COMPARISON tests are nothing new, and are traditionally between models of different makes, but not this one. Rather, we’ve put the entry level 2021 Hyundai Palisade up against the range topping Highlander variant.
In the White Cream corner, we have the 2021 Hyundai Palisade in entry level V6 petrol trim, with eight seats. No shrinking violet when it comes to size, it can be parked in your driveway starting from $65,111.
In the opposing Steel Graphite corner, we have the top-of-the-line 2021 Hyundai Palisade Highlander 7-seat in diesel all-wheel drive trim. Offering another level of luxury and comfort, this can be yours, as seen here with its Premium Paint option, for $82,406.
There’s a sizeable difference in terms of price, but lets take a closer look at the tale of the tape. We’ll start with the engines, because for us this was a massive point of difference between our two test vehicles, and really affected the driving experience.
With each of the models offering a choice between either the 2WD only petrol V6 and the AWD only 4-cylinder diesel, it’s one of the key purchasing decisions when choosing your Hyundai Palisade SUV.
The 3.8-litre V6 unit produces 217kW and 355Nm, paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission. On paper, you would think those numbers would present no problems, until you look at the rev range. Peak power is at 6000rpm and peak torque at 5200rpm
This means the V6 feels lazy in normal driving conditions and requires a lot of effort to make any meaningful forward progress. In essence, it makes you work that engine harder, which in turn, means fuel economy takes a hit.
The claimed combined fuel economy figure of 10.7-litres/100km in the real world is more like 12 or 13-litres/100km.
In contrast, the 2.2-litre 4-cylinder diesel is an absolute peach. Producing 147kW and 440Nm, paired to the same 8-speed automatic transmission, the driving experience is night and day over the petrol model.
With 85Nm more torque than the petrol engine, and with it available from as low as 1750rpm, the diesel feels, dare we say it, spritely in comparison to the petrol models. That’s a strange word to use for a 2-tonne SUV, but it fits.
The diesel does what you want, when you want it and without delay. Easy to see then that our choice is the diesel.
On the outside, differences between the base Palisade and Highlander are minor. The Highlander receives a larger 20-inch wheel (over the base model’s 18-inch), LED lighting upgrades on the headlights and taillights as well as rear privacy glass and sunshades.
You would need a trained eye to spot the differences at a glance, which bodes well for the base model. On the inside is where you’ll notice the most variation between the two though, aside from the obvious 7-seat versus 8-seat options.
The Highlander takes the level of luxury up a notch, or perhaps a couple of them, which you feel the instant you sit inside. A different black headlining, suede pillar covers and some premium materials in the door trims all add to the range-topper’s ambience.
The 7-seat Highlander we tested also comes with Captain’s chairs in the second row (as opposed to a traditional 3-seat bench seat); further evidence of its upmarket approach.
The leather appointed interior in the base Palisade gets upgraded to full Nappa leather for the Highlander, with both front seats benefitting from extra adjustment, heating and cooling.
The 10-way adjustable driver’s seat increases to 12-way in the Highlander too, while also adding cushion extension and integrated memory function. Its passenger seat becomes 8-way power adjustable, including height adjustment.
Second row heated and ventilated seats is the only difference between the two trim levels when it comes to rear seating. Both rear rows score two USB charger outlets and two roof mounted air vents as well.
A walk-in switch for entering and exiting the third row makes life easier for those climbing in and out of the back, which is standard across all models.
Other items of note in the back are the inclusion of a wide glass sunroof and powered smart tailgate for the Highlander, as well as rear door window sunshades and rear privacy glass. All Palisade models receive the same infotainment system across the board.
The only exceptions to that are a wireless charging pad and head-up display in the Highlander. Otherwise, standard features include a large 10.25-inch touchscreen display with a 12 speaker Infinity premium audio system.
All variants score satellite navigation and DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Unsurprisingly for Hyundai, they have left very little different between the base model and the top-of-the-line Highlander, when it comes to safety systems.
All the usual acronyms are there, as you would expect, with the highlights being blind-spot collision-avoidance assist – rear, lane follow assist and rear occupant alert – advanced. The Highlander grabs the additional blind-spot view monitor.
The range-topping model also gains safe exit assist and surround view monitor, as well as an electronic child safety lock system. Price premiums aside, the diesel engine is a must, whichever trim level you opt for.
As for which trim level to pick, it depends on what you will use it for. If you have younger children, then the base model, with an interior which is more robust and easier to clean, would be our recommendation.
Opt for the Highlander model if you have older children or none at all, as the increased level of luxury will be more appreciated and cared for. That being said, you really can’t go wrong with the 2021 Hyundai Palisade in whatever spec you choose.
It’s supremely comfortable and capable, with an extensive suite of safety features, and in reality, that’s what’s important to most people. The entire Palisade range comes with Hyundai’s 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty.
Our test vehicles were provided by Hyundai Australia. To find out more about the entire 2021 Hyundai Palisade range, contact your local Hyundai dealer.