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Hyundai Palisade 2021 review: Highlander 7-seat

Eight (or seven) seats, the Palisade covers a lot of ground with a lot of space.

Hyundai Australia has had its eye on the giant Palisade for as long as it has existed. The Santa Fe has grown over the last decade but not to the extent it can swallow people and cargo the way some competitors can. 

And after a long wait - as well as the almost simultaneous launch of posh-brand Hyundai, the Genesis GV80 - we now have the Palisade, in two specification levels, two engine options and a hefty price tag.

I've got the top-spec Highlander diesel which lands at $75,000 plus on-roads. That's a lot of money but the Palisade is a lot of car, both physically and technologically. 

This one has the more frugal diesel engine, 20-inch wheels, Nappa leather interior (with the no-cost option seven-seat interior, down from eight seats as standard), dual LED headlights, double sunroof, heated and ventilated front and second row seats, heated steering wheel, multi-zone climate control and a ton of other stuff.

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What does it look like?

The Palisade is a Yank Tank made to look better. The car was initially aimed at the American market where it isn't even all that big. Given Hyundai has to make a statement when you can have a Chevy or a Ford this big, the Korean company went all in, also staving off big units from Toyota.

There's about a hectare of grille on the front, flanked by Hyundai's signature upside down lighting. Here on the Highlander, you get the full LED treatment which looks very high-tech.

The Palisade is a Yank Tank made to look better. (image: Peter Anderson) The Palisade is a Yank Tank made to look better. (image: Peter Anderson)

Some will call the front end heavy-handed. Well, to be accurate, some have, but a look around at similar chonkers reveals large grilles. Hyundai just went biggest.

The side profile is very Chevy Suburban with an attempt to put a Land Rover style fin to make the rear part of the roof look like it's floating. 

It's a solid go and looks pretty good, especially with the dark glass of the top of the range. And then out back it's a big wide tailgate with slim, tall tail-lights.

The side profile is very Chevy Suburban with an attempt to put a Land Rover style fin to make the rear part of the roof look like it's floating. (image: Peter Anderson) The side profile is very Chevy Suburban with an attempt to put a Land Rover style fin to make the rear part of the roof look like it's floating. (image: Peter Anderson)

Climbing inside you'll find a very nicely put together interior. The dash area sweeps majestically across the car and is split by a very wide console. It's fairly high-end looking, with a Mercedes-like double digital screen set up, one for the media system and the other for the dash, at least in Highlander.

The centre console is fairly clean, with a modest set of buttons for things like the transmission and climate control and a big dial to choose the drive modes. 

You can also slide a cover over the space for the cupholders and wireless charger. And the Highlander has some surprisingly good-looking fake wood, which I am rarely on board with.

The Highlander has 20-inch wheels. (image: Peter Anderson) The Highlander has 20-inch wheels. (image: Peter Anderson)

How does it drive?

You can choose either petrol front-wheel drive or diesel all-wheel drive, the latter having a smaller headline power figure (147kW) but lots more torque (440Nm), which is a lot more useful in a big, people-moving SUV

It also uses less fuel while you're at it. The Palisade also comes with a super-smooth eight-speed automatic which makes the most of the 2.2-litre diesel.

Like m'colleague Richard Berry, I was expecting a driving experience big on sponge, easy on the precision. American-sourced SUVs tend to be a soft and slushy (stares at the Kluger).

When it's loaded up, it still feels reasonably quick thanks again to the diesel engine. (image: Peter Anderson) When it's loaded up, it still feels reasonably quick thanks again to the diesel engine. (image: Peter Anderson)

But the Palisade is everything we've come to expect from Hyundais - well-controlled, secure handling and all really well set up to make for fuss-free driving.

The ride was a global effort (most Hyundais get an Australian-specific tune) but you can certainly feel the influence of the local team has spread out to the rest of the Hyundai firmament, which is great. 

The big body never waves around or heaves over long bumps and it borders on fun to drive, which is not really a giant SUV core value.

The Palisade Highlander features a heated steering wheel. (image: Peter Anderson) The Palisade Highlander features a heated steering wheel. (image: Peter Anderson)

The diesel engine feels strong and while you won't be ripping off too many other cars while chasing that last park at Westfield on Christmas Eve, the Palisade holds its own and, crucially, when it's loaded up, it still feels reasonably quick thanks again to the diesel engine.

Around town it's wieldy and has enough punch to get you moving and out on the motorway, it's quiet and composed.

Having said all that, the engine does feel a bit old and in need of some electrification.

How spacious is it?

Actual outer space is probably jealous of how big the Palisade's interior is . While the entry-level car (if you could call it that) is a true seven-seater, the Highlander has a six-seat configuration. Two captain's chairs - a bit like the up-spec Hyundai Odyssey's middle row - separate the front seats from the rear bench. If you want the seven seats, just ask, otherwise you can cram eight in a Palisade.

There is an abundance of cupholders, with two up the front, four in the middle (in the door cards) and a further four in the rear row and more in the doors. That's... well, it's a lot. Sixteen all up. But really, the cupholders in each door will hold a bottle rather more successfully.

