapes and sizes and the Palisade was one of the biggest surprises.
Normally, I don’t get excited about SUVs. I prefer well-sorted sedans and wagons, but if there’s one vehicle that could convince me to perch my butt higher off the ground, it’s this one.
The minivan is out and the three-row SUV is in. And yes, while they still aren’t as practical as the original kinder-wagon, they’re an order of magnitude cooler.
Like many Canadians, I’m a stickler for value. Show me a good deal and you’ll get my undivided attention. And Hyundai is king at packing in bells and whistles you just wouldn’t expect at the price point. The new Palisade takes that philosophy and runs with it.
Offered in four trim levels starting at $38,499, a base Palisade will seat eight people. Second-row captain’s chairs reduce that number to seven but aren’t offered at this starter level.
Standard safety features include forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane keeping assist, lane following assist, driver attention warning, and automatic high beams. There are also some unexpected items like the rear occupant warning system that can alert you if you’ve left someone behind by honking the horn and sending a message to your phone via the Hyundai BlueLink app. The base Palisade even gets adaptive cruise control, a heated steering wheel, and heated seats. HTRAC all-wheel drive can be added for an additional $2000, an option nearly everyone is sure to go for considering that this is Canada.
In order to get those captain’s chairs, you’ll need to move up to the Luxury trim, where it can be added for $500; you’ll also get an auto-levelling rear suspension, a larger 10.25-inch infotainment screen with navigation, surround view cameras, and Hyundai’s innovative blind view monitor (BVM). When indicating a turn BVM brings up a live video feed of the Palisade’s blind spot right in the gauge cluster and it will do this for both the right and left sides, unlike Honda’s Lanewatch system which only works on the passenger side. It works a treat and is a feature I wish every car had.
The Ultimate trim, like the one Hyundai furnished me with, adds supple Nappa leather, a fully digital instrument cluster, head-up display, and more. Priced at $54,199 the second-row captain’s chairs are standard here and they’re ventilated as well. A luxury usually reserved for vehicles double the price.
Options are non-existent, reducing order form complexity. Just pick the trim and colour you’d like, sign on the dotted line and you’re done.
Typically, two-box SUVs aren’t the most inspiring platform a designer can work with. However, they’ve done a good job here infusing the corporate Hyundai design language into their largest vehicle. Squinty lighting accents, not to be confused for the headlights, double as the DRLs. The real headlights are set lower in the front fascia and flank an oversized shield of a grille that can come across as ungainly but I got used to it quite quickly. It does, at the very least, appear to make a statement. And in a category that’s about as exciting as soggy bread, the Palisade will get noticed.
The sole engine choice is a naturally aspirated 3.8-L V6 that makes 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque which are competitive figures on par with the new Toyota Highlander and slightly better than the Honda Pilot and the Mazda CX-9. None, though, can out puff the range of turbo powerplants found in Ford’s new Explorer.
Call for thrust from the engine room and the Palisade responds smartly, unencumbered by laggy turbos. Power builds quickly and proved adequate for just about anything from a stoplight dash to passing semis on the highway. It’s linked to an 8-speed automatic that shifts smoothly and is largely invisible making forward progress a cinch. Granted this powertrain isn’t going to blow you away or even press your back into the seats like an Explorer ST but the smooth, quiet, and relaxed nature of Hyundai’s V6 is an ideal companion for this luxurious three-row.
In fact, the luxury card has been played a lot here and is one way the Palisade has been separated from the Kia Telluride, which takes on a sportier persona matched with styling that tends to stay within the box rather than wander outside of it.
From the second I sunk into the quilted leather driver’s seat the Palisade did its best impression of an SUV much more expensive than the price printed on its sticker. An acoustically laminated windshield and first-row side windows keep forward progress hushed and the engine is only slightly audible even when pushed hard. Having recently driven the new Mercedes GLE, an $80,000 luxury SUV, the refinement and panache displayed by the Palisade was all the more revealing.
The Hyundai might not have had open-pore wood trim and a leather-covered dash like the Benz but its assortment of pleasing textures and high-quality materials, like quilted leather on the door cards, a bright row of metallic buttons, soft feel touch points, and switchgear with just the right amount of heft in their operation were all traits of an interior experience that felt closer to sitting in a Lexus or an Acura.
But a three-row SUV should have a usable third row and once again the Palisade didn’t disappoint. At six-feet tall I found it surprisingly comfortable with enough head and elbow room and cushy seats that didn’t force me into the fetal position. It was also shockingly easy to get back there with just a button push sending the second-row seat springing forward presenting a sizeable gap to climb in. If your tween isn’t a 6-footer already they’ll ride around like the little emperors that they are with their screens firmly glued to their face, powered by standard USB ports. And if you need to get their attention, there’s no need to yell, just activate driver talk and project your voice through the rear speakers like a god.
One area where a large SUV has not been able to best a minivan is in ultimate practicality. A minivan will swallow eight people but will also leave enough left over in the back for their stuff. But at just over 500 litres of space behind the third-row of the Palisade don’t expect to fit more than one full-size stroller without a bit of a struggle. And this performance is not any better or worse than all the others in this category. Luxury and Ultimate trims get a power-folding third-row that can even be folded back up electrically, so if you did need more space it’s only a button push away.
The Palisade wafts down the road with the composure and grace of an Olympic gymnast. After a busy day of parenting, it’s a mobile sanctuary; a good friend that you will help you unwind.
It even feels lighter on its feet than its proportions will have you believe. Don’t confuse it for something sporty, though, because this is not that vehicle. But if you wanted to take a corner with some enthusiasm, go for it. The steering is light and body motions are kept in check, while road imperfections are largely shrugged off.
Multiple driving modes like sport and eco will alter steering weight, transmission mapping, and throttle response. A smart mode attempts to monitor driving style and adjusts the parameters accordingly. But, once again, this isn’t that type of vehicle and the changes between modes are quite subtle. Even the eco setting didn’t give me an appreciably better result than I was able to muster in comfort or sport, however, my combined efficiency of 11.6L per 100 km was really nothing to complain about given the size of the vehicle I was driving.
Complaints are truly hard to come up with. It does have a face that you’re either going to love or hate but it’s easy to forgive when you consider just how good everything else is. And it isn’t the most efficient thing around, but short of getting a Highlander Hybrid, you aren’t doing much better in this class.
For someone that hasn’t jumped on the SUV bandwagon, I enjoyed driving the Palisade way more than I should have. It’s not sporty, or fast, nor is it going to win any beauty contests. It merely tells you what it’s going to do on the box, and it does exactly that and more, exceedingly well. All for much less money than you expected.
The large family SUV might be one of the hottest and most difficult segments to break new ground in today, but Hyundai has proven that not only did they break that ground, they’re already building a skyscraper on top of it.
2020 Hyundai Palisade Ultimate
BODY STYLE: 5-door, 7-8 passenger mid-size SUV
CONFIGURATION: Front-engine, All-wheel drive (AWD)
ENGINE: 3.8-L V6; 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque
TRANSMISSION : 8-speed automatic
CARGO CAPACITY: 510 – 2447 litres
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular Gasoline in L/100 km) 12.3 city; 9.6 highway; 11.1 combined
OBSERVED FUEL ECONOMY: 11.6 L/100 km
PRICE: $ 38,699 (Essential 2WD); $45,699 (Preferred); $ 50,399 (Luxury); $54,199 (Ultimate)
WEBSITE: Hyundai Palisade