The midsize three-row SUV marketplace is becoming increasingly crowded with worthwhile choices. A traditional mainstay of this class is the Ford Explorer, and it’s been fully redesigned for 2020. Also making headlines is the new 2020 Hyundai Palisade, which is Hyundai’s biggest and most luxurious SUV yet.
Which of these is the better choice for your family, and does either one of them stand apart from the crowd? Edmunds takes a closer look to find out.
Most crossover SUVs are front-wheel drive with all-wheel drive as an option, which describes the Hyundai Palisade. The previous Ford Explorer shared this layout, too, but the 2020 model reverts to a rear-wheel-drive foundation. Front-wheel drive is added to create the all-wheel-drive version.
You might associate rear-wheel drive with a truck, but Ford retained the unibody construction that’s typical of crossovers to reduce weight, make it easy to step into, and deliver a smooth ride. Ford’s approach for 2020 makes the new Explorer decidedly more balanced and enjoyable to drive than the Hyundai on winding roads. It also delivers traction advantages when towing a trailer. That said, the Palisade is a fine driver, and its suspension is better optimized to deliver a smooth ride over a wider variety of surfaces.
The Palisade offers abundant room in all three rows and well-chosen interior materials. There’s a reassuring logic to how the controls work, and the optional 10.25-inch touchscreen is a must-have upgrade. Its landscape orientation blends in well with the dashboard. Plus the camera images and applications such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto expand to fill the entire width of the broad screen.
The Ford is equally roomy up front, but middle-row legroom isn’t generous, and its tighter third row is best suited to kids and small-statured adults. The look of the interior materials and the alignment of the various panels aren’t as nice as in the Palisade either. Ford’s Sync 3 system works well with the standard 8-inch touchscreen, but we don’t recommend the 10-inch option. Its portrait orientation makes the screen skinnier, so horizontally oriented images and applications simply look too small.
Both vehicles hold similar amounts of cargo with their third-row seats folded flat, and they can be equipped with power-folding mechanisms to ease the process along. But the Hyundai retains more space when those seats are occupied. It can fit five carry-on suitcases, but the Ford’s shorter rear overhang and raked styling limit it to three or four bags.
PERFORMANCE AND EFFICIENCY
There’s only one choice for power in the Palisade: a 291-horsepower V6 and a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission. With all-wheel drive, the EPA estimates the Palisade will get 21 mpg in combined city and highway driving. We matched that figure in our evaluation testing.
Meanwhile, the Explorer’s rear-wheel-drive layout enables Ford to offer four engine options, each paired to a 10-speed automatic transmission. There are some intriguing choices here, including a hybrid and the sporty 400-horsepower Explorer ST. But only the Explorer with the base engine, a turbocharged four-cylinder good for up to 300 horsepower, overlaps the Hyundai’s price range. The all-wheel-drive Explorer with this engine is EPA-rated at 23 mpg combined. The all-wheel-drive Hyundai, meanwhile, gets 21 mpg combined, a figure we managed to equal on our evaluation route.
Both SUVs are up to the task of merging onto highways, climbing grades, and pulling out to make a pass. But in general, the Explorer feels more eager. Our track-test observations support this impression. The Palisade accelerated to 60 mph in a respectable 7.6 seconds, only to be edged out by the Explorer’s 7.0-second run. In the Hyundai’s favor is its more refined and pleasing engine sound when you mash the gas for a burst of speed.
Ford’s problem is pricing. The Explorer’s midgrade trim level, the XLT, has a starting price of $37,870, including destination. A midtier Palisade SEL costs $34,595. You also get some key standard features not found on the XLT, such as adaptive cruise control, lane centering and even heated front seats. You can add them to the Ford as options, but then you’re paying even more.
The theme continues as you examine the loaded-up trim levels. You can get that high-power engine in the Explorer ST, but by then you’re looking at $55,935. Meanwhile, a fully optioned Palisade Limited with all-wheel drive goes for $47,495.
EDMUNDS SAYS: The 2020 Hyundai Palisade is an impressive debut vehicle that feels well built and offers good value for money. We like the 2020 Ford Explorer’s strong power and agile handling, but it is too expensive and lacks polish when compared side by side with the Palisade.
This story was provided to The Associated Press by the automotive website Edmunds. Dan Edmunds is the director of vehicle evaluation at Edmunds. Twitter: @Edmunds_Test.