2023 Hyundai Palisade First Drive: A Favorite Improves

ASHEVILLE, SC — The 2023 Hyundai Palisade is no longer the new kid in school. It’s established, sells like gangbusters, and is still praised by everyone here at Autoblog — Editor John Snyder even bought one last year. This 2023 refresh is a classic example of what an update should look like for an already capable car. A long list of small tweaks and improvements make the palisade a little better than before, and immediately noticeable styling changes let you know you’re looking at the refreshed palisade, not the old one.

Hyundai’s new beak is by far the most controversial or frustrating revision on display here. The grille is larger than before, offers both a blacked-out or bright look, and there’s a new horizontal shield directly on the leading edge of the hood. It looks a bit out of place, and some of us think this refreshed palisade is actually worse than the original design. You’ll have to look closely to notice other changes, such as redesigned headlights, a new lower rear bumper and new wheels.

The new XRT version is intended to appeal to people looking for a palisade that looks sturdier, but does nothing to improve off-road capabilities. In person, it’s the most beautiful of the redesigned palisades. The blacked-out trim and grille make the big SUV stand out more, in a good way, than any of the model-wide design changes. The Limited trim also hooks the black grille.

Although the Tucson and Santa Fe offer hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains, the Palisade continues to only offer a 3.8-liter V6 with 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. As before, front-wheel drive is standard on all trims, with all-wheel drive being an extra-cost option. The only new addition to the powertrain is a new tow mode that comes standard when you opt for all-wheel drive. Put it in this setting, and the transmission will hold gears longer and reduce the frequency of shifts. Maximum towing is unaffected, however, as the capacity is the same at 5,000 pounds.

After spending thousands of miles in our long-term palisade, it is quite clear that this modified palisade leads almost identically to the old one. The only minor change noticed was the steering effort. It’s both lighter and silkier than before, thanks in part to Hyundai’s new Frequency Sensing Valve which detects rough road impacts and aims to increase stability when the wheel might otherwise be knocked over in your hands. There was, however, no need to change anything in the conduct of the Palisade. The V6 has plenty of power for its size and segment, and its ride and handling are exactly what we’ve come to expect from a big three-row SUV: comfortable, safe, low effort. Yes, the April Fool’s joke about a Palisade N would be great if it came true, but Hyundai won’t do any of that.

Crawl inside the new Palisade, and while things look familiar, there are plenty of notable updates. For starters, the dashboard gets a revised design that results in a side-to-side horizontal air vent look. A new steering wheel with horizontal spokes and nicer buttons adds a touch of class. This is complemented by a larger 12-inch infotainment system and an upgraded digital instrument cluster running new software. We dig the crisp new cluster and similarly appreciate the new digital climate control display in the center stack. The last new screen of note is a rear-view camera mirror. It’s impossible to know how well this digital mirror will hold up to environmental conditions until we get our hands on it during a Michigan winter, as South Carolina only provided us with warm, sunny conditions for our Palisade drive. .

If you opt for the top-shelf Calligraphy trim (which we drove), Hyundai is introducing a new “Ergo-Seat.” Essentially, it’s a massaging driver’s seat, and the massage is for both the back and the lower part. We’ve sat in that seat in Genesis models in the past, so it’s great to see the Palisade getting some of that love here. Unfortunately, like in some of those Genesis cars, only the driver can get the Ergo-Seat, a fact best left unmentioned to your unmassaged passenger.

The luxurious seating upgrades continue in the third row, as Hyundai has added heated Calligraphy seats as standard and included them in an extra-cost package for the Limited trim. It’s a rare feature of high-end luxury SUVs. Even the second row commands attention, as the captain’s seats feature new wing-shaped headrests you can roll into to provide a comfortable cradle for your head to rest on while you sleep. The armrests are also improved with greater travel, with the aim of allowing you to be more comfortable when in the fully reclined position.

The list of technical and practical improvements continues, and some are sure to make current Palisade owners a little jealous. Hyundai’s Digital Key 2 comes in for 2023, allowing you to use your phone as a key, assuming you have an iPhone or Samsung device – sorry, other Android users. As well as a traditional key fob, Hyundai is also giving people an NFC-enabled “key” card, similar to the one you get with Teslas. A WiFi hotspot is available for the first time, if you pay a monthly subscription. The wireless phone charger (where you configure your phone to power on the vehicle using the digital key feature) is improved with faster charging. The BlueLink app for the fence gets an update with more control and features. Additionally, a number of USB-A ports are replaced with faster-charging USB-C ports throughout the cabin.

Both side mirrors now feature auto-dimming to keep those bright headlights from blinding you – a feature we would have liked on our long-term Palisade. Additionally, the infamous “Smaht Pahk” remote parking feature is on board. The final safety feature we’ll highlight is the addition of rear side airbags as standard equipment which should further improve the Palisade’s safety for rear occupants.

Maybe one or a few of these updates are a game-changer for you, but they’re largely nice to have in our book. All of the Palisade’s pre-refresh goodness remains, meaning the cabin is easily one of the best-looking in the segment – this is especially true of the top-level calligraphy trim. And for the price, it’s frankly unbeatable when it comes to technology and luxury features.

Having to choose between it and the Kia Telluride is always a tough ball game, because the Telluride is also being upgraded for 2023. If you’re looking for a little more off-road performance, the XRT version might seem like the part, but it won’t better off-road than the other versions. As proof of this, Hyundai took us on trails with a bit of mud and the occasional little squeal, but we did it in Calligraphy models, not XRTs. The fake skid plates and black trim are just for show, but at least the standard roof crossbars will make sticking things on top a seamless experience. Kia offers real off-road upgrades with the Telluride X-Pro, so direct your attention there if you’re looking for something with better off-road performance (or a Jeep Grand Cherokee L).

All these updates cause the prices of the different versions to increase slightly, but not in a crippling way. A base model starts at $36,245 ($1,420 more than last year), while higher-end calligraphy stickers cost $50,195. Adding all-wheel drive with the new tow mode costs an extra $1,900. We’re left to conclude that the Palisade is a vastly improved family transport device, and right now there’s no way to knock it off the podium as one of the best three-row SUVs.

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