Is the Hyundai Palisade a viable minivan alternative?
Yes, it can haul eight people in comfort and it's far more hip than a van could ever be, but a steep price point is hard for the Palisade to overcome.
What is it?
Too ashamed to buy a minivan for your family that’s outgrown the majority of three-row SUVs on the market? The Hyundai Palisade is the South Korean brand’s less embarrassing alternative. With the majority of SUVs only offering seating for up to seven, the Palisade offers eight seats (although a seven-seat option with second-row captain’s chairs is available) with the aim of delivering near-MPV levels of practicality without the Roman Catholic image.
Why are we testing it?
Although common in the United States – the target market of the Palisade and its twin under the skin, the handsome Kia Telluride – there aren’t many eight-seater SUVs available in markets like Australia these days. With the phasing out of the 200 Series Toyota Land Cruiser, it leaves only the base-spec Y62 Nissan Patrol, and both of these are body-on-frame 4x4s, so the Palisade effectively has the market to itself as a road-going unibody eight seater. It’s much more affordable, too, with pricing between $60,000-75,000.
As such, we figured it’d be worth getting into it to see if it stacks up as a worthwhile alternative to the only two people carriers available in Australia – the swanky new Kia Carnival and the HiAce-based Toyota Granvia, although the latter is aimed more at the chauffeur market than families.
What’s it like inside?
There’s no denying that the Palisade is a big and boxy bus to behold, but its portly stature thankfully translates to a massively roomy interior inside. While many three-row SUVs force third-row occupants to suffer, even I stood at 6’2″ could fit perfectly comfortably on the rearmost pew – and that’s with the second-row still slid as far back as it can go. Shoulder room would prevent three versions of stocky old me sat back there together though which wouldn’t be an issue in the likes of the Carnival, but it’s still impressive to say the least there.
Of course, with the second row able to slide and not confined to the width of the wheel arches, there’s more than enough room for three adults across, and the massive centre console between the front seats makes for an airy and spacious feel up front as well. There’s plenty in the way of storage as well, as thanks to a push-button gear selector, there are two levels to the centre console up front with a big open storage tray on the bottom, and another large cubby up top with a sliding cover and fully retractable cupholders. Speaking of, there are 16 cupholders throughout the cabin – enough for two drinks per person which is ideal on a road trip.
Even in the base-spec model tested here there’s a good array of standard equipment on offer, with a 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat and leather upholstery throughout; 10.25-inch infotainment system with integrated satellite navigation, digital radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity; a 12-speaker Infinity audio system with an external amplifier; three-zone climate control; and a Driver Talk system for the driver to communicate with rear-seat occupants easily.
However, there are some particularly frustrating omissions on the base model, most noticeably automatic rain-sensing wipers which ought to be standard on a car costing in excess of 60-large. A wireless phone charger would be nice, too, but sadly it’s the preserve of the top-spec Highlander model.
Worth mentioning as well is that there are some clear signs that right-hand drive production was not a priority for the Palisade, as there’s no front passenger grab handle (there’s not even a cutout for one, although there is a cutout on the driver’s side which also lacks one) and the smaller segment of the 60:40 split-folding second-row seat is on the roadside rather than the curbside where you’d want it for easier third-row access when kids are hopping in back there. Thankfully, third-row access is very easy though thanks to a simple one-button second-row folding mechanism and a handy step for climbing up on when hopping back there.
For the most-part, though, it’s a well-equipped, smartly-designed, and nicely-trimmed interior that feels for the most part to be up to the price point that it’s charging.
What’s it like to drive?
Two engine options are available for the Australian market – a 3.8-litre V6 petrol engine (which is the only option for its primary North American market) with front-wheel drive, or a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel with all-wheel drive, the latter of which was fitted to the model on test here. Both models feature the same eight-speed torque converter automatic transmission, although the diesel has a lower final drive ratio.
Unlike the the updated diesel driveline fitted to the facelift Santa Fe and all-new Kia Sorento, the older version fitted to the Palisade misses out on the new dual-clutch gearbox both those models now boast and lacks a tiny 1kW of power, with its outputs pegged at 147kW at 3800rpm and 440Nm between 1750-2750rpm.
There’s no mistaking this diesel donk for a European unit as it’s noticeably clattery at lower speeds and the turbo lag is certainly noticeable given this little engine is powering such a big, heavy bus. However, it at least doesn’t feel as coarse as it sounds and the torque converter auto is a smooth operator, too, although you can tell that the little oiler is hamstrung by this transmission and the new dual-clutch box would help it feel a bit peppier.
Unlike all of Hyundai’s other offerings Down Under, the Palisade isn’t given a bespoke Australian-developed suspension tune, with it instead sticking with the same suspension tune offered in other markets. Hyundai’s Australian engineers were involved in the tuning of this model, however, and that can certainly be felt in the way that it drives.
For a big and heavy car it manages to feel composed even on a twisty road, and while there’s more body roll than would be allowed for in an Aussie-specific ride tuning it doesn’t detract too much from the fact it steers confidently. The ride quality is excellent, too, particularly on the smaller 18-inch wheels and high-profile tyres of this base model.
It’s no corner-carver, then, not that you were expecting it to be, but for what it is it feels right on the money in the ride and handling department. It’s just a shame that the noisy and slightly underwhelming diesel engine takes it down a notch.
How do the numbers stack up?
Being covered by Hyundai’s iCare owner benefits plan, the Palisade offers a very good long-term ownership proposition. Benefitting from a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty for peace of mind, Hyundai offers all its vehicles with lifetime capped-price servicing, with each of the first five visits capped at $469 for the Palisade Diesel. One year of complimentary roadside assistance is also included, along with 10 years of free satellite navigation map upgrades.
This diesel model returns fairly impressive fuel economy numbers, too, so your hip pocket shouldn’t hurt too much at the servo. Over the course of a week and 470km of mixed-condition testing, I saw an indicated return of 8.8L/100km against a claim of 7.3L/100km, and although it’s admittedly a bit thirsty around town, this engine really does come into its own on longer drives and those numbers will start to fall in the right direction quickly.
However, if there’s one thing I do have some beef with it’s the $64,000 list price for this base diesel variant, which will more realistically balloon out to around $69,000 once on-road costs are factored in. While there’s not doubt that it certainly offers plenty of kit, the strange spec omissions like auto wipers, the lack of brand cache, and somewhat underwhelming performance does mean that I have to question just how many people would be prepared to pay that much, let alone the $11,000 step up to the Highlander model.
So, what’s the verdict?
If you’re wanting an eight-seater SUV for hauling your family around in – and don’t require the off-road abilities of something like a Nissan Patrol – the Palisade is your only real option in Australia. Thankfully, then, it’s actually rather good. It drives nicely, has a very spacious and well-designed interior with an impressive amount of third-row room, is very economical if you go for the diesel, and should be cheap to run in the long-term as well.
However, when a top-spec Kia Carnival Platinum Diesel can be had for $69,990 drive-away while an entry-level S Petrol model is just $50,390 drive-away, you do have to wonder whether or not the significant premium to get into an SUV that can seat eight really is – especially when the Carnival will do a better job of fitting that many when it comes to adult passengers.
A strong value-for-money buy, the Palisade is not, but it undoubtedly does a very good job of what it’s been designed to do, and still drives as well as anything else in Hyundai’s very impressive current lineup.
This article originally appeared on drivesection.com on April 9, 2021. The vehicle tested here was provided by Hyundai Motor Company Australia. All noted prices are in Australian dollars (AUD).