The Hyundai Palisade is already one of Motor1.com’s favorite crossovers, offering space and practicality in a cost-effective package. Hyundai’s most spacious SUV also distinguishes itself from the mechanically identical Kia Telluride with unique styling, enhanced further on the new Calligraphy trim. With unique design features and a long list of standard equipment, the 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy could either be overkill or more of a good thing.
That’s what I wanted to find out on a long weekend with the big crossover, and luckily I had a long road trip to give the Palisade a chance to prove its mettle. With four people and plenty of cargo on board, my travel crew and I found little to complain about the Calligraphy, at least until I got home and started playing with Hyundai’s build-and-price tool. More on that later.
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The word “Calligraphy” invokes a number of other automakers’ top-spec offerings, like the Range Rover Autobiography, the Infiniti QX50 Autograph, and the Volvo XC90 Inscription. Manufacturers seem to place lots of prestige in writing, which we automotive scribes will take as a compliment. However, the Palisade doesn’t take much opportunity to set its top trim apart from other members of the family. The grille gets a unique finish, and the Calligraphy wears bright silver plastic on its faux front and rear skid plates. There are also 20-inch alloy wheels with a different, more garish design than the Limited’s identically sized rollers.
Inside, the Palisade Calligraphy builds on its one-rung-down sibling’s standard Nappa leather by adding quilting to the door panel inserts – curiously, a feature included on the 2020 Limited but not on the 2021. The Calligraphy also gets whitewashed wood-tone trim, but it looks unconvincingly plasticky and fake. The cabin’s color scheme, however, looks appropriately luxurious, with a bluish black dashboard top and door panel uppers combining with light tan seats.
Otherwise, the Calligraphy wears the same handsome, unconventional styling as the rest of the Palisade family. The split front and rear lighting elements look like they’re made of one single piece (with sheet metal draped over the top), and the pinched-hexagon grille is bolder and more distinctive than the rectangular unit on the Kia Telluride. Inside, a floating center console with silver trim brightens up the interior, as do the standard twin digital displays – one for the infotainment and one for the instrument cluster. Materials are generally good, with soft plastics and perfectly grained leather appearing on most touchpoints.
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Like the Limited trim, the Palisade Calligraphy comes with front- and second-row bucket seats, both of which offer excellent support and comfort on long distances. The Hyundai offers 39.3 inches of front and 38.8 inches of rear headroom, which is down on the Honda Pilot’s 39.5 and 40.9 inches and the Ford Explorer’s 40.7 and 40.5 inches. However, the Palisade beats out the Toyota Highlander’s numbers by more than an inch in both rows. It also claws back some legroom from its rivals, beating them anywhere from 1.1 to 3.2 inches up front and from 1.4 to 4.0 inches in the rear. There’s abundant stretch-out space for even taller passengers.
The Palisade’s third row isn’t phenomenal, but it’s not bad either. Fitting three folks in back is tough due to limited shoulder room, but there’s enough head- and legroom to find a comfortable seating position for two. With all the seats in place, there’s 18.0 cubic feet of cargo room, better than the Honda and Toyota (16.0 cubes even), but down a shade on the Ford’s 18.2 cubic feet. Fold the third row down and there’s 45.8 cubic feet in the Palisade, down slightly on those three. With all seats stowed, the Palisade can haul 86.4 cubic feet, compared to the Explorer’s 87.8, the Pilot’s 83.8, and the Highlander’s 84.3.
The floor and door panels must be stuffed with marshmallows for how well they keep tire roar at bay.
Working in the Calligraphy’s favor is a velvety-smooth, quiet freeway ride. The rear suspension boasts automatic leveling technology, keeping the vehicle off its jounce bumpers when loaded down, and the floor and door panels must be stuffed with marshmallows for how well they keep tire roar at bay. Even on broken pavement, the Palisade smothers harsh inputs with a soft thump formerly reserved for German cars only, and floaty body motions are present but well controlled, blending luxo-barge smoothness with Teutonic polish.
Like the Limited, the Palisade Calligraphy comes standard with heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, heated second-row seats, three-zone climate control, sunshades in the rear doors, and a suede-like headliner. For our traveling party of four, the Palisade was almost perfect, falling short only with some gritty engine noises on full throttle and a second row that’s a bit short on storage – the Nissan Pathfinder’s removable rear seat center console would be an easy fix.
Those twin screens we mentioned earlier run Hyundai’s stellar infotainment software, which means the 10.3-inch infotainment display responds to touch inputs nearly instantly and is well organized for quick adjustments. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto require a wired connection, but there is a wireless charging pad up front. The Harman/Kardon audio system sounds decent, too.
