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Driving in the rain, and the snow, and in dangerous conditions, are
all topics worth frequent discussion, and so is the ability to focus
on driving when conditions are perfect. Safety technology in modern
vehicles is truly remarkable, and the technical capabilities built
into new vehicles can be a tremendous ally to any driver. But those
features cannot insulate us from the potential tragedies that lurk out
there awaiting us all as we venture out onto any roadway.
During our last visit, we discussed the numerous vehicles available
for the Midwest Auto Media Association (MAMA) members to drive at the
annual Fall Rally at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Ill., and the
ensuing voting procedures for Family Car of the Year.
Two things led me to follow up this week. One was the explanation I
gave about driving home from Chicago to Duluth, in extraordinary
circumstances. The other was a personal family tragedy we were
stricken with a week ago.
Driving home, we had the treat to drive a new 2020 Hyundai Palisade,
that South Korean company’s first venture of building a large, roomy,
3-row SUV, as the sister ship to the Kia Telluride. Hyundai has been
making a series of fantastic vehicles and technical breakthroughs
since 2010, shortly after taking over the struggling Kia brand, which
has since the 2011 model year performed separate but equal technical
mastery at all levels of the industry.
The days of suggesting that the companies make nearly identical
parallel vehicles is over, because Hyundai/Kia is now employing
skilled designers to make sure those parallel vehicles are different
and have different characteristics and features. When it comes to the
new Palisade — and Telluride — I must say it is challenging, if not
impossible, to pick one over the other.
I had driven the Palisade at its introduction, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
and the surrounding mountains, and on a very neat journey across the
state of Washington, after that introduction. I also recently had a
week to live with a Telluride, home on Lake Superior’s North Shore, at
Duluth, Minnesota. So this would be my chance to drive the Palisade
home for a week’s use, and potential comparison. Getting there was
more than half the fun, and education of the Palisade’s assets.
The Telluride had all of those same assets — a fantastic new platform,
longer than the outgoing Sante Fe, with Hyundai’s engine magic applied
to its 3.8-liter V6 with direct injection, an 8-speed house-built
automatic transmission that is up there with the top standards of the
industry, a secure safety structure making generous use of high-grade
steel from Hyundai’s own steel manufacturing plant, and a firm but
supple suspension system to accommodate the active, on-demand
Coupled with all the highest of high-tech stability features such as
blind-spot detection, parking assist, forward collision-avoidance
assist, etc., the Palisade adds a thoughtful item that alerts rear
occupants not to open the door once parked if another vehicle is
approaching close enough to threaten that opening door. All of this in
a structure that is much more spacious on the inside than its modest
and well-shaped exterior might indicate, so you get a sliding second
row of captain’s chairs making the livable third-row seats accessible,
and you could be loaded with seven occupants in Palisade-style luxury
The hidden asset in the entire Hyundai/Kia scheme is something not
promoted enough, in my opinion. It has highway driving assist, with
lane-departure warning, and you can adjust that with a switch —
believe it or not, some consumers have convinced themselves they don’t
want to be notified if they are wandering out of their lanes! — to
defeat or enhance it. Enhancing it means you can move up to
lane-keeping assist, to gently push you back into your lane, or to go
all out and have lane-centering assist, which keeps you in the center
of your lane, where we should all want to be. It is gentle and
unobtrusive as you are kept centered, and I’ve been thoroughly
impressed with it in the Santa Fe, Tucson and even the compact Kona,
which we’ve named New Car Pick of the Year for 2019.
It is also amazing in the larger Palisade — or Telluride — which are
designed to compete with large competitors such as the Ford Explorer
and actually also compare in room and comfort to still-larger vehicles
such as the Tahoe. But I didn’t know how amazing it was until that
drive from Chicago to Duluth, after considering all aspects of every
car we test-drove at Autobahn Speedway, for handling, room, comfort,
performance and safety. Maybe I put an inordinate emphasis on safety,
but if so, I make no apologies.
Driving home, after dark, on a Wisconsin stretch of Interstate 94 and
90 north of Madison, where cones and markings had squeezed the two
narrowed lanes, using the shoulder for part of the driving lane, we
ran into a monsoon-like downpour that was strong enough I considered
taking the next exit and waiting out the rain squall. We were
accompanied on that stretch by semi trailer trucks that outnumbered
the cars. I was attempting to ease past two nose-to-tail semis in the
right lane, when we came up on a third semi, which led the second semi
to pull into my left lane.
