Stunning, roomy interior
Plush, quiet ride
Mediocre fuel economy
Menu-dense infotainment system
2020 Hyundai Palisade
The 2020 Palisade is an all-new model for Hyundai, replacing the Santa Fe XL in the brand's lineup. Sharing a new platform with the Kia Telluride and a clean-sheet design, the Palisade is 3 inches longer, 3.6 inches wider, 2.4 inches taller, and features a 4 inch longer wheelbase than the outgoing XL.
Handsome and imposing from any angle, the Palisade announces its presence with a bold rendition of the brand's signature hexagonal grille, but – eschewing what Hyundai calls the "Russian Doll" effect where a range of models exhibit the same design cues - shares little else with the rest of Hyundai's CUV lineup.
Flush surfacing gives the entire body an elegant, delicate – almost Scandinavian – look. Up front, split headlights and LED running lights are pushed toward the corners, forming a "C" signature when viewed from the sides, with the upper portion forming a character line that meets the "C" signature of the taillights. Deep sculpting along the lower body sides is accentuated by chrome-finished lower side sills, while vertical elements – mirroring those in front - frame the rear taillights.
The refinement continues inside, with a new digital instrument cluster and central touchscreen dominating a horizontal-themed dash covered in a soft material that looks and feels like leather (it isn't), and trimmed in a variety of materials ranging from metals (our favorite) to wood grain. Fit and finish is excellent, and offers a class-above look and feel that rivals many luxury brands.
The front seats are nicely bolstered and offer plenty of support, offering all-day comfort for those long vacation drives. Leg, head, and shoulder room are competitive with both the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot, while the controls are intuitive and logically laid out. The shift-by-wire system not only frees up space for storage beneath the center console, it also automatically shifts the vehicle into park if the engine is off and the driver opens the door, helping to prevent roll-away accidents.
Middle row occupants are equally comfortable and treated to 42.4 inches of legroom - nearly as much as those up front - handily beating both the Explorer (39.0 in) and Pilot (38.4 in). Equipped with one-touch buttons, both bench (8-passenger seating standard on the SE, optional on the SEL) and captain's chairs (7-passenger seating standard on SEL and Limited) slide forward for easy access to the back row, while handles positioned on the lower C-pillars and third row arm rests also improve ingress and egress to the adult-friendly third row.
Under the hood
All three trims share the same engine: a normally-aspirated 3.8-liter V-6 developing 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque, boasting three intake and three exhaust valves per cylinder for improved performance, and capable of switching from normal Otto to the more efficient Atkinson cycle for better fuel economy.
It's mated to a smooth shifting eight-speed automatic, with manual shift mode, that powers either the front wheels or, when optioned, Hyundai's slick six-mode (Eco, Comfort, Sport, Smart, Snow, AWD Lock) HTRAC all-wheel-drive system that, in addition to controlling braking between the left and right wheels, monitors 50 vehicle inputs processed 100 times per second and can direct from naught to 50 percent of torque to the rear wheels.
All that technology, however, can't skirt the laws of physics. Tasked with having to motivate a vehicle that, despite liberal use of lightweight, high-strength steel, tips the scales, unladen, between 4,127 and 4,387 pounds, the Palisade only manages a middling EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city, 26 on the highway, and 22 combined with FWD, and a slightly less efficient EPA-estimated 19 mpg city, 24 highway, and 21 combined with AWD.
On the road
A stiff platform, standard Sachs dampers, and liberal use of insulation as well as a floor panel optimized to hold anti-vibration pads are just a few of the many features that contribute to the Palisade's soft, pillowy ride. The transmission shifts smoothly, and even the larger 20-inch tires found on the Limited are forgiving. On the road, everything from minor road irregularities to large potholes and railroad tracks are easily absorbed by the suspension and isolated from passengers. Feedback through the brake pedal is also decent, with a nice initial bite to the pads.
Whatever is happening under the chassis remains muted, with very little wind, road, tire, or engine noise entering the cabin, even at highway speeds - making us wonder why Hyundai touts its Driver Talk system. We tried it, but found it unnecessary - but again, we weren't in a cabin packed with of raucous children.
