Road Test: 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD

Premium Three-Row Midsize SUV

Story by John Faulkner. Photos by John Faulkner and Hyundai.

Hyundai debuted the Palisade in 2020 to nearly unanimous reviews and praise for its design, features and value. Now in year two, the 2021 Hyundai Palisade continues to be one of the best three-row midsize SUVs.

One Engine, One Transmission

Building a legacy

Clean Fleet Report drove the 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD with the 3.8-liter V6 that puts out 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic with a manual mode, paddle shifters, and five driver-selectable drive modes. Front- wheel drive is standard, with an optional on-demand all-wheel drive system. This engine and transmission combination are the only ones available on all four Palisade trim levels of SE, SEL, Limited and Calligraphy.

The EPA rates the fuel economy at 19 city/24 highway/21 combined. In 297 miles of mostly freeway driving through Southern California we averaged 22.1 mpg, but did a bit better on a 207-mile freeway run with the smart cruise control set at 65 mph, achieving 25.1 mpg.

To aid in fuel economy the Palisade has a start-stop feature where the engine shuts off when coming to a stop and restarts automatically. Hyundai’s system was smooth and quiet when restarting, which can’t be said about others we have tested. Fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific and represent the reviewer’s driving experience using the dash gauge computer. Your numbers may differ.

Hitting the Road

The Palisade Calligraphy AWD has MacPherson struts with coil springs up front, a multi-link independent set-up in the rear, and an auto-leveling rear suspension which levels out the vehicle when the rear is weighted with passengers, cargo or towing. The tow rating with trailer brakes is 5,000 pounds (1,650 pounds without).

In the seven-passenger configuration, which we had on our Palisade, the curb weight of 4,387 pounds maneuvered easily thanks to the 245/50 all-season tires on 20-inch bright finish aluminum-alloy wheels with black inserts, an exclusive design for the Calligraphy. Hyundai’s HTRAC AWD is an active torque distribution system, seamlessly transferring drive between the front and rear wheels, adding to stability and traction. At freeway speeds road imperfections were absorbed without any jolts, delivering an overall comfortable ride.

The power of choice

To get the most performance and efficiency from the engine there are driver selectable choices of Eco, Comfort, Smart, Sport and Snow. Eco, with a soft steering feel, can be used on long stretches of road to squeeze-out every last drop of fuel. Sport is where you want to be for firmer steering and road feedback, holding the transmission in each rev band a bit longer, sending more available torque to the wheels. Using the Sport mode we had 0 – 60 times of 7.1 seconds, which was plenty fast for entering freeways and passing big rigs.

We did not encounter snow during our week in the Palisade, but are confident it wouldn’t let you down when the roads get sloppy. Since the Palisade is not a sports crossover and attacking mountain curves will not be done too often, we expect the paddle shifters would be helpful in snow-covered roads.

Stops were solid with a power-assisted braking system consisting of vented front and solid rear discs as part of the anti-lock brake system. The brake pedal feel was a bit soft, but after a brief learning curve, stops were confident and consistent. If interested in towing up to 5,000 pounds, the Palisade Calligraphy comes with a Trailering Package that includes pre-wiring, a transmission cooler and sway control.

Exterior: Distinctive Styling

Cutting a distinctive figure

New for 2021 is the Palisade Calligraphy, slotting in at the top of the Hyundai SUV line-up. As their flagship SUV, Hyundai says: “Palisade’s styling conveys dignity with style in an understated theme,” with the Calligraphy model getting exclusive design elements of the grille, front and rear fascias, exterior door finishes and wheels. The wide cascading grille shouts premium with a unique lighting signature of LED headlamps and daytime running lights in front of a long hood. The nearly flat roof, with chrome rack rails, extends as an integrated spoiler to offer shading over the rear hands-free power lift gate.

Finished in Moonlight Cloud, which looked black in some light, our tester had an elegant look. The rear features twin chrome-tipped exhaust ports in the outer lower fascia and the letters P-A-L-I-S-A-D-E spread out between the vertical rectangular LED tail lights. Chrome is at a tasteful minimum around the windows, door bottom side sills, door handles and the rear and front skid plates. Only the large grille features an abundance of chrome.

Nice features on the Calligraphy are the door handle LED welcome lights and power-adjustable and heated mirrors having LED puddle lights.

Interior: “The Ultimate Family Vehicle”

The overall trim quality, including design, function, materials and textures, is very high in the Palisade Calligraphy. Hyundai tells us the Palisade is the “ultimate family vehicle, which they back up with a highly optioned and versatile three-row people mover.

Too much going on

The seats were quilted, as were the door panels, with the interior having an abundance of premium soft touch materials. The leather-wrapped dash compliments the perforated, heated and ventilated Light Beige nappa leather front seats. The driver and passenger get eight-way power adjustments, including lumbar, leg cushion extensions and two setting memory. Combine the multiple seat adjustments with the manual tilt and telescoping steering column, and this driver had no problem finding a comfortable driving position. The ambient lighting on the door trim and center console has 64 color options. The power sunroof opens the world to the first and second rows. The Calligraphy-exclusive suede-like headliner is a step-up to a higher level.

The only comment we have about the interior design is there are too may textures going on side-by-side. The door panels are an example where wood, smooth leather, quilted leather, brushed aluminum and the speaker grille are competing against each other. None dominate, so it ends up looking busy.

