Review update: 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy sets the bar for three-row SUVs

Review update: 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy sets the bar for three-row SUVs

07/19/2021

The Hyundai Palisade deserves another look.

Overshadowed by its sibling, the Kia Telluride, the Palisade has been on the sideline despite its distinct design, slightly better packaging, and comfortable suspension tuning.

When the three-row SUVs from the Korean automakers debuted for the 2020 model year, the Telluride beat the Palisade and earned our highest honor as The Car Connection’s Best Car To Buy 2020.

Yet the 2021 Hyundai Palisade’s TCC Rating of 7.3 out of 10 bests stalwarts of the class such as the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and Ford Explorer.

I spent two weeks with the Palisade hauling the kids to camp, running errands, and living the lake life in northern Minnesota only to realize the Palisade sets the bar for three-row crossover SUVs. Here’s where it hits and misses.

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

Hit: Storage for all the things

There are a lot of three-row crossover SUVs. Some even have great third rows. But the Palisade might be the best laid out in terms of features, space, and most importantly, packaging. The front doors have cupholders that hold reasonably-sized water bottles, the rear doors offer two cupholders and two storage cubbies per side, and there are two cupholders on either side of the third row. That’s 10 cup holders before you count the two flip-out units in the front center console.

With 18.0 cubic feet of space behind row three, 45.8 cubes behind row two, and 86.4 cubes with all rear seats folded down, it can carry more gear than the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. One of the main reasons the Palisade trumps the similarly-sized Telluride is the center console. Where the Telluride has a traditional gear selector and just two cup holders, the Palisade frees up that space with an electronic gear selector button that allows it to have a large cubby topped by a retractable cover. Two cupholders pop out at the push of a button; they’re large enough to hold American-sized Big Gulps, but standard soda cans can slosh around. The cupholders can be pushed back into the sides of the cubby to create an open space when not needed. Versatile storage space is clutch for parents on a four-hour road trip with kids who, no, are not there yet.

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

Hit: Distinct style

The Toyota Highlander looks as if it’s melting, the Honda Pilot looks like a bar of soap, and the Telluride is the definition of derivative with a mish mash of last-generation Yukon bits mixed with Range Rover swirled with Ford Explorer. The Palisade dares to be different and sticks the landing with distinct style. The traditional two-box design and squared-off profile makes the Palisade look as if it’s a traditional body-on-frame SUV despite its car-like underpinnings. The tall grille and vertical LED daytime running lights give it extra visual height like the Cadillac Escalade, yet the Palisade’s curves exaggerate the edges. The LED taillights have neat detailing that is hidden in the daylight and appears as if it’s etched into the silver appliques on the tailgate at night. It might not look like a budget Range Rover (winking at you, Telluride), but it turns heads and gets positive comments from people.

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

Miss: Premium light

At $49,105 as tested, the Palisade Calligraphy model sits atop the Hyundai food chain. It features everything from a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and 10.3-inch touchscreen to nappa leather upholstery and quilted leather door panels. The microfiber suede headliner, perforated leather steering wheel, and satin-finish plastics on the exterior are luxury touches standard on the Calligraphy model. But only the front windows have a one-touch up and down feature whereas a Volkswagen Taos features it on all four doors. Additionally, only the front side windows and windshield feature double pane acoustic glass, and there’s no active noise cancellation system. These missing features keep the Palisade from crossing into the luxury realm.

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

Hit: Road trip worthy third row

The Palisade (and Telluride) have some of the roomiest third rows in the segment. Full stop. Some three-row SUVs such as the Volkswagen Atlas offer only two seats in the way back, but the Palisade has three seats, three seat belts, and can easily seat three teens. Two adults will be comfortable back there for a long road trip. My mother sat in the third row of the Palisade for over four hours with acres of leg room, and it was easy for her to get in and out thanks to grab handles and a one-touch button mounted on the top of the seat back that folds and slides the second-row captain’s seat. Like most third rows, it’s a knees-up seating position, but it’s still comfortable and there are two USB-A ports for charging devices. The killer app? A power-reclining seat back for the third-row passengers.

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

Hit and (slight) miss: Easy-to-use infotainment system

The 10.3-inch touchscreen infotainment system (an 8.0-inch is standard on SE and SEL trims) is terrific to use with big virtual buttons, an intuitive interface you slide and swipe like an iPad, and the ability to split-screen Apple CarPlay with other functions such as satellite radio. While not as large as Toyota’s available 12.3-inch touchscreen, the interface is easier to navigate and less rigid in which features can be displayed at one time. Unlike the same screen in the Telluride, the Hyundai houses the system in one panel that is attached to the gauge cluster, thus ensuring it doesn’t look like a random iPad slapped onto the dashboard. The single irritating piece of the infotainment puzzle is the lack of wireless Apple CarPlay given there’s a wireless charging pad for a phone in the center console cubby.

2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

Miss: Competitive, but not leading, fuel economy

The 2021 Palisade has EPA fuel economy ratings of 19 mpg city, 26 highway, and 22 combined. Opting for all-wheel drive drops it to 19/24/21 mpg combined. My AWD tester averaged 25.1 mpg over the course of 504 highway miles according to the onboard trip computer, besting the highway fuel economy rating by 1 mpg. Not bad, and it’s competitive with the Honda Pilot, but it’s nowhere near the Highlander Hybrid’s 35 mpg highway rating. In the Hyundai family, the smaller Santa Fe and Tucson are offered with hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains, so where’s the hybrid Palisade?

The Palisade starts at $33,850, which is similar to other three-row crossover SUVs, but the $49,105 Calligraphy model bumps up against three-row luxury SUVs such as the Audi Q7. Though it lacks a luxury badge, the fancy Calligraphy model delivers swagger, technology, and soft leather seats along with a suede headliner. It also packs features, luxury touches, and packaging the mainstream competition lacks at this price point. It’s setting the bar that vehicles like the Highlander simply aren’t matching.

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2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy

Base price: $33,850
Price as tested: $49,105
EPA fuel economy: 19/24/21 mpg
The hits: Great packaging, easy-to-use infotainment system, roomy third row, alluring design
The misses: Lacks wireless Apple CarPlay, merely competitive fuel economy, missing few premium touches

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