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First drive: 2020 Hyundai Palisade [Review]

Hyundai's first true three-row threat is finally here. Does it measure up?

Another month has gone by, so it's time for another people mover product launch. This time, it's an offering from Korean volume leader Hyundai, and it comes in the form of the 2020 Palisade.

Like Volkswagen, Hyundai has been lagging the mainstream industry in developing and introducing right-sized family crossovers and SUVs. Sister brand Kia jumped into the pool earlier this year with its incredibly likable Telluride, and while it may seem strange that the smaller sibling got a head start, Hyundai's volume and feature advantages will likely pay dividends in the long run.

Twins

Ah, the Kia Telluride, perhaps better referred to as the elephant in the room. Hyundai and Kia don't enjoy talking about the relationships between their products, but when it comes to cars like the Telluride and Palisade, there's really no way to avoid the discussion.

Both ride on the new corporate large-vehicle platform. Their wheelbases are identical (114.2 inches). Their curb weights are within a few dozen pounds of each other all the way through the trims. They even have a near-identical feature suite (with some exceptions, which we'll touch on later).

As you've probably surmised, they also have a common powertrain. The standard (and only) engine is a 3.8L V6 producing 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. This V6 is paired with a conventional eight-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive is available on all models.

Now, here's where it gets a little weird. Front-wheel-drive Palisades are rated at 19 mpg in the city, 26 on the highway and 22 combined. Opt for all-wheel-drive and those numbers drop to 19/24/21. The Kia actually has an advantage of one (yes, one) mile per gallon.

We asked Hyundai to explain it, and several words were spoken that seemed to have little or no relation to any sort of concrete reason behind the discrepancy. The boxier Kia simply does a hair better in the efficiency department, at least with front-wheel-drive.

Substance

Fortunately, the days of straight-up badge engineering are, for the most part, far behind the automotive industry. While Palisade and Telluride may be nearly identical beneath the surface, each goes about its mission in a different way.

Let's start with the exterior styling. Where Kia stuck to boxy minimalism, Hyundai decided to go bold. The large cascade grille is flanked by head- and fog-lamp assemblies with a continuous near-vertical element that appears to vanish briefly behind the front bumper cover.

There's some similarity in the flanks, but Hyundai's sculpting is more prominent. The Palisade also sports chrome trim which terminates at the C-pillar rather than wrapping around the rear window. They're disconnected on purpose, following the car's theme of inter-weaving and inter-locking elements.

This continues in the rear, where the interior sections of the rear lighting assemblies line up with the trim around the lower elements, but are interrupted by the base of the liftgate and outer-most part of the bumper.

Inside, Hyundai's styling is partially driven by one of its unique features. The transmission in the Palisade is a push-button, shift-by-wire type affair, which allowed Hyundai's designers and engineers to turn the under-console space into storage room.

Our Limited model also boasted a 12.3-inch digital cluster (a 7" TFT display is standard) and a 10.25-inch touch screen for the infotainment interface. All Palisades come standard with an 8" "Display Audio" screen with all the typical entertainment features (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto). Our testers also came equipped with the optional 630-watt, 12-speaker Harman Kardon surround audio system.

The Palisade has MacPherson struts up front and a standard multi-link suspension in the rear, which is typical of volume passenger cars these days. An optional self-leveling rear suspension is available on all models and pairs nicely with the standard towing suite (good for 5,000lbs) which includes a harness receiver, trailer sway control and a heavy-duty transmission cooler.

Role

We've already established what the Palisade is, but we feel it's also important to talk about how it fits into the Hyundai lineup. Until now, Hyundai has had a two-pronged strategy with Santa Fe, which has been its range-topping crossover. While both could be considered midsizers, the Santa Fe and Santa Fe XL had two very different roles.

Palisade removes the need for Hyundai to lean on the XL for people-hauler sales. With four extra inches of wheelbase, the Palisade is a demonstrably larger and more family-friendly vehicle. This frees Hyundai to build the next-generation Santa Fe to compete directly with the rest of the midsize segment--your Nissan Muranos, Ford Edges, etc.

The drive

Part of us wishes we'd had the opportunity to drive the Palisade back-to-back with the Telluride, but that's about the last thing Hyundai's product team had in mind. As with the styling, Hyundai's engineers were free to tweak the suspension, powertrain and steering qualities to their hearts' delight.

Instead, we're stuck evaluating the Palisade on its own dynamic merits, and we're pleased to report that meet or beat our expectations.

While it's no Mazda CX-9, we were quite pleased with the Palisade's underlying athleticism. Despite its size and weight, it holds its own quite well on the winding back roads of the Idaho Panhandle. Likewise, the naturally aspirated 3.8-liter V6 can keep it moving even at elevation (we never dropped below about 2,000 feet) and the eight-speed auto did its job admirably with minimal hunting or indecision.

We had many opportunities to try out the Palisade's intelligent cruise control features, including its party piece: Highway Driving Assist. This is a semi-autonomous feature suite that incorporates lane centering with existing cruise features along with automated speed limit adjustments on certain interstate highways.

HDA for short, the system uses a hard-coded database rather than reading on-road signs, so drivers who encounter construction zones will have to manually adjust target speeds. If something other than the speed limit is chosen for the cruise control target, the system defaults to a setting that won't automatically account for speed limit changes. The same is true if the Palisade is not being driven on an limited-access interstate.

We put more than 230 miles on the Palisade over the course of our evaluation period, and we came away impressed with just about every aspect of the drive experience. Our loaded-up Limited models weren't cheap, but at just over $47,000 all-in, they were still less expensive than the competition, and often with more feature content.

MG's bottom line

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade is every bit the solution Hyundai needed for the three-row crossover segment. The success of the Kia Telluride proves that the large crossover market hasn't yet reached a saturation point, and we expect the Palisade will be just as successful, if not more so.

2020 Hyundai Palisade Limited base price, $46,400; as tested, $47,605

Carpeted floor mats, $160; Destination, $1,045


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