The Palisade, as Hyundai’s largest SUV, can seat up to eight if ordered with the second row bench seat. Clean Fleet Report drove the Palisade Calligraphy with the second row Captain’s Chairs, making it a seven-passenger cabin. That these two seats were heated was not unusual, but being ventilated is something typically only found on luxury vehicles. The second row passengers have manual side window shades, USB ports, cup holders and excellent head and leg room. The second row seats recline and also have a one-touch slide forward operation, which provides access to a third row that can easily accommodate two full-size adults, three in a pinch. The rear-most seat has USB ports, ceiling mounted air vents and a fixed-glass moonroof.

Max space is available

When it is time to pack the bags or do some serious hauling, there is 18.8 cubic feet behind the third-row seats, 45.8 behind the second-row seats and 86.4 with all the seats laid flat. The far rear cargo area has a security storage area in the floor.

Thanks to sound deadening material placed between the cabin and engine, acoustic glass on the windshield and side windows and the optional carpeted floor mats, the cabin in the 2021 Palisade is a quiet environment.

And all that quiet is a good thing when listening to the Harmon Kardon surround-sound audio system, which was easy to use as it met Clean Fleet Report’s minimum requirement for a driver-friendly system with knobs for the channel and volume functions. This powerful (630 watt) and great sounding audio system came with an external amplifier, subwoofer and 12 speakers. The Palisade Calligraphy comes with a 10.5-inch color touchscreen with navigation and a multi-view camera. If you prefer not using the factory navigation, you can wirelessly use the navigation from a mobile devise. Oh, and make sure to check-out the Sounds Of Nature screen where you can listen to calming sounds such as Sea Waves, Rainy Day, Warm Fireplace, Lively Forest, Snowy Village and Open-air Café. Ahhhh.

Sounds came from the AM/FM and SiriusXM satellite radio, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The listening suite was completed with Bluetooth streaming audio and USB ports. The voice recognition for hands-free telephone dialing worked perfectly. The Driver In-car intercom allowed the driver to speak with those sitting in the far back seats. No yelling at the kids anymore! The system also has a Quiet Mode, where only the front passengers can hear the radio, relieving the youngsters in the rear from having to endure their parent’s favorite oldies.

The Blue Link telematics allows for remote setting of the climate control, locking and unlocking the doors, Find My Car and other convenience features. The large head-up display is one of its best features, adding to driver safety, allowing drivers to keep their eyes on the road while vital information, such as speed, speed limit signs, radio channel and turn-by-turn navigation, is projected onto the windshield.

The 2021 Palisade Calligraphy trim level includes premium and convenience futures such as rain-sensing windshield wipers, simple but complete gauges with a deep-set speedometer and tachometer that are easy to read with white lettering on a black background. The heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio, telephone and cruise controls.

Adding to the interior comfort and convenience is wireless phone charging, push button start, dual zone automatic climate control, 2nd row climate controls and vents, power windows with one-touch up/down, power door locks, power heated outside mirrors with turn indicators, carpeted floor mats, auto dimming rearview mirror with compass and Homelink, 14 beverage holders, 12-volt accessory outlets and a 115V AC power outlet.

Safety and Convenience

The 2021 Palisade comes with front, seat-mounted, driver knee and full side curtain air bags, and an advanced driver assist system (ADAS). Safety features included forward collision warning and avoidance, lane departure and driver attention warning, lane keep assist, blind spot collision avoidance, rear view camera with surround vision, rear cross traffic collision and parking distance warning and pedestrian forward collision avoidance.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the 2021 Palisade five stars, its highest overall safety rating for overall crash protection, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Palisade its highest rating of Top Safety Pick.

Pricing and Warranties

Adults welcome in back

The 2021 Palisade comes in four trim levels of SE, SEL, Limited and Calligraphy, each in front- or all-wheel drive. Base prices, before options but including the $1,185 freight charge, range from $33,860 to $49,085. Clean Fleet Report’s 2021 Palisade Calligraphy AWD had an MSRP, with $180 in options and the $1,185 destination charge, of $49,115.

The 2021 Palisade comes with these warranties.

Powertrain – 10 years/100,000 miles

New Vehicle – Five years/60,000 miles

Roadside – Five years/60,000 miles

Anti-Perforation – Seven years/Unlimited miles

Free Maintenance – Three years/36,000 miles           

Observations: 2021 Hyundai Palisade Calligraphy AWD

“Our most premium Palisade” is how Hyundai calls the 2021 Palisade Calligraphy. Promoting the Calligraphy into the luxury category is telling the world there is something special waiting for them at their local dealer. To jump over the midsize SUVs of the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, Volkswagen Atlas, Toyota Highlander and the Kia Telluride, the Palisade Calligraphy had better be a step up.

Edging into luxury territory

The 2021 Hyundai Palisade is an excellent three-row SUV. Interior roominess, ride comfort, premium build and materials, a long list of convenience features, easy-to-use infotainment system and, of course, the comprehensive warranty are only some of the reasons Hyundai is confident holding the Palisade up against the competition.

The fuel economy is nothing to crow about but, since Hyundai currently offers cars and crossovers powered by an electric battery, electric/gasoline hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and a hydrogen fuel cell, we are confident a future generation of the Palisade will have some sort of electrification, which will eliminate any fuel economy concerns.

If you have a need to haul up to eight people and their gear, the 2021 Palisade should be on your shopping list. If you want to do all those things in extra comfort and style, drive home in the Calligraphy.

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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at

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