New car review: Hyundai Palisade Highlander 2.2 CRDi AWD

Bigger is better when it comes to family SUVs and Hyundai’s new Palisade super-sizes the Korean brand’s SUV offering.

Not content to have almost half of its Australian range as SUVs, Hyundai has added a 10th model and its fifth SUV in the form of the all-new Palisade.

The Palisade picks up where the popular Hyundai Sante Fe SUV leaves off, being bigger in every dimension and crucially, offering the option of roomier seven and eight-seat passenger capacity versus the Santa Fe’s (and most rivals) seven seats.  

The new flagship takes its place in the Hyundai line-up as its biggest and most expensive model with pricing starting from $60,000 (MLP) for the entry-level model, rising to $75,000 (MLP) for the top-of-the-line version.

Available in two trim levels, Palisade and Highlander, and either as a front wheel drive petrol V6, or all-wheel-drive turbo-diesel, the step up from Palisade to Highlander in both petrol and diesel versions is $11K, while the diesel all-wheel drive combo commands a reasonable $4K premium over the petrol. 

With its Mitsubishi Pajero-like dimensions but more passenger car underpinnings, Hyundai says the Palisade is “engineered to appeal to buyers of large SUVs who want a more car-like driving experience than a body-on-chassis 4WD can provide.”

Rivals include the Mazda CX-9 and category-favourite Toyota Kluger, but Hyundai expects its new model to also attract customers from the people-mover category as well as customers moving up from Santa Fe-sized models and down from larger 4x4s like the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series. 

Unlike the burly Toyota wagon, the Palisade boasts only a modicum of off-road ability, courtesy of its extra ground clearance and, in turbo diesel models fitted with Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel drive system, a Multi-Terrain Control system. 

The latter system has three traction control calibrations – Snow, Sand and Mud – for optimal traction in difficult conditions. 

A standard full-size spare is also a handy addition for anyone who does head off the beaten track. 

Both the Palisade and Highlander trims are available with the choice of a 3.8-litre petrol V6 front-wheel drive or a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel all-wheel drive. 

An eight-speed auto is the only gearbox option with eight-seat capability also standard, although the Highlander can also be specified as a seven-seater. 

Hyundai Palisade.

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the seven-seat option may be a better choice for families as it features a second row with two individual seats, affording easier entry and egress for passengers and making fitting little ones into child seats that bit easier. 

The 3.8-litre petrol V6 is a smooth and free-revving unit, developing 217kW and 355Nmwhile returning combined cycle fuel consumption of 10.7L/100km.

It’s an impressively responsive engine that mates well with Hyundai’s in-house developed eight-speed automatic transmission but its front-wheel-drive configuration means it can struggle to get power down in certain conditions. Accelerating hard out of low speed corners or on low-grip roads shows up its deficiencies. 

The all-wheel-drive turbo diesel model is better resolved in this regard and the superior choice as an all-round driving proposition in our view. 

The 147kW/440Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine is nicely subdued in terms of cabin NVH and feels suitably muscular from low in the rev range, while delivering impressively brisk responsive by diesel standards.

It comes teamed with the same eight-speed auto and returns a more impressive (Euro 5 emissions compliant) 7.3L/100km, even with the extra fuel penalty of all-wheel drive.
Both models are richly appointed with the entry level Palisade featuring a 7.0-inch LCD instrument cluster and a 10.25-inch satellite navigation unit, leather upholstery, power-adjustable driver’s seat, three-zone air-conditioning and Infinity premium audio.

The finishes in the base model are good, arguably very good for the price, but stepping up to the more richly appointed Highlander brings an appreciable lift in look and feel along with additional safety and convenience features that help justify its higher price.

Not that the base model lacks for features, with its standard equipment list running to keyless entry, push-button start, electric park brake and a Shift-by-Wire gear selector. 

The latter features on both models, doing away with the traditional gear-shift lever in favour of a futuristic-looking push-button arrangement mounted high and within easy reach of the driver on the elevated bridge-style centre console. 

A rotary dial alongside the shift buttons provides a choice of driving modes – Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart – while paddle shifts mounted behind the steering wheel enable manual control of the smooth shifting and smartly responsive auto gearbox.

Hyundai Palisade.
The standard safety package extends to six airbags, including side curtain airbags for all three rows that cover all the way to the D-pillar and a suite of standard SmartSense advanced driver assistance technologies. 

The latter includes multi-function forward collision avoidance assist, driver attention warning and blind-spot collision avoidance assist systems. Other systems include lane following assist, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist systems and smart cruise control with “stop and go”.

The plushly appointed Highlander adds to these features with soft Nappa leather upholstery, suede headlining, a 12-way power adjustable driver’s seat with memory, and an eight-way power-adjustable passenger seat.

The front seats are also heated and ventilated, the steering wheel and second row seats are heated and if you opt for the seven-seat configuration that brings second-row seat ventilation.

Other Highlander features include a blind spot view monitor and surround view monitor, dual-panel sunroof, wireless smartphone charger, head-up display, powered hands-free tailgate and handsome 20-inch alloy wheels.

