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Payne: Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride twins battle for best 3-row SUV

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The year’s most anticipated bargain is the 2020 Corvette C8, a $60,000 mid-engine supercar offering the same performance thrills of European sports cars costing four times as much.

But on a more utilitarian front, the three-row Korean twins — the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride — are just as remarkable.

Introduced, respectively, at the 2018 Los Angeles and 2019 Detroit auto shows, the Palisade and Telluride wowed with good looks and high-tech interiors. But as these vehicles have come to market, the automotive world is realizing they offer game-changing value.

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade cuts a noble figure at Stratford Hall in Virginia.

Both feature luxury styling, that — when paired with their standard content — should make anyone question why they are paying tens of thousands more for a three-row luxury sport-utility.

“What’s the most impressive three-row SUV you have driven this year?” a group of successful female entrepreneurs asked me at a social gathering this summer.

“The Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride,” I responded.

They were horrified, having expected the answer to be a Range Rover or Volvo XC90 or Audi Q7 — vehicles they aspired to as successful business people.

“Not a Kia. And how dare they use the name 'Telluride'?” scoffed one.

I get it. Brand matters.

At just $43K, the 2020 Hyundai Palisade SEL is loaded with features that cost thousands less than a comparable Toyota Highlander or Ford Explorer.

But even judged by their mainstream peers, the Telluride and Palisade are extraordinary luxury bargains. Compared to class-leading, comparably equipped Toyota Highlander, a feature-rich $43,000 Hyundai Palisade SEL is $4,000 cheaper. And compared to a comparably equipped Ford Explorer? The Hyundai is $8,000 cheaper.

I tested a Kia Telluride earlier this year, so let me catch you up on the Hyundai Palisade first. I’ve put a lot of miles on it in Metro Detroit and on a long-distance trip through Virginia.

I parked it at an Oakland County shopping center next to a Cadillac XT5 SUV. Both Koreans have cribbed heavily from Cadillac’s vertical design style. Except for its badge, the Palisade looks like a luxury ride. It has gorgeous LED headlight piping. More taillight LED piping out back. Chrome-lined grille. Big, beautiful, 20-inch wheels. P-A-L-I-S-A-D-E spelled out across the tailgate.

The 2020 Kia Telluride may come from a Korean brand, but its character is all-American. Designed in Los Angeles and manufactured in Georgia, it carries Cadillac styling cues and plenty of room for a big Yankee family.

The content list included everything under the sun: all-wheel drive, leather, drive modes including 4x4 lock for off-roading, blind-spot assist, adaptive cruise-control, automatic headlights, back-up assist, rear-view camera, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, sun roof.

How much would you pay for this? In a Toyota Highlander, the Limited Platinum trim will cost you $47,000. The Ford Explorer Limited costs $50,000. The loaded Hyundai Palisade SEL only asks $43,155 of your wallet.

This is no Dollar Store special like the Hyundai sedans I saw at the Detroit auto show in 2000. The interior is not only luxurious but meticulously rendered with fine materials and clever details like USB ports for second-row passengers embedded in the front seat-backs.

Out of the instrument panel a pane of glass extends across the Palisade's dash, enveloping the infotainment touchscreen like — well, a Mercedes. On the touchscreen, I tap Talk Mode. A speaker allows conversation with third-row urchins back there. Clever.

The huge center console under the touchscreen houses redundant control buttons and a fancy, electronic button-shifter fashionable these days on everything from Corvettes to Hondas. You get used to it — and it opens acres of space (more on that later).

The 2020 Hyundai Palisade features one of the most versatile, useful consoles this side of a RAM pickup or Honda Pilot.

A student of ergonomics, the Palisade borrows a sliding center-console door from the the Honda Pilot. Hyundai’s solution is not as big (a purse won’t fit in there) but it will hold your fast-food meal — and your purse can go in the big cubby underneath the console. Slide the door over the console and (Pilot-like) its raised ridges will keep your cellphone — or anything else you place there — from sliding off.

That’s right. For $43,000.

In back of the front leather thrones of the Hyundai Palisade are two more rows of leather-wrapped luxury. Access to the third row is as simple as pressing a button on top of the second-row seat, and — VROOOOMP! — the seat slides forward (another page from the Pilot’s book).

Touch a button and the rear seat collapses forward on the 2020 Hyundai Palisade for easy third-row access.

Stash the kiddies in the third row and they’ll be snug as a bug in a rug. They get USB ports, cupholders and reclining capability just like they were in Dad’s living room chair. They’ll miss only the Highlander’s two-pane panoramic sunroof versus the Hyundai’s mere sunroof.

The best buys in class, the Korean twins’ closest competition is one another.

The Kia Telluride’s tidy Cadillac-meets-Range Rover exterior design gives it a leg up on its Hyundai sibling. It consistently turns my head on road — a tribute to a Kia design team that has been hitting home runs from the wee Sportage ute to the sexy Stinger muscle car.

To compare the two, I stepped up to the fully tricked-out $47,605 Hyundai Palisade Limited and $48,100 Kia Telluride SX (comparable competitors were well over $50,000) and drove them for a week.

The Palisade Limited gains a luxe-like 12.3-inch digital instrument display (the Telluride SX sticks to analog gauges). Both Koreans get neat tricks like head-up displays and cameras under the mirrors to give drivers one more look at their blind spots (in addition to mirror-based blind-spot monitoring) before changing lanes. The Palisade's bigger digital panel allows for even better viewing with this feature.

Like its sister 2020 Hyundai Palisade, the 2020 Kia Telluride is loaded with electronic features like Apple CarPlay and Adaptive Cruise. A 10.3-inch center screen is optional, as is the 360-degree surround view.

Interior technology like voice commands are premium-class good. The Palisade's console is beautifully thought out, rivaling a Ram 1500 pickup for space and convenience. The Telluride's upright shifter matches Kia's sporty image, but the Palisade’s button-shifter opens up lots more storage space like that sliding console drawer.

Waiting in a three-hour Virginia traffic delay (caused by an 18-wheeler accident on a two-lane bridge), I made the Palisade my office. I plugged my laptop into the 12-volt rear console plug and charged my phone in a USB port. I munched on a box of Chick-fil-A nuggets in the console drawer next to two cups.

The Koreans both use a 3.8-liter, 291-horse V-6, which is just right for this three-row class: excellent low-end torque mated to a smooth shifting, 8-speed box.

If you have a need for speed in this class, then the raucous 400-horse, $59,000 Ford Explorer ST is unique. But the bargain Palisade or Telluride look like premium utes from a class above — for $30,000 less.

That’s $30,000 can put toward your bargain Corvette C8.

2020 Hyundai Palisade

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive, seven-passenger SUV

Price: Base price $32,595, including $1,045 destination charge ($43,155 SEL and $47,505 Limited as tested)

Powerplant: 3.8-liter V-6

Power: 291 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque  

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,387 pounds 

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 19 city/24 highway/21 combined 

Report card

Highs: Luxurious interior, versatile console

Lows: Polarizing face; trigger shifter has learning curve

Overall: 4 stars

2020 Kia Telluride

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive, seven-passenger SUV

Price: Base price $32,735, including $1,045 destination charge ($48,100 SX as tested)

Powerplant: 3.8-liter V-6

Power: 291 horsepower, 262 pound-feet of torque  

Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 7.0 seconds (Car and Driver); tow capacity, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,255 pounds 

Fuel economy: EPA mpg, 19 city/24 highway/21 combined 

Report card

Highs: Knockout exterior, three-row ease of use

Lows: Less versatile console and a few dollars more than the Palisade

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.