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2021 Hyundai Palisade Test Drive Review

Affordable, roomy, comfortable, safe, high-tech, enjoyable to drive, and remarkably stylish, the 2021 Hyundai Palisade is one of the best midsize, three-row SUVs money can buy.

9 /10
Overall Score

Critically acclaimed and selling well, the 2021 Hyundai Palisade enters its sophomore year with more standard equipment, expanded infotainment capabilities, and a new luxury-themed trim level.

The 2021 Palisade lineup includes SE, SEL, Limited, and new Calligraphy trim, with base prices ranging from $32,525 to $46,050—not including a destination charge of $1,175. For this review, we evaluated a Palisade Calligraphy with optional all-wheel drive (AWD) and carpeted floor mats. It cost $49,115, including destination.

Look and Feel

8/ 10

To visually distinguish itself from other versions of the SUV, the 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy gets a different grille pattern, revised exterior lighting including puddle lamps on each side, additional lower body trim, unique 20-inch wheels, upgraded interior detailing, and a simulated suede interior headliner.

In 2020, some of these features were standard with the Limited trim level. This year, the Limited remains appealing, but it adopts an exterior look identical to the Palisade SEL equipped with the Convenience or Premium option packages. The only other exterior change is standard LED headlights for Palisade models that did not have them last year.

With Calligraphy trim, our test vehicle looked fancier than other Palisades, and it drew the attention of others. Whether that was positive attention or not is unclear because the Palisade’s unconventional styling is tough to judge.

For example, in my household, my wife loves this Hyundai’s look. I’m on the fence, and overall, I prefer the Palisade’s platform-mate, the Kia Telluride. But there is no denying that the Palisade Calligraphy appears to be far more expensive than it is.

That holds true on the inside, too. At sticker price, compare the Calligraphy’s cabin to any other SUV in the midsize three-row class, and it puts the others to shame (except for the Kia Telluride SX Prestige, which is similarly luxe).

Our test vehicle had a Beige over Navy Blue color scheme with a light, striated simulated wood trim. The quilted and stitched premium Nappa leather, combined with the suede headliner, makes the Calligraphy’s window sticker seem like a genuine bargain.

Performance

9/ 10

Hyundai equips every 2021 Palisade with a powerful and quiet 3.8-liter V6 engine making 291 horsepower. The Palisade gets an eight-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive (FWD), unless you get the optional all-wheel-drive system.

Drivers can choose between Eco, Comfort, Smart, and Sport driving modes. AWD models add a Snow mode and a Lock function that evenly splits the power between the front and rear axles for improved low-speed traction. The EPA predicts a Palisade AWD will return fuel economy of 21 mpg in combined driving, and our test vehicle averaged 21.1 mpg on our driving loop, with the Smart mode engaged most of the time.

Hyundai tunes the Palisade to feel different from the related Kia Telluride, but both largely eradicate the typical bane of an SUV’s ride quality: head-toss. There is a little more of it in the Palisade, but not by much. And the Palisade has a firmer feel from behind the wheel, more like a traditional SUV but without shockwaves of impact harshness reverberating up through the chassis.

A byproduct of this firmer suspension tuning is excellent body-motion control. Whereas the softer Telluride can sometimes feel as though it floats and wallows down the highway soaking everything up like a sponge, the Palisade is more communicative about what’s happening where the rubber meets the road. When the pavement undulates, the Palisade’s suspension tells you about it but expertly halts body wallow and weight pitch, making it enjoyable to drive.

Enjoyable does not, however, translate to outright fun. Though it proves unexpectedly sure-footed and confidence-inspiring if you choose to drive down a twisty mountain road with enthusiasm, the Palisade does not encourage such behavior. Instead, it remains predictable and anything but sloppy while also making sure the driver knows where the limits are.

In typical driving scenarios, the Palisade is undemanding to drive. There is plenty of power, it’s easy to judge the SUV’s corners, and both the steering-effort level and the brake pedal modulation make it agreeable to operate in urban and suburban environments. And cruising on the highway is an effortless affair, thanks in part to the impressive Highway Drive Assist technology discussed in greater detail below.

If you plan to use the Palisade’s 5,000 pounds of towing capacity, you’ll be happy to know that a new seven-pin trailer pre-wiring connector replaces the previous four-pin design for the 2021 model year.

Form and Function

9/ 10

Not all midsize three-row SUVs are created equal. Some feel narrow, while others seem as wide as a Kenworth. Some have cramped seating, while others feel like a limousine. Some offer generous clearance to access the third-row seat, while others expect you to squeeze through a space more akin to a mailbox slot.

The 2021 Hyundai Palisade creates none of these feelings, making it just about perfect in terms of its interior size, seating, and accessibility. And when it’s decked out in Calligraphy trim, the SUV is downright plush.

