When you arrive late, you can either slink in through the back door, or make a dramatic entrance: Hyundai chose the latter. The 2021 Hyundai Palisade may be the first three-row of its lineage, but arrives to a crowded market of strong rivals. That it manages to stand out among that group is a testament to just how big of a presence this SUV has over its competitors.
The three-row SUV space in Mzansi is big. Huge, in fact. Almost 75-percent of the full-size SUV segment is made up of six- or seven-seaters, and the fact that Hyundai wasn’t competing there, actively, besides for the Santa Fe, had become a liability.
Pricing kicks off at R999 900 for the 7 seater Elite, while the 8 seater Elite also, surprisingly, starts at R999 900.
There’s no mistaking it for anything other than a Hyundai. From the bold and wide cascading grille, to the high shoulder-line, to the short overhangs and rear-drive proportions, the Palisade’s heritage is clear.
Familiarity, though, is no drawback here. I think the new Palisade is very much colour dependent: with some hues, such as white, the truncated grille segments look a little odd, but with its LED lighting front and rear and the optional blacked-out roof it’s distinctive and crisp among the big SUV competition when you opt for a darker colour. Lest you forget what it is, or where it’s made, Hyundai makes sure to slap a big name-badge across the tailgate.
Pride in a good product, though, can’t be argued with. On that level, it’s tough to speak ill of this new Hyundai. There is only one engine, a R2.2 CRDi engine, linked to an 8-speed automatic transmission. It’s good for 142 kW maximum power and 440 Nm maximum torque, rated for 8,2 litres per 100 km. We managed to achieve 8.5 litres on our first drive.
The Palisade is equipped with Hyundai’s HTRAC All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) system which adds rugged capabilities so the Palisade can drive over rough terrain or along city streets with equal ease.
Hyundai is, understandably, keen to prove its new model is no pretender when it comes to the rough stuff. The result was an off-road stretch during our first drive in the Free State tougher than any luxury SUV will ever face in typical use: jagged and haphazard rock piles and chassis-testing twist fields.
Happily the adventure abilities don’t impair how refined the big Hyundai is on normal roads. I spent my time in the 8 seat version, and came away impressed with how refined it feels.
It’s compliant but not squishy, partly down to Hyundai’s efforts to keep curb weight. That same stiffness that leaves the SUV so capable on the off-road course also leaves it stiff and reassuring on asphalt: there’s no body twist to unsettle or leave those in the third row feeling seasick.
With the 2.2 engine, it’s fast but not especially sporting. The engine sounds distant and muffled. Straight-line speed is a bit on the shy side, but ample for a car of its size and the refined tuning means there’s minimal body roll come the corners, but even in sport mode the Palisade feels focused on comfort.
I suspect that’s the right decision on the part of Hyundai’s designers. As, too, was their focus on the cabin: this interior feels a level above anything we’ve seen from the company in memory. Well, except for the Santa Fe. Layout, trim choices, and technology all punch above their weight and, indeed, the Palisade’s price tag.
For maximum-lavish and everything soft you’ll want to skip the first impressions and climb right in the Hyundai Palisade, which has heated and ventilated leather seats, seven available USB outlets, a Rear Seat Quiet Mode system that allows the driver’s row to listen to their selected audio without that same audio being transmitted to the second- and third-row audio speakers, so that potentially sleeping passengers will not be disturbed. Hyundai’s 8-inch touchscreen, coupled with a 7-inch TFT LCD instrument cluster are large and responsive. The only setback is the unnecessary plastic trimming around the console, this could have been easily avoided by making the touchscreen slightly bigger. We’re thinking 12-inch.
The new infotainment system is a nice improvement. It has been capable and fast for the last couple of generations, but a little overwhelming in its interface. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto coexist more harmoniously here.
It’s not just glitter that Hyundai gets right, though. The basics, like space and room for cargo, are pitch-perfect too. There are 7- and 8-seat configurations – the former with plush captain’s chairs in the second row – but even those relegated to the third row won’t be too disappointed. Hyundai promised it was sized for adults and sure enough that’s the case: at 1.89m my knees weren’t around my chin and my head was still some way from the roof.
Getting in there, too, is straightforward with the tip-and-slide seats. The second and third rows will drop down, of course.
As for times when you don’t want to drive, there’s a slight stumble. Adaptive cruise is standard, along with lane management, front and rear parking alerts, blind spot warnings, rear cross path alerts, and forward collision warnings with auto-brake.
Patience in that situation, though, may be tough to muster. The Palisade is mighty appealing, not least because it keeps the automaker’s personality while not forcing you to compromise on comfort and day-to-day usability simply so that you can also boast about your off-road capabilities. Where the third-row seating in some rivals can feel like an afterthought, the Palisade embraces a family by avoiding the “but why do I have to sit back there?” squabbles.
It’s a shame that Hyundai has no plans to make a three-row electrified version, at least for our market at this stage. All the same, there’s much more to like about the 2021 Hyundai Palisade than there is to complain about. Distinctive styling, a flexible and nicely designed cabin, and unarguable off-road credibility help warrant the “Pal” in its name.
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