Contemplating the current SUV landscape, the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none” often springs to my mind. There are countless examples of sports-tuned SUVs, knobby-tire offroaders, cushy living rooms with wheels, and an endless array of bargain-basement sell-outs that get you from point A to point B and not much else.
Few offerings are holistically solid, but apparently South Korea took what seems like a market’s foregone conclusion as a challenge when making the 2020 Hyundai Palisade.
Since SUVs are the hottest ticket in town, a manufacturer’s predisposition is to run fast and loose with design and manufacturing—“master of none” issue, disappearing/reappearing volume knobs, lazy refreshes, various iterations with little to no discernible distinctions, you get the idea—so it can be first to market and ready for the public to slap down thousands of dollars.
That’s a good initial business plan, but the long-term patronage may not happen if haphazard vehicles are the standard. Buyers are likely to drop those offerings quicker than you finding a moldy three-week-old slice of salami beneath your kid’s car seat.
Of course, there will be some that point to Hyundai’s past as evidence the Palisade likely follows that same trend, but the company’s age of anguished, miserable cars and SUVs is long gone. The Korean manufacturer has now been a direct rival to Japan’s Toyota and Honda in terms of fit, finish, and affordability longer than it has not.
Hyundai’s execs clearly want more, though, spending the R&D cash building something with equal parts versatility, practicality, affordability, and comfort in the hopes of taking out every other available SUV at the knees. Or at least that’s what the Palisade seems to be on paper.
Launched in 2018 at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the Hyundai Palisade was the company’s flag in the sand. The biggest SUV Hyundai’s ever built, as well as its most premium. It also rounded out Hyundai’s SUV lineup, having a model for the most economical to the most baller, with the aim of keeping buyers within the Hyundai family. Every detail was considered and it made a massive impression on everyone who climbed into its cabin during the show, exactly what Hyundai hoped would happen.
And after a week behind the Palisade’s wheel traipsing around a frigid Chicago with a pregnant wife, two children under 2 and a week’s worth of supplies, equipment, and a tandem stroller, hand on heart, Hyundai’s new SUV is not only a master of all trades, it’s the new SUV benchmark.
The 2020 Hyundai Palisade, By the Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $35,200 ($43,155)
- Powertrain: 3.8-liter V-6 | 8-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 291 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 262 pound-feet of torque @ 5,000 rpm
- Passenger Capacity: 7
- Curb Weight: 4,387 pounds
- The Promise: A reasonably-priced SUV for a family on the go.
- The Delivery: The new SUV benchmark.
Here’s the thing about first impressions, and I don’t know if you know this, but you only get one and they sure as hell count. An entire relationship can be marred by a bad first 10 minutes, which could’ve been the case of my introduction to the Palisade. In minus 5-degree weather, after five hours on a plane with two infants, a task was laid out in front of me while my wife held the kids: bolt in the kid’s car seats.
If you’ve never swapped car seats between cars, even though LATCH anchors are standard on nearly every automobile, there’s a wide variety to their design and dealing with some can make you reevaluate your life choices. (I kid, I kid. Mostly.)
Some anchors are inset in between the top and bottom seat cushions, others are closed off by removable caps which are often lost forever after their first eviction, while some just offer easily marked and accessible recesses. It can make for a tense, swear-ridden, half-hour fight to just get the damn seats in, let alone in icy climes. Hyundai’s designers clearly have children.
Five minutes after exiting the warm and cloistered confines of O’Hare International Airport, the car seats were in thanks to clearly marked and easily accessed LATCH points, the children strapped in and snug, our luggage was in the Palisade’s cavernous cargo hold (45.8 cubic feet with the third row down), and my wife and I were in the front getting our buns toasted by the heated seats. Simple victories are so satisfying.
Nestled in the front captain’s chairs, our rears being warmed, the fit and finish of the cabin is outstanding. The seats greet your rear like a saucer welcomes a teacup, its perforated leather as smooth as any German car. Additionally, the seat height, something that’s usually cheated toward higher positioning in most SUVs, is actually rather reasonable and I was able to drop the seat considerably and get into a comfortable, and low, driving position.
Outward looking, the dash layout is excellent with the right blend of future-forward screens, wood, and physical buttons. The gauge cluster is digital, but can also transform into a more traditional analog-looking dial setup with engine RPMs on the left and car speed on the right, which is the setup I’d choose.
The infotainment interface is, well, fine.
But as a die-hard Apple CarPlay fan—Android Auto is also available—I pretty much used it throughout my week with the Palisade. As always, it’s easy to use and far better than any OEM-built user interface, which are often a convoluted maze of portals and settings that you’ll set up once and never touch again, including Hyundai’s less than sensitive unit.
The optional Harmon Kardon 12-speaker, 630-watt stereo is good but can be better. Bass is a wee-bit heavy, even with tuning, and the mids can be somewhat muddy when playing rap and electronica. There’s also a slight boomy effect, likely due to the Palisade’s voluminous interior, but a quick tune and speaker alignment adjustment would likely make for a truly excellent sound-scape.
What’s slightly more frustrating is the Palisade’s center console-mounted gear selector. Over the years, manufacturers have played with where to place automatic transmission controls: on the column, on the floor, buttons, dials, you name it.
Hyundai went for a push-button selection which is, at first, unintuitive as you have to relearn how you get to Park, Drive, Neutral, and Reverse. But like every new technology added to cars and SUVs, it’s just something that’ll take time to get used to, as we all did with the advent of navigation. Novelty, thankfully, wasn’t a part of the Palisade’s dynamics engineering.
A naturally aspirated 3.8-liter V-6—sorry, no hybrid or turbocharging available—sends 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Tallied up, that doesn’t quite sound like enough oomph, especially for a three-row, family-centric SUV. Yet, the Palisade only weighs a relatively scant 4,387 pounds. Not enough to reanimate Colin Chapman, but nor is it built of tungsten.
Sixty mph is achieved in some number of seconds and Hyundai definitely claims it has a top speed. Neither actually matter, just know that when you put your right foot down to get onto the highway or out of a parking lot, the SUV scoots away in earnest, never leaving you wanting for more or thinking it needs less—the V-6 is just right, a goldilocks of a powertrain.