Brian Harper: It’s not as though the Palisade is Hyundai’s first kick at the three-row SUV can. No, there was the Veracruz, an ill-fated attempt at breaking into the market that ended poorly back in 2012. More successful was the Santa Fe XL, though stuffing three rows of seats into a mid-sized SUV was still a compromise.
The XL has now been replaced by the flagship Palisade, the largest SUV the Korean automaker has ever built.
It’s longer, wider and capable of accommodating eight passengers. The Palisade is a more complete vehicle by all accounts, yet it still has a number of established rivals – Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, etc. – plus a few recent arrivals, including the Volkswagen Atlas, Subaru Ascent, and the Palisade’s own corporate cousin, the Kia Telluride.
However, we’re going to dial it up a notch and pit the Hyundai against a more premium-priced three-row sport-ute – Buick’s Enclave Avenir. Why? Well, the most obvious reason was that one was available. Beyond that, however, it’s been a while since we’ve gotten behind the wheel of the big Buick. It’s a model that’s been around for a dozen years, the second-generation version coming out for the 2018 model year. It sells reasonably well in both Canada and the US, and the Avenir sub-brand supposedly represents the “highest expression” of Buick luxury, with unique styling cues and an extensive set of standard features and “premium materials” throughout the vehicle. Hyundai has proven in the past it’s not afraid of moving its products upscale, though it has been accused of exceeding its “place” in the past. So, is the Palisade capable of mixing it up with a senior, albeit conservative, member of the family hauler class? Whaddaya say, kid?
Nick Tragianis: Let’s start with the fundamentals, shall we? Under the skin, the Palisade is identical to the Telluride. That means power comes from a normally aspirated 3.8-liter V6 rated at 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque, hooked up to an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard on all but the Palisade base.
It’s a similar story with the Enclave. It’s a bit more powerful than the Palisade, putting out 310 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque from its 3.6L V6. It’s paired to a nine-speed automatic, and like the Palisade, all-wheel drive is standard on all but the base Enclave. These two make absolutely zero pretense to sportiness – and that’s OK. Both are drama-free that never once felt underpowered or overworked, both have light and fairly numb steering, but that just makes them easy to live with day to day. And both are museum-quiet and La-Z-Boy comfortable. If you need to tow, both can haul up to 5,000 pounds. Really, at this point, you’re splitting hairs – both the Palisade and Enclave are smart, no-nonsense family haulers.
But the Palisade punches well above its weight on the inside, especially for the price. Like you said, old dude, Hyundai isn’t afraid to push the upscale envelope. That’s abundantly clear in the Palisade – materials and fit and finish are top-notch, the seats are comfortable and overall ergonomics are on point, and the available tech is nothing to sneeze at. Our particular tester, the almost-fully loaded Limited at a hair above $ 50,000, comes with a sharp 10.25-inch touchscreen controlling the infotainment system, plus power-folding third-row seats, heated and cooled front seats (the second row is also heated ), and all the active safety features you’d expect in 2019, including a crisp 360-degree camera system. Spec the right upholstery option and the interior feels bright and airy, and the faux wood and metal accents add a lovely touch, despite them being plastic. Seems as though the Enclave Avenir has its work cut out for it.
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BH: I’m sensing you like the Palisade, kid. So do I. Still, the Enclave deserves some respect. Buick has been fine-tuning this full-sized rig for years, and has managed to make it fairly drama-free. It handles its family-hauling duties with a certain amount of panache, being far more distinctly styled than many of its rivals, including the more mainstream Palisade. And, as you mentioned, it’s particularly silent around town; Buick has this Quiet Tuning technology it’s been touting for some time, not to mention active noise cancellation.
In a straight line, the Enclave will accelerate a bit quicker. When cornering, however, the Buick’s extra 180 kilograms are noticeable; there’s a certain ponderousness to it that works against it.
Now the cabin: The best part is that the Buick offers a fair amount of cargo flexibility, with significantly more capacity than the Palisade – 688 liters behind the third row versus 509 liters for the Hyundai; 1,643 liters behind the second row folded versus the Palisade’s 1,296 liters. Also, with the pull of a handle, the SmartSlide second-row seats glide back to enable easy third-row access. And with the push of a button, the power-folding split third-row seating can be easily lowered or raised. I was less impressed with the interior’s overuse of black, creating a dungeon-like dreariness, especially in comparison to the Palisade’s light and bright affair.
More to the point, the Buick is a far pricier proposition as a family vehicle. The topline Avenir costs $ 62,100 before options, our tester topping out at $ 64,770. That’s $ 14K more than the Palisade Limited, most of that premium the result of opting for the Avenir. Foregoing the “highest expression” for a base AWD Enclave Essence instead brings the price down to a far more competitive $ 51,100, though it won’t have the myriad features of the Palisade Limited.
NT: It’s not as though the Enclave Avenir does anything particularly wrong; it’s comfortable, drama-free, spacious, and despite the sea of black, the fit and finish is quite impressive. Even the infotainment system is fairly intuitive, despite it being a generation behind other GM’s vehicles. But given its $ 60,000-plus price tag, it doesn’t offer much value: If cargo space is your absolute top priority in this segment, the Enclave is a stellar choice. – in non-Avenir flavor.
But even then, the Hyundai is still the better buy. Yes, by the numbers, the Palisade is technically smaller, but it’s hardly tight and the third row is easily accessible, the interior trimmings are top-notch, and it’s well behaved on the road. And even if you want all the bells and whistles, the $ 54,000 Palisade Ultimate – complete with its fancy Nappa leather, fully digital instrument cluster and heads-up display, LED lighting all around, bigger wheels, and plenty more – still costs less than Buick’s so-called “highest expression of luxury.” You just can’t beat Hyundai’s bang-for-your-buck.
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