If the last few years felt like "The Year of the Small Crossover" stuck on repeat, 2019 is rapidly shaping up to be "The Year of the Three-Row SUV." An onslaught of new sheetmetal wearing familiar names is starting to hit dealers, plus there's a bunch of promising new models entering the family-minded fray. Chief among them? This 2020 Hyundai Palisade. And while next-gen vehicles such as the Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander may have stronger name recognition, if you're shopping for a new kinschlepper, this distinctive-looking crossover should very much be near the top of your consideration list.
Before you ask, yes, the Hyundai Palisade shares structural and powertrain underthings with the Kia Telluride, a model also hitting showrooms as you read this. Despite being corporate cousins that share unseen bits and lots of smart tech, these SUVs look completely different, and they actually feel like they're targeting different buyers, too.
Whereas Kia's Telluride is handsome in a more upright, traditional mold, the Palisade's designers haven't played it the least bit safe. Frankly, I've found that this vehicle's crocodile-eyed front end takes some getting used to -- not unlike my reaction to other recent Hyundai SUVs, from the Santa Fe to the Kona. As those other models have proliferated, however, I've found I've quickly gotten used to their unusual grille shapes and novel split/stacked front-end lighting. In fact, I'm starting to really enjoy seeing them on the street. I expect the same will be true for the Palisade in short order, and I even started to appreciate the way this model looks as my week of testing went on.
That fondness-with-familiarity thing likely isn't just because the Palisade gets easier on the eyes the more you take in both its details and overall shape. It's because this vehicle is so well-engineered and seamlessly designed that it wins you over with the way it fits into your hectic family life. What's more, in full-boat Limited trim, Palisade is luxurious enough to turn Hyundai's still-SUVless Genesis dealers green with envy.
For starters, you should know that despite being classified as a midsize, the 2020 Palisade is big. Bigger than any Hyundai before it, including the outgoing Santa Fe XL, as well as the short-lived Veracruz you're probably going to have to Google to remember. The Palisade rides atop a new platform, and its size pits it against segment stalwarts such as the Explorer and Highlander, as well as the Honda Pilot, Volkswagen Atlas and Subaru Ascent. (Note: it's still a good 7 inches shorter than the leviathan Chevrolet Traverse.) If you're familiar with the Santa Fe XL, know that this new Palisade is appreciably beefier in every dimension. It rides on a 4-inch longer wheelbase and spans 3 inches longer overall. It stands 2.4 inches taller and it's a whopping 3.6 inches wider.
Regardless of whether you're considering the base, front-wheel-drive Palisade SE ($31,550 plus $1,045 delivery) or the top-shelf, Limited with HTRAC all-wheel drive ($46,400 plus delivery), power comes exclusively from a 3.8-liter naturally aspirated V6 paired to an eight-speed automatic, a partnership yielding 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. If this chassis and powertrain combination have a defining characteristic, it's smoothness. The Palisade's power delivery is predictable and unfussy, with the defeatable stop-start system working unobtrusively enough that you might just leave it on.
To be clear, no matter what drive mode setting you select, this isn't a sporty crossover in either deed or demeanor. But because three-row SUVs function like 21st-century minivans as often as not, you're probably more concerned with avoiding sippy-cup spills than corner-carving prowess or 0-to-60 times. That said, I estimate the latter to be around 7.5 seconds, and it's possible to dial up sprightlier throttle responses, firmer transmission shifts and heftier steering feel when Sport is selected. Plus, unlike Kia's Telluride, the Palisade is available with paddle shifters for increased manual control -- useful on downhill grades for summoning engine braking or preparing for a quick pass.
My $47,605-as-delivered Limited arrived equipped with optional AWD ($1,700), a system capable of routing up to 50% of available torque to the rear wheels. As my drive took place midsummer, I sadly didn't have the chance to assess this system's performance in snowy conditions (or even during a good downpour), but it operated unobtrusively and obediently throughout the week.
Fuel economy is wholly competitive but also utterly unremarkable for the class, with EPA estimates calling for 19 miles per gallon city, 26 highway and 22 combined for FWD models. AWD models like my Limited list at 19 city, 24 highway and 21 combined, and based on my testing, these figures seem attainable. At least for the moment, there's no hybrid option to improve fuel efficiency like the Highlander and Explorer offer.
While it's no heavy-duty rig, the 2020 Hyundai Palisade pulls up with strong towing numbers for this class. A standard transmission cooler, electronic sway control and trailer prewiring means you'll just need a good hitch and a trailer with built-in brakes to tow 5,000 pounds. Limited models like this one feature autoleveling rear air suspension, another nice feature when load lugging.
