Sublime, spacious interior
Smooth, tranquil ride
Middling fuel economy
Menu-dense infotainment system
Pricey Limited trim
2020 Hyundai Palisade
In July of last year, we had a couple of hours of seat time in the 2020 Hyundai Palisade – enough for first impressions. We recently were offered a week in an SEL all-wheel-drive (AWD) version, and jumped at the chance.
The Palisade is an all-new, clean-sheet model replacing the Santa Fe XL in the brand’s lineup, but also much larger – longer by 3 inches, wider by 3.6 inches, taller by 2.4 inches, and longer in wheelbase by 4 inches. It also shares a new platform with Kia’s new large crossover, the Telluride.
Little has changed in our assessment of the Palisade’s design. Stylish and bold, the Palisade, like the Kia Telluride, stands out – setting it apart from the plain-vanilla looks of many rivals. It begins up front with a bold iteration of Hyundai’s signature grille, while the rest of the fascia avoids what Hyundai terms the "Russian Doll" effect in which a series of models from the same brand feature identical design cues.
Flush surfacing, typically found on luxury vehicles, gives the body a smooth, delicate aesthetic that starts up front where split headlights and LED running lights are pushed toward the corners, forming a "C" signature when viewed from the sides. The upper portion then morphs into a character line that extends along the sides until it meets the "C" signature of the taillights. Framing the windows are a pair of chrome trim strips – the first following the A-line, rising from the base of the A-pillar and dropping down just behind the C-pillar. The second also begins at the base of the A-pillar, but follows the beltline before it kicks up slightly at the leading edge of the C-pillar. Deep sculpting along the lower side panels is accentuated by brushed silver lower sills, while vertical elements that mirror those in front frame the taillights.
The stunning exterior is wrapped around a cabin featuring a horizontal-themed dash covered in a soft, leather-like material, trimmed in brushed silver metal and, on our tester, dominated by a massive, centrally-located, 10.25-inch color touchscreen. Fit and finish is excellent, and offers a class-above look and feel that rivals many luxury brands.
The front seats, nicely bolstered, offer plenty of support and all-day comfort for those long highway trips. Leg, head, and shoulder room are comparable to both the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot, the controls are intuitive and laid out logically, while shift-by-wire system not only frees up space for storage beneath the center console, it has the ability to automatically shift the vehicle into park when the driver opens the door if the engine isn’t running, helping to avoid roll-away accidents.
Those in the middle row should be equally as comfortable, with legroom of 42.4 inches that easily beats both the Explorer (39.0 in) and Pilot (38.4 in). Equipped with one-touch buttons, the bench (standard on the SE, optional on the SEL) and captain's chairs (standard on the SEL and Limited) slide forward for easy access to the third row, with handles on the lower C-pillars and third row arm rests aiding ingress and egress to the adult-sized third row. Versatility also doesn’t take a back seat. Cargo capacity behind the 3rd row is a respectable 18 cu. ft. that expands to 46 cu. ft. when that row is folded, further increasing to a whopping 86.4 cu. ft. with the middle row folded, as well.
Under the hood
Keeping things simple, the three trims are offered with a single engine: an Atkinson-cycle 3.8-liter V-6 generating 291 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 262 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000. The all-aluminum engine features direct injection, three intake and three exhaust valves per cylinder for improved performance.
The engine is matched with a smooth shifting, eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode, on both front-wheel-drive models and the optional 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 anywhere from zero to 50 percent of engine torque to the rear wheels.
At the same time, that technology can't overcome the laws of physics, as the 291-hp engine is tasked with motivating a vehicle that, despite the liberal use of lighter-weight, high-strength steel, tips the scales anywhere from 4,127 to 4,387 pounds. As a result, Hyundai’s largest crossover only manages a class-average, EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city, 26 on the highway, and 22 combined with FWD, and an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city, 24 highway, and 21 combined with equipped with AWD.
