If you need seating for seven or more people, you might think you’ll be stuck with a minivan. Minivans offer some of the most comfortable third-row seats, but they also have a soccer-mom image that not everyone wants to project. Plus, shoppers who live in rural places or areas of the country with bad weather may need a bit more off-road capability or handling for snow and ice than most minivans can provide. If you need lots of seating, you’ve got options beyond a minivan. Buyers who want the capabilities of an SUV and a lot of seats should consider a three-row SUV.
Compact SUVs with Three Rows
Three-row compact SUVs are best for shoppers who plan to use the third row occasionally. If you frequently have more than four passengers, or you need a third row that fits adults, you should pick a larger SUV. Plus, with the third row of seats in use, your cargo area will decrease significantly, so if you plan to haul six people and a week’s worth of groceries, a compact SUV will be a squeeze. But if you won’t use the third row much and want to have those extra seats for days when you need to carpool, a compact SUV with three rows will save you some money compared with a three-row midsize or large SUV.
The Toyota RAV4 offers an optional third row, and although it’s cramped, it provides two extra seatbelts. Reviewers note that the seats aren’t very comfortable for larger children or adults, but say they’ll do in a pinch. Shoppers should keep in mind that adding the third row will add to the RAV4’s base price, and that the third row isn’t available on all trims.
Midsize SUVs with Three Rows
If you have smaller children, you can probably fit your family in a midsize SUV that’s on the smaller side, like a Kia Sorento or a BMW X5. Shoppers who have kids in high school or expect to haul adults in the third row should look for larger midsize SUVS, like the GMC Acadia and Lincoln MKT, which will provide good head- and legroom for taller passengers.
The Kia Sorento and Chevrolet Traverse are two of the best three-row midsize crossover SUVs, but they each excel in different areas. The Kia Sorento is one of the smallest three-row midsize SUVs, with a maximum cargo space of 72.5 cubic feet. That’s much smaller than the Chevrolet Traverse’s maximum of 116.4 cubic feet of cargo space. However, the Sorento costs about $6,400 less than the Traverse, and both its four- and six-cylinder engines get better fuel economy in two-wheel drive than the Traverse’s base six-cylinder does. Keep in mind, though, that reviewers say the Traverse has one of the most comfortable third rows of any SUV. They note it’s hard to find a roomier third row than the Traverse’s outside of a minivan. So, if you only plan to use the third row occasionally, the Sorento is a much better value for your money, but if you prioritize third-row passenger comfort, the Chevy Traverse is a better choice despite its higher price tag.
Large SUVs with Three Rows
Large SUVs are best for shoppers who need serious towing power or off-road abilities, as well as shoppers who are willing to pay more up front and at the pump. If you don’t need to tow a heavy trailer or plow through drifted snow, you’ll be better off with a midsize SUV, which will be easier to maneuver in parking lots and will get better fuel economy. Still, it’s hard to beat large SUVs for their utility, despite their price premium.
Some of the best large SUVs for towing and hauling are the Chevrolet Tahoe and its luxury-branded cousin, the Cadillac Escalade. The Tahoe can tow up to 8,500 pounds, while the Escalade falls just 200 pounds short of that number. Both offer more than 100 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front row, and the third row of seats is standard on both. However, reviewers caution that in order to use these SUVs’ maximum cargo space, you’ll have to remove the heavy, clunky third row of seats. This process is particularly annoying when you consider that most of the competition offers third-row seats that easily fold forward into the floor, the way the Nissan Armada’s do.
When it comes to off-roading prowess, it’s hard to beat the Toyota Land Cruiser. Though it’s the most expensive Toyota on the market with a starting price of almost $69,000, it’s known for its legendary performance off the beaten path. Though its third-row seats fold up to the sides rather than forward, reviewers appreciate how comfortable they are for adults. A more affordable option that can still get your kids to school during a blizzard is the Ford Expedition. It starts at about $38,000, which is expensive for an SUV, but fairly inexpensive for the class. Plus, reviewers say the Expedition has one of the roomiest third rows in its class.
Whether you’re shopping for a compact, midsize or large SUV with three rows, consider how often you’ll have third-row passengers, since third rows tend to add to your budget. If the back seat will only be occupied once or twice per year, it’s more cost-efficient to buy a two-row SUV or station wagon and rent a larger SUV when you need the third row.