Towing capacity is 5,000 lbs, and trailer pre-wiring, a heavy-duty transmission oil cooler, and a trailer sway control system that automatically engages when towing are all standard across the lineup.
Nits are few. Power is merely adequate, while the Palisade's bulk translates into a fair amount of body lean in corners, despite the fact that the SEL and Limited trims we drove featured a self-leveling rear suspension. In addition, steering is on the numb side, without much feedback to the driver.
Hyundai's outstanding value proposition continues with the Palisade – especially in base SE trim. Along with the usual power features (windows, locks, mirrors), the equipment list includes LED front accent lighting and daytime running lights, automatic high beams, heated side mirrors, privacy glass, acoustic windshield and front side glass, a haptic feedback steering wheel, keyless entry, air conditioning with second row vents and controls, an 8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone, audio, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay capability, a power folding rear seat, three first row and two second row USB ports, and a rear seat quiet mode that allows front seat occupants to enjoy the entertainment system without disturbing rear seat passengers.
The SEL adds door handle welcome lights, LED side mirror turn signals, roof rails, driver's seat power lumbar, heated front seats, standard second row captain's chairs, keyless push-button start, remote engine start, and the choice of either a second row bench or captain's chairs.
It also allows access to the Convenience Package (20-inch alloy wheels, auto-leveling rear suspension, LED taillights, front park assist, hands-free liftgate, 7-inch high-definition instrument cluster display, ultrasonic rear occupant alert, rear side window sunshades, Qi wireless charger, 3rd row USB outlets) , Premium Package (leather seats, Bi-LED headlights, 8-way power passenger seat, driver's seat memory, heated second row seats and steering wheel, power folding third row), Drive Guidance Option (10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation, Highway Drive Assist that adjusts for speed limit changes and centers the vehicle in a lane, satellite and HD radio, Blue Link connected services, Driver Talk in-car intercom), and the Sunroof Option.
Adding to a fully-optioned SEL, the Limited piles on side mirror approach lights, a dual sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, 4-way driver's lumbar and leg cushion extension, Nappa leather seating, ventilated rear seats, a 12.3-inch full digital display instrument cluster with turn signal-activated blind view monitors, head-up display, surround view monitor, 640-watt Harman Kardon audio system, and interior ambient lighting.
Standard safety features include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, driver attention warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, rear occupant alert, and rear parking sensors. SEL models also receive blind spot alert, blind spot avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic alert, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance, and safe exit assist (the child safety locks will be automatically activated if radar detects a vehicle approaching from the rear). Finally, front parking sensors, an ultrasonic rear occupant alert, and Highway Drive Assist are optional on the SEL and standard on the Limited.
Not to be overlooked, the Palisade is also covered by Hyundai's class-best 5-year, 60,000 mile limited basic warranty as well as a 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
Perfection is eluded, however, as the infotainment system's multiple menu levels can be cumbersome and distracting, and while standard on the Limited, satellite radio is unavailable on the base trim and only available as part of an expensive option package on the SEL.
2020 Hyundai Palisade prices
Hyundai's Palisade pricing strategy reflects feedback they've received from consumers. Buyers of the entry-level model are concerned about the bottom line. Hence, the SE is not offered with any options and a starting price of just $32,595, including the $1,045 destination fee.
Consumer feedback also shows that feature flexibility is important to buyers in what is expected to be the volume model, so the mid-tier SEL, starting at $34,545, offers a number of option combinations including the $2,200 Convenience Package, $2,400 Premium Package, $1,250 Drive Guidance Option, $900 Sunroof Option, and the no charge choice of a middle bench or captain's chairs.
Hyundai's research has also shown that top trim buyers want all the bells and whistles, so the Limited is mono-spec with a starting MSRP of $45,795.
All-wheel-drive on all models adds $1,700 to the MSRP.
The Bottom Line
Despite a menu-dense infotainment system, middling acceleration, and mid-pack fuel economy, we found that there's a lot to like about the Palisade in our short time behind the wheel: not only is it handsomely-styled with an upscale interior, it's a value-packed family hauler that easily finds a place at the top of its class.