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2020 Hyundai Palisade long-term introduction: Comforts aplenty

Has Hyundai hit the mark with its latest three-row SUV? We'll find out over the next 12 months of testing.

We've got a year with this big guy.

Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

Three-row SUVs are a staple on US roads, and as car buyers continue to swap sedans and minivans for the bigger-is-better body style, the segment's only become more important. The 2020 Hyundai Palisade isn't the brand's first three-row SUV, but it's definitely its best.

Not only did Hyundai take a strong stab at the heart of the three-row SUV market, it's clear the company aimed for a one-two punch with the cushy Palisade Limited trim -- it's so luxurious, you'd think it was a Genesis . Over the next year of testing, we'll see if the Palisade continues to shine.

How we spec'd it

The Hyundai Palisade is a brand-new addition to the automaker's lineup for 2020 and comes in three flavors. The hierarchy starts with an entry-level SE trim, then a more well-equipped SEL and finally the Limited. As I mentioned, we opted for the Limited because of its surprising luxury-for-dollar proposition. While shoppers will likely cross-shop the Palisade with established rivals such as the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Explorer, the Palisade Limited's features list reads a lot like an SUV vying for Buick Enclave or Acura MDX buyers.

There aren't many extras to choose from with the Limited trim -- pretty much everything comes standard -- but we did toss in a roof rack with cross rails and color-matching floor mats that look very premium. Our Palisade also uses the single powertrain offered across the entire lineup: a 3.8-liter V6 matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission. We also ticked the box for all-wheel drive, a $1,700 option, but other Palisade models come with front-wheel drive standard.

The V6 reveals itself as a smooth driving partner and the transmission is nicely tuned. There's 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque available, and thus far, the Palisade hasn't had any issue getting out of its own way. It's perfectly content with an easygoing driving demeanor, but will certainly hustle when asked. The eight-speed automatic quickly and smoothly finds the right gear.

Moonlight Cloud takes on numerous tones in various lighting.

Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

Over our 12 months, we should return an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. The estimates are right in the ballpark for the segment and respectable for the Palisade's sheer size. So far, I've achieved the 24 mpg estimate on the highway, and after a few hundred miles, I'm creeping toward the 21 mpg combined estimate at 19.9 mpg currently.

Now, about the comforts. Our Palisade Limited is filled to the brim, and mind you, everything listed is standard. The big SUV comes with 20-inch wheels, LED lights and lots of exterior brightwork. Inside, it's an all-out luxury assault with real Nappa leather, a microfiber suede headliner, heated and ventilated seats for the first and second rows and a customizable ambient lighting system. Hyundai makes it super easy to reconfigure the rear rows of seats with power controls, and there's even a power reclining function for third-row occupants.

On the tech front, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster is front and center, and to its right, a 10.25-inch screen handles infotainment and navigation functions. Shift-by-wire tech keeps the center stack clean and tidy with a push-button gear selector and there's a host of active safety gear and driver-assist features. Chief among them is Highway Drive Assist, which is mighty impressive (more on that in a minute).

With our optional roof rack and floor mats, our Moonlight Cloud Palisade rings in at $48,240 after a $1,120 destination charge. That's a lot of SUV for less than $50,000.

Comfy, cozy, techy

I got to know the Palisade on a trek from Detroit, Michigan back to my home near Cleveland, Ohio, and was immediately struck by how comfortable the Palisade is to drive. Make no mistake, the Palisade is a big vehicle, but I eased into its size with, well, ease. On the long freeway trip, Highway Drive Assist gladly guided me and never inched too far to cross the line from helpful to annoying. The gradual steering inputs paired with the adaptive cruise control feels like a seriously ironed-out package that I never hesitate to activate when jumping on the freeway. There does seem to be a smidge of a wind whistle entering the cabin at higher speeds, however.

The Palisade Limited's cabin is pretty delightful.

Sean Szymkowski/Roadshow

Once home, I put the Palisade to work and loaded the SUV with various lawn care tools, which it gladly swallowed with both rows of back seats folded down. There's a whopping 86.4 cubic feet of space available back there.

As for the design, it's certainly striking, and I believe the Palisade is best viewed from the front or side. It's hard to love the rear when the Kia Telluride exists and looks a bit more cohesive, but the front fascia is unique in a good way. Bonus points for Hyundai: A family member mistakenly identified it as a Cadillac Escalade when I arrived for some routine yard work.

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Around town, the Palisade feels nicely sorted and does a bang-on job handling brittle roads that are under construction. Potholes and cracks sometimes barely make their way into the cabin, and all the while, the seats have a nice hug for my frame. The steering is surprisingly light for a vehicle of this size and helps make parking lots easier to navigate. If at any point there's a "will it fit?" kind of thought, numerous camera angles help provide reassurance.

The digital gauge display provides all the necessary info I'd like -- and somewhat humorously reports the currently lousy Midwest weather -- and the large 10.25-inch infotainment screen is super easy to use. Apple CarPlay is available through a wired connection here, but it's not all bad since my iPhone sits comfortably in the storage cubby where the wireless phone charger resides. (Yes, Android Auto is included, too.) So far, the Palisade's been a mighty comfortable social distancing partner as six-foot-apart, driveway pizza parties and social visits become a new kind of normal.

Watch this space

The Palisade will live in Ohio for a couple months before it heads back to Michigan to tackle the wet, humid, hot spring and summer months. We'll be keeping an eye on this big rig's real-world fuel economy and hope to get a good feel for the overall value the Palisade represents. Of course, be sure to let us know if there's something specific you want to know about the SUV. The floor is yours in the comment section.