Can Hyundai's three-row crossover stand out in a crowded segment?
Hyundai offered a long-wheelbase Santa Fe for years, but as we found in our 2017 First Test, the three-row model was more of a two-row crossover with a pair of rear jump seats, not a minivan substitute. To comfortably fit six adult-sized passengers, it didn’t simply need to be longer. It needed to be wider, as well. To fix that problem, Hyundai developed an entirely new model: the 2020 Palisade.
Thanks to its larger size, the Hyundai Palisade serves as a more direct competitor for other three-row crossovers such as the Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, and Volkswagen Atlas. Of those three, only the Atlas has a longer wheelbase. And although the Palisade is only wider than the Subaru, it’s not much narrower than the other two. It’s also 3 inches longer overall than the Santa Fe XL it replaces.
Most important, whether you opt for the seven- or eight-passenger Palisade, the third row now has enough room to comfortably fit an average-sized adult. Even two of them. The Palisade’s second-row seats can also slide forward, adding even more flexibility.
But even though Hyundai hopes families will appreciate the Palisade’s size and practicality, it also took a big risk with the styling. We’re still not quite sure how we feel about the look, but with a huge chrome grille, stacked headlights, vertical daytime running lights, the Palisade certainly stands out. Around back, the shape of the taillights complements what you see up front. In profile, however, the shape is much more conventional.
Inside, the designers took fewer risks, instead focusing on giving the cabin a spacious, premium feel. We like the clean design, even if the number of buttons in the center console can be confusing at first glance. Plus, by switching to a push-button transmission, they were able to add a truly impressive amount of storage up front. Material choices won’t put Range Rover on notice, but for a mainstream crossover, the loaded version we drove felt pretty nice.
Even if you don’t spring for all the options such as premium leather, head-up display, surround-view camera system, and Mercedes-esque 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment screen, the Palisade will still come well equipped. An 8.0-inch display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support comes standard, as does remote keyless entry, adaptive cruise control with steering assist, and automatic emergency braking.
Unfortunately, because we drove Korean-spec Palisades, we can’t say much about the powertrain. Instead of the torquey 2.2-liter turbodiesel that the cars we drove had, North American models will get Hyundai’s 3.8-liter V-6 making an estimated 291 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission is offered on both front-wheel and all-wheel drive configurations.
Although we can’t comment on acceleration or fuel economy, Hyundai promised everything else would be exactly the same when the Palisade goes on sale in North America. Assuming that’s true, the suspension will be a bit on the firm side but well damped. Add an impressively insulated cabin and comfortable seats, and you get a quiet, refined ride that encourages long road trips.
In an attempt to further encourage family adventures, the Hyundai has six drive modes. Most people will probably stick to Comfort or Sport, but there’s also an Eco setting to maximize fuel economy. The Sand, Mud, and Snow modes, on the other hand, offer a little extra help on less-than-ideal surfaces.
Even though it snowed heavily the first day of our drive, we never felt like traction was limited enough to require switching out of Comfort or Sport. In theory, we would have had a chance to test out Sand mode, but the organizers seriously underestimated how soft the beach would be when we showed up.
After only a few minutes of low-traction shenanigans, our drive partner got the Palisade stuck. Then the driver following behind us got stuck. Then another one. Hopping out to assess exactly how bad the situation was, our feet immediately sank several inches into the sand. No wonder the Palisade had gotten stuck. More speed and lower tire pressure would have probably helped, but even that might not have been enough. Thankfully, one of the few drivers who didn’t get stuck gave us a ride, saving us from a cold, damp, sandy hike back.
Considering how soft the beach was, we can’t really fault the Palisade. It’s a solid crossover that just got in a little over its head (or, rather, up to its axles). But the situation did serve as a good reminder that even soft-roading can quickly get out of hand if you aren’t careful. Also, it never hurts to carry a set of Maxtrax and a tow strap.
Somehow, though, we think mainstream buyers will forgive the Hyundai Palisade for not being immune to the laws of physics. Consumers are probably more concerned with how spacious and practical it is, as well as what kind of features they get for their money. We’ll need to find out about pricing and actually drive the North American version before we can say for sure, but based on our initial impressions, the 2020 Hyundai Palisade delivers a well-rounded package that families will love.