Don’t fence us in: 2021 Hyundai Palisade expands midsize-crossover choices

2021 Hyundai Palisade

What changes will make the 2021 Hyundai Palisade different?

Perhaps a new flagship trim level, but otherwise nothing major for the sophomore season of this striking midsize crossover that seats for up to eight. The Palisade debuted for model-year 2020 and replaced the seven-seat Santa Fe XL as Hyundai’s largest vehicle.

The 2021 Palisade will return as a solid mix of eye-catching looks, fine passenger and cargo room, and plentiful safety and convenience features, all backed by Hyundai’s strong warranty coverage. Sales are off to a strong start, as they are for the Kia Telluride crossover, with which Palisade shares its structure and powertrain. Hyundai and Kia are South Korean corporate partners and Hyundai builds the Palisade in South Korea while Kia assembles Telluride at its plant in West Point, Georgia.

Driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on road tests of 2020 Hyundai Palisades. In areas where the ’21 might be different, we reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2021 model or buy the 2020?

Little reason to wait. Palisade only arrived at dealerships in June 2019, and no sweeping changes are likely so soon afterward. Expect the 2021 lineup to repeat with base SE, midgrade SEL, and top-line Limited models. All will share a V-6 engine and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD).

With amenities such as standard Napa leather upholstery, imbedded navigation, self-leveling rear suspension, and a configurable digital instrument cluster, the ’21 Palisade Limited will again be a well-equipped crossover. But it’s possible Hyundai could add an even more opulent Ultimate version – perhaps with real wood cabin trim, for example — priced as an option package for the Limited or as a separate grade.

That might better position the ’21 Palisade to compete with flagship three-row-crossover rivals such as the Chevrolet Traverse High Country, Ford Explorer Platinum, and Mazda CX-9 Signature.

Will the styling be different?

If there’s an Ultimate edition it could get its own exterior accents, unique interior touches, even 21- or 22-inch wheels. But the overall look of the ’21 Palisade won’t change. The styling’s confident, urban vibe is a nice contrast to the rugged outdoorsy motif affected by the Telluride. Don’t expect major updates to either vehicle until at least the 2023 model year.

Meantime, the ’21 Palisade will again be an excellent example of Hyundai’s latest design language. Highlights include the large hexagonal grille and distinctive presentation of headlights, foglamps, and daytime running lights. Bold body-side contours and the long roofline conjure similarly sized premium crossovers, notably the Range Rover. Indeed, strangers asked one of our testers if the Palisade was one of those pricey British SUVs.

Visual differences between the 2021 Palisade models will remain minimal, running to such details as extra exterior brightwork for the SEL and Limited and to wheel size, with 20-inchers standard on the Limited and optional on the SEL in place of standard 18s.

This Hyundai and its Kia sibling share a wheelbase (the distance between front and rear axles) and most exterior dimensions. Both are among the largest crossovers in the segment. That translates to excellent room in the first and second seating rows. The third row is adult-friendly, although some of our testers say its width best suits two grownups, not three.

For ’21, expect the SE model to again come standard with a second-row bench for eight-passenger capacity. The SEL would return with a choice of the bench or two captain’s chairs that reduce capacity to seven. The Limited (and the potential Ultimate) will use the seven-seat configuration. All second-row seats slide fore and aft to benefit cargo or third-row passenger room. For ’21, Hyundai would do well to emulate rivals such as the Honda Pilot and Nissan Pathfinder by refitting the second row with the ability to tip and slide with a child safety seat in place.

Palisade’s interior design aims to equal its creative exterior, and mostly succeeds. Gauges are bright, switchgear generously sized. Our testers are divided on the Palisade’s transmission controls, which eschew a center-console shift lever for a column of buttons that engage Reverse, Neutral, and Drive, with Park a separate button to their left. Some like it as a simple, no-nonsense layout; others see it as frivolous and less intuitive than a lever. All agree it frees up console real estate and that it’s easier to work than the shift buttons in upper trim levels of the Honda Pilot.

Thankfully, Hyundai provides traditional audio volume and tuning knobs; they flank a row of button that control other infotainment functions. Some of our testers found the buttons’ brushed-metal finish provided insufficient contrast to the buttons’ markings, hampering easy identification on bright days.

Again centered atop the dashboard will be a horizontal, tablet-like housing for the infotainment touchscreen. Expect ’21 Palisade SE and SEL models to retain an 8-inch display. Optional on the SEL and standard on the Limited and the possible Ultimate would be a 10.25-inch widescreen display that will again come with imbedded satellite navigation. Our testers concur that engaging with either touchscreen demands a stretch for the driver and front passenger. Mounting a redundant touchpad or joystick on the console would address that problem but would require a rearranged center console, unlikely before the model-year-’23 midcycle freshening.

Interior materials quality should remain very good for the class. SE and SEL grades would retain standard cloth upholstery. Leather seating surfaces would return as an option on the SEL and standard on the Limited, there upgraded to the premium Nappa hides and complimented by upscale quilted door inserts. In addition to real wood, an Ultimate package or trim level would see further upgrades, a leather-wrapped dashboard, perhaps, with contrast stitching and unique shades of upholstery.

