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First Drive Review: Like Liesel, 2020 Hyundai Palisade is a well-developed, elegant flagship

The three-row Hyundai Palisade is the Korean automaker's new flagship SUV.

Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

Remember Liesel from "The Sound of Music"? She was the well-developed, elegant flagship daughter of the Captain Von Trapp. Liesel was a star of the movie in her own right thanks to one rainy night in an Austrian gazebo but paired nicely with the rest of the Von Trapp family lineup to create a desirable must-see. In their case, a flock of singers destined for worldwide fame.

A parallel can be made between Liesel and the brand-new 2020 Hyundai Palisade. Designed to sit atop the Hyundai lineup as its flagship SUV, the Palisade shares many of the aesthetics with its stable mates, but clearly stands alone as the most refined model.

More than anything, the Palisade signals a turn toward a more premium brand identity for the Korean automaker. Thought is shares an engine, wheelbase, and transmission with the 2020 Kia Telluride, the Kia and Hyundai are two very different vehicles.

2020 Hyundai Palisade The Hyundai Palisade is elegant, yet adventure-ready.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

With a glance at its body style, it's easy to see who the Palisade was designed for- families who want a touch of elegance in their lives but don't want to pay upwards of $50,000 (or even $40,000) to get it.

The Palisade is a longer, wider, taller three-row SUV than the Santa Fe XL it replaces. It competes directly with the Telluride, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas.

The exterior of the Palisade is fitted with premium features including standard LED daytime running lights, LED accent lighting, automatic headlamps with high beam assist, and heated power outside mirrors. Optional features include LED headlamps and taillamps, door handle greeting lights, side mirrors with LED turn indicators, an upgraded grille, and sunroof.

2020 Hyundai Palisade The Hyundai Palisade is a sister to the Kia Telluride, but the two models have distinctly different flavors.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

The three-trim level Palisade doesn't fit into the Hyundai lineup like an enlarged version of the Kona, a purposeful move according to Chris Chapman, chief designer, Hyundai North America. His design vision sees the Hyundai lineup not as nesting dolls, but as chess pieces with whole sets obviously belonging together over small/large vehicle near duplication.

Under its hood is a 3.8-liter V6 engine that achieves 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque and is paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The SUV, which has front-wheel drive standard, had sufficient power to get it where it is going during test driving around Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. It didn't have any issues charging uphill or passing at speed on the highway. Braking is strong but not touchy and the SUV is quite stable on the road. All-wheel drive is available.

Moving inside, the differences between the Palisade and the rest of the Hyundai lineup become even more apparent, though the differences between it and Genesis , the luxury arm of Hyundai, models become fewer and farther between. The Palisade, in its SEL and especially in the Limited grade, looks and feels more premium than most other vehicles in its class.

2020 Hyundai Palisade The Hyundai Palisade is plush and elegant.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

A six-way power adjustable driver's seat is standard but more premium grades have available eight-way power driver's seat and either two- or four-way power lumbar adjustment, ventilated front seats, integrated memory for driver's seat, heated front seats, and heated second-row seats. The top Limited trim has a leg cushion extension.

Cloth seats are standard and two different types of leather are available. A second-row bench seat is standard in the base model and available in the midgrade SEL trim. Captain's chairs, a heated steering wheel, wireless charging, and a power-folding/reclining third-row seat are available in the SEL trim and standard on Limited models. A proximity key, remote engine start, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel are standard in SEL and Limited trims.

2020 Hyundai Palisade Its seats are comfortable and the cabin has high-quality materials throughout, especially in higher trims.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

When it comes to the center console, Hyundai got clever. In addition to placing the available wireless charging pad in a place that doesn't detract from small item storage space or allow it to slide around, the cup holders fold out of the way to allow for an unobstructed storage experience. There is additional storage below the center stack, where charging cords can be run so they are kept out of sight.

Other neat tech includes the available 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster, the Blue Link connected car system, and Driver Talk in-car intercom system. Rear Seat Quiet Mode, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto come standard.

The Palisade comes with standard or available most of the modern safety and driver assist equipment you'd expect from a new vehicle including forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, parking distance alerts, rear cross-traffic alert, lane keeping assist, and blind spot monitoring.