Under the console is a handy spot to sling things, including small bags or a solitary bag of shopping. The cupholders in the centre console are joined by a wireless phone charging port with a USB port so you can connect to the media system. 

There are six more USB ports throughout the cabin and each row has its own set of air vents. Passengers are very well looked after.

In addition you get five top tether points (eight seater) or four (seven-seater) and three ISOFIX anchors for child seats.

The boot is big even with the third row in place - 311 litres is your opening bid, rather more than the jacket pocket you get in most seven-seaters. Drop those seats, and you have a frankly excessive 704 litres.

And you know how the third row is a postcode away? There's a function in the media system that lets you have a quiet word with the back seat rebels via the rear speakers so you don't have to talk/shout across the more genteel middle row occupants.

Speaking of the third row, it's more spacious than the very 'occasional use only' slots for feet in the Santa Fe

In this seven-seat version it's much easier to get into the rear seat and has the added, unexpected bonus that you won't have to faff around with baby or booster seats in the second row.

How easy is it to use every day?

Given the Palisade is a tick under five metres in length and nearly two metres wide, it's a surprisingly wieldy machine. The doors are massive and make loading and unloading kids and stuff easy (especially with the hands-free tailgate). 

There is space galore for either passengers, or stuff, or both, and it's all easily configurable. Getting to the back row is easy with either the simple step-through convenience of the seven-seater or the electric movement of the middle row in the eight seater.

It is big and, yes, you'll need to have your wits about you in car parks and all of the safety gear is extremely welcome because you can't see everywhere. The turning circle is a reasonable 11.8 metres. 

And you can tow 2200kg of stuff, too, if your trailer has brakes. The roof racks will take another 100kg.

How safe is it?

The Palisade arrives with six airbags (the curtains reach all the way back to the third row), ABS, stability and traction controls, forward AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, reverse AEB, blind-sport monitoring, safe exit assist, 

The forward AEB works for pedestrians and cyclists between 10km/h and 70km/h, while the AEB will do its level best to stop you walloping another car between 10km/h and 180km/h.

It comes with dual LED headlights. (image: Peter Anderson) It comes with dual LED headlights. (image: Peter Anderson)

If you go for the full eight seats, there are five top-tether points, four in the seven-seater. The middle row scores two ISOFIX points with three in the third row.

There is not yet an official ANCAP test and because you can't buy a Palisade in Europe, no Euro NCAP homework for the local crasher to copy (which is all above board, of course).

What's the tech like?

This thing is absolutely stuffed with tech. The new Hyundai media system is absolutely top-notch, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along for the ride. 

It's really nice to see a mainstream manufacturer putting so much effort into its touchscreen software and hardware. The huge 10.25-inch screen is easy to use, too, and has some lovely touches like the screensaver that shows your position on the map.

There's a Mercedes-like double digital screen set up, one for the media system and the other for the dash, at least in the Highlander. (image: Peter Anderson) There's a Mercedes-like double digital screen set up, one for the media system and the other for the dash, at least in the Highlander. (image: Peter Anderson)

The safety systems are nicely tuned, so you're not shouting back at the beeps and boops. 

The very useful cameras on either side of the car are activated by the indicators, the middle of the fully digital dash displaying the view down either side of the car to supplement the mirrors and head check - extremely useful for such a huge car.

The new Hyundai media system is absolutely top-notch, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along for the ride. (image: Peter Anderson) The new Hyundai media system is absolutely top-notch, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto along for the ride. (image: Peter Anderson)

How much does it cost to own?

I wasn't expecting fireworks from the fuel economy but this massive machine came in at 8.8L/100km of diesel drunk. 

The official combined cycle figure is 7.3L/100km but the Palisade spent most of its time with me in the suburbs, with one decent highway run. 

To get that close to the official figure is excellent going and well inside my hotly-debated 30 percent rule.

The Hyundai Palisade is hugely impressive, resetting the bar for what to expect, even at $75,000. (image: Peter Anderson) The Hyundai Palisade is hugely impressive, resetting the bar for what to expect, even at $75,000. (image: Peter Anderson)

Hyundai covers the Palisade with its trademark five year/unlimited kilometre warranty.

Every 12 months or 15,000km you'll be expected to pop in to Hyundai and drop $469 for each of the first five services ($70 more than the petrol).


The Wrap

The Hyundai Palisade is hugely impressive, resetting the bar for what to expect, even at $75,000. It has a great interior, is stacked with safety and entertainment tech and has enough get up and go for a busy family.  A really big, busy family.

Added to that, it's remarkably easy to drive, with secure handling, plenty of assistance to make it safe and easy to drive and all the space you could ever need. Or, hopefully, want. And the kids will love it for all the gizmos and personal space they get.

Likes

Fantastic interior
Properly loaded with gear
Easy to drive

Dislikes

Old engines
Grille is a bit too much
Five metres is a lot of car

Scores

Peter:

4.1

The Kids:

4.5

$71,000

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

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