Review: The 2023 Hyundai Palisade SUV Is the Definition of Affordable Luxury

Competition is stiffer today, but this updated three-row holds its ground

March 22, 2023 6:45 am
The profile of the 2023 Hyundai Palisade SUV, which we test drove and reviewed
A refresh finds the Palisade still as compelling as ever.
Vehicle: 2023 Hyundai Palisade LimitedStarting Price: $35,550 MSRP ($46,800 for Limited)
Pros: Luxury feeling at mid-level price, well-designed space for passengers and cargo, peaceful driving experienceCons: Refresh keeps it competitive with other SUVs, but no wow factor 

Not content with pillaging the pockets of traditional luxury automakers with its Genesis brand, Hyundai has also taken to orbiting its mainstream offerings closer and closer to the premium flame. Leading this initial charge was the original Hyundai Palisade, a big-boned SUV that arrived just a few short years ago to challenge the status quo set down by models like the Toyota Highlander, the Honda Pilot and the Ford Explorer.

The Palisade was everything the average family most likely didn’t expect from a Hyundai: easy on the eyes, with a quiet, upscale cabin and a smooth ride that blocked the  hustle and bustle of the outside world. All of this arrived at a price much more accessible to the everyday commuter crowd than the premium vehicles whose territory the Palisade was most certainly intruding on. The three-row hauler represented the tip of the spear for Hyundai’s mass-market makeover, a maneuver that also now counts the N high-performance line among its panoply of prizes for buyers willing to put the company’s more pedestrian past behind it. 

For 2023, the Hyundai Palisade SUV receives a refresh to help it stay current in an industry that has played catch-up with a competitor it hadn’t taken entirely seriously. The Pilots and Highlanders of the world may have gotten better in the interim, but that hasn’t pushed the Palisade down. Rather, it’s helped underscore just how much of a role Hyundai’s rising tide has had in elevating SUV standards across the board.

The 2023 Hyundai Palisade SUV, which features a new grille and lighting elements on the outside
A new grille and lighting elements come into play for 2023.

Welcome Upgrades Inside and Out

The 2023 Hyundai Palisade maintains its hunky, broad-shouldered styling, with the primary differences to be discovered in the details. A wider and somewhat toothier maw leads the sport-utility’s first impression, with lighting that now flows from the edges of the grille rather than continuing the rounded arch set by the lower lighting elements in last year’s design. Things are more status quo at the rear, with the bottom of the bumper seeing its reflectors shuffled and shrunk in the name of added brightwork, while along the sides one would be hard-pressed to point out any obvious differences.

On the dashboard, the most obvious change is the new model’s more effective merging of the gauge cluster and infotainment screen (which boasts a higher resolution), achieved by way of a housing that fools the eye into thinking they are part of the same, solid unit. Subtle updates to the steering wheel and front-facing trim are also on hand, and while seat materials have changed it’s the practicality of now-available heated third row seats that will make an impression on passengers (and for those shopping the upper trim levels, the massage feature for the driver).

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The Limited trim I drove swapped its middle bench for a pair of captain’s chairs (making it easier to access the rearmost row), but you can get it back by selecting a more affordable model. I appreciated the power rise, drop and flip features built into the Palisade’s passenger space, simplifying interior configurations when swapping between human fare and less animate cargo. I did find myself puzzled by the second row slider when trying to give myself additional leg room all the way back in position three, but head room was surprisingly competitive for a seating section typically reserved for the most compact members of the brood.

The dashboard and infotainment in the 2023 Hyundai Palisade SUV
A more refined, if not radically different, experience inside the cabin.

Same Engine, Better Results

It’s safe to say that none of the above breaks new ground for the Palisade: this is a honing of the original concept rather than a full re-think. Further evidence of this is found in Hyundai’s carry-over drivetrain, a 3.8-liter V6 that boasts the same 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque as it did the year before, matched with an identical eight-speed automatic transmission, and presented with the choice between front-wheel and all-wheel drive.

Then again, why expend effort to fix something that clearly wasn’t broken? If anything, the Palisade now feels less raspy under full throttle than it did before, and while its handling is informed primarily by its stilt-walking center of gravity, only the occasional booms over speed bumps interfered with a solemn and silent cruising experience. The SUV is quick as any three-row needs to be, and evokes an immediacy that’s occasionally lacking from the turbocharged four-cylinder engines that increasingly inhabit similarly-sized entries.

A look into the cargo space and three rows of seating in the 2023 Hyundai Palisade SUV
The roomier captain’s chairs in the second row can be swapped for a bench in certain models.

The Palisade Effect

The most unusual aspect of my interaction with the Palisade has been how its very existence has pegged my own expectations whenever I drive an (up to) eight-passenger vehicle. When the Hyundai first arrived on the scene it was a resounding warning shot across the collective bows of nearly every other SUV under $50,000, an indication that attainable luxury was now in reach of expanding families. It was also a wake-up call to borderline high-end players like the Cadillac XT6 and the Acura MDX that justifying their own inflated price tags would henceforth be a harder sell.

Within a few short years nearly each of its rivals strove to better their own, and while the results were sometimes mixed, the overall effect was to push the bar well above the reach of what had previously passed for premium. As a result, to slide behind the wheel of the Palisade today is less of a revelation than before, making it feel more of a piece with (but in many cases, still ahead of) the established models forced to follow in its two-track.

So many revolutions stumble when the idealists who instituted regime change are forced to organize the upheaval they’ve created into an effective, and enduring, administration. That the Hyundai Palisade continues to hold itself in high regard even as the water it swims in gets deeper and deeper speaks well to its chances of staving off any petit bourgeoisie pincer movement that may be in the offing.

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