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The 2020 Hyundai Palisade.

Doug Firby

Families with kids are spoiled with large-sized SUV choices these days. Explorer, Pathfinder and Pilot are just a few of the handsome and agile seven- and eight-seat SUVs that automakers have flooded onto the market, each model adding features that take a bit more pain out of a trip to the soccer pitch.

Hyundai has stepped into this hyper-competitive category, with its biggest-yet SUV – the Palisade. With the Palisade arriving late to the bigger-SUV party, designers and engineers knew they had to throw it down hard. And they have. Let’s be clear, these are not full-sized monstrosities, like the Expedition or Armada, but rather vehicles at the top end of the mid-sized category.

Hyundai’s previous “big” SUV was the mid-sized Santa Fe XL. The Palisade is larger in every dimension – 7.6 cm longer, nine cm wider, six cm taller and with a 10-cm-longer wheelbase. It also represents a great leap forward in SUV luxury and refinement for the Korean automaker – advancements that put it right into the hunt with its competition.

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It’s as if the designers of this vehicle reverse-engineered every competing vehicle, finding the gaps and weak points, and then set out to one-up the field. Many of those gains are in the passenger compartment.

Sixteen cup holders spread over three rows of seats. Seven USB ports. Wireless charging. Individual rear-seat climate control. One-button quiet mode that switches off the rear audio speakers, which deliver concert-hall sound, by the way. A power-folding rear bench seat. Mid-row seats that can be dropped from the back with a touch of a button. Or you can opt for ventilated captain’s chairs in the second row. Push-button shift that opens room up front by eliminating the traditional shift lever. Interior materials and finish that convey near-luxury feel.

The centre console features a 26-cm touchscreen multimedia panel, and the 31-cm gauge display is digital on higher trim levels. Head-up display is available as an option. Moms and dads will love the Driver Talk in-car intercom system, which amplifies the driver’s voice through the audio system – a great way to send a message to noisy kids in the third row. And that’s just the inside.

Under the hood, the Palisade is powered by its proven 3.8-litre V6 engine, making 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque. Hyundai claims it has the most horsepower of any three-row SUV in its class. Paired with a smooth-as-silk eight-speed automatic, it can tow up to 2,000 kilograms – the equivalent of a big trailer or a mid-sized boat.

The use of Atkinson cycle and stop/start technology enable the Palisade to deliver a real-world fuel economy of 11 litres/100 km driving hilly, twisty roads in the forests near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where the automaker revealed the Palisade to journalists. All-wheel drive, of course, is standard in all but the base model.

Outside, the Palisade’s sharp contours and squared-off shape represent a styling departure for the brand. Fans might consider it subdued and dignified, but I also heard detractors dismiss it as boxy. In black, it resembles a hearse, in my wife’s view.

The Palisade incorporates advanced safety systems, including forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, and rear cross traffic warning with automatic braking. It also has Hyundai’s Safe Exit Assist, which uses radar to detect cars vehicles approaching from the rear, keeping the doors from being opened until the vehicle has passed.

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Hyundai uses a lot of high-strength steel in the Palisade, which saves on weight while giving the chassis greater stiffness. For the driver, the elimination of body flex makes it feel very sure-footed during manoeuvres. This vehicle also has available driver-assist technology that takes it, in the words of one Hyundai rep, to “near-level 3” autonomous status. Drivers will appreciate the adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist that will keep you safely in your lane.

Of the many e-gadgets, my favourite is a camera on higher-end models that provides an image of the side of the vehicle when you signal a lane change. With this tool, there is absolutely no excuse for cutting someone off.

The combination of convenience and safety features, generous interior space, ample power and respectable fuel economy could make this eight-seater a family favourite. The Korea-built Palisade does have a twin, introduced earlier this year – the Kia Telluride. It is built on the same chassis and uses the same powertrain, although it is manufactured in the U.S. I’ve also driven the Telluride and found its driving dynamics to be virtually identical to the Palisade’s. For consumers, choosing between the two will be a matter of personal preference on features and styling details. There is much to appreciate in both iterations of this SUV.

The Palisade is expected to be available in dealerships this summer.

Tech specs

  • Base price/as tested: $38,499/$50,199
  • Engines: 3.8-litre V6 Atkinson-cycle engine
  • Transmission/drive: Eight-speed automatic/four-wheel-drive; all-wheel-drive standard in higher trims
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11L/100 km average in our test (not yet rated by Transport Canada)
  • Alternatives: Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander

Looks

The Palisade’s sharp contours and squared-off shape represent a styling departure for the brand.

Doug Firby

Its Lexus-like gaping mouth front grill, and chunky body style is all the rage at the moment. Though it’s generally handsome, some consumers might find it too boxy for their taste.

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Interior

The interior materials and finish convey near-luxury feel in the 2020 Hyundai Palisade.

Doug Firby

Its clean surfaces, large buttons and high-quality materials add a sense of calm elegance. Standard seating is for eight people, but optional ventilated captain’s chairs for the second row can drop that to seven. The second row features one-touch operation to move the seat forward and out of the way, allowing for easier third-row ingress and egress. The third row has a high floor, which is less than ideal for full-sized adults.

Performance

It has plenty of horsepower to haul a load of passengers and a trailer, too. The ultra-stiff body construction makes it feel very sure-footed through turns.

Technology

The centre console features a 26-cm touchscreen multimedia panel.

Doug Firby

There is too much tech to list, but consumers will appreciate how Hyundai has used that technology for comfort, convenience and safety. A personal favourite is the side-mounted camera that provides an image of the vehicle’s side when you signal a lane change. The wide-screen multimedia control panel is simple and intuitive.

Cargo

Doug Firby

There is 510L of cargo space behind the third row, and 1,303L of space when you drop the second-row seats. Not quite as big as a minivan, but pretty close.

The Verdict

The Palisade (and Telluride) strikes the right balance between passenger capacity, cargo space and size. You could easily envision a pleasant family trip to the cottage in this refined and quiet vehicle. It is as good anything in its size category, and offers great value at the price.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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