Sometimes, a 2-row SUV or crossover just doesn’t cut it. If your weekends are filled with big family outings to the beach, the movies, little league games or Grandma’s house, that third row may be an absolute necessity.
Fortunately, many of today’s most sought-after family SUVs come standard with three rows of seating to accommodate a large brood or a carload of concert goers. Sure, the additional seating devours some interior passenger and cargo room, but the trade-off is that you don’t have to leave anyone behind. Here are our top five picks for you to choose from when shopping for a 3-row family SUV that’s a perfect fit for getting the whole gang from point A to point B.
2016 Chevrolet Tahoe
The Chevy Tahoe is one of the most long-standing and popular vehicles in the large-SUV category. This traditional body-on-frame utility is rugged and capable on the one hand and an upscale people mover on the other.
Available in LS, LT and LTZ trim levels, the Tahoe offers three different seating configurations, including standard 8-passenger seating in a conventional 2-3-3 setup. The optional 7-seat layout features two captain’s chairs in the second row, while an optional 9-passenger setup utilizes an available 40/20/40-split folding bench in the front row.
Aside from the Tahoe’s talents for transport, this SUV brings a slew of technology features, such as mobile hot spot capability, Apple CarPlay and new driