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2020 Hyundai Palisade Test Drive Review
The Hyundai Palisade adds a new level of style and flair to the 3-row family-hauler SUV segment. Just as crucially, it offers plenty of content and technology for its price point.
When your job is to test drive cars, you start to see trends happening before your eyes. You mention something once, then again, and before you know it, it's unavoidable. The downside is I end up sounding like a broken record to a lot of shoppers. Car reviewers started seeing huge improvements from Kia and its parent company, Hyundai, years ago. Now, these Korean automakers are so good, they're genuine contenders in nearly every segment.
We saw this earlier this year with the 2020 Kia Telluride, which Cliff Atiyeh reviewed. Now we’re seeing it again with the all-new 2020 Hyundai Palisade. This is a spacious, comfortable, and versatile 3-row SUV, and one you should seriously consider against cornerstones of the family SUV market, like the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.
The Palisade has been a long time coming for Hyundai, which has been without a true contender in the segment. From 2008 to 2012, Hyundai offered the 3-row Veracruz, but that was more of a glorified 2-row SUV that had extra-small seats in the back for kids. More recently, Hyundai has offered the Santa Fe XL with three rows, but that was a stopgap car. This is a similar situation to Subaru, which offered the Tribeca for a number of years but didn't become a serious contender in the space until it debuted the Ascent. There are no half-measures in the family-hauler market.
This little history lesson serves to indicate the lengths to which automakers will go to stand out in the 3-row family SUV segment. The Palisade is already making headlines, but will it move the needle for Hyundai? Read on to find out, and to learn which trim of the Palisade CarGurus recommends.
Look and Feel
Hyundai absolutely knocked the Palisade's styling out of the park. This vehicle could wear a Cadillac logo, and shoppers wouldn't blink an eye. In fact, the Palisade stands out more than Caddy’s new XT6 3-row luxury SUV. Its bold, in-your-face styling is characterized by a massive grille and rakishly thin headlights. Interestingly enough, the upper headlight assembly is only part of the headlight puzzle. What appear to be larger fog lights make up the rest of the headlights. With them on, there is a character line of LEDs that extends from the upper headlights down through the mid-level assembly.
Speaking of unique style choices, Hyundai is known for doing interesting things with chrome and vehicles' character lines (just look at the new Sonata). This trend continues with the Palisade, which has a large chrome strip that runs from the base of the A-pillar up over both side door windows, and interestingly, finishes right after the rear door (as opposed to continuing all the way to the back). In one sense, this visually breaks up what might otherwise be a very long design. But it does leave the Palisade looking a little busy. I’m also curious how this design will age, but today it’s a handsome and eye-catching SUV.
The cabin of the Palisade continues that upscale feel, but with more elegance and simplicity. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the dash of the Palisade for one from a luxury brand. It has a fully digital instrument panel, a large touchscreen that flows seamlessly across the dash, and a center console bristling with controls that rise up along the centerline. At night and most times of day, your eyes will be drawn to the personalized ambient lighting system.
Of course, this cabin lighting comes only on our top-of-the-line Limited test model. There are three trims of the Palisade: SE, SEL, and Limited. And while the base SE doesn’t come with ambient lighting, it does come with acoustic-laminated glass, cloth upholstery, a 6-way adjustable driver’s seat, power-folding second-row seats, and a swath of front and rear USB ports. The SE also has a digital instrument panel and touchscreen infotainment system. It also comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, a host of driver-assistance features, and front and rear parking sensors.
The SEL trim swaps out the middle bench seats for second-row captain's chairs, satin chrome door handles and grille, integrated roof rails, and a proximity key with push-button start. The SEL adds an 8-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, second-row automatic climate controls, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. This trim also comes with a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
We drove the range-topping Limited trim, which swaps out the lower trims' 18-inch wheels for 20-inch alloys. The Limited also gets LED headlights, side puddle lights, and that LED cabin accent lighting. The Limited also gets rain-sensing wipers, a dual sunroof, and a hands-free smart power liftgate.
We’re not surprised that the Limited gets leather upholstery, but it’s the quality of the leather in the Palisade Limited that had us impressed—specifically, the unique stitching pattern found in the seats and door panels. The Limited also gets heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, driver’s seat memory, and power-folding third-row seats.
CarGurus recommends the mid-range SEL trim. Despite how much I enjoyed the Limited, you can get many of its range-topping features for nearly ten grand less in the SEL trim. If you get the SEL, you’d do well to get the $1,250 Driver Guidance package, too. This package adds satellite radio, an in-car intercom to talk to third-row passengers, and the larger navigation screen.
The Palisade comes equipped with a 3.8-liter V6. This is the only engine offered, and it gets the job done, making 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. Power gets sent to the front wheels or available all-wheel drive (AWD) through an 8-speed automatic transmission, operated via a push-button shifter. I believe automakers should all use a common shifter design for obvious safety reasons. But as proprietary shifters go, this one is not too bad. It’s certainly better than anything coming from Honda or General Motors (specifically Buick and Cadillac).
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the automatic transmission manages power well, and the V6 engine provides solid acceleration. In the center console next to the shifter is a drive mode dial. This dial provides Sport, Comfort, Eco, Snow, and Smart modes. Among these modes, Smart is pretty neat. It toggles between the other modes based on your driving habits. If you are sitting in traffic or idling at a light, it will engage Eco mode. But if you step on it to get up to highway speeds or to pass someone, it'll engage Sport mode. All the while, the instrument panel indicates which mode you are in, which allows you to observe the system’s quick response to your driving habits.
In Comfort mode, the V6 and the transmission take a half-second to respond to your desire to speed up, but eventually, they bring on strong acceleration. If you prefer quicker response times, Sport mode makes the gas pedal twitchier. Just as impressive, cornering is fantastic in Sport mode (well, it's fantastic for a vehicle this size). The Limited trim comes with a self-leveling rear suspension, which absolutely makes a difference. If you care a lot about driving dynamics, the Limited will provide the most rewarding experience.
Even in Comfort mode, the Palisade's handling remains pretty level. During my test, the suspension was able to perform cornering duties while also absorbing bumpy New England roads. This really is the best of both worlds.
Fuel economy for the 2019 Hyundai Palisade FWD is 19 mpg city, 26 highway, 22 combined. With AWD, fuel economy is 19/24/21. In a week of combined city and highway driving, I observed fuel economy of 20.3 miles per gallon.
Form and Function
Driving dynamics and neon cabin lights are neat, but 3-row SUVs are all about versatility and handling everything a family can throw at them. In this respect, the Palisade also gets the job done. The Palisade has 45.8 cubic feet with the third row down and 86.4 cubic feet with all rear seats dropped. That’s more than both the Highlander and the Pilot. Our Limited test model had power-folding third-row seats, which can individually drop with the push of a button, although they take their sweet time rising and dropping.
Space in the third row feels manageable, even for longer trips. The 3-row SUV market pretty much falls into two categories—those with third rows designed for adults, and those with third rows that can be occupied only by children. The Palisade just barely finds itself in the former category.
If you aren’t in the front seats, the second-row captain's chairs are the place to be. Each rear door has multiple cup holders, and the seatback pockets provide plenty of space. There is also space between the second-row captain's chairs for your bags or gear, though the Honda Pilot makes better use of this space by offering a second-row center console with a cargo tray and cup holders.
Hyundai supplies the Palisade with plenty of standard tech, including an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The SE also has three front-row USB ports, two second-row USB ports, and Bluetooth connectivity. Hyundai’s infotainment system is incredibly easy to use. It has a home button that will help if you ever get lost in the menus, and it has tactile buttons and dials to bring you to desired menus.
The SEL also comes standard with the smaller screen, but selecting the $1,250 Driver Guidance package will get you the larger 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation. This larger screen comes standard on the Limited and includes real-time traffic updates. This option package for the SEL also adds satellite radio and the Driver Talk in-car intercom system for talking to third-row passengers. As far as we could tell, this is a one-way intercom for parents who don’t feel like losing their voice.
The Limited also comes with the fantastic Harman Kardon premium audio system. It boasts 12 speakers and Clari-Fi music restoration technology. Features like a surround-view monitor and a head-up display round out the tech equipment for the Limited.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2020 Hyundai Palisade a Top Safety Pick+, its highest award. In addition to standard fare like a reversing camera, child-seat anchors, and a full array of front- and side-impact airbags, the Palisade comes loaded with the latest driver-assistance tech. Every Palisade comes with forward-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, a driver-attention warning, and parking sensors.
As mentioned, the Palisade comes standard with a fully digital instrument panel. This opens up a lot of possibilities for conveying information to the driver. For one, the parking sensors' warning shows up on the right side of the instrument panel (as well as the touchscreen if you have the upgraded infotainment system).
This digital instrument panel also allows for the Palisade’s unique blind-spot camera system. When you select the right or left turn signal, the corresponding parking camera to that side of the vehicle activates. The live image is then projected on the instrument panel and allows you to see curbs, traffic, and anything else that could be in your blind spot.
The 2020 Hyundai Palisade has a base MSRP of $31,550. This is for the SE with front-wheel drive (FWD). Moving to the SEL brings the starting price to $33,500. The Limited starts at $44,700, while AWD adds $1,700 for each trim. We tested the Limited with AWD. When you factor in $160 for carpeted floor mats and the $1,045 destination and handling fee (this has since increased to $1,095), our test model clocked in at $46,605.
Even fully loaded, the Palisade is priced very competitively for the class. The mid-$40,000 range is to be expected for a top-level trim of the Honda Pilot or Toyota Highlander. The base price is also on par with those established rivals. The SEL with some options straddles that line of price and content, and frankly, it feels like you get more for the price with the Palisade.
Spend enough time with any car and you’ll start to learn its quirks. A family on a road trip might find more issues than I did after a week of driving, but truth be told, I actually had to search long and hard to find any gripes with the Palisade.
The shifter design was my only real beef. But compared to some others out there, it’s tolerable. Overall, the Palisade presented itself as a truly upscale and versatile SUV. The wild thing to consider is that Hyundai’s Genesis luxury brand may offer an SUV based on the Palisade. The Palisade Limited was nice enough to make you wonder where Genesis can take this SUV platform.
But that’s just the thing. The Palisade does not wear a luxury badge. There are no luxury expectations that come with this Hyundai SUV, and as a result, it has been one of the standout vehicles that I’ve driven in the past six months.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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