No problem, as I was safely behind that semi and we were easing past
the two slower semis in the right lane. Remember, though, it was
raining hard enough to tax the wipers on full, it was dark, and we
were on incredibly narrow lanes. About halfway past the two semis on
our right, a fourth semi approached from behind, going faster than all
of us as he pulled up on my tail. So here was our cluster, at 70 miles
per hour — in the left lane, a semi, a Palisade, then another semi,
and in the right lane, two semis, nose-to-tail.
It was harrowing, and my adrenaline was on red-alert high, as my older
son, Jack, stept peacefully in the front passenger seat. As our lane
curved even closer to the left edge on the shoulder, I suddenly
realized my Palisade was handling perfectly, truly “driving smaller”
than its size, but also that the lane-centering device was working its
best to keep us squarely in the center of our narrow lane.
That realization gave me a fantastic boost of confidence that I was in
complete control, but my Palisade was helping me out as well. I have
driven lane-keeping devices from virtually every manufacturer, and I
have not ever driven one more impressive than the Hyundai — and Kia —
Maybe we were limited in speed as we turned off the interstate at Eau
Claire to head north on Wisconsin Hwy. 53 to Duluth, but after
refilling with fuel, we averaged 30.1 miles per gallon, quite amazing,
off an EPA estimate of 24 for the powerful V6. We got closer to 25 the
rest of the week, in town, if we kept our foot off the responsive gas
Perhaps an even bigger surprise was to find the sticker price was
$48,000 for the Palisade, which was one notch below the
You can choose which of two fantastic interiors come in the Palisade
and Kia Telluride, and maybe you’ll prefer the look of the grille or
rear end, or dashboard of one over the other. But they both register
high on my new-SUV outlook, and even higher when you consider the
performance, balanced and adjustable handling, and the safety, topped
by the extreme safety asset of the lane-centering system.
SAD GOODBYE, JUDIE
When it comes to safety and security while driving, there are other
factors involved, and luck and timing are among them. My wife, Joan,
is the youngest of three who spent part of their growing up years in
Duluth. Her brother, Jerry, played football at Duluth Cathedral and
Duluth Teacher’s College, way back when, and died a few years ago
after several debilitating ailments, following a career as head of
sociology at Miami Date Community College.
I always thought of Joan’s older sister, Judie, as something of a
fragile creature, sometimes timid, but always pleasant to me. She
attended Standbrook Hall, in Duluth, and after marrying Jim Wilhelmy,
she became the rudder that steered her husband and their three kids,
Joe, Lynne and Tommy, through a wandering course of life that included
homes in St. Paul, Cloquet, Tower, Elk River, and finally in a nice
home in Fergus Falls. Northland folks in Cloquet will probably best
remember the kids, who were active in youth sports.
Jim insists that Judie helped turn his life around, where his only
remaining vice seems to be fishing — whenever possible. He went off to
meet his brother, Gus, in Tofte last week for some late-season fishing
in the Boundary Waters.
Son Joe thought it would be a perfect time to give his mom a treat
after some recent medical issues so he departed with Judie for a drive
from Fergus Falls to Duluth on Tuesday. We were to meet them for
dinner, and have them to our house for dinner Wednesday night, even
though Joan was working full time those days. Tuesday is why most
hectic day, too, so I was writing to finish some or most of my Reader
obligations before meeting them.
At about 3 p.m., I got a call from Joan. She had just received a call
at work informing her that there had been an accident. As Joe and
Judie drove toward Duluth on Hwy. 210, they stopped at the tricky
intersection crossing Hwy. 71, which has no stop sign. Joe stopped,
waiting until a north-bound semi went by, partially obscured by a
bridge, then he started up, but Joe’s Toyota Scion collided with an
Audi A6. Judie was killed instantly. Joe was airlifted to a hospital
in St. Cloud where he has undergone several surgeries for multiple
broken bones, and he faces a few months of rehabilitation.
Fortunately, the woman and child in the Audi were not seriously
Judie’s entire family is devastated, and that includes us, of course.
My sons, Jack and Jeff, joined Joan and me for the funeral service.
Judie’s grand-daughter, Trina, told us that of all the things Judie
did, she seemed to most look forward to whenever she could see Joan,
because they were the last remaining members of their immediate
family. On the most recent visit, Joan and Judie went for a walk along
the trails adjacent to Lester River, and Joan snapped a photo that we
both think is the most perfect photo we’ve seen of her in recent
years. The hollow feeling is particularly haunting for us, because
they were coming to see us when the tragedy occurred.
The shock hasn’t worn off yet, but makes you realize that the newest
cars are loaded with safety elements, from stronger build-quality to
high-tech electronics. But you still have to be constantly aware and
focused on everybody around you when you’re on the road. And even if
you are, you need the good luck to not be in the wrong place at the