Inside, both models feature a sophisticated and hi-tech-looking cabin with a unified instrument cluster and multimedia unit stretching across the broad dash. 

The driving position is comfortable with good all-round visibility and plenty of adjustment of seats and key controls. 

A neat feature on all models is Driver Talk, which uses a high-definition microphone and the Palisade’s audio system to allow the driver to speak to second- and third-row occupants without raising their voice. 

The system automatically compensates for road and wind noise as the vehicle’s speed rises, so the driver can always be heard clearly through the C-pillar speakers.

The battle for control of usually finite phone charging resources also appears to have been resolved in the Palisade which offers no less than seven USB ports along with 16 (yes, 16) cup-holders scattered throughout the cabin.

Access to the decently roomy third row is via an easy-to-operate one-touch tilt and slide second row. 

Hyundai Palisade.

Climbing in and out still requires some dexterity but is made easier if the seven-seat option is chosen.

Once in position back there the third row certainly seems roomier than most other SUV options with good leg and foot room, seatback recline and a scalloped-out headlining that creates enough headroom for taller teens or adults. 

The tailgate is electric and opens to reveal a modest amount of boot space with the third row in use, expanding to a much more generous offering with the third row folded. 

Hyundai Australia was unable to supply actual dimensions at launch but suffice to say it’s one of the more generously proportioned SUVs out there in terms of both luggage and passenger space.

Folding the second row is enabled via electric release buttons in the Palisade’s cargo area, although returning the seats to upright is a manual affair.

Out on the road you’re unlikely to miss a Palisade bearing down on you thanks to its vast cascading grille, flanked by hi-tech, composite headlights and another set of vertically orientated lights. 

It creates a powerful and distinctive styling signature, with the vertical light theme mirrored at the rear. 

The styling is equally powerful in side-view thanks to the long bonnet, bold C-pillar design and wide third-row daylight opening.

A strong character line connects the front and rear lighting elements while muscular over-fenders and sill cladding complete a handsomely resolved and muscular look. 

The Palisade’s strength runs more than skin deep, too, with its highly rigid monocoque structure including hot-stamped door-opening and rear side members, an underbody structure designed to absorb and disperse collision forces and extensive use of ultra-high-tensile steel throughout the structure.

Laminated front glass and extensive insulation material in the dash, underfloor, tunnel and body cavity regions ensures an impressively quiet ride, aided by special aerodynamic drag-reduction techniques to help the big SUV cleave the air more smoothly, resulting in an impressively low drag coefficient.

Hyundai Palisade.

Hyundai Australia chassis engineers and product development specialists were involved in the technical development of the Palisade, helping define the “flavour” of the tune required for our varied road conditions. 

That local input came to the fore during a test drive that took in an adventurous mix of freeway, corrugated gravel and potholed-blasted secondary bitumen. 

It was the sort of challenging drive route that only a product planner with plenty of faith in a vehicle’s dynamics and suspension tune would attempt, but it proved an inspired move as it showed the Palisade is easily capable of effortlessly handling such ordinary back-road conditions. 

Ride quality proved particularly impressive, the big SUV using its long wheelbase and well-tuned independent suspension to soak up some pretty nasty humps and bumps without losing its composure, even on the lower-profile 20-inch wheels of the Highlander. 

We drove both trim levels and powertrains and, aside from the bit of unseemly front drive scrabble and suspension thump when accelerating hard out of tight corners in the front-drive petrol V6, found little to complain about. 

The dynamics are likewise laudable for such a big beast with good grip, a predictable and well-controlled degree of body roll, light but accurate steering and well-damped suspension that settles quickly after bumps. 

The handling benefits of the all-wheel-drive system on the diesel models, with its electronic, variable-torque-split clutch and active torque control between the front and rear axles, could be readily appreciated on the loosely surfaced high-speed gravel sections in particular. 

But there’s no getting around the fact that this is a big beast with kerb weights depending on the model hovering either side of 2000kg, meaning it requires a slightly judicious approach to cornering. 

Brake-pedal feel and overall braking performance remained pleasingly consistent despite being asked to work hard on tight and twisty roads but you do need to be aware of the Palisade’s size and mass and how much speed you are carrying into corners lest it pushes its nose wide, provoking the generally well-regulated stability control to reign things in.

Hyundai’s latest SUV is an impressive foray into the upper end of the soft-roader market.

It’s a handsomely styled and impressively well-appointed vehicle that is also very well-resolved in all the key driving areas.

The Palisade offers large families a safe, new and hi-tech seven- or eight-seat SUV option at a fairly reasonable price and for this reason we can see it giving the Kluger and CX-9 some stiff showroom competition.

Key stats  

MLP: $75,000 (plus on-road costs).

ENGINE:  2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel, all-wheel drive 147kW/440Nm.

ANCAP SAFETY RATING:  Not yet tested.

FUEL CONSUMPTION (L/100km TAILPIPE CO2 (g/km): 7.3L/100km.

FOR:  Roomy, refined, comprehensively equipped, well-tuned suspension and dynamics.

AGAINST:  Petrol models only available in front-wheel drive, front drive V6 not as resolved as all-wheel-drive diesel.