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Best and Worst Third-Row Seating Named by Consumer Reports

When banished to the third-row seating of a vehicle because you’ve lost a coin toss, you soon discover that what is advertised as a seat may be more of a penalty box. To qualify it as a 3-row vehicle, basically all a carmaker need do is cram a bench seat of some sort behind the second-row seat of a minivan, SUV or crossover.

Minivans are most likely to have a functional third-row seat, but some SUVs and crossovers offer decent seating, too. Consumer Reports (CR) rates third-row seats according to accessibility, head, shoulder and legroom. CR uses five overall rating levels in scoring third-row seats: Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair and Poor.

A number of 3-row vehicles that earn high marks in virtually every other area of CR testing end up failing miserably when rated for their third row. Unless buying a 3-row vehicle specifically for an adult-friendly third row, dig deeper than CR’s third-row best-and-worst rankings here. We’ve included CR’s overall vehicle score, as well.

CR doesn’t rate the third-row comfort of any vehicle (nor the third row’s access) higher than Good. The all-new Chrysler Pacifica is too new to be included.

Top Third-Row Finishers

2016 Ford Expedition

Ford Expedition

Comfort — Good

Accessibility — Good

CR Overall Vehicle Score — 67

At the top of CR’s third-row ratings, the Ford Expedition is well suited for full-size adults. CR says the third row is every bit as comfortable as the second-row seat. In fact, second-row legroom bests the third row’s 28 inches by just 1 inch. When hauling more passengers than cargo, the third-row seat folds flat with the cargo floor.

Designed to haul a bunch of people and cargo, as well as tow up to 9,200 pounds, the Expedition is a big vehicle for big jobs. A 365-horsepower turbocharged V6 drives the rear or all four wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. The rear-wheel-drive version delivers an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-estimated 16 miles per gallon in the city, 22 mpg on the highway and 17 mpg combined.

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2016 Kia Sedona

Kia Sedona

Comfort — Good

Accessibility — Fair

CR Overall Vehicle Score — 69

With a pinch less head and legroom than the Expedition, Kia’s Sedona minivan loses additional ground to the Ford for accessibility. The Sedona’s somewhat sloping roof line is the main culprit when it comes to reducing headroom. The third-row seat folds flat into the floor for extra cargo space.

Mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, the V6 delivers 276 hp to the front wheels. Able to tow a surprising 3,500 pounds, the Sedona offers a degree of utility. Fuel economy isn’t as impressive as that of some competitors, with an EPA-estimated 18 mpg city/24 mpg hwy/20 mpg combined.

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2016 Honda Odyssey

Honda Odyssey

Comfort — Good

Accessibility — Fair

CR Overall Vehicle Score — 78

Honda’s minivan actually has more shoulder, head and legroom in its third row than CR’s first- or second-place finishers. When not in use, the third row folds flat to increase cargo capacity from 38.4 cu ft. to 93.1 cu ft.

Like the Sedona, the Odyssey can tow up to 3,500 pounds. It uses a 248-hp V6 and a 6-speed automatic transmission to motivate the front wheels. Fuel economy is in the top tier of the minivan segment, with an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city/28 mpg hwy/22 mpg combined.

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Bottom Third-Row Finishers

2016 Land Rover Range Rover Sport

Land Rover Range Rover Sport

Comfort — Poor

Accessibility — Poor

CR Overall Vehicle Score — 57

Although CR rates front- and second-row seat comfort in the Sport as Very Good, it slams the third row as Poor. In fact, CR rates the Range Rover Sport’s third-row seat lowest among all 3-row vehicles. It simply won’t accommodate an average-sized adult.

Among its available engines, the 340-hp V6 is the least expensive choice and is second only to the turbodiesel in mileage. It works with an 8-speed automatic transmission to turn either the rear or all of the wheels. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.

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2016 Kia Sorento

Kia Sorento

Comfort — Poor

Accessibility — Poor

CR Overall Vehicle Score — 84

The Sorento is a prime example of a vehicle that CR rates highly overall but pans the third-row seating. With 3 inches of additional legroom and 11 inches of more shoulder room than the larger Range Rover Sport, Sorento’s third-row seat is still too cramped for adult usage for any extended period of time.

Completely redesigned for 2016, 3-row Sorento versions source their thrust from either a 4-cylinder or V6 engine. The more fuel efficient of the two is the 185-hp 4-banger with a 6-speed automatic transmission. It delivers an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/24 mpg combined. All-wheel drive is available.

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2016 Volvo XC90

Volvo XC90

Comfort — Poor

Accessibility — Poor

CR Overall Vehicle Score — 71

A bolt-upright seatback, tight headroom and a low bottom cushion cost the XC90’s third-row seat big points. CR rated its front- and second-row seats as Excellent, but the third row earned a Poor. Boasting marginally more third-row head, shoulder and legroom than the Sorento, though, it did manage to sneak past the Kia in the ratings.

Fully redesigned for this year, the XC90 derives its power from one of two 4-cylinder engines. The more fuel-efficient one generates 250 hp that is distributed to either the front or all of the wheels by an 8-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel-drive versions deliver an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city/26 mpg hwy/24 mpg combined.

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Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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