Hyundai South Africa has launched its largest SUV yet. We had an early drive of the new Palisade in Australia.

If most premium SUVs (heck, the majority of off-roaders) on our roads are used primarily as luxurious family vehicles that hardly ever traverse any route rougher than a rural dirt road, then why do they need to have all-wheel drive, let alone low-range transfer cases? As long as such vehicles look like off-roaders, buyers should be happy, because their packaging could be better optimised for space/practicality and drivability.

Hyundai Paliisade
The wheelbase is a generous 2 900 mm.

Whereas large, two-wheel-drive crossovers (the Toyota Kluger and Mazda CX-9, for example) are fixtures of the Australian market, comparable vehicles have never, um, gained traction in South Africa because they’re not offered by premium brands, which would have made their lofty sticker prices a touch more palatable. And, to be fair, it’s difficult to top the Toyota Fortuner’s value-for-money proposition as an off-road-capable seven-seater.

The Palisade, however, has higher ambitions still. It’s based on the 2020 World Car of the Year-winning Kia Telluride and, like its cousin, wasn’t destined to be released far beyond North America. But Australia twisted the mother company’s arm to build right-hookers at its Ulsan plant in South Korea – which is good news for South Africa. 

Hyundai Paliisade
Hyundai’s big SUV measures 4 980 mm from nose to rump, making it some 60 mm longer than BMW’s X5.

Whereas the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento (the latter now known as Carnival) are seven-seaters that occupy a tricky area of the market between compact- and full-sized SUVs, the Palisade is an unashamedly imposing big rig. Indeed, it’s not a body-on-chassis off-roader, but rather a spacious, comfort-oriented and liberally specified unibody vehicle. The crucial difference is that you wouldn’t know that by looking at Hyundai’s newcomer.

The Palisade’s bold, squared-off styling – especially from the front, where the oversized, thick-rimmed grille and long, boomerang-shaped LED elements dominate – make the vehicle look bigger than it is. In reality, it’s about 60 mm longer (but slightly narrower) than a BMW X5, while its roofline is about 80 mm lower than that of the flagship Fortuner.  

Note the wood-look inserts.

The newcomer feels cavernous inside, however. Hyundai offers the model in either seven- or eight-seater configuration and, in case of the former, the second row comprises a pair of captain’s chairs that are heated and ventilated. With a claimed 1 120/1 077/798 mm of legroom for the front, second and third rows respectively, the Palisade accommodates its occupants in consummate comfort; the last row is even tolerable for a pair of adults on short trips. 

Apart from a boarding step and 220 mm of foot clearance to aid entry/egress to the third row, walk-in switches are located on the base of the middle row to activate a slide-and-tilt function so that aft passengers can get in. Of course, on the seven-seater version, the little ones need only file through between the captain’s chairs to reach their seats.  

Front seats are electrically adjustable

The Palisade’s luggage capacity with all three rows in place is only 311 litres, but when the rear seats – which can recline by 10 degrees and split 60:40 – are stowed, that number balloons to a generous 704 litres. The second-row seatbacks can be folded flat by pressing release buttons in the load bay to create an utterly expansive loading area. What’s more, on top-spec derivatives, the tailgate is both electrically powered and remote operated.

What’s most impressive about the study in practicality that is the Palisade’s interior is that Hyundai nonetheless got the premium cabin execution spot on. Swathes of plush off-white leather (okay, not perfectly practical), wood-look inserts and satin chrome trim abound; the facia features a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility); and the floating centre console is adorned with a climate control panel, a shift-by-wire transmission selector and a rotary drive-mode controller.

Hyundai Palisade
Rearmost pews certainly usable.

Although South African spec has yet to be finalised, luxury accoutrements can include, inter alia, electrically adjustable front seats (12-way and with a memory function for the driver) that are both heated and ventilated, a head-up display, surround-view cameras, a heated steering wheel, suede headliner, a 12-speaker Infinity premium audio system, a dual-panel sunroof (with a tilt function for the front panel, combined with a rear sunblind), tri-zone climate control and heated second row (and cooled, in the seven-seater’s case) seats.  

