2020 Hyundai Palisade first drive review: Enter Sandman

December 18, 2018

Sleep is underrated. Underrated like Vermont as a state, pepper as a spice, or veggie as a pizza. Many of us sleep on, well, sleep.

Any parent, new or old, will tell you that bed time is a sacrosanct ritual, Holy Communion with Oreos and milk.

If I’m saying the 2020 Hyundai Palisade makes me sleepy, it’s not because I’m looking for stimulation or entertainment in the three-row SUV. I don’t want a family crossover that surprises me, or hidden features that I’m likely to find three years after ownership. Tell me what I’m getting and how to use it like a Pack ‘n Play.

DON'T MISS: Read our 2020 Hyundai Palisade preview

Instead, the Palisade, which is new next year, is predictable like taxes and sleep—all of which should happen with regularity or there’s hell to pay later. The Palisade’s Ambien-like qualities are good praise for a good crossover that’s good in the things it’s supposed to be good at—good night.

2020 Hyundai Palisade first drive

2020 Hyundai Palisade first drive

2020 Hyundai Palisade first drive

2020 Hyundai Palisade first drive

2020 Hyundai Palisade first drive

2020 Hyundai Palisade first drive

That’s not to say the Palisade is dozing on its potential new buyers—not even close. The outgoing Santa Fe XL had 7 liters of interior storage capacity, which is less than some cowboy hats but more than the recommended daily intake of diet soda.

The Palisade has 29 liters of interior storage, which is good for pens, pencils, crayons, snacks, juices, confiscated smartphones, comic books, headphones, and the occasional book for punishment (kids) or boring soccer practices (adults). Its three rows comfortably seat up to eight, including the driver, or up to seven terrified passengers if the driver David Copperfields his or her way out of another trip to Target.

Second-row captain’s chairs, which can be optionally heated or cooled, can sub in for the folding bench on some trim levels. (Big brother pro tip: The ritzy climate-controlled second-row seats add a dangerous third dimension to freeze-out double dares in January: windows down, A/C up, seats cooled. Loser writes the winner’s next book report.)

Big kids, long-legged kids, or adult kids won’t fuss in the second row; the Palisade’s 42.4 inches of back seat leg room is near the top among competitors, including the Honda Pilot and Subaru Ascent. The seats slide fore and aft several inches to horse-trade with third-row riders, likely to be bigger kids who’ve outgrown mandatory car seats but won’t see their smartphones again until they’re 35 if they keep up the attitude. (There are two available USB ports in the third row to reward good behavior.)

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The wayback seats aren’t penalty boxes, anyway. Despite a scant 31.4 inches of leg room—helped by sympathetic second-row passengers, of course—the Palisade’s roof doesn’t eat into available head room for third-row passengers. In a pinch, the third-row seats can recline several degrees for long torsos on long drives, although they eat into available cargo space.

That cargo space is a dandy: 18 cubic feet with all the seats in place, 46 cubes with the third row tumbled forward. Hyundai admits most three-row crossover buyers won’t use the third row regularly but preparing for hitchhiking basketball teams, emergency jazz ensemble gigs, or hockey team second shifts across state lines is all useful stuff for some shoppers.

File more under helpful in the Palisade: an available voice-projection system that repeats the driver’s commands through the speakers when a bullhorn isn’t available, and grab handles and a one-touch second-row seat that fires forward like a family-friendly Scud when it’s time to clamber into the third row.

Hyundai’s on a heat-seeking mission to change its identity in the States, too. The Palisade is the first crossover on dealer lots that won’t look like anything else—if the crocodile LED lights weren’t an indication first.

The Palisade starts a trend for other Hyundai crossovers to follow, but not mimic. The upright and bracketed LED daytime running lights are tricks. The Palisade reads like a relative Mack truck among similarly sized crossovers and belie the Palisade’s 77.8-inch width, which is wider than a Santa Fe XL but not as wide as a Pilot or a Ford Explorer.

The visual frippery doesn’t stop there: The Palisade’s chrome accent around the windows dive around the rear wheels, which makes the roof pillar look sturdy and stout. The horizontal lines inside and out look durable and unending like Interstate 70 across the plains of Kansas. (Ask us how we know.)

Scholars of sturdiness, stoutness, and Kansas will immediately recognize that none are typically associated with “fast,” and the Palisade isn’t likely to do the same. The crossover is powered by 291-horsepower 3.8-liter V-6 that’s tuned for maximum efficiency, relatively speaking. The EPA and Hyundai haven’t yet released estimates for the Palisade’s fuel economy, but it’s likely to rank somewhere ahead of Mack truck but well behind the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, which rates up to 29 mpg combined. The Palisades we drove in South Korea were powered by a 2.2-liter turbodiesel, which won’t be coming to the U.S. because family crossover shoppers have deemed diesel less desirable than Fruit Loops for dinner.

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Our 3.8-liter gasser will get an 8-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive as standard equipment, or all-wheel drive as an option. Both transmission and all-wheel-drive system blended into the background like next month’s homework assignments in the diesel-powered version that we drove in South Korea.

We can’t math the 2020 Hyundai Palisade’s price because it’s still a secret until closer to the car’s on-sale date in the middle of next year, but we can see what’s adding up. Equipped with cloth upholstery, 18-inch wheels, and manual-adjustable seats, the Palisade is likely to start at hundreds less than competitors—aka Hyundai’s MO. Thankfully, active safety features such as automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and driver-attention monitor are standard on every model.

Unlike those Hyundais of yore, the Palisade punches above its class in fittings and appointments in top models, including a slick 10.3-inch touchscreen, soft leather, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and Vandross-smooth headliners—typical Audi stuff.

But the Palisade’s bread and butter is its creamy ride and quiet interior. Both are a boon to long road trips and pre-existing conditions that can lead to quiet sleep for little ones.

Like parents now know—and our parents before us knew—quiet car rides can be a one-way trip to the Sandman. The 2020 Hyundai Palisade makes everyone else sleepy, too.


Hyundai provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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