2021 Hyundai Palisade Highlander Review
Price & Specs8.5
Interior & Practicality9
Performance & Economy8
Ride & Handling8.6
Running Costs & Warranty7.5
What we like:
  • Large third row of seats
  • Sorted suspension for Aussie roads
  • Grunty but efficient diesel engine
What we didn't like:
  • No digital driver's display
  • Price tag is huge for a Hyundai
  • Can't beat a people mover for space
8.3DiscoverAuto Rating

With the sales of seven-seat SUVs booming, it makes sense that Hyundai Australia was keen to expand its offerings beyond the Santa Fe. You see, the Santa Fe is on the smaller side of the large-SUV market – measuring in at just 4,770mm in length versus the 4,966mm Toyota Kluger or the 5,075mm Mazda CX-9. This means that while it’s relatively easy to manoeuvre in tight city streets and carparks, the third row is best reserved for occasional use and the boot with the third row erect is smaller than most light cars. Luckily, Hyundai’s Australian subsidiary has quite the influence on the Korean automaker’s global operations and managed to reverse the decision on keeping the 2021 Hyundai Palisade Highlander as a left-hand drive-only prospect.

The Palisade is clearly designed for the North American market, where large cars are the norm and bigger is always better. Measuring in at 4,980mm long, 1,750mm tall and 1,975mm wide, the Palisade is 90mm longer, 40mm taller and 75mm wider than the Santa Fe. Its truck-inspired styling also lends it a boxier shape than the Santa, blessing it with better headroom in the cabin and a larger boot. Better yet, it trumps majority of the large-SUV class by offers up to eight seats versus the standard-for-the-class seven. Is the 2021 Hyundai Palisade the ultimate family hauler? Read on and find out.

Price & Specs: 8.5/10

The 2021 Hyundai Palisade range offers two variants and two powertrains, kicking offer with the Palisade (just ‘Palisade’) from $60,000 plus on-road costs. Standard kit includes proximity keyless entry with push-button start, an electric park brake, an eight-way electric driver’s seat, six airbags including side curtain airbag protection for all three rows, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection, driver attention warning, blind-spot monitoring with collision avoidance, lane following assist, and rear cross-traffic alert with reverse AEB.

All Palisades also get Hyundai’s 7.0-inch Supervision instrument cluster and a 10.25-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as a 12-speaker Infinity sound system. The base Palisade is finished in black leather upholstery with metallic-look interior panels and a knit headlining. Outside, the base Palisade scores LED daytime-running lights, LED front indicators, halogen headlights and tail lights, and 18-inch alloy wheels.

The full-fat 2021 Hyundai Palisade Highlander is priced from $71,000 plus on-road costs and is immediately distinguished by its 20-inch alloy wheels, as well as full-LED front and rear lighting. Inside, the Highlander adds Nappa leather upholstery – including the choice of burgundy or beige leather – with beech wood-look trim with a suede headlining. Other niceties include a dual-panel sunroof, wireless phone charging, a heads-up display, a powered tailgate, a 360º camera with blind-spot view monitor (a camera feed of your blind spot that is activated when the indicator is engaged), a heated steering wheel, 12-way power adjustment for driver’s seat with memory functionality and an 8-way power adjustable passenger seat – both with heating and ventilation. The second row seats also offer heating and seven-seater Palisade Highlanders also adds second-row seat ventilation.

On both models the standard engine is a 3.8-litre V6 petrol, with a 2.2-litre turbo diesel being available for an additional $4,000. Just like the Santa Fe, the V6 is only available in front-wheel drive due to compromised right-hand drive packaging, while the diesel is equipped with Hyundai’s ‘HTRAC’ all-wheel drive system.

Equipped with the diesel engine and finished in ‘Steel Graphite’ for an additional $695, our seven-seat Palisade Highlander came to $82,278 drive away. While some might have a bad case of sticker shock at that price, the Palisade is Hyundai’s flagship family car and the Highlander brings (almost) everything Hyundai has to offer in turns of equipment. For $77,985 drive away, an all-wheel drive Mazda CX-9 Azami LE’s interior and equipment mostly matches and in some instances surpasses the Palisade’s, but falls short on space. For those who value space over SUV looks, a top-end Kia Carnival Platinum diesel will set you back a $70,490 drive away but misses out on the Palisade’s all-wheel drive system and sex appeal (if you can call it that).

