We’re long past the point of marvelling at how far Hyundai has travelled from its humble beginnings.
It has so successfully claimed its place in the top rankings of nearly every automotive segment that we’ve begun comparing it to its own luxury division, Genesis. Case in point: the 2021 Hyundai Palisade Ultimate Calligraphy three-row SUV.
The full-size crossover boasts a level of interior craftsmanship and tech features that we’d expect to see in the premium segment, yet offers everything you’d want in a big, family-friendly SUV. And for 2021, Hyundai ramps up the luxury even further with this new top-level that’s loaded with near-luxury looks and features.
The Palisade is bold and imposing, and while some may not find that enormous grille to their taste it does establish the Palisade’s commanding presence on the road. Lashings of chrome differentiate the Palisade from its platform-sharing sister vehicle, the Kia Telluride; and deep character lines in the sheet metal help visually soften its overall boxiness. The “cascade grille” is flanked by vertical LED headlights, and underscored by a brushed-chrome skid plate-style front lip. Unique to the Calligraphy model are its 20-inch wheels, exterior lighting elements, and grille finish.
Appreciation of its exterior looks may be subjective, but the Calligraphy’s cabin wouldn't look out of place in the premium segment. Top-notch build quality and attention to detail are on display throughout the interior, from the quilted and perforated Nappa leather upholstery to the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster and 12-speaker sound system.
When it comes to family-friendly usability, the Palisade shines. Full-size SUVs get extra points by adding a third row, but are often docked for their inaccessibility. The Calligraphy holds as many as seven passengers (compared to eight in SE and SEL trims), and the second row moves forward with a one-touch automatic button to open up access to the third row. It’s not as roomy back there as the segment-leading Volkswagen Atlas, but the ability to carry three children or a couple of extra adults is an added plus.
It’s packed with numerous cubbies, storage beneath the load floor for muddy gear, USB ports in all three rows, and smartphone holders in the front seatbacks. The interior can be configured in a variety of ways to accommodate people and or cargo. There's nearly 510 L of trunk space, but drop the third row and that expands to 1,302 L, and it jumps to 2,447 L with the second row folded, too.
Like all Palisade trims but base, the Calligraphy model comes with standard all-wheel drive, as well as eight-way power-adjustable front seats, heated and ventilated front and second-row seats, power-folding second and third rows, perforated and quilted Nappa leather on seating surfaces and door panels, a faux suede headliner, perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, and 64-colour ambient lighting.
An eight-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay is standard on lower trims, while Limited and Calligraphy models receive a 10.3-inch display that adds navigation and satellite radio. Standard in the Calligraphy trim are an in-car intercom that lets the driver communicate with passengers without raising their voices, and a so-called "Quiet Mode" that lets them turn off the rear speakers. The connectivity system allows two smartphones to connect via Bluetooth at the same time, but strangely, only the lower trim models with the smaller display permit wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connection.
A three-year free subscription of Hyundai’s Blue Link connect services is standard, offering car-finder function, remote start, automatic collision notification, panic notification, and safe teen driver settings. Unlike some competitors, however, there is no available Wi-Fi hotspot.
Behind the wheel of the Palisade is a fairly agreeable place to be. Seating is supportive and adjustable enough to accommodate any driving position. The light cream upholstery coupled with the panoramic sunroof and wide expanse of glass create an open and airy atmosphere. Some road noise could be attributed to this tester’s winter tires, but the ride is otherwise fairly quiet, if a bit on the firm side. Comfort-lovers may prefer the more softly sprung Telluride.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
During a week of mixed driving which included highway and rural country roads, this tester averaged 11.4 L/100 km – pretty much in line with its official rating for combined driving. Big vehicles tend to consume fuel, and the Palisade’s numbers are about mid-pack in its segment behind the Subaru Ascent, Mazda CX-9, and Toyota Highlander, but ahead of the Honda Pilot and, strangely enough, the Kia Telluride.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Palisade top marks for crash protection and avoidance, and named it one of its Top Safety Picks. Standard safety equipment includes pedestrian detection, lane-keeping assist with lane-centring, forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, front and rear emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beams, and driver attention warning. Standard on the Limited and Calligraphy is an enhanced adaptive cruise system that uses forward-facing radar and camera, GPS, and on-board map data to improve functionality on highways, and blind-spot monitoring that uses a turn-signal activated side cameras to display what’s in the lane beside you in the digital gauge cluster.
User Friendliness: 8/10
The cabin is well laid out and the interface is easy to use. In addition to the touchscreen functions, there are also rotary knobs for volume, tuning, and climate control. The push-button gear selector does take a bit of getting used to, but it frees up loads of space on the centre console, and opens up space below it for stashing valuables. Everything is logically positioned and within reach of the driver. Driver safety assistance tech is straightforward and located on the wheel at your fingertips. Families will appreciate the numerous drink holders and eight USB ports located throughout the cabin.
Across the lineup, the Palisade is equipped with a 291-hp, 3.8L V6 engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard on all but the base model. A rotary knob allows the driver to choose between five different drive modes: eco, comfort, sport, snow, and smart, which adjusts shift and throttle response to comply with road conditions. An AWD lock mode splits the power evenly between front and rear wheels for optimum traction.
Smart mode conserves fuel yet still retains enough responsiveness to react to daily traffic. The V6 puts out enough smooth, quiet power to move a big, heavy vehicle; but it’s not an exciting nor lively powertrain. All Palisades are rated to tow 2,268 kg (5,000 lb), which makes it a good choice for vacationing families.
Driving Feel: 7.5/10
The Palisade is a pleasant vehicle to drive. It’s not a sporting vehicle, but the excellent visibility, firm handling, and quiet performance make it a great choice for a road trip with several passengers. It feels connected to the road, with little body roll when manoeuvring tight on-ramps. Road harshness is well mitigated and the cabin remains serene and insulated against outside noise. The driver-aid technologies help take the stress out of busy stop-and-go rush-hour traffic – although the lane-centring tech’s heavy nudges to the steering wheel are a bit intrusive.
The Palisade Ultimate Calligraphy is loaded with high-tech features, and an upscale cabin that wouldn’t look out of place in the premium segment. Its priced at has a starting price of $56,624 including freight but before tax – pricey but far less than the entry-level three-row offerings from Audi or Mercedes-Benz.
For the buyer looking for a family-friendly three-row SUV with a touch of class, the 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy ticks all the right boxes. It offers a strong powertrain, sumptuous interior, ample cargo capacity, comparable fuel economy, and plenty of standard safety features at less than the starting point of most luxury SUVs.
|Peak Horsepower||291 hp|
|Peak Torque||262 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||12.3 / 9.6 / 11.1 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||510 / 1,297 / 2,447 behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2021 Hyundai Palisade Ultimate Calligraphy|
|Price as Tested||$56,924|
$200 – Moonlight Cloud Paint, $200