by Frank A. Aukofer

It’s easy to conclude that Hyundai decided to go over the top with the 2021 Palisade three-row crossover sport utility vehicle. After making its debut as a 2020 model, the Palisade scored plaudits all over the automotive multiverse along with its fraternal cousin, the Kia Telluride. In any number of ratings and reviews, the two crossovers were ranked one and/or two in the midsize, three-row crossover category.

It’s getting to be a familiar story. The two South Korean companies are part of the same family and lately have consistently delivered desirable vehicles with high-grade content and competitive prices. They share engineering, engines, and drive trains but follow their own instincts on styling and other ingredients. 

For the 2021 model year, Hyundai upped the ante with a new top-line trim level, called the Palisade Calligraphy. The former top Limited has been relegated to secondary status along with the less expensive SEL and SE versions.

The Calligraphy, with striking exterior styling highlighted by an intimidating in-your-face grille with triangle accents and eye-catching alloy wheels, has tilted into the luxury category despite its more bourgeois price tag.

Inside, the Calligraphy’s luxurious personality encompasses a variety of quality materials including quilted leather trim on the doors and faux wood accents. Also: perforated leather upholstery and steering wheel; rear side sunshades; heated and ventilated seats; a 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation, SXM satellite radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The center console expands the storage area with cup holder surrounds that fold into the console inside and are spring loaded. If you need to secure a cup you simply touch a button, and they snap into place.

Full safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping and lane-following assist, adaptive cruise control, and a clever blind-spot warning system built into the instrument cluster. When you click the left or right turn signal, the rear view on either side shows up, substituting briefly for the speedometer or tachometer.

You can check the blind spots on both sides without looking at the outside mirrors. However, though innovative, the system is unnecessary if you are among the rare motorists who know how to properly adjust the outside mirrors, which are the original blind sport monitors.

The Calligraphy tested for this review carried an opening price tag of $48,935. But it was so well equipped there was only one option: $215 for carpeted floor mats. All-wheel drive is standard. The lesser trim levels, with both front drive or optional all-wheel drive, are the SE, which starts at $33,800 including the destination charge; SEL, at $36,510, and Limited, $46,460.

There’s power aplenty from a 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine that delivers 262 lb-ft of torque, enough to move this 4,387-pound beauty to 60 mph in a snippet under seven seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph. An eight-speed automatic transmission with manual mode and paddle shifters gets the power to the pavement.

There are five selectable drive modes: Comfort, Sport, Eco, Smart, and Snow. Comfort provides a slightly softer ride and Sport delivers slightly crisper handling. But you have to pay close attention to notice the differences. Either works well in everyday driving.

Traveling, the Palisade was an amiable companion. It cruised quietly with confident handling and fatigue-free long-distance motoring, though it’s not particularly anxious to challenge twisting mountain roads.

The tested Calligraphy was a seven-passenger model with generous space and captain’s chairs in the second row. They were as comfortable and supportive as the front seats, with multiple adjustments and enough travel to provide knee room to passengers in the third row. 

The third row sits on a raised platform about four inches higher than the second-row floor. But there’s still enough head room for modest sized humans and knee room if the second-row seats are moved forward. There are three seatbelts back there, but passengers better be skinny or kids. 

Third-row seats have powered reclining and seatback folding. There’s 18 cubic feet for cargo, accessed by a hands-free automatic tailgate, which expands to 46 cubic feet with the third row folded, and 86 cubic feet if you also fold the second row. Headrests drop automatically when you drop the seatbacks.

Besides the Telluride, the Palisade competes handily against the Ford Explorer, Buick Enclave, Mazda CX-9, Volkswagen Atlas, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Nissan Pathfinder.

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 3.8-liter V6; 291 hp, 262 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Eight-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 9 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 155/18 cubic feet. 
  • Weight: 4,387 pounds.
  • Towing capability: Maximum 5,000 pounds properly equipped.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/24/21 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $48,935.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

Photos (c) Hyundai