The Palisade also includes features that should help families keep the peace a bit easier. The audio system has a one-touch quiet mode that silences the rear speakers and lowers the front-row volume to a hush, allowing sleeping kids to doze while parents take advantage of the quiet. A rear-seat intercom also picks up voices from the front row, allowing Ma and Pa to dole out argument-ending justice.
We’ve complained about Hyundai’s digital instrument cluster before, and the Palisade Calligraphy is no different. While it’s easy to read the twin analog-style gauges and scroll through the onboard computer, there’s not enough customizability. A full-screen map display, a la Audi Virtual Cockpit, would be a huge improvement. Helping with distraction-free navigation is a standard head-up display that can show turn-by-turn directions, as well as driver-assist information, speed limits, and current speed.
The Hyundai Palisade goes about its business in an unremarkable way – no bad thing for a family crossover. It gets its power from a 3.8-liter V6 with 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet. Other V6-equipped SUVs in the class have similar numbers, though the turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four in the Ford Explorer makes a far more impressive 300 hp and 310 lb-ft. As such, the Palisade is no sports car at a stop light, with a too-sharp throttle that makes smooth getaways a challenge. However, its passing performance is adequate, and the SUV can handle 80 miles per hour on the freeway with no problems, even loaded with passengers and luggage.
Handling is likewise drama-free. The steering is light as a feather and devoid of any meaningful feel, but the Palisade turns corners with reasonable accuracy, absorbing bumps without disturbing the chassis too much. Braking is consistent and sure, with good pedal feel and progressive bite as your left foot presses harder. Driven at reasonable speeds, the Palisade isn’t afraid of a winding mountain road, though it will relent to understeer when pushed. Even then, the minor body roll and brake dive don’t inhibit control too much.
As expected of a modern Hyundai, every Palisade is comprehensively equipped with automatic emergency braking, lane-centering technology, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control. The Limited and Calligraphy bundle that tech with Highway Driving Assist, one of the best Level 2 semi-autonomous suites on the market. A long, 900-mile round trip gave me ample opportunity to test HDA out, and I found nothing to complain about. The Palisade is an exemplar of poised driver assistance, stepping in when needed to keep the vehicle on the straight and narrow.
I also appreciated the front and rear parking sensors, which enable low-speed automatic braking that steps in to prevent parallel-parking bumper cars. Speaking of, the Calligraphy also gets active parking assistance that works in parallel and perpendicular spaces, though it doesn’t offer the unmanned Smart Park feature found in the Sonata sedan. Still, any shopper will be impressed with the Palisade’s long list of driver-assist features that make city driving easier than expected.
The 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy achieves a lackluster 19 miles per gallon city, 24 highway, and 21 combined, numbers that pale in comparison to the 22-mpg Pilot and the 23-mpg Highlander and Explorer. At the end of the freeway-intensive road trip, the on-board computer indicated 23.8 mpg, and one stint of low-speed city driving saw 18.5 mpg. Lighter feet might be able to match the EPA’s numbers, but the Palisade is still a bit thirstier than its SUV rivals. Luckily, it swills the cheap stuff – no premium fuel required.
The biggest Hyundai is also the most expensive, but it’s still an excellent bargain compared to other large crossovers. Starting at $49,085 (with $1,185 destination), the Palisade Calligraphy HTRAC undercuts all-wheel drive versions of the Honda Pilot Elite ($50,345) and Toyota Highlander Platinum ($50,405) by a fair margin. That said, the $48,500 Ford Explorer Limited is cheaper – though I think the Palisade has a nicer interior. All told, this Palisade wears an as-tested window sticker of $49,300, its only option being a set of floor mats.
But while the Calligraphy seems to be a good deal weighed against other large crossovers, it doesn’t add enough content to justify its price premium over the nearly identical Limited. Unless you need the garish chrome grille or throwing-star wheel design, a Palisade Limited offers the same luxury equipment and interior fittings – save those quilted door panels – as the Calligraphy, all at a savings of $1,000. However slight the price premium is for the flagship trim, it’s not worth it.
Still, the 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy is yet another in a string of victories from the South Korean automaker, giving its customers luxury-brand levels of poise and equipment for less money than any of its Japanese rivals. That the Calligraphy’s only real competition, value-wise, comes from the slightly cheaper Palisade Limited is a huge win for the entire SUV family.
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Gallery: 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy Review