To say the midsize SUV segment is hot right now would be an understatement. This '3-row wildfire' is projected to spread and reach nearly 2 million units in sales in the next five years, 15% more than current figures. It's no surprise automakers are stepping up their games and adding new midsize models to their SUV lineups (think Volkswagen Atlas and Subaru Ascent). Within this sea of new and improved 3-row family haulers, what can automakers do to make a splash big enough to get noticed? Hyundai set out to do just this in the design of their new flagship SUV, the 2020 Palisade which replaces the Santa Fe XL.
We joined the Midwest Automotive Media Association and the Hyundai team for a drive in the new 3-row Palisade to Starved Rock State Park. We'll share what we learned about the design, performance and competitive advantages of the 2020 Hyundai Palisade so you can decide if it's the right family SUV for your crew.
Before hopping into the driver's seat, we got some behind-the-scenes insights into the design of the 2020 Palisade from Mike O'Brien, Hyundai's Vice President of Product Corporate and Digital Planning. O'Brien compared the design of this all-new model to a game of chess. While many automakers follow the Russian nesting doll design strategy by applying the same design to their entire SUV lineup, simply increasing or decreasing the vehicle size, Hyundai designs each vehicle to be as unique as a chess piece in order to serve its individual role within Hyundai's lineup.
The features Hyundai wanted the 2020 Palisade to convey are evident even in its name. The Palisade was named for "a line of high cliffs" or "a strong fence made out of wooden or iron poles that is used to protect people or a place from being attacked". As Hyundai's largest SUV, the design of the Palisade aims to showcase its ability to protect its occupants and give the driver confidence. The Palisade commands attention from the front with a large, cascading grille and a unique crocodile eye light signature.
The Palisade's profile is designed to look strong, confident and sophisticated. Compared to Hyundai's outgoing Santa Fe XL, the Palisade gets 3 inches longer, 2.4 inches higher, and an additional 4-inches longer in the wheelbase. A strong C-pillar and beltline further showcase the confidence in its design. Even the paint colors offered are intended to communicate quiet confidence. Unlike some of Hyundai's other crossovers (we're looking at you, Kona) which come in loud colors, the Palisade's paint choices are more muted and mature.
Inside the Palisade's cabin, Hyundai sought to create a relaxing and comfortable environment for all occupants. Aiming for a "yacht-like" aesthetic, the Palisade offers more head and legroom for the driver and passengers than the Santa Fe XL.
We enjoyed the big front seats and premium Nappa leather in our Limited trim model along with the clever storage solutions. A floating console bridge conserves space and offers plenty of storage in the front row. An open storage bin sits under the console bridge for easy access to bigger items. A clever passthrough allows front seat occupants to access the lower charging ports straight from the multipurpose bin.
The large multipurpose bin in the console contains a wireless charging pad and foldable cupholders which we found to be a very smart feature. When you want to stash your drink, the cupholders appear with the press of a button (in switchblade-like fashion) and can be retracted just as easily.
8-passenger bench seating is standard in the Palisade and second-row Captain's chairs are optional. The creature comforts continue into the second row with new first and second row heated and ventilated seats in the top Limited trim along with more clever storage like mesh phone pockets within the larger seatback pockets.
The one-touch second-row seat slide makes the third-row ingress/egress much easier. There is also an available power third row which is not offered by any of the Palisade's competitors. With the press of a button, you can fold, unfold and recline the third row. Using this feature is convenient but will require some patience since the seats move slowly.
The Palisade has 86.4 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats folded flat, and it bests competitors like the 2020 Toyota Highlander (73.3 cubic feet) and the 2019 Honda Pilot (83.8 cubic feet). Even with all the seats in place, the Palisade has a usable 18 cubic feet of space. Underfloor cargo space adds more room to stash items out of sight.
Powertrain and Performance
We were eager to drive the Palisade and experience the improvements to the engine, suspension, and ride quality over the outgoing Santa Fe XL. Our route to Starved Rock State Park took us onto highways and winding local roads with some sharp turns which we found conducive for testing the acceleration and handling of this large SUV.
Under the hood, the Palisade has a bigger, more potent 3.8-liter V6 engine with 8-speed automatic transmission for 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque (versus the Santa Fe XLs 3.6-liter V6 with 290 hp and 252 lb-ft of torque). It also improves on fuel efficiency with 20 city and 27 highway (versus 18/25 for the Santa Fe XL). Despite the commanding size of the Palisade, we found the engine provided enough confidence to merge and pass at highway speeds.
Once we got off the highway and started driving on the winding local roads approaching Starved Rock, we were able to experience Hyundai's HTRAC All Wheel Drive System with torque vectoring in action. It provided us with a noticeable sense of stability and control on the route. This system offers multiple modes to choose from including Eco, Comfort, Sport, Smart, Snow, and AWD Lock. We stayed in Smart mode for the majority of the drive which lets the system respond to our driving style. When we switched to Sport mode which sends more torque to the rear axle, we noticed slightly quicker acceleration, but the difference wasn't significant.
For families that need to have more than just the kids in tow, the 2020 Hyundai Palisade provides some serious towing capability. This mid-size SUV offers 5,000 lbs of towing capacity which is a substantial advantage over competitors such as the Honda Pilot and the Mazda CX-9, both of which top out at 3,500 lbs.
Safety and Tech
The 2020 Palisade is loaded with convenience and safety tech features, but a few key items stuck out to us. The 10.25-inch widescreen navigation system with split screen capability was both easy to operate and convenient. The split screen allows the driver to have a map displayed on part of the screen along with items like weather and Driver Talk (which broadcasts the driver's voice to the rear seat like a pilot does from the cockpit).
Secondly, the available blind spot monitor in the information cluster supplements (not replaces) the blind spot collision avoidance system in Hyundai's Smartsense package,and it is especially handy for city driving. When it comes to the Smartsense package, even the base SE trim comes with standard safety features like Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Following Assist, and Smart Cruise Control with Stop & Go. The top Limited trim comes with the full safety suite including Highway Drive Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist.
The Palisade offers family-focused safety features including the Rear Occupant Alert which prevents busy parents from forgetting sleeping kids in the back and the Safe Exit Assist that alerts the driver if there are vehicles approaching from behind, keeping the doors locked so rear seat passengers can't exit into a dangerous situation.
Trims and Pricing
The 2020 Palisade is offered in three trims with two optional packages for customization of the mid-level SEL trim. The base trim is the SE with a starting MSRP of $31,550, the mid-level is the SEL which starts at $33,500 MSRP and is expected to be the most popular. Finally, the luxury Limited trim comes fully loaded for $44,700 MSRP.
Hyundai compared the pricing for the SEL and Limited trims to the Palisade's top competitors including the Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas and the Ford Explorer. The Palisade came out on top as the best value in both trims, with a price advantage from $360 over the Subaru Ascent Touring (compared to the Palisade Limited trim) to a price advantage of $7,315 over the Ford Explorer XLT (compared to the Palisade SEL trim).