Hulking Hyundai with seats for eight

·5-min read

Did you know there's a place in Korea called Haeundae Beach?

It's true. It looks a bit like the Gold Coast, with wide, sandy shores and glistening surf, all reflected in the windows of the rows of high-rise apartment buildings.

And yes, in case you're wondering, Haeundae Beach is pronounced the same as Korean car maker, Hyundai.

It might help explain a thing or two about the ambitious Korean car company's latest model to reach Aussie shores - the bigger-than-big Hyundai Palisade.

A hulking SUV is perhaps best described as a Korean LandCruiser, although it's not quite as big as the legendary Toyota.

This one is more Prado-sized, but offering eight-seat capacity and, like the two Toyotas, the promise of getting off the road for family camping getaways and weekends at the beach.

Unlike the big Toyota units with their tough, ladder-frame design and go-anywhere reputation, the Palisade is more car-like, blending soft-road capability with a more urbane, refined style. Perfect for "urban beaches" like Haeundae.

It will come as no surprise that the Palisade was first built for the American and Middle East markets, where size rules.

It's the biggest, and most expensive, Korean model sold Down Under, and it does a pretty good job providing a new flagship model for the Hyundai fleet.

For a company that first won Aussie hearts with a perky little hatchback called the Excel, Hyundai's growth - in terms of sales, range and size - has been staggering.

The Hyundai range now boasts no fewer than five SUVs, including the familiar Santa Fe and Tucson, along with more recent, smaller arrivals Venue and Kona.

With prices starting at $60,000 and ranging to 75 grand for the full-spec luxury Highlander model, the Palisade will be offered with two engine choices. There's a 3.8-litre V6 and an impressive 2.2-litre, turbo-diesel four-cylinder which brings with it a $4000 price premium.

The diesel engine brings with it a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system that underpins the Palisade's off-road capability. The petrol model is only available in 2WD form - revealing its urban-only target market. Both engines utilise a smooth eight-speed automatic transmission.

We tested the Palisade in its basic, diesel-powered 4WD form and came away more than impressed.

Interestingly, the Palisade uses the same underpinnings as the just-released Genesis GV80, a full-sized SUV being offered by Hyundai's luxury arm.

Perhaps that helps explain why the Palisade feels refined and assured in its ride and handling.

Equally impressive is the turbo-diesel.

The Palisade offers the choice of seven or eight-seat configuration - the latter on the base model and the former in the posh Highlander variant, which replaces the middle row's three bench seats with two swivelling 'captain's chairs' which provide easier access to the third row.

The eight-seat format is probably more attractive for families and gives the Palisade a very marketable selling point, given the relative dearth of eight-seat models on the market. The LandCruiser is one, but the Hyundai undercuts it on price by almost 30 grand.

Cars of this size generally tend to be heavy, lumbering units that rely on sheer horsepower to get up and running.

Yet the Palisade, despite only having a modestly-sized, 2-2 Litre turbo diesel (delivering a modest 141kW and 440nm) brings an effortlessness to its driving dynamics. It's quick to dash away from the lights, smooth and quick through the gears and always feeling quite light on its feet.

The eight-speed auto is a good one, with a drive selector giving a choice between four road-going modes (sport, economy, normal and smart which responds to the driver's style), as well as a range of off-road choices.

The nett result is a big machine that flows nicely, darts nimbly through heavy traffic and turns and stops with surprising poise. It also has a good turning circle for a big beast which is a bonus for city owners.

It's a handsome thing, inside and out, perhaps by virtue of its alter-ego Genesis' design process, and it comes well equipped. Features includes a 10.25-inch touch-screen, 7-inch LD instrument panel plus a suite of electronic safety aides, including radar cruise control with collision avoidance, blind-spot assist, lane-following and cross traffic alert.

Ensuring even the biggest of families are well served, and perhaps a product of its US heritage, it offers a total of 16 cup-holders and seven USB ports and four power outlets.

There's a "driver talk" function allowing the driver to have their instructions ("don't make me come back there") piped through the audio system to back-row passengers.

Just as thoughtful are features like the rear occupant alert, which prevents the car being locked if there's potentially a small person asleep in the back; plus a safe exit assist function which stops children exiting into passing traffic.

Hyundai trumpets the "futuristic" shift-by-wire push-button gear selector, which was one of our least favourite features of an otherwise cleverly and sensibly thought-out interior.

Even the base model offers leather seats, electrically adjustable, plus a generous level of kit. The Highlander stretches to panoramic sunroof, 20-inch wheels, suede roof lining and premium leather.

On the practical side, the engine, despite hulking around a fair lump of metal, delivers impressive fuel efficiency of just 7.3L/100km.

Which leaves just one question unanswered. Was the beach named after the car - or the car after the beach? One of those chicken-and-egg questions perhaps best left unasked.

HYUNDAI PALISADE

* HOW BIG? A full-sized, eight-seat SUV whose size and efficiency will be a magnet for growing families.

* HOW FAST? Impressively responsive and smartly off the mark, thanks to a torquey four-cylinder turbo-diesel. There's also a more powerful V6 petrol option.

* HOW THIRSTY? Official figures are 7.3L/100km which is remarkable for such a big machine.

* HOW MUCH? Prices for the base-model start at $60,000. The flagship Highlander diesel is $75,000 plus on-road costs.