2021 Ford Explorer vs 2021 Hyundai Palisade

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  • 2021 Ford Explorer

    A blue 2021 Ford Explorer ST is angled left.

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    2021 Hyundai Palisade

    A burgundy A burgundy 2021 Hyundai Palisade is angled right.

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    300-400Power (hp)291
    87.8Cargo Space (cu.ft.)86.4
    27Fuel Economy (mpg combined)22

    Buyers seeking a midsize three-row SUV have a growing number of options in the market. Ford offers up the beloved Explorer, which delivers an excellent combination of comfort and capability in true Ford style, while Hyundai recently launched its first generation of the Palisade. Each of these SUVs provides a spacious interior with versatile room for ferrying either passengers or cargo, and both were named an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ for 2021, the highest award available for overall safety. In a comparison of features and capability, the 2021 Ford Explorer vs 2021 Hyundai Palisade are both impressive, but there are a number of significant differences in the available options.

    At first glance, the two SUVs have a competitive footing with towing capability, technology, and convenience features, but looking deeper delineates a gap in performance and capability between the vehicles. With an available off-road variant, Ford gives the 2021 Explorer an edge over the 2021 Palisade, which has no such offering. Ford also gives buyers more options for engines, with four available choices that include a hybrid powertrain. Hyundai only has one engine for the entire Palisade lineup. And although Hyundai markets the Palisade as inclusive of technology, its entry-level trim is woefully sparse with connectivity options even though it has wireless smartphone pairing. Considering the 2021 Explorer’s standard FordPass connected services and remote features, the 2021 Palisade pales in comparison to the Ford Explorer.

  • Performance

    A blue 2021 Ford Explorer is shown from the side towing an airstream after winning a 2021 Ford Explorer vs 2021 Hyundai Palisade comparison.

    For 2021 models, the Explorer and Palisade both deliver a strong value with entry-level trims with a wide array of standard technology. While connectivity is undoubtedly a desirable aspect of today’s vehicles, an SUV is also meant to provide the capability for adverse driving conditions and rough terrain. In this arena, although Hyundai does offer a solid engine with enough power to tow, the 2021 Palisade simply can’t hold a candle to the four engines available across the 2021 Explorer lineup, which even include a hybrid for fuel savings. Ford brings its Timberline off-road variant to the menu as well, which offers a long list of features for tackling the outdoors that are not found anywhere in the 2021 Palisade lineup.

    Engine Power

    In terms of capability, the 2021 Explorer comes standard with a 2.3-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine that makes 300 horsepower with 310 lb-ft of torque. This engine is paired to a ten-speed automatic transmission and comes standard with rear-wheel drive, which is ideal for towing, and has the option of intelligent four-wheel drive. Comparing this entry-level engine from Ford with the single engine option in the 2021 Palisade, Hyundai gives buyers a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 291 horsepower and only 262 lb-ft of torque. A simpler eight-speed automatic transmission is paired to the V6, and the Hyundai comes standard with front-wheel drive, although all-wheel drive is available.

    If you plan to purchase your SUV to handle adverse driving on muddy back roads, snowy weather, or even light off-roading, the Ford Explorer’s four-wheel drive will have better performance. Add to this capability the available power in the three extra engine options, and the 2021 Explorer gives buyers a wider range of choices for either fuel efficiency or towing power. The available hybrid powertrain comes with a 3.3-liter V6 with fuel efficiency ratings of 27 mpg combined, while a more powerful 3.0-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 has two levels of capability that offer either 365 hp standard or 400 hp in the Explorer ST. A maximum towing capacity of 5,600 pounds gives buyers 600 more pounds of capacity than the 2021 Palisade, which maxes out towing at 5,000 pounds.

    Off-Road Capability

    Ground clearance for both SUVs is standard at 7.9 inches, a number that becomes more important during travel through snow or mud. However, with the 2021 Explorer, buyers have the option of choosing the Timberline Edition for improved off-road readiness and a higher ground clearance of 8.7 inches. Improved approach and departure angles are part of the Timberline’s attributes, along with skid plates to protect the undercarriage, a Terrain Management system, and a limited-slip rear axle dedicated to improved off-road performance. This is certainly an aspect of Ford’s designs which has been proven over many years of building truck-based SUVs that can handle tough terrain. In addition to the off-road capability, Ford gives the Timberline standard towing equipment, LED fog lights, roof rails, and ActiveX upholstery for easy cleaning. In terms of off-road performance, the Explorer has the upper hand.

