SEOUL, South Korea — If there’s one auto-industry rule to follow to have a strong fiscal 2019, it’s to have a strong SUV game. Fortunately for Hyundai, the Korean brand will launch the Palisade, its all-new flagship utility next summer just as the kids are getting out of school and parents are on the search for a new road-trip machine. And fortunately for those buyers, the 2020 Hyundai Palisade may be Hyundai’s most impressive SUV yet.
Serving as the replacement for the three-row 2019 Santa Fe XL, the new, three-inch-longer Palisade rides on a front-drive platform with Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel-drive system an available option. It has a 114.2-inch wheelbase and will directly compete with such vehicles as the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander, and Ford Explorer as a spacious vehicle with seating for either seven or eight, depending on whether you opt for a bench or captain’s chairs in the second row. The interior is roomy enough that it almost feels like a minivan inside (the roof-mounted second- and third-row HVAC vents only enhance this sense) and the second-row seats have enough fore-aft adjustment to make the third row accessible to average-sized adults, if needed.
When the 2020 Palisade launches in the U.S. next summer, it won’t have the 2.2-liter diesel engine we found under the hood of our South Korean market test vehicle. Diesel-emission debate aside, the engine performed well enough but was loud and clattery from the Palisade’s exterior; this did provide a good test for interior noise levels, and the racket was masked fairly well thanks to copious amounts of sound deadening in this roughly 4,500-pound vehicle. Instead, we’ll receive an all-aluminum, Atkinson-capable 3.8-liter V-6 with something like 292 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. (The U.S. output figures haven’t been finalized.) The in-house eight-speed automatic in the vehicles we drove will also serve duty in U.S. models, and we found it to be a good partner for the diesel engine. Hyundai did not have fuel-economy estimates available for the U.S.-spec powertrain.
The suspension consists of struts up front and a multilink setup at the rear, essentially the industry standard for this class, and our Palisade rode on 20-inch wheels (18s are standard) with Michelin Primacy all-season tires. The Palisade’s ride is both comfortable and well-controlled, with just a hint of the firmness you’d find in SUVs with sportier pretensions. The ride was comfortable and never jarring during light off-roading on an unpaved hillside trail, yet the handling was composed and responsive on meandering back roads and during exercises at Hyundai’s proving grounds. Drive modes include Comfort, Sport, and Eco, with Sport firming up the steering and enlivening the throttle response and transmission shift programming. Traction modes include Sand, Mud, and Snow.
While all the vehicles on hand had the available all-wheel-drive system, when the going got tough, the Palisade simply stopped going, albeit with much of the blame to be apportioned to the venue. Specifically, Hyundai invited us to try the Palisade on a local beach where we could use the vehicle’s Sand traction-control setting to have a little rooster-tailed fun. Unfortunately, no fewer than three of the 10 or so assembled Palisades met their match, getting hopelessly buried up to their undercarriages in deep, soft sand that required higher speeds, lower tire pressures, or both to realistically traverse. No matter, the likelihood of a Palisade finding itself on anything more than a dirt road is about the same as getting struck by lightning on your way to cash-in your winning Mega Millions ticket.
Still, as we sat there on the beach waiting for the stuck-UVs to be extricated, we found plenty to like in the cabin, with its fairly convincing wood-look trim, soft Nappa leather seats, and light, airy feel (helped in part by the rich looking, cream-colored upholstery). While there are still some painted plastic surfaces that don’t fit the otherwise premium aesthetic, the Palisade’s interior presents above the status quo for the segment. Our example was well-equipped and came with the optional 10.25-inch display panel with navigation, which is mounted vertically on the dash similar to the latest offerings from Mercedes. Our Palisade was also equipped with the optional head-up display and the Surround View monitor, the latter of which should really be a standard feature in vehicles of this size. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included on every Palisade, and we appreciated the camera display between the speedometer and tachometer that gives a look at blind spots when turning or changing lanes.
The Palisade is the first Hyundai to be equipped with a push-button-style transmission, with the buttons located on the high, wide, and sweeping center console, next to the drive and traction-mode controller. While the center stack looks a little button-heavy, all the switchgear is laid out clearly and thoughtfully, making it relatively simple to find most basic functions even on first introduction. There is also a sizable center cubby under the armrest that should fit smaller handbags, and a tray under the console for snacks or other detritus. USB ports are found in both first and second rows for device-charging and connectivity.
Other interesting optional features available on the Palisade include an intercom system for speaking with passengers in the rear rows, as well as a mute function which allows music to play up front but not in the rear of the vehicle. Wireless device charging, a 630-watt Infinity premium stereo, and heated/ventilated first- and second-row seating is also available. The optional dual-panel sunroof still leaves plenty of headroom in all rows.
As you’d imagine, a whole suite of safety tech is found on the Palisade, including standard speed-sensing cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, and rear cross-traffic warning and parking-distance warning. A rearview monitor with parking guidance and forward collision avoidance is also found on all Palisades. Really, it’s a pretty comprehensive standard safety package with the only out-of-pocket items being front parking distance alert, rain-sensing wipers, and a rear-occupant alert system that detects activity in the car after it’s locked and uses a honk of the horn and a flash of the headlights to alert the driver to a forgotten child, pet, or snoozing grandmother.
We’ll be able to get a better feel for the Palisade on American roads before its launch here. Hyundai says that the Palisade will get one state of tune to fit both the Korean and U.S. markets, so we’re expecting the ride and handling to feel largely the same as it did in South Korea, barring and last-minute adjustments. Meanwhile, Kia will launch its own Telluride SUV on this same chassis, which we expect will slot into a slightly lower price point. That price is still unclear, but if the company stays true to form, it’ll be in-line with those of its major competitors if not a bit lower. Figure a starting point in the mid-$30,000 range and to pay $10,000 or so more for the top-spec, all-wheel-drive versions. While these sorts of vehicles are anathema to those who seek driving enjoyment, they can still be pleasant places to spend time. The Palisade is that, and it proves that Hyundai’s SUV game is indeed strong right now.
2020 Hyundai Palisade Specifications
|ON SALE||Summer 2019|
|ENGINE||3.8L DOHC 24-valve V-6; 291 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 262 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm (est)|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 7- or 8-passenger, front-engine, FWD or AWD SUV|
|L x W x H||196.1 x 77.8 x 68.9 in|
|WEIGHT||4,500 lb (est)|