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2020 Hyundai Palisade First Look: A New Flagship

Palisade is Hyundai's latest stab at the three-row SUV segment

Palisade is Hyundai's latest stab at the three-row SUV segment

For 2020, Hyundai puts a new name on its latest attempt to crack the three-row SUV segment. The eight-passenger 2020 Palisade makes its global premiere at the 2018 Los Angeles auto show before going on sale early next summer.

Palisade is an extremely important vehicle, said Mike O’Brien, vice president, Product, Corporate & Digital Planning for Hyundai Motor America. It’s a flagship SUV. “In the old days [the flagship] would have been Azera but now an SUV is the flagship.”

“It’s the largest SUV we’ve ever made,” O’Brien said. The 2020 Palisade is 3.0 inches longer than the Santa Fe at 196.1 inches, with a 4.0-inch longer wheelbase, at 114.2 inches. The new three-row crossover is also 3.6 inches wider.

Hyundai has tried to crack this nut before. It stretched the Santa Fe, calling the long-wheelbase version the Santa Fe XL for 2019. But it was too narrow to comfortably accommodate seven passengers with three squished into the third row, and there wasn’t enough room to maneuver between the seats in the second row to access the very back.

The Santa Fe XL struggled to complete in a tough segment that includes well-known names including the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Dodge Durango, and Mazda CX-9. The segment also has newcomers: Volkswagen Atlas and Subaru Ascent. Last year Hyundai sold less than 28,000 three-row Santa Fe SUVs in the U.S. compared with 270,000 Explorers, 127,000 Pilots, and almost 216,000 Highlanders.

The Santa Fe XL will be discontinued after the 2019 model year. Before the Santa Fe XL, Hyundai had the seven-passenger Veracruz, which was discontinued after the 2012 model year.

The 2020 Palisade still uses some Santa Fe underpinnings, sharing modules with the smaller crossover. But the number of changes, including a new chassis for the larger SUV, almost constitute a new platform, O’Brien says.

It is powered by a 3.8-liter V-6 Atkinson engine that generates 291 hp at 6,000 rpm and 262 lb-ft of torque at 5,200 rpm. The engine is part of the Lambda family but this iteration debuts on the Palisade. The Atkinson cycle should improve fuel economy of the naturally aspirated engine. EPA city/highway/combined fuel economy figures are not yet available, but to meet or exceed the competition, Palisade needs at least 20/27/23 mpg (11.8/8.7/10.2 L/100km) with front drive and 20/26/22 mpg (11.8/9/10.7 L/10km) with all-wheel drive. The available all-wheel-drive system has torque vectoring to reduce understeer, and the Palisade can tow 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg). The hitch is standard and there are optional accessories.

Drive modes include comfort; smart for fuel economy; sport for aggressive driving; and a snow mode that initiates a second gear start for more traction for vehicles equipped with all-wheel drive.

The Palisade has a cascading front grille that does not overpower the front end, with interesting vertical lower headlights. In back is LED lighting. For an open air feel there is panoramic rear glass coupled with a cutaway roof. It rides on standard 18-inch wheels with optional 20-inch alloy wheels.

Inside is a 10.3-inch touchscreen and 12.3-inch TFT cluster for the driver as well as a head-up display. Shift by wire frees space for a floating console with more storage space. There is wireless phone charging.

A second-row bench is standard for eight passengers, but customers can opt for captain’s chairs that take seating capacity down to a seven. One-touch power reclining and ventilated second-row seats were designed so kids can fold and move them on their own. The third row offers power reclining and folding seats. An intercom connects front and third-row seats and it can be put into conversation or sleep mode so the driver can blast tunes while kids sleep in the back. A roof vent diffuser gets better air flow to rear occupants.

Standard Hyundai SmartSense offers an array of safety features including collision warning and avoidance systems that steer, brake, and speed up as needed. The Palisade also has a driver attention warning and an alert if there is a child in the back seat. In addition to warning sounds in the vehicle, it will send a warning to your phone if it detected movement in the rear seats.

“Safe Exit Assist” is interesting. The radar that checks the blind spot use the knowledge that a vehicle is going by to lock the door, preventing anyone trying to get out at that moment from doing so. Hyundai officials expect the Palisade to score top safety ratings.

The Palisade is assembled in Ulsan, Korea, but the biggest market will be North America—the vehicle is too large for many markets.

Hyundai sees opportunity in a midsize SUV segment that is forecast to grow to 1.5 million annual U.S. sales next year. It tops an SUV lineup that now has six entries: the new small Kona and Kona EV, compact Tucson, two-row Santa Fe, Nexo fuel cell vehicle, and Palisade. A new subcompact is also in the works for release next year.

The Palisade will be on sale in early summer 2019. If pricing stays in line with the outgoing Santa Fe XL, expect the Palisade to start about $32,000 USD.