It’s easy to see a driver going down the street in an empty SUV and shake our heads. It just seems wasteful. But there’s a good chance the driver is getting a much-needed break from family duty. Very few people would buy a six- to eight-seater unless they had a good reason. And more often than not, that reason is a growing family. Ever since car buyers have decided three-row SUVs are tailor-made for kids, car pools, and any other parental activities, the market is filling with the things.
Luckily, it isn’t too hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. Slotting in between smaller crossovers, such as the Honda CR-V, and full-size, body-on-frame behemoths, such as the Chevy Suburban, these affordable people-movers offer something for everyone. From a crowded field, here are the 10 best midsize three-row SUVs you and your family will love.
1. Ford Flex
The Ford Flex has never been a sales leader, but it is the boldest three-row SUV on the market, and we love it for that. This six-seater is available with all-wheel drive. And with the range-topping 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, it puts out an impressive 365 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The Flex will be discontinued in 2020. We miss it already.
Next: This popular Chevy is new for 2018.
2. Chevy Traverse
After the last-generation Traverse spent a full eight years in production, a new model is on the way for 2018. With room for up to eight, a longer wheelbase, and a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and new nine-speed transmission designed to save fuel, we feel confident this popular SUV will be everywhere within a few months.
Next: The Traverse’s platform-mate goes even more upscale.
3. GMC Acadia
For fans of General Motors’ truck brand, the Traverse’s platform-mate, the Acadia, arrived redesigned from the ground up for 2017. Like the Chevy, there’s optional seating for eight and a big V6 available. But the base engine is a larger 2.5-liter inline-four. On the top end, GMC’s Denali package transforms the Acadia into a legitimate luxobarge. For fans of GM’s three-row SUVs who want a little more luxury, the GMC is the one to get.
Next: This SUV is ancient but can still hold its own.
4. Dodge Durango
The Durango has been largely unchanged since 2010, but it still has some serious presence. With only V6 and V8 options offered and standard rear-wheel drive, the Durango feels like it’s from another era. But its undeniably handsome lines, roomy seating for seven, and an available V8 that hustles the 2.5-ton SUV from zero to 60 in just over six seconds makes it one of the coolest people-movers on this list.
Next: This SUV was designed for growing families.
5. Honda Pilot
Cynics have called the Honda Pilot a minivan in SUV drag. We don’t see how that’s a bad thing. With room for eight, a family-friendly cabin, and an available nine-speed automatic transmission to back up the thrifty yet powerful 3.5-liter V6, the Pilot is an excellent choice for growing families.
Next: This model is redefining this brand’s reputation.
6. Hyundai Santa Fe
Hyundai has never been known for its trucks or SUVs. But thanks to capable people-movers, such as the Tuscon and Santa Fe, it’s becoming one of the most popular brands in the segment. The seven-seater Santa Fe (not to be confused with the smaller Santa Fe Sport) has a fantastic powertrain, potent 3.3-liter V6, and one of the nicest interiors on this list. No wonder Hyundai continues to find new buyers.
Next: The Santa Fe’s platform-mate is an award-winner.
7. Kia Sorento
With the Santa Fe so good, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that its platform-mate, the Kia Sorento, also made the cut. With room for up to seven, handsome sheet metal, and an interior that feels far more upscale than its $25,000 starting price suggests, the Sorento was named U.S. News & World Report’s “best three-row SUV for the money” in 2017.
Next: This premium American offering could break big in 2018.
8. Buick Enclave
When the first-generation Enclave was introduced for 2008, the premium SUV kicked off Buick’s ambitious and successful big comeback. Like its platform-mate, the Chevy Traverse, the Enclave is new for 2018. With crisp sheet metal that brings it in line with the modern Buick lineup, available seating for eight, and a premium interior, we expect the new Enclave to be an even bigger hit than the outgoing model.
Next: This long-running model is an SUV pioneer.
9. Ford Explorer
The venerable Explorer has been at the center of the SUV segment since it debuted back in 1990. Today, it’s Ford’s midsize SUV, slotting in above the Flex and Escape and offering the latest tech, an upscale interior, and available seating for seven. From entry-level to near-luxury, the Explorer offers something for everybody.
Next: After lagging behind for years, this SUV is one of the best money can buy.
10. Mazda CX-9
We saved our favorite for last. Not only is the CX-9 the best-looking three-row SUV inside and out, Mazda has done the seemingly impossible and made a people-mover that can actually handle. From entry-level truck to the range-topping Signature model with its hand-carved wood trim, the CX-9 is a family car you won’t be embarrassed to be seen in.