I've found that when you take an SUV on a dirt road, you do so somewhat at your peril. This might seem counter-intuitive, given that this would appear to be precisely what they're designed for, but it's true. Ground clearance alone doth not an offroader make. Their weight and the tires they typically come with—engineered for smoothing out pavement on vacations and daily commutes—can generate nauseating cornering and hair-raising slides when the friction fades.
Yet when I found myself pushing the new 2020 Hyundai Palisade to its limit during a recent drive in the big new beast, I was surprisingly unconcerned. The Palisade, with its 291-hp, 3.8-liter V6 engine, took it like a champ, generating satisfying enough handling despite the exceedingly loose terrain and allowing me to essentially race down the dirt road with abandon. At the end of the drive, I couldn't quite reconcile the fact that I was in a Class A full-size family hauler.
That's the thing, though, about vehicle engineering. You can program in surprises, both in performance and the ride experience, that may surprise people. The three-row Palisade's optional all-wheel-drive system—which can be dialed into different road surfaces or left in automatic mode—delivered traction at the key moments to help keep various corners from compromising stability, and the suspension works brilliantly to keep passengers from rolling back and forth in their seats even as the dirt track grew increasingly roller-coaster-like.
There are other surprises lurking within the Palisade, which starts $31,550 in SE trim and jumps to $44,700 in the Limited version. My personal favorite is the overall look of the car, which presents as smaller and more compact than it actually is. Other SUVs in its class look freighted and weighted, hulking monstrosities and cliches of suburban living. The Palisade is deftly cut and nicely proportioned, with a more subtle profile and less frightening facade. It has interesting details, such as the sloping c-pillar out back and the subtly tapering roofline.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE
Inside, Hyundai takes a big leap toward liberating the rear-seat prisoners. Typically, being banished to the back, due to size, age, or other family hierarchies, means you're trapped and at the mercy of front-seaters who have to release you at every stop. Hyundai adds a new push-button release for the middle row that allows kids to easily enter and exit on their own. It also happens to be fairly roomy back there for grown-ups, should the excursion require a vehicle replicating the passenger capacity of the (increasingly rare) minivan.
Elsewhere, a hands-free liftgate, optional blind-spot camera for confirming you have some room around you to pass, power folding seats for the third row, dual sunroof to keep things light and airy, and an intercom system to talk to the tykes in the rear make the Palisade fully competitive with any other top-shelf full-size SUV. But it's the ride that ultimately steals the show, whether cruising effortlessly down the highway or blasting through back-country trails on a whim—without regretting it later.