2020 Hyundai Palisade first drive review: A midsize SUV that’s big on value

Hyundai's latest three-row crossover offers tons of kit for not a lot of money.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
5 min read
2020 Hyundai Palisade

Well, hello there, handsome.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade makes a strong first impression. Even before you get behind the wheel of this three-row, midsize crossover SUV, the Palisade cuts a striking figure on the road. That's a good thing, since Hyundai considers the Palisade to be its flagship SUV -- larger than the three-row Santa Fe XL, and geared toward families with older kids and lots of gear.

Unlike the 2020 Kia Telluride, with which the Palisade shares most of its underpinnings, the Hyundai appears more graceful than rugged. A sophisticated front light signature initially grabs your attention, with available LEDs. A body-color C-pillar divides the greenhouse under a slightly sloping roof, blending down to vertically oriented taillights, also available with LED bulbs. Optional 20-inch wheels complete the urbane look.

Move inside, and the upscale trend continues, with available leather seating and a layout that's both pretty and functional. My tester has open-pore wood trim and diamond-stitched seats and door inserts. A large pass-through between the front seats is big enough to hold a purse, tablet and a few snacks. Overall fit and finish is excellent, and everything you touch genuinely feels premium. Compared to a rival like the Ford Explorer, the loaded-up Palisade feels like stepping into the St. Regis hotel compared to the Ford's Holiday Inn feel.

Watch this: 5 things you need to know about the 2020 Hyundai Palisade

Comfort and convenience features are in high supply. The top trim level even gets heated and ventilated rear seats -- the latter is a rarity, and not just at this price point. A new air conditioning system can diffuse air to the rear-seat passengers, rather than just directing a stream of airflow. Parents can even amplify their voice to rear-seat riders, just in case the kids start arguing over who gets the last Capri Sun. Should your little darlings fall asleep while on a road trip, a quiet mode can deactivate audio to the rear speakers.

The second row seats slide forward with the touch of a button, and it's not too hard to climb into the way-back. That said, it's tough for adults to squeeze through the small opening, and legroom is a bit of an issue. Thankfully, riders can recline the third row, which taller passengers will appreciate.

The Palisade can seat eight people in its standard configuration, or seven if you opt for second-row captain's chairs. Fold those seats flat and you'll find 86.4 cubic feet of space, which is more than what you get in the 2019 Honda Pilot and 2020 Toyota Highlander. Hyundai offers a selectable-speed rear tailgate, which can open or close in as little as 4.5 seconds. That might not sound impressive, but when you're standing in the rain with grocery bags, that lift gate can't rise soon enough.

2020 Hyundai Palisade
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2020 Hyundai Palisade

Premium materials can be found throughout the cabin.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Infotainment duties are handled by a new 10.2-inch touchscreen on upper trims -- an 8-inch screen is standard -- which houses Hyundai's latest multimedia interface. I find it to be a little unorganized in its layout and wish I had a center console-mounted dial to control it, since some of the buttons are kind of small. Here, I notice myself taking my eyes off the road for too long to make sure I'm pressing the right function.

Still, the infotainment is super-functional, with dual Bluetooth device connectivity, so one of you can control the tunes while the other manages the calls. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, and my tester has seven USB Type-A ports, three 12-volt outlets and a 115-volt, 150-watt, three-prong outlet. Wireless charging is available, too. If one of your devices ever goes dead, it's your own damn fault.

Hyundai will offer the Palisade in SE, SEL or Limited trims, and even the base model comes loaded with features. Standard kit includes forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, lane-following assist and a rear occupant alert so you never forget a kid or pet in the rear seats.

2020 Hyundai Palisade
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2020 Hyundai Palisade

Second row captain's chairs have available heating and cooling. Nice!

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Higher trim levels come with Hyundai's Highway Drive Assist that combines adaptive cruise control, lane centering and speed limit adjusting for hands-on-the-wheel driving assistance. While testing the Palisade in rural Idaho, Highway Drive Assist works beautifully, keeping the crossover centered in its lane, slowing up and speeding down as needed. That said, know the speed limit functionality only works on the interstate, and the info is stored within the GPS itself -- this isn't a sign-reading system. You'll have to adjust the speed yourself if you need to slow for construction zones.

Another great bit of driver assistance tech is the upgraded blind-spot monitoring on higher trims, which projects a camera feed from either side of the car onto the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster when you activate a turn signal. Sure, I have nice, big side mirrors to use, but when it comes time to quickly changing lanes in this 16-foot-long SUV, I'm glad to have the extra views.

We got an earlier drive of the Palisade in Korea with a 2.2-liter turbodiesel engine, but here in the States every Palisade is powered by a 3.8-liter V6 engine, with 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. This V6 is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission, and the gear shifter itself is a simple row of buttons, rather than a traditional PRNDL shifter.

Front-wheel drive is standard, but Hyundai's HTRAC all-wheel drive is optional. Six different drive modes can change up the drive experience slightly, with Eco, Smart, Comfort, Sport, Snow and AWD Lock at your disposal. Moving between Comfort and Sport, things are a little more engaging in the latter mode, with snappier shifts from the transmission and improved throttle response. Of course, it doesn't exactly turn the Palisade into a sporty SUV. Keep things in Smart, and the Palisade will adapt to your driving style.

2020 Hyundai Palisade: The bold and the beautiful

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The 3.8-liter, naturally aspirated V6 might not be as modern as smaller-displacement, turbocharged engines, but I never feel like the Palisade lacks power. From highway merging to passing, or just accelerating away from a light, the SUV has ample grunt.

As for fuel economy, front-wheel drive Palisades are estimated to return 22 miles per gallon combined, while all-wheel drive versions knock that down slightly. This puts the Palisade closer to the middle of the pack, with most competitors posting better numbers.

Should you need to tow with the Palisade, Hyundai says it can lug around 5,000 pounds. There's even a self-leveling rear suspension available, which keeps the ride height level, regardless of how much extra weight is strapped to the back.

2020 Hyundai Palisade
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2020 Hyundai Palisade

An available 10.25-inch touchscreen runs Hyundai's infotainment system.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The best thing about the 2020 Palisade is that it comes in below $32,000 to start. Even a loaded Limited with all-wheel drive tops out at $46,400, not including $1,045 for destination. A similarly equipped Honda Pilot or Volkswagen Atlas will cost at least $3,000 more.

With Americans gobbling up crossovers and SUVs left and right, the Palisade is sure to resonate well with customers. It's an eye-catching SUV with lots of luxury and convenience features, and it's a super-strong value proposition, too.

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