Do you need a vehicle that can fit all your family and friends? If so, you’re probably in the market for a three-row SUV. Depending on the layout, make, and model, three-row SUVs have seating for six to nine passengers. In addition, most of them have ample cargo space and excellent off-road capabilities. It’s no wonder that three-row SUVs have surpassed minivans as the go-to vehicle for large groups.
Among three-row SUVs, size, features, and capabilities vary widely. That’s great, because you can find the three-row SUV that is right for you, but it also makes shopping for them slightly overwhelming. There are dozens of three-row SUVs to choose from, so narrowing it down can be tough. Use this buyer’s guide to help steer you toward the right three-row SUV that has the size, features, and capabilities that you’re looking for.
The Most Important Features In Three-Row SUVs: Before you start shopping for a three-row SUV, think about your driving needs. Start by considering how you’ll use the third row. If you’re planning on to use it every day, chose an SUV that has a full third-row that is easy to access. On the other hand, if you’ll only use the third row occasionally, opt for an SUV that has folding third-row seats that can be tucked away to maximize storage when they’re not in use.
Next, consider the type of driving you do most. Some crossover three-row SUVs are small enough for easy city driving. Other three-row SUVs are built for off-road performance. Almost all three-row SUVs offer all-wheel drive, but it doesn’t always come standard, so be sure to double check.
Finally, consider what sort of features and interior you would like. Three-row SUVs run the gamut from basic to downright luxurious. Knowing the feel that you’re going for can help you stay focused while shopping for a three-row SUV.
The Most Popular Three-Row SUVs: If you don’t know where to start shopping, it makes sense to consider the most popular three-row SUVs. Most of the major car brands offer at least one three-row SUV option. Some popular used three-row SUVs are:
- Ford Explorer: The Explorer is the smallest of the three-row SUVs that Ford manufactures. It has seating for seven, with two pop-up rear seats. Drivers like that the Explorer is relatively small and easy to drive, while still offering seating for seven people. Because Explorers are common and often used as fleet vehicles, it’s easy to come across used Explorers at a bargain, and costs of repairs are relatively low as well.
- Toyota Highlander Hybrid: If you want an SUV but are wincing at the idea of fueling it, the Highlander Hybrid is a great option. The 2018 model gets an EPA-estimated 29 mpg combined fuel economy in two-wheel drive. The Highlander has seating for seven to eight, depending on whether you chose a bench of captain’s chairs in the middle row. Standard safety features and Toyota’s reliability make the Highlander a standout.
- Mazda CX-9: The Mazda CX-9 is a three-row SUV for drivers who want to have fun behind the wheel. The CX-9 has seating for seven and optional all-wheel drive. It comes with a 227-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine that gives it plenty of power, and it’s handling feels more like that of a car than a three-row SUV.
The Safest Three-Row SUVS: In general, SUVs are safe vehicles. For one, they have size on their side. In addition, most three-row SUVs are bought by families, who demand safety features. Because of that, more three-row SUVs are coming standard with safety and driver-assist features like lane-departure warning and forward emergency braking.
Here are some three-row SUVs that stand out for their great safety records and features.
- Honda Pilot: The Honda Pilot is a popular three-row SUV because its third row is big enough to comfortably sit adults. In addition to a five-start crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2019 Honda Pilot comes standard with safety features including emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.
- Volvo XC90: Volvo is known for safety, and the three-row XC-90, which seats seven people, is no exception. The XC-90 comes with a host of standard safety features including rear cross-traffic alert, speed limit recognition, and more. In fact, the XC-90 comes with so many features that Volvo bills it as “semi-autonomous.”
Price and Value: Three-row SUVs comes in an array of price points. Some, like the Dodge Journey, have relatively low starting prices. The Journey, for example, retails for $23,245 new. However, at that price you’ll have a fairly basic interior and two-wheel drive rather than all-wheel drive. At the other end of the spectrum, large and luxury three-row SUVs can easily cost three times that. For example, the Cadillac Escalade has a starting price of $75,195 for the base model. At that price point, even the base model comes with upscale features like leather, smartphone connectivity, and a Wi-Fi hotspot.
Most three-row SUVs fall in the middle of the pack. For example, the Chevy Tahoe has a starting price of $48,000. That will get you a V8 engine, seating for seven to eight, and front-wheel drive. Available features give the Tahoe a more upscale feel (and a higher price). However, mid-range SUVs like the Tahoe tend to keep their value over time, making them a good buy.
Reliability: If you’re looking for the most reliable three-row SUVs, you’ll likely return to the brands that are well-known for reliability. These include Toyota, Honda, and Subaru. Here are a few of the most reliable three-row SUVs.
- Toyota Sequoia: Toyotas are known for being reliable. The Sequoia is built on a truck chassis, which gives it additional reliability. The truck base also means that the Sequoia has three full rows of seats, and 19 cubic feet of cargo space.
- Nissan Armada: The Nissan Armada has an above-average reliability rating. Although this isn’t one of the most popular SUVs, it has many perks, including seating for seven to eight and great handling.
Size and Capacities: All three-row SUVs are not built the same. Some, like the Chevy Suburban, can seat up to nine passengers. That’s because the Suburban gives drivers the option of three full rows, all of which seat three passengers. Unsurprisingly, their size means that the Suburban and other full-sized SUVs, like the Ford Expedition, take up space and fuel. They’re not great for city driving or people who are cost-conscious at the pump, but they’re perfect for drivers who need to fit many passengers and all their gear.
On the other end of the spectrum are three-row crossovers. These SUVs tend to be much, much smaller, and are good for drivers who only need extra space sometimes. Many of them have two third-row seats that fold flat. While they’re good for occasional use, they’re a tight squeeze for adult passengers and leave little cargo space. The Hyundai Santa Fe XL is a great smaller three-row SUV that has good fuel economy and enough space, without being too big.
The Most Fuel-Efficient Three-Row SUVs: Most shoppers who are considering an SUV are at lease somewhat concerned with fuel economy. The fuel economy of three-row SUVs varies widely. The most fuel-efficient three-row SUVs are the hybrids. For example, the upscale Infiniti QX60 Hybrid, which has seating for seven, gets up to 26 mpg combine fuel economy on the 2017 all-wheel drive model.
If you want fuel efficiency but aren’t interested in a hybrid, you should stick to smaller three-row SUVs that have four-cylinder engines. The Volkswagen Tiguan comes with a 184-horsepower turbo four-cylinder engine that gets 24 mpg combined fuel economy. That’s pretty outstanding among three-row SUVs.
Large SUVs love to guzzle gas, and there’s no way around it. However, to control your fuel spending you can choose a large SUV with a V6, rather than V8 engines. The full-sized Ford Expedition comes with a turbocharged V6 that moves the massive SUV without any trouble. In addition, the Expedition’s lighter weight aluminum body keeps its fuel consumption down, helping the 2019 Expedition get 20 mpg combined fuel economy.
The Bottom Line: With so much variety in the class, there is a three-row SUV that is right for almost every type of driver. Whether you’re looking for a truck-like feel or a nimble crossover, you’ll be able to find the three-row SUV that appeals to you and fits everything, and everyone, you love.