Performance & Economy: 8/10

Is the $4,000 outlay for the diesel engine worth it? Well, the 2.2-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder in the 2021 Hyundai Palisade churns out a respectable 147kW but it’s the 440Nm of torque that’s the important figure here. Better yet (and unlike the V6 petrol), the power is sent to all four wheels – providing loads of traction and negating the unruly wheel-spin we experienced in the V6. The all-wheel drive system also comes equipped with a more complete range of driving modes with mud, sand and rock modes in addition to the usual array of comfort, sport and eco. Those who likely to tow will also be swayed by the 2,200kg tow rating.

Paired with a conventional eight-speed torque converter automatic with a not-so-conventional button step for selecting gears, the 2021 Hyundai Palisade Highlander is an ideal companion around town. It handles stop-and-go traffic with ease and never fumbles like some dual-clutch units. The only downside to the transmission is that it occasionally hesitated when switching from drive into reverse and vice verse – leaving you feeling like you’ve hit the wrong button by accident.

While the diesel lacks immediate urgency at low revs, it never feels sluggish like diesels of yore. In most driving situations it feels pretty perky and the Highlander even gets a set of paddles on the steering wheel, but the diesel’s meat is delivered at the middle of the rev range so there’s no real point in screaming to the redline. On the open road is where diesel really shines. Its relaxed demeanour encourages you to keep revs low – ideal for NVH as well as fuel economy – and overtaking is taken care of thanks to the hefty torque delivered down low. The big barge even deals with 0-100km/h in a reasonable 9.8 seconds.

One of the biggest reasons to go with the diesel over the petrol Palisade is the fuel economy. It’s not even close to the most frugal diesel around but a large all-wheel drive SUV achieving 7.9L/100km in a mix of motorway and city driving is pretty good if you ask us – that’s only 0.6L/100km more than the combined claim. Pair that with the 71-litre fuel tank and you should be able to travel up to 900km between fuel stops.

Add it all up and the diesel starts to make a lot of sense in the Palisade. Whether be the strong torque, the all-wheel drive or the better economy, it better suits the personality of the Palisade and helps justify the additional spend over the V6. Better yet, it achieves much better economy than other large SUVs like the thirsty Mazda CX-9.

Ride & Handling: 8.5/10

Due to COVID-19, the 2021 Hyundai Palisade Highlander is one of the few cars that hasn’t received special attention from Hyundai’s local engineers prior to its introduction to our market. Luckily for us, Hyundai’s Aussie engineers played an important role in tuning the dampers and even choosing the tyres during the development stage for the left-hand drive model before they planned on bringing it to Australia. So, now that it’s arrived, does it live up to the high bar Hyundai’s recent crop of cars have set? It certainly does.

The first thing you notice about the Palisade behind the wheel is that, while its heft is undeniable, it feels surprisingly car like. Like the smaller Santa Fe, the Palisade belies its size and feels less cumbersome around town than something like a Toyota Prado. The suspension does an excellent job of isolating the cabin from lumpy roads despite its 20-inch alloy wheels.

The long suspension travel coupled with slightly more generous wheel base translates to a slightly less agile vehicle than Hyundai’s Santa Fe or Mazda’s CX-9. Push it through a corner and the Bridgestone’s will start to protest as the front wheels begin to push out wide and the body leans to the side. It’s more than adequate to keep you out of a sticky situation but if agility it on the top of the list than you’re looking at the wrong SUV (and possibly segment altogether).

Interior & Practicality: 9/10

Beige Nappa leather, suede headlining, chrome highlights and beechwood trimmings. It sounds like the makings of a much more expensive car, but the 2021 Hyundai Palisade Highlander starts to justify its hefty-for-a-Hyundai price tag by proving its more than just the sum of its parts. The quality of the materials is beyond what we expect from the H brand and the presentation feels decidedly European.

