Times change, but great ideas never do.
Consider portable music, which is far from a new idea. In 1924, Zenith introduced the first portable radio, although few today would consider it that today. In subsequent decades came the pocket size transistor radio, the Sony Walkman and the iPod. Now most people carry around their music on a smartphone.
Basic ideas rarely change. What does is the technology or design that completes the idea.
Consider our current fascination with SUVs and crossovers, family-friendly transportation that counts seven-passenger sedans, stations wagons and minivans as predecessors. They all offer three rows of seating, two of which fold flat for cargo hauling, contained in a cargo-friendly box-like shape. Dull but dependable, they are essential for the mundane tasks of daily life. What they lack in glamour they make up for in usefulness, like the 2020 Hyundai Palisade.
OK, maybe that’s unfair, for the Palisade has presence, if merely from its size, bold grille and interlocking light design. Crisply chiseled, it looks confident, while retaining the scent of civility and a dollop of wackiness; just checkout the bright work that accents the side windows.
And while it effectively updates the Santa Fe XL it replaces, it also employs a new old idea: the Atkinson Cycle engine. Invented by Englishman James Atkinson in 1882, it uses fuel more efficiently than a conventional engine but generates less power as a result. (This is why it’s commonly used on modern gas-electric hybrid vehicles, where the electric motors can make up for a power deficit.)
The Palisade’s 3.8-liter V-6 switches between Atkinson and Otto cycles to improve fuel efficiency or provide more power. For instance, highway cruising may find it in in the former mode, while towing would require the latter. Rated at 291-horsepower, it’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission that funnels its power to the front wheels or all four. Towing is rated at 5,000 pounds. A transmission cooler, trailer pre-wiring and sway control are standard. Regardless, you’ll never notice it switching modes, but you will notice its fuel efficiency. This big boy returns 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway with front-wheel drive.
Acceleration is more than adequate for the task at hand, although the smooth-shifting transmission seems reluctant to downshift most of the time. Hyundai provides a number of driving modes, with the Sport driving mode enhancing the fun-to-drive factor, but this is not what you’d call the driving enthusiast’s choice. It is, perhaps, the family commuter’s choice. It’s an easy vehicle to drive smoothly, and the interior is exceptionally quiet — more so than most vehicles of any kind.
The MacPherson strut front suspension, multi-link rear suspension, and front and rear stabilizer bars return an exceptionally balanced ride/handling compromise. The steering has a modicum of road feel, nicely weighted and progressive in feel. The ride is so compliant you won’t notice most road irregularities, such as washboard surfaces, as there’s little body lean or excess body motion in corners. It’s an easy car to drive smoothly. Best of all, the interior is exceptionally quiet — more so than most vehicles of any kind.
The Palisade is loaded with little conveniences meant to outdo its competition. Some you might expect, like the second row seats fitted with heat and ventilation, the power-folding third-row seats or standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Others are unexpected. There’s a one-touch button that moves the second-row seat to allow third-row access. Then there’s the Qi wireless charging pad, and the in-car intercom system that allows the driver to speak directly to the second or third rows through the audio system speakers. The system includes a rear seat quiet mode that allows the front seat occupants to listen to their music without it being transmitted through the second- and third-row speakers.
Although the driver’s seat felt firm, flat and uncomfortable, it was otherwise difficult to not to be impressed.
Certainly the 2020 Hyundai Palisade checks all the boxes in a way the Santa Fe XL couldn’t, with roomy three-row seating, a punchy yet fuel efficient engine, smooth driving experience, an excellent infotainment system, and enough USB ports to charge the mobile phones of the local football team, as well as up-to-date connectivity.
It’s very much the exceptional, eager student. Hardworking and eager to please, what it lacks in personality it more than makes up in its ability to serve — an idea as old as humanity.
In fact, it’s so handy, you might want to call it Jeeves.
2020 Hyundai Palisade
Base price: $31,550-$46,400
Engine: 3.8-liter Atkinson Cycle V-6
Horsepower/Torque: 291/262 pound-feet @5,200 RPM
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 19/24 mpg
Fuel required: Regular
Wheelbase/Length/Width: 114.2/196.1/77.8 inches
Cargo capacity: 18-86.4 cubic feet
Curb weight: 34,127 pounds