Up front, the driver and passenger enjoy eight-way power-adjustable seats, and the driver also gets an adjustable thigh support cushion and a heated steering wheel. The front seats and second-row captain’s chairs are heated and ventilated, and third-row passengers get separate climate controls and rear side-window sunshades.

Though firm, the seats provide good support for hours of driving. The second-row captain’s chairs offer plenty of legroom and support, and they slide forward and back to accommodate passenger and cargo requirements.

With the touch of a button, the captain’s chairs tilt and slide forward to create a decent pass-through to the third-row seat. Alternatively, people assigned to this position can step between the captain’s chairs. The Palisade’s third-row seat is more accommodating than most other SUVs in the class.

Hyundai provides plenty of in-cabin storage space, especially in the front center console and all four door panels. Electronic transmission controls mean there is also a storage tray underneath the center console.

Cargo space measures 18 cubic feet behind the third-row seats. Fold them down to enjoy a roomy 45.8 cubic feet of cargo space. You can also power-fold the second-row seats from the back of the vehicle, expanding volume to a roomy 86.4 cubic feet.

Hyundai’s hands-free Smart Liftgate detects the presence of the key fob and automatically opens. Depending on the situation, this is a good thing or a bad thing. If you’d rather not use this feature, you can change a driver information center setting to shut it off.

Tech Level

8/ 10

Hyundai offers two different infotainment systems for the 2021 Palisade. One has an 8-inch touchscreen display, and the other has a 10.25-inch touchscreen display.

This year, both of them gain the ability to pair two smartphones to Bluetooth simultaneously, but only the 8-inch setup offers the new wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The bigger screen still requires a wired connection between your smartphone and the system to use mirroring capability.

Naturally, the Palisade Calligraphy has all of the bells and whistles, from SiriusXM satellite radio and a navigation system to Blue Link connected services and a 12-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system. A WiFi hotspot is not available, but the voice-recognition technology works quite well, and the speakers produce impressive sound quality.

Other technology features include wireless smartphone charging, a Driver Talk intercom system that broadcasts the driver’s voice over the SUV’s stereo speakers, and a Quiet Mode that limits stereo volume to the front speakers so that kids can sleep in the rear seats.

A head-up display (HUD) is also available, showing plenty of information on the windshield, including blind-spot warnings. A surround-view camera system helps with parking and maneuvering in tight quarters.

Safety

10/ 10

When it comes to family-sized SUVs, safety is a strong selling point, and the Palisade excels on this front. From its standard and available technology to its outstanding performance in crash tests, this Hyundai is capable of keeping you and your loved ones safe.

Every Palisade has adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality, forward-collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, and multiple lane-keeping systems. A rear occupant alert system reminds you to check the back seat before leaving the SUV. Limited and Calligraphy trims use a more sophisticated ultrasonic rear occupant alert system that can detect movement and send you a text message after you’ve left and locked the Palisade.

Most Palisades include active blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems, as well as a Safe Exit Assist system that warns the driver and passengers when it’s not safe to open a door and exit the SUV. Limited and Calligraphy trim levels equip the Palisade with a Blind View Monitor, a camera-based blind-spot monitoring system. Versions with Blue Link include automatic collision warning, an emergency panic assistance function, safe teen driving calibrations, and more.

The star of the Palisade’s safety show, however, is Highway Drive Assist. Hyundai expands the availability of this driving aid for 2021, and it works incredibly well. Smooth, sophisticated, and able to handle hands-off driving for longer than you might expect, it is an excellent example of adaptive cruise control and lane-centering assistance technology.

However—and this is important—it is not designed for hands-free driving. So, keep your mitts on the wheel, but let Highway Drive Assist handle the distance, speed, and lane maintenance for you.

If a collision does occur, rest assured that the Palisade earns top safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). It will do its best to protect you and your family in an accident. And thanks to its three free years of Blue Link services, it will automatically call for help from first responders if you’re unable to.

Cost-Effectiveness

10/ 10

That Blue Link mention is a perfect path into the cost-effectiveness discussion. You can bet your 401K a Palisade is a great value. (Not really. Just a figure of speech.)

When you’re sitting in a Palisade Calligraphy, you’d swear it’s a luxury SUV priced at $70,000. But instead, the window sticker starts with a “4.” Add the free three-year trial subscription to Blue Link, the free three-year/36,000-mile free scheduled maintenance plan, the free five-year/unlimited-mileage roadside assistance plan, and the industry-leading bumper-to-bumper and powertrain warranty coverage, and you’ve got a real bargain in a Hyundai Palisade.

Financially smart to purchase, safe for you and your family, loaded with modern technology and conveniences, equipped with three rows of legitimately comfortable seating, enjoyable to drive, roomy for cargo, and remarkably stylish, the Palisade is an outstanding example of a midsize, three-row SUV.

The question isn’t whether you should buy a 2021 Hyundai Palisade. It’s why wouldn’t you?

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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