There’s lots of room for stuff inside a Palisade, including a large center console and dual cupholders built into the rear door handles. Cargo volume is among the very best in the competitive set, with 18 cubic feet behind the third row, 45.8 behind the second row, and 86.4 with the first and second rows folded.

Any mechanical changes?

No. All 2021 Palisades will again share a 3.8-liter V-6 engine with 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission will remain an eight-speed automatic. This crossover is laudably light for a vehicle its size, and while it doesn’t leap off the line, acceleration is more than adequate, with a linear delivery of power across all engine speeds.

A center console knob lets the driver select drive modes. We didn’t sense much difference in drivetrain behavior between the Smart and Comfort settings, but Sport quickens throttle and transmission response, handy for merging with fast-moving traffic.

Handling is confident, but far from sporty. Grip and balance are good, but numb, syrupy steering feel is a deficit. Ride quality is compliant and controlled, even with the 20-inch tires. Overall, Palisade seems to relinquish a degree of handling to the Telluride in exchange for a softer ride. The Hyundai’s air of tranquility is enhanced by a refined engine note and an impressively quiet cabin.

Will fuel economy improve?

No. The 2021 Palisade’s EPA ratings should repeat its model-year ’20 ratings, which means it ought to remain competitive with other similarly sized three-row crossovers.

With front-wheel drive, ’21 Palisades should rate 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined and with AWD, 19/24/21 mpg. An AWD SEL review sample with the optional 20-inch wheels averaged 22.4 mpg in our suburban test loop.

All Palisade models would continue to use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline.

Will there be new features?

Only if Hyundai adds an Ultimate edition, either as a Limited-exclusive option package or as an entirely separate trim level. However, we’d urge the automaker to include more driver-assistance features as standard equipment on all Palisade grades.

All 2021 models will again include such important items as forward-collision warning, lane-departure alert with automatic steering correction, and autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Also standard will be drowsy-driver alert, rear-obstacle detection, and rear occupant alert that sounds a noise and projects a warning on the dashboard to check the rear seats for items or children.

Front-obstacle detection, an upgraded rear occupant alert that uses ultrasonic sensors, and Hyundai’s semi-autonomous “Highway Drive Assist” should return as optional on the Palisade SEL and standard on the Limited. Those models also should include blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, and we’d suggest Hyundai make at least the blind-spot alert standard on the SE for 2021.

Otherwise, the SE will likely return with a relatively modest list of standard equipment. In addition to features mentioned earlier, it’ll come with support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. And kudos to Hyundai for offering USB power points in all seating rows; ports built into the upper front seatbacks are a clever touch.

What might again stand out on the 2021 SE are things unlikely to be included as standard, such as a power driver’s seat and keyless access with pushbutton engine start. Those items were exclusive to the SEL and Limited for 2020 and will again be standard on those models for ‘21. Hyundai ought to consider offering them as options on the 2021 SE, along with some of the previously discussed safety gear.

In addition to the above items, the SEL should continue to include upgraded exterior trim, roof rails, heated front seats, remote engine start, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Expect the SEL to again be available at no extra charge with your choice of seating for eight with the second-row bench or for seven with the second-row captain’s chairs.

The ’21 Palisade Limited (and any Ultimate) will again upgrade with rain-sensing windshield wipers, a power driver’s seat with leg cushion extension, driver-seat memory, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated second-row seats, and power fold/unfold/recline for the third-row seats, among other pleasantries.

They’d also come with the 10.25-inch infotainment screen with imbedded navigation, a 12-speaker 630-watt audio system, wireless smartphone charging, head-up instrument display, surround-view camera, and supplemented speakers that allow third-row occupants to hear what’s being said up front.

Will 2021 prices be different?

They’ll likely increase, but probably not by much give that the ‘21 Palisade should mostly be a rerun of the 2020. For reference, here are base and option prices for the 2020 Palisade. Base prices include the manufacturer’s $1,095 destination fee.

With front-wheel drive, base prices were $32,645 for the SE, $34,595 for the SEL, and $45,795 for the Limited. All-wheel drive should remain a $1,700 option on all three models and would likely be standard on an Ultimate trim.

A single-pane power sunroof should remain a $900 option on the SEL. Selecting this option would be required to add the $2,200 Convenience Package. You would need to choose both these extras in order to add the $2,400 Premium Package and/or the $1,250 Drive Guidance Package. The contents of these packages largely mirror the equipment that’s already standard on the Palisade Limited.

As a package or separate model, a potential Palisade Ultimate would likely bring the asking price close to $50,000. Its upgrades will probably be mostly cosmetic, though we could see convenience items such as a power tilt and telescopic steering column, power-adjustable pedals, and power-folding second-row seats.

When does it come out?

Expect the release date for the 2021 Hyundai Palisade to be in the fall of 2020.

Best competitors

Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Kia Telluride, Mazda CX-9, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Atlas

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]