Driving the Hyundai Palisade recently I kept thinking about how far the Korean manufacturer has come. It’s pretty remarkable. This is the same company that used to build the Azera and the Entourage. Google them, if you must, but be advised they’re unlikely to inflame your automotive passions.
Be it resolved that Hyundai isn’t in the bland and boring transportation appliance business anymore. Sure, you can still run into a mid-aughts Sonata doing its best Accord impression in a mall parking lot on occasion, but you should know the company that birthed that dull mid-size once upon a time has moved on. Big time.
These days, Hyundai builds intricately designed, sophisticated, and technologically advanced cars. Like the three-row Palisade, a mid-size utility so striking and unexpected that when I first saw it at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, I wouldn’t have correctly guessed its brand if the badges were missing.
For 2021, there are four Palisade trims: Essential, Preferred, Luxury and Ultimate Calligraphy. The latter is a new offering, which Hyundai Canada says is in response to the roughly 50 per cent take rate of the Ultimate grade since the Palisade went on sale in the summer of 2019.
The goal of the Ultimate Calligraphy is to capture more luxury-conscious buyers, so this top-shelf model has been outfitted with a load of additional premium kit. Model-specific exterior features include unique 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels, exclusive front fascia, premium side door garnish, premium rear-accent lighting signature, ultra-wide LED centre high-mount stoplight, puddle lamps and front accent lighting signature.
On the inside, the Ultimate Calligraphy receives quilted leather door panels, microfibre-suede headliner, premium cargo sill protection plate, perforated leather steering wheel and grey Nappa leather with navy blue dash and trim.
There are no changes on the powertrain front. All Palisades are powered by a 3.8-litre V6 (291 hp / 262 lb-ft) paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard on all but the base Essential, which is front wheel drive out of the box with AWD available as an option. The Palisade can be had in either seven or eight-passenger seating configurations.
My tester for this review, courtesy of Hyundai Canada, is an Ultimate Calligraphy unit finished in Moonlight Cloud (think navy blue) with a Harbour Grey Nappa leather interior. I think the dark blue looks quite dramatic in a winter landscape… when it’s not covered in slush and salt stains.
Given its recent arrivals and others that are on the way, like the Ioniq 5 and 2022 Tucson, Hyundai has proven it isn’t afraid to be daring on the design front. Dull cars they are not, and the Palisade is a good example of this aggressive design ethos.
Sure, its form factor is somewhat limiting, but areas wide open for innovation, such as grille, lighting and surfacing design, are deeply engaged here. The Palisade’s face is striking, as its large cascade grille and vertically connected LED lighting (standard on all 2021 models) make a bold premium statement.
Elsewhere, prominent wheel arch lines and sculpted door panels give the Palisade a muscular shape, while slight bulges in the rear quarter panels wrap neatly into big red vertical taillamps to create a unique rear signature. I don’t often hear much from my neighbours when there’s a big SUV in my parking space, but this one got, ‘hey that’s a nice one,’ from the guy who parks across from me which is noteworthy.
As mentioned, the Ultimate Calligraphy is designed to appeal to luxury conscious shoppers and Hyundai has pulled out all the stops with a cabin decked out in premium content. From the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster and 10.25-inch multimedia screen to the heated and cooled Nappa leather seating, dual panel sunroof and wireless cellphone charge pad, one really is in the lap of luxury in this Palisade.
The richness of materials and their visual details are as impressive as any I’ve encountered from a mass-market brand and show just how serious Hyundai is when it comes to courting moneyed consumers. Despite its relative opulence, every knob and switch I encountered in the Palisade is easy to locate and use with minimal distraction.
The digital displays are gorgeous, and the blind view monitor is the most useful safety feature I’ve ever seen incorporated into an instrument cluster. Seating is comfortable, outward visibility is excellent and the configurability of the space is as impressive as its cavernous volume (maximum cargo 2,447 litres).
On the road, the Palisade accelerates well off the line, has good power in the mid-range, and its available driving modes provide plenty of tailoring on the performance-efficiency continuum. Same goes for the terrain settings, which includes a dedicated snow mode I made use of during my test.
The ride quality is dialled for comfort and the cabin is hushed thanks to an acoustically laminated windshield and front side glass (standard on all 2021 models), and while I wouldn’t describe the Palisade as athletic, its general handling belies its size. For a seven-passenger SUV it feels responsive. And it has a maximum tow rating of 5,000 pounds, for those inclined to go cottaging and camping.
As I said at the outset, the Palisade is a paradigm-shifting vehicle for Hyundai. Beyond being another volume seller, which it is in both the U.S. and Canada, it embodies how far the company has come in terms of building vehicles consumers aspire to own. Being an SUV, its success was almost predestined, but taking an ordinary form factor and fashioning an elegant and much desired product out of it? That’s next level.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.