Already a Roadshow favorite, the Palisade gets a few tweaks for 2021. Hyundai altered some of the trimlines and added elements of the Driver Guidance package to certain variants, things like the 10.2-inch infotainment screen, SiriusXM radio and Highway Drive Assist. In addition to these changes, wireless smartphone connectivity with support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, HD radio and multiple device connection capability are now included on the entry-level SE model and other trims not fitted with integrated navigation. LED headlamps are standard, too, and a range of other minor tweaks have been made.
But the most significant enhancement of 2021 is the addition of that new Calligraphy trim. This model sits at the pinnacle of the Palisade range, and boy howdy does it feel like a top-shelf product. For starters, the Calligraphy rolls on unique 20-inch wheels that you may or may not love (I'm mixed on the flashy design, myself). The Calligraphy's grille has a new texture that really pops, making the whole front end look a bit less massive. The exterior door trim is fresh; and there's a unique rear lighting signature with an ultra-wide center high-mounted stop lamp. If you've already taken a shine to the Palisade's somewhat alien styling, you're sure to love the Calligraphy's visual enhancements.
Inside, however, more substantive changes are found. Starting with an already-great cabin, designers managed to push the Palisade into luxury car territory -- to the point where it's knocking on sister-brand Genesis' door. Beautiful quilted leather embellishes the door panels and seats, the headliner and roof pillars are carefully covered in microfiber suede that looks as rich as it feels and the steering wheel is now wrapped in perforated cow hide. Conceal the Hyundai logo on its airbag cover and most people would probably think this vehicle is an Audi or a Lexus. This example's thin, pinstriped trim on the dashboard and doors looks like something from the four-ring brand, even if it is just plastic.
Having recently experienced the Palisade's sister vehicle, the Kia Telluride, I'm familiar with its comfort and versatility. The front bucket chairs are supportive and the second-row seats are plenty spacious for adult passengers. And by the way, all four of these seats are heated and ventilated. Even the third row in this Hyundai is livable, with decent amounts of space for knees and noggins, so adults shouldn't immediately revolt if you stuff them back there. Providing easy access to that rearmost bench, the second-row seats tip and slide at the push of a button. Making it a snap to go from hauling folks to freight, the third row also power folds, leaving a flat load surface for cargo.
Supporting today's ever-connected passengers, the Palisade Calligraphy comes with a whopping seven USB ports plus a wireless charging pad. Just about everything except the kitchen sink is standard, too. Lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, ultrasonic parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and more are included, and it all works well.
As for amenities, the Calligraphy features an ever-useful head-up display plus an easy-to-read 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, which is mounted in the same elongated housing as the 10.2-inch dashboard display. This Hyundai's infotainment screen is easy to use and highly responsive, reacting to fingertip inputs without stutter or delay. Aside from all that, you also get a lovely 360-degree camera system (Toyota, pay attention to how Hyundai does this) that provides a super clear and crisp bird's eye view of the Palisade to make docking this SUV in a crowded mall parking lot much less of a chore.
Behind that glittery new grille is a powertrain we're well acquainted with. But just because the Palisade's drivetrain is familiar doesn't mean it's undesirable. Motivation is provided by a 3.8-liter V6 engine that's rated at a healthy if not earth-shattering 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. A super-astute and ever-refined eight-speed automatic transmission sends that twist to the pavement through the Calligraphy's standard all-wheel-drive system. This powertrain is smooth and punchy, delivering good acceleration with scarcely any vibration or undesirable noise. Per usual for naturally aspirated V6s, this one doesn't have a huge amount of torque at low rpm, but it revs quickly thanks to that efficient gearbox, really catching its breath at about 4,000 rpm, where it surges ahead with vigor.
Despite the luxury trimmings, this vehicle's fuel economy doesn't suffer. Like other all-wheel-drive Palisades, the Calligraphy model stickers at 19 miles per gallon city, 24 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. In mixed driving, I averaged about 20.4 mpg, a whisker less than Uncle Sam's estimate but still well within range. Naturally, front-drive variants are slightly more economical, only 1 mpg better combined and 2 mpg thriftier on the highway.
Matching its premium digs, this Palisade is quiet inside at speed and rides smoothly without being sloppy. Its handling is secure while navigating corners, though the steering lacks any feel, only giving you an approximation of where you're going, something that's, unfortunately, all too common with vehicles these days.
Eschewing all options, an entry-level 2021 Hyundai Palisade SE starts at an entirely reasonable $33,700, including $1,140 in destination fees. That outlay gets you a practical, comfortable and well-made three-row utility vehicle. But for drivers that want a bit more, or, really, a lot more, the Calligraphy model seen here checks out for $49,070, not at all an unreasonable sum for what practically feels like a Lexus.
The 2021 Palisade Calligraphy is an unexpectedly premium SUV, essentially icing on top of what is already a fundamentally excellent vehicle. Hyundai as a brand may be as mainstream as McDonald's, but it's delivered a luxury-level product that fancier automakers would be proud to have in their showrooms.