As befitting the flagship SUV-cum-people-mover in Hyundai’s line-up, the driving technologies make a notable difference to the way the newcomer feels to pilot. From the obligatory perched driving position, the Palisade is palpably easy to commandeer – considering its bulky dimensions. If you activate the smart cruise control (adaptive, with stop & go) in conjunction with lane-keeping and lane- following assist, the Hyundai will vary its pace to match traffic conditions and make small steering inputs automatically.

Hyundai Palisade
Massive utility space with two rows folded down.

When you indicate, before changing lanes for example, the entire seven-inch supervision cluster in the otherwise analogue instrument binnacle displays a wide blind-spot view. Although, having said that, the lane departure and blind-spot collision avoidance assist warning beeps can be somewhat vociferous in cut-and-thrust peak hour traffic. 

On-road refinement, meanwhile, is very impressive, which suggests extensive sound insulation and acoustic tuning, while the ride quality is luxuriously pliant (it is, perhaps, only limited by the fitment of 20-inch wheels shod with 245/50 tyres on the top-spec version). The steering is responsive and accurate given the Palisade’s cruiser-like character, but largely bereft of feel. Lateral body movement under hard cornering is well suppressed. 

Hyundai Palisade
Modern shift-by-wire transmission.

In Australia, the Palisade is offered with the choice of a 217 kW/355 Nm 3.8-litre V6 GDi petrol engine with front-wheel drive or a 147 kW/440 Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder CRDi turbodiesel motor, both in combination with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Fortunately for Mzansi, the eminently flexible (but commendably refined and relatively fuel-efficient) turbodiesel version is more likely to be offered in our market, which means the Palisade will also feature part-time all-wheel-drive. That means over and above comfort, eco, sport and smart drive modes, the AWD Hyundai will boast a Multi-Terrain Mode system that incorporates snow, sand and mud traction control settings.

Hyundai Palisade
Neat rotary drive-mode controller.

Overall, it’s the family-friendly cabin that stands out most about this model, which is ultimately (shhh, Hyundai might not mind too much if you whisper it) a people mover. 

As standard, there are two roof-mounted vents for the second- and third-row occupants, as well as up to 16 cup- or bottle-holders positioned around the cabin. While you can top up a smartphone by using the wireless charging pad in the centre console, there are no fewer than seven USB ports (two per row and one for multimedia input) and, should you require even greater charging capability, a quartet of 12V electric outlets from front to rear.

Apart from dual front and side airbags, curtain airbags extend across all three rows. Eight-seat derivatives feature five top-tether child-seat anchors (four tether points in seven-seaters), as well as a pair of Isofix mounting points in the second row, with an additional mounting point in the final row.

Hyundai Palisade
The Palisade wears a particularly bold, distinctive face.

So, can the Palisade succeed in the sunny Republic, where its smaller Santa Fe sibling has struggled somewhat in the past? Hyundai South Africa does admittedly not expect to sell many units of the newcomer, but this parking-bay- and-rear-view-mirror-filling Hyundai offers rather a lot of what really matters to aspirational buyers. It’s one of the most purposeful looking, tastefully appointed and feature-rich large family vehicles money can buy.

At a glance

Hyundai Palisade 2.2 CRDi AWD

While the Palisade won’t drive big volumes in SA, it will offer an interesting (and rather compelling) alternative for buyers in the market for a large luxury SUV. It’s not a hardcore off-roader, but do you really need one?

Price: R999 900

Engine: 2.2 L, 4-cyl, turbodiesel

Transmission: 8-spd AT

Driven wheels: 4

Power: 147 kW @ 3 800 r/min

Torque: 440 Nm @ 1 750-2 750 r/min

0-100 km/h: 10.5 seconds

Top speed: 190 km/h

Fuel consumption: 7.3 L/100 km

CO2: 243 g/km