2020 Hyundai Palisade Blind Spot Monitoring The Palisade's available blind spot monitoring system uses a camera to monitor what traffic is in your way and showcases the image on the driver's information screen when the driver switches on the turn signal.Photo courtesy of Hyundai Motor America

It also comes with a standard suite of equipment and tech, including trailer sway control, that would normally be part of an available towing package, meaning the SUV is ready to tow up to 5,000 pounds right off the lot.

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade is on sale and has a starting price of $31,500 for the base SE model. Its midgrade SEL will set you back $33,500 while the top-tier Limited starts at $44,700. All-wheel drive is available on all trims for an additional $1,700. On the SEL model, Hyundai sells a $2,200 Convenience and $2,400 Premium package. Drive guidance will cost buyers an extra $1,250 and a sunroof is another $900. There is a $1,045 destination and delivery charge.

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The Bronze Edition model builds on the XLE trim.

Toyota

The Toyota Highlander entered its fourth generation for the 2020 model year, which brought sleek style, updated tech, and a premium-look interior. A new XSE trim joined the lineup for 2021, and for 2022, Toyota is adding a new hybrid-only Bronze Edition trim.

2022 Toyota Highlander Bronze Edition The Bronze Edition adds useful features, such as a hands-free power liftgate.toyota

The new Bronze Edition Highlander builds on the XLE trim with:

  • Rain-sensing wipers
  • Digital rearview mirror
  • Ambient interior lighting
  • Memory driver's seat with 10-way power adjustments
  • Hands-free power liftgate

Toyota notes that the Bronze Edition previews features that will show up with the greater 2022 Highlander release. Among them are the new Wind Chill Pearl color, which replaces Blizzard Pearl from the previous model, and height/tilt passenger seat adjustments.

2022 Toyota Highlander Bronze Edition The Highlander is a supremely comfortable SUV with room for the family.Toyota

The Highlander carries on into 2022 with a standard 3.5-liter V6 that makes 295 horsepower and 263 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. A Highlander Hybrid is available, which mates a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors. Combined system output is 243 horsepower. With the V6 on board, the Highlander can tow up to 5,000 pounds.

2022 Toyota Highlander Bronze Edition The Bronze Edition is available for Highlander Hybrid models.Toyota

All 2022 Highlander models get Toyota Safety Sense 2.5+, which includes a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, road sign assist, full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane departure alerts, lane tracing assist, a sway warning system, and automatic high beams. Those features and the Highlander's excellent crash testing scores were good enough for the SUV to earn a Top Safety Pick + designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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The Santa Fe Hybrid offers plenty to like.

Hyundai

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid is all-new for 2021, and features an impressive list of standard features, great safety scores, and family-friendly space. If you're looking for a new SUV, it's hard to imagine a better fit for an urban family, or any other family, for that matter. Beyond a few small complaints, the Santa Fe Hybrid offers plenty to like.

Here are three things to like about the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid The Santa Fe Hybrid brings great passenger space and an upscale interior.Hyundai

It offers plenty of passenger and cargo space

The Santa Fe offers roomy seating for up to five adults with more than reasonable head and legroom in both rows. Second-row passengers have room to move, and don't end up jockeying for position with taller front-seat passengers. When the SUV is packed with people and needs to haul gear, it's more than capable of doing that, too, as it offers 36.4 cubic feet of space behind the second row and up to 72.1 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded down. Making the space more accessible, power-folding second-row seats and a hands-free power liftgate are standard.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid All trims come decked out with safety equipment.Hyundai

It delivers excellent fuel economy

The Santa Fe Hybrid returns impressive fuel economy numbers, especially in town, making it an excellent urban family runabout. The EPA estimates that the SUV can deliver 33 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg combined. The Santa Fe Hybrid Blue returns 36 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 34 mpg combined. That's several miles per gallon better than the standard Santa Fe and better than some sedans.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Fuel economy is better than many smaller cars.Hyundai

It earned great safety scores

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe earned a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That score is due in part to the Santa Fe's Good marks in crash tests, but the SUV's long list of standard safety kit helps, too. All models come with forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian, cyclist, and junction turning detection, lane keeping assist, driver attention warnings, lane following assist, and a rear occupant alert system. Optional features include blind spot collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, a parking distance warning system, and a highway driving assist system.

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