The Palisade also comes with just shy of 8 inches of ground clearance, but it's no off-roader. You'll be fine for the fire trails leading to Cub Scout campsites, wicked blizzards and anything suburban life can throw at you, but if you need more capability, you're going to want a body-on-frame vehicle. (Remind me to tell you about the time my co-driver beached a preproduction Palisade up to its axles in sand just outside Seoul.)
Three-row crossovers are all about carrying capacity and comfort, and the Palisade delivers as well as anything in its segment. All seats deliver good room, even the third row, which has easy one-touch access and a decently sized aperture that even allows full-size adults to clamber back there. Seating is offered in configurations for seven or eight people, and in the case of the tip-top Limited model seen here, those seats are covered in richly quilted Nappa leather. Both the front and second-row seats feature heating and cooling. The second-row seats are particularly nice because they're elevated for better forward visibility, and the roof-mounted HVAC ducts feature clever wide-dispersion ducts to curb uncomfortably direct airflow.
Unlike the Telluride, the Hyundai features a by-wire pushbutton shifter. I tend to find such things gimmicky, preferring the intuitiveness of traditional PRNDL gearshifts, but the Palisade's unit isn't a bad execution of this type of selector. It allows for a large void under the floating center console to accommodate purses and tissue boxes. In fact, there's tons of storage space to be found in the Palisade, along with a bevy of cupholders, USB ports (including some cleverly mounted ones in the seatbacks for second-row occupants) and so on.
If I have a significant complaint about the cabin, it's the main cupholders. They feature a spring-loaded retractable brace that can be folded out of the way for more cubby space. That's great in principle, but these cupholders are nonadjustable and not terribly accommodating of different-sized beverages. Nitpicking? Perhaps. But in a vehicle that's all about family-minded convenience, it's an annoying and not insignificant design flub that rivals do without. Other missing features include an available Wi-Fi hotspot and rear-seat entertainment, although these days, tablets are cheaper, more versatile and less prone to obsolescence.
Otherwise, the Palisade offers an exemplary cabin that's loaded with class-above materials, especially in Limited trims which also get such niceties as a microsuede headliner surrounding a dual-element moonroof, Harman Kardon premium audio, a power-folding third row (a class rarity) and a great head-up display. The single biggest upgrade may be going from lower-end models' 8-inch infotainment touchscreens to this 10.25-inch widescreen. All Palisade head units are intuitive and feature standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, but the larger display is nicer and comes with two-source Bluetooth, plus a reconfigurable, fully digital gauge cluster.
I'd go so far as to suggest that in this high-content Limited trim, the Palisade feels every bit as premium as any Acura RDX, Buick Enclave, Infiniti QX60 or Lexus RX 350L and it features smarter and easier-to-use cabin tech than all of them. Even in its most expensive guise, the Palisade isn't just worth the money, it borders on being a genuine bargain.
There's also a good amount of cargo space on offer. One of the cardinal sins of many three-row crossovers is that when every seat is occupied, there's no room for anything else. The old Santa Fe XL was guilty of this, but Hyundai evidently learned the error of its ways. The Palisade delivers a useful 18 cubic feet of storage behind the third row and there's over 45 cubic feet with the way-backs folded. Flop the second-row seats down, and you've got over 86 cubes available.
As you'd expect with a family-minded vehicle, the Palisade is packed a phalanx of safety features. BCA, RCCA, ROA, LKA, DAW, SEA, HDA, ABS, ESC, TCS, BA, VSM, TPMS, SRS (with OCS) -- there's more abbreviations on the Palisade's spec sheet than I have the space or patience to explain. Needless to say, even base SE models come with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, auto high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and rear parking sensors. The Palisade is available with a handful of other advanced driver-assist systems, too, including 360-degree camera coverage, rear occupant alert (so you don't leave Junior or Rover behind accidentally), rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot warning -- a feature I wish came standard.
There are even some unexpected safety watchdogs on offer, including an even more powerful ultrasonic occupant detector capable of sending a warning to the driver's phone via Blue Link telematics, Safe Exit Assist (to prevent opening a door into oncoming traffic) and a particularly trick blind-spot viewing system that displays a rear camera feed in the gauge cluster when the turn signals are activated. Limited models also feature a smarter version of the base model's intelligent cruise control hardware, a hands-on system that combines in-lane centering and a forward-facing camera that reads speed-limit signs and adjusts vehicle speed accordingly. It's an impressive amount of gear for a vehicle in this class.
If you're getting the sense that this Korea-built utility offers a lot of stuff for your money, you're getting the picture. But you may yet be missing out on how well executed and enjoyable the 2020 Hyundai Palisade is overall. This isn't just one of the best new crossovers to hit the market this year, it's one of the best on the market, full stop.