The uncluttered dashboard is thoroughly modern and thoughtfully laid out. The driver’s direct line of sight is met with simple and clear analogue dials that sandwich a 7.0-inch colour display, a colour head-up display and a 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen. The upper dash is finished in a tasteful navy soft-touch plastic that contrasts nicely with the pinstripe beechwood trim, aluminium highlights and beige Nappa leather below.

Despite feeling a generation behind the new Santa Fe’s 12.3-inch digital dials (like the US-market Palisade gets), the 7.0-inch colour display still offers a raft of modern functions including Hyundai’s blind-view monitor – which handily displays a live-feed view of your blind spot when you put your indicator on.

The 10.25-inch touchscreen on the other hand is thoroughly modern. It’s bright, colourful and high resolution and adds to the tech feel of the Palisade’s cabin. It’s equipped with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, can be paired via Bluetooth to two phones at once and the Infinity 12-speaker premium sound system is delightful. Other thoughtful thoughtful touches include driver talk, which enables you to easily speak to the third-row passengers. Driving at night and your precious cargo nod off? Quiet mode turns off second- and third-row speakers and even limits the volume of the front row speakers. 

The tall and wide centre console cocoons the driver and passenger – hosting the push-button gear selector, drive-mode selector, and climate controls. The armrest storage is large and deep and a sliding lid opens up to reveal a versatile space that houses a wireless phone charger, USB inputs and two flip-out cupholders. Look below the centre console and you’re treated with a huge storage area that’s perfect for a handbag and another two USB ports.

Step back into the second row and you have one of two options – a traditional bench with three seats abreast or two captain chairs for maximum comfort. Our Palisade was equipped with the latter, which meant it also scored second-row seat ventilation on top of the standard seat heating. Other creature comforts includes a seperate climate zone with fan control, retractable sun blinds and USB ports cleverly place on the setbacks of the front seats. The amount of space on offer is first class, with the captain seats being able to move forwards and backwards as well as recline.

Moving the seats forward will help out if you have adults sitting in the third row. That’s right, the Palisade is one of the few SUVs that actually has a third row that’s spacious enough to comfortably accomodate adults. Sure, you’re seated with your knees slightly higher than the first or second row, but there’s enough headroom and knee room for even my 193cm frame to stay put for all but the longest journeys.

With all rows in use you’ll fit 311-litres of luggage in the boot, which is a little bit better than most large SUVs, but nothing compared to a proper MPV (sorry, GUV) like the Kia Carnival, which serves up a whopping 627L by comparison. Folding down the third row – a simple, if manual process – opens up a hefty 704-litres of space. Again, this pales in comparison to the Carnival’s van-like 2,785-litres with two rows in place. Comparing apples with apples, the Palisade both wins and loses against the Mazda CX-9 – which offers 230L and 810L respectively.

Running Costs & Warranty: 7.5/10

Hyundai Australia covers all its cars with a thorough five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with 12 months of roadside assistance that’s extended by 12 months with each service at a Hyundai dealership. You can also bundle in a five-year/75,000km service pack when purchasing your 2021 Hyundai Palisade Highlander diesel for $3,203.50, working out to around $640 per service for the first five years. Ouch.

The Kia Carnival one ups the Palisade with an industry-leading five-year warranty and, despite sharing the same 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine (albeit only with front-wheel drive), it will only set you back $2,573 over the first five years or 75,000km. The Mazda CX-9 will cost you a positively thrifty $1,910 in the same time but it needs to be brought in every 10,000km.

2021 Hyundai Palisade DiscoverAuto Rating: 8.3/10

Despite initially being deemed forbidden fruit for our market Hyundai Australia pushed to get the family-hauling Palisade to our shores. Was it worth the effort? We think so, as it offers acres of space for those who need to carry a lot of precious cargo in comfort.

Is it the most practical car for the money? Definitely not, as you simply can’t beat a proper people mover for space. Is it the best balance of genuine seven- and eight-seat versatility and SUV-tough styling? Yes. The only hurdle we see for the 2201 Hyundai Palisade Highlander is whether Australians are prepared to pay premium car money for a Hyundai. Those who can look past the badge will be treated to a fine large SUV that gives premium competitors a run for their money.

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