On the road
Reduced body flex, courtesy of a stiff chassis, means the standard Sachs dampers can be tuned to deliver a soft – almost pillow-like – ride even though our SEL was equipped with optional and less -forgiving 20-inch wheels. Everything from minor road irregularities to large potholes and railroad track crossings are easily absorbed by the suspension and isolated from passengers. At highway speeds, whatever is happening outside remains muted – a result of the liberal use of insulation as well as a floor panel that was engineered to hold anti-vibration pads. We noted very little wind, road, tire, or engine noise entering the cabin, accompanied by smooth and unobtrusive transmission shifts. Included in the optional Driver Guidance Package, the Driver Talk system amplifies the driver’s voice in the second and third rows, but unless both are jammed with boisterous children, it’s unnecessary.
In addition, there’s decent feedback through the brake pedal with a nice initial bite to the pads. Towing capacity is a respectable 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 standard across all trims.
Issues are few. Power is merely adequate, the soft suspension and the big crossover's bulk translate into a fair amount of body lean in corners, even when equipped with the auto-leveling rear suspension, while steering is on the numb side, offering little feedback to the driver.
Hyundai's value proposition is especially evident on the base SE trim, with one of the best warranties in the business (5-year, 60,000 mile limited basic warranty as well as a 10-year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty), and a wide range of standard features that, along with the usual items (power windows, locks, and mirrors, keyless entry, air conditioning, privacy glass, variable front wipers, and a rear defroster and wiper), include front LED accent and daytime running lighting, automatic headlights and high beams, heated outside mirrors, acoustic windshield and front side glass, rear spoiler, a haptic feedback steering wheel, second row vents and controls, illuminated sun visor vanity mirrors, underfloor storage, an 8-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth phone, audio, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay capability, three first row and two second row USB ports, and a rear seat quiet mode that allows those up front to enjoy the entertainment system without disturbing rear seat passengers.
Stepping up to the SEL adds door handle welcome lights, LED side mirror turn signals, roof rails, power driver's seat with power lumbar, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, keyless push-button start, dual-zone automatic climate control, second-row automatic climate control, auto-dimming rearview mirror, remote engine start, and the choice of either second row captain’s chairs or bench seating.
The SEL 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 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, premium dashboard and door armrest trim, 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 (power sunroof, LED interior and map lighting).
On top of a fully-loaded SEL, the Limited adds side mirror approach lights, a dual sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, 4-way driver's lumbar and leg cushion extension, Nappa leather seating, ventilated front and rear seats, a 12.3-inch full digital display instrument cluster with turn signal-activated blind view monitors, a color head-up display, a surround view monitor, a 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. The SEL adds 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, and ultrasonic rear occupant alert (included in the SEL Convenience Package), and Highway Drive Assist (included in the SEL Drive Guidance Package) are standard on the Limited.
Here we have only a couple of gripes: the menu-dense infotainment system can be cumbersome and distracting to operate, while satellite radio, standard on the Limited, is only offered as part of an expensive option package on the SEL and is unavailable on the SE.
2020 Hyundai Palisade prices
Palisade’s pricing strategy is based on consumer feedback. The $33,115 SE, with no available options, reflects the price sensitivity of entry-level model buyers.
Hyundai also discovered that personalization through configuration is important to buyers of what’s certain to be the volume model, so the SEL, with a starting price of $34,970, is offered with a $2,200 Convenience Package, $2,400 Premium Package, $1,250 Drive Guidance Option, a $900 Sunroof Option, and the choice of middle row bench seating or captain's chairs.
Finally, the same research notes that top-trim buyers want everything, so the Limited, with a starting MSRP of $46,170, is also mono-spec, albeit with all the goodies.
All-wheel-drive, available on all models, adds $1,700 to the MSRP.
Our Becketts Black SEL AWD tester, was a fully-optioned, early production model with a base price of $35,200. Adding all the packages, plus $160 for carpeted floor mats, brought the as-tested price, including $1,045 for Inland Freight & Handling, to $43,155 (a current production example would have an MSRP of $43,675).
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is that not much has changed since our original experience. That is, in spite of an infotainment system with an overabundance of menus, acceleration that’s hardly entertaining, and fuel economy that remains mid-pack, we continue to find a lot to like about Hyundai’s largest crossover. A value-packed family hauler sporting handsome styling and an upscale interior, the 2020 Hyundai Palisade easily finds a place at the top of its class.