I like the minivan. Mocked by soccer moms and car enthusiasts alike, I defend the minivan against the impractical people who prefer the form of the three-row SUV over the function of the minivan. But the 2020 Hyundai Palisade has broken my convictions. The large crossover handles every function of the minivan, except sliding doors, in a stylish package that is downright luxurious. Like the minivan (and most Hondas), the Palisade optimizes every inch of usable space, which is what families need. But it does so in a way that is both practical and alluring, in a way that is better than the similar Kia Telluride and every other three-row SUV and minivan.
The two biggest additions to the growing class of family haulers this year are the 2020 Kia Telluride and 2020 Hyundai Palisade, which are also both the largest models in their automakers’ lineups. The sister brands out of South Korea build their vehicles with many of the same parts but design and finish them in distinct ways. I prefer the more rugged looks of the Telluride SX in Dark Moss coat with blacked-out 20-inch wheels than the chunky angles of the Palisade. But when it comes to what matters most for families—function—the Palisade’s interior is better than even the excellent Chrysler Pacifica.
The cabin of the Palisade has an understated calm that exudes quality and luxury, but doesn’t use expensive materials. The center console is the best example. It’s plastic, but it looks like silvery carbon fiber. Push the button to open the first compartment and it soft-touch slides open to reveal retractable cup holders and a wireless phone charger, with the first of up to seven USB ports. The two cupholders can retract into the wall for tablet- or pocketbook-sized storage. And they’re not the flimsy kind of cupholders that can snap off; they survived teens jamming and pulling various sized sport bottles. Cupholders in the deep door pockets should sate even the thirstiest Americans.
The secondary storage under the elbow rest is as deep as what’s found on a pickup truck. There’s another USB and 12-volt outlet in there. Then there are two more USB ports tucked into the side of either front seat, so the second-row passengers can recharge without having to trip over the cords on their way in or out. Then there is yet another hidden storage area with a USB and 12-volt outlet at the front of the console, under the center stack, good to hide confiscated devices from screen-addicted kids who don’t heed dad’s warnings, to name just one possible example.
The layout looks good, too. Black control mounts are all in a line, with the gear selector buttons on the same plane as the AWD control and five-drive mode dial, from snow to sport. It’s all clean and uncluttered. Embedded in the dash between the luxury-like real wood trim extending from door to dash is a large 10.3-inch touchscreen. It’s part of the molding that connects with the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, all very modern and stylish and sleek.
The Palisade SEL I tested had eight seats, and while the three seats in the third row is a deal maker for some shoppers, it’ll only fit three grade-schoolers in the tightest pinch for carpool duty. It reclines, but the odd lumbar support is only for the youngest spines. If you’re thinking of putting siblings back there for even a crosstown road trip, forget about it, unless you want to be my mom and restore order by throwing your shoe back there.
The Palisade also has a power-folding second- and third-row seats. The third row can be folded from buttons inside the rear door, or from the tailgate. The second-row seats slide forward by pressing either a button on the top of the seatback, on the shoulder, or near the bottom of the chair. Two buttons mean the third-row passenger can get out without any help, and the lower button helps the short set get in without needing any help from any adult. A manual lever folds the 60-40 split seats down to create a flat floor that can haul cargo like a minivan.
One other pleasant surprise about the Palisade: It’s powered by a 291-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 with an 8-speed automatic transmission and available with all-wheel drive. Believe it or not, sport mode will make you smile. No minivan can do that.
2020 Hyundai Palisade SEL AWD
Base price: $35,200
Price as tested: $43,155 including $1,045 destination
Powertrain: 291-hp 3.8-liter V-6 with 8-speed automatic transmission in AWD
EPA fuel economy: 19 mpg city, 24 highway, 21 combined
The hits: Impressive sport mode, loaded with creature comforts, interior space;
The misses: Tight third row will only fit three in a pinch.