2020 Hyundai Palisade First Drive Review

Hyundai can build big, spectacular things. In 2014 it created the CSCL Globe, the world’s largest container ship at the time. With a 77,200-hp two-stroke engine and a deck the size of four soccer fields, it can deliver 19,000 shipping containers anywhere in the world. By comparison, the new 2020 Hyundai Palisade isn’t all that large — but it will soon become the brand’s biggest and most powerful SUV ever.

About the size of the Ford Explorer and the popular Honda Pilot, the Palisade is already on sale in South Korea, where it is assembled at Hyundai’s massive plant in Ulsan alongside the Tucson, Ioniq and Veloster. But the replacement for the Santa Fe XL won’t hit Hyundai’s American dealerships until summer 2019. It’s part of an SUV onslaught by the automaker, which has just introduced the smaller Kona and Santa Fe models. And Hyundai says there’s more to come.

Unlike the Ford Explorer, which will soon return to a traditional rear-wheel drive architecture, the 2020 Hyundai Palisade uses a new front-wheel drive chassis it will share with the coming Kia Telluride. The SUV is 3 inches longer, about 3.5 inches wider and over 2 inches taller than the Santa Fe XL, and its wheelbase has grown 4 inches. That matches the Nissan Pathfinder at 114.2 inches, and outstretches the Explorer, Pilot and Toyota Highlander. However, the Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave share a 120.9-inch wheelbase, and at 204.3 inches long they’ve got 8 inches of length on the Palisade.

Despite all that size, the Palisade doesn’t feel like a container ship from behind its leather-wrapped steering wheel. After two cold snowy days driving Korean-market spec Palisades around northern South Korea, both on and off road, we flew home to California impressed by the SUV’s dynamics, packaging and comfort.

Other highlights are generous interior storage and solid ergonomics, which includes Hyundai’s first push button shifter, 10 cupholders by our count, and an available 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen. Hyundai will offer a fully-digital and configurable 12.3-inch instrument cluster, which recently debuted on the 2019 Kia K900.

Hyundai hasn’t skimped on the safety either. The SUV’s long list of standard active safety systems should add up to an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ and a 5-star NHTSA rating.

Problems? Well, there’s no onboard Wifi, which seems like a major oversight in all-new family vehicle. And the Palisade won’t launch with an available hybrid version – a surprise given Hyundai’s investment in electrification of late. Heck, the new Kona Electric just might win the North American SUV of the Year title.

Hyundai won’t discuss sales projections, but admits the United States is the most important market for the large SUV and will make up the bulk of the Palisade’s sales volume. Today the Elantra is Hyundai’s biggest seller in the U.S., with 185,339 sold through November, and the Tucson is its most popular SUV with 126,915 sold over the same time period.

Hyundai also isn’t ready to discuss pricing. Zayong Koo, Hyundai’s vice president, would only say, “Pricing will be similar to competitors.” That means we should expect the Palisade to cost somewhere between $32,000 and $50,000 depending on its trim level and options.