  • Features

    A red 2021 Ford Explorer is shown from the side parked in front of a modern house.

    Hyundai has marketed the 2021 Palisade as a vehicle loaded with technology and convenience features, though, in comparison to the 2021 Explorer, the standard features available at the entry-level are lacking. Technology in the base model 2021 Explorer is generous, with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is accessed through an eight-inch touchscreen in the center stack. Ford provides its user-friendly SYNC 3 infotainment system for interacting with settings and managing access to the standard 4G WiFi hotspot, which allows the use of up to ten devices through the FordPass Connect system. With this same system, buyers can remotely start the 2021 Explorer, find your vehicle if you can’t remember where it’s parked, and remotely lock or unlock the doors.

    The 2021 Palisade has the advantage of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is a great entry-level feature, but Hyundai doesn’t give much else to buyers at this trim level. A standard eight-inch touchscreen and Bluetooth streaming are about all buyers can expect. Unlike Ford, Hyundai doesn’t offer connected services until the second trim level, and it’s still not standard until you reach the third trim. Even charging ports are more convenient in the 2021 Explorer, with two in both the front and second rows and a third in the cargo area. For the 2021 Palisade, charging ports are only in the front and second row of seats.

    Comfort Features

    The convenience of the interior space continues the contrast, with standard features in the 2021 Explorer offering superior options for ease of daily use. The standard climate control for the Explorer is automatic tri-zone heating and cooling with air filtration, while the 2021 Palisade offers manual dual-zone control without a cabin air filter. Even in upper trims, the Palisade only gives buyers dual-zone climate control without the option to upgrade further. Ford gives the addition of a standard power liftgate to entry-level Explorers, an option not available for the Palisade until its second trim level. Though the Palisade does offer an extra seat for passengers, the cargo capacity and legroom in the third-row seats are both larger in the 2021 Explorer.

  • Safety

    The black interior of a 2021 Ford Explorer shows the steering wheel and infotainment screen.

    When it comes to safety, both the 2021 Explorer and the 2021 Palisade are well endowed with numerous driver-assist features, and both SUVs were recognized with the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award. Each SUV comes standard with active safety features such as vehicle stability control, traction control, and a rearview camera to provide assistance to the driver automatically when needed. Ford offers extra convenience with a rearview camera washer as standard equipment, a boon for drivers who often drive in snowy or muddy conditions. Ford adds other features such as roll stability control and its MyKey feature to set limits on speed, stereo volume, and radio content to promote safer driving if you have young or inexperienced drivers in the family.

    Driver-Assist Options

    Looking at the suites of driver-assist safety, the 2021 Palisade offers an excellent set of features such as a reverse parking distance warning, forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection, lane following assist, and lane-keeping assist. Smart cruise control with stop and go allows the driver to maintain a set speed on the highway even when other vehicles slow to a stop for short periods of time, and automatic high beams dim automatically in oncoming traffic. Setting itself apart, Hyundai offers a rear-seat occupant alert.

    For the 2021 Explorer, some of the same types of driver-assist safety features are found in the Ford CoPilot 360 suite, with a lane-keeping system that includes lane-keeping assist, lane-keeping alert, and driver alert. A reverse sensing system includes an extra feature with reverse brake assist to automatically stop for obstacles or vehicles in the Explorer’s path. Auto emergency braking prevents forward collisions, and a blind-spot information system includes cross traffic alert. Like the Palisade, Ford gives the Explorer automatic high beams and intelligent cruise control with stop and go to reduce fatigue on the highway. Though both of these SUVs were awarded high honors in safety, Ford gives the 2021 Explorer more standard safety features than the 2021 Palisade, a fact which may be important for buyers who value the protection of driver-assist features.

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