2020 Hyundai Palisade long-term update: The Big Easy

In which our three-row SUV enjoys a memorable stint in New Orleans, encounters a funny smell and earns a new nickname.

Friendly locals welcomed us with open (socially distanced) arms. Southern hospitality is real, y'all.
Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Roadshow's 2020 Hyundai Palisade long-termer continues to rack up road-trip miles as well as complimentary feedback from our editors. In my last update, I told you about an excellent road trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina (marred only by an unfortunate windshield crack and its frustrating aftermath). This time out, our intrepid three-row SUV ventured from Michigan southward again, this time rolling all the way down to New Orleans.

With winter enveloping the Midwest in a dispiriting cold and gray blanket, and with family holidays cancelled due to the pandemic, I needed a safe way to escape. Ideally, an escape to a warmer and more inviting climate, if only for the sunshine, nicer walks and new carryout options. In order to be as responsible as possible, I decided to only consider travel locations that had lower COVID-19 infection rates than my metro Detroit home base, and I decided to pack a ton of supplies so I wouldn't need to stop or go out as much. Remarkably, New Orleans met my criteria.

I planned on staying a while, so I borrowed a large rooftop cargo box, a Yakima RocketBox Pro 14, which clamped down easily and securely onto the Palisade's factory crossbars. Its lockable extra storage would prove invaluable, as I decided to bring a kitchen's worth of food and kitchen clutter to my AirBnB rental. Despite its aerodynamic shape, the Yakima noticeably eroded the Palisade's fuel economy, but the added cargo space -- nearly equivalent to both trunks in a Tesla Model 3 -- made the sacrifice worth it.

The big schlep to the Big Easy was over 1,100 miles each way, taking me through Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi before reaching my Louisiana terminus. I broke the journey up into two-day trips each way, necessary if for no other reason than I also brought along my senior rescue dog. As this Palisade's upscale Limited trim features second-row captain's chairs, I added some pillows between the two seats before putting a sling-style cover down so the old man could be comfortable even while wearing a seatbelt tether.

As was true for my previous drive to North Carolina, the Palisade was an ideal road-trip partner, offering excellent long-distance seat comfort and individual atmospheric comfort for all, with personalized climate-control settings and heated and cooled seats for all occupants -- man's best friend included. This tester's Highway Driving Assistant (hands-on adaptive cruise control with lane centering) was well behaved even with faint road striping, making long stints behind the wheel that much more comfortable. It was all so effortless that in addition to my destination, the Hyundai would come to earn the nickname Big Easy, too.

With the Palisade loaded up to darn near the headliner and with a full roof box up top, it's not surprising that its fuel economy dropped precipitously, especially with colder temperatures and the need for more frequent roadside stops to relieve the dog. I averaged 19.5 miles per gallon on the way down and 21.1 mpg on the way back home over six weeks later. For comparison's sake, I managed 23.4 mpg over 1,900 miles on my previous road trip -- within spitting distance of this all-wheel-drive model's 24-mpg EPA highway estimate. I continue to be quite pleased with the Palisade's efficiency given my characteristically heavy right foot, but my results are also an object lesson on why so many people are foolish to run around with empty roof baskets and boxes on their vehicles 24/7 just for the sake of fashion.

A borrowed Yakima RocketBox Pro 14 provided a whole 'nother trunk's worth of cargo space.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Even with the pandemic severely curtailing New Orleans tourism, with the Crescent City's narrow, historic streets (often with parked cars on both sides), the Palisade's size could have been a liability. Fortunately, the vehicle was just short and narrow enough to avoid being problematic. Its excellent 360-degree camera was also a big help, as parking within millimeters of the curb was the only way to avoid becoming one of the many mirrorless, sideswiped parked cars I saw during my stay. As a side benefit, the Palisade's long wheelbase yielded excellent ride quality -- a particularly welcome advantage considering the city's uniformly buckled streets. (As it turns out, building a road network on marshland isn't a recipe for smooth surfaces and long life.)

In contrast to temperatures in the 30s and 40s back home in Michigan, most of my time in NOLA saw the mercury sitting in the high 50s and 60s -- occasionally even the 70s -- and the sun regularly beat down all day, warming the Hyundai's cabin. I note the temperature and sunload for a reason, because that's when it happened. By "it," I mean that smell.

Last year, some Palisade owners began reporting an unusual and often unpleasant aroma in their Nappa-leather-lined cabins. Some equated the smell to rotten produce or garlicky leftovers, although to be fair, the smell I subsequently experienced didn't strike me as objectionable as all that. That said, once your nose registers the smell on a hot day, it sticks in your brain.

We hope that One Time In New Orleans shortly begets another, gentlemen.

Chris Paukert/Roadshow

Last August, reports of this olfactory issue prompted Hyundai to confirm this affliction that select Palisade Limited and Calligraphy owners had claimed. The automaker eventually tracked down the source of the issue, blaming the smell on a supplier's faulty manufacturing process used to make the faux leather headrest covers. The company subsequently developed a defunkification treatment. In more extreme cases, Hyundai has reportedly replaced the affected headrests in select Palisades. In the case of Roadshow's long-termer, the smell has largely dissipated after returning home to the frozen north, so I'll see if this issue needs addressing at the SUV's next scheduled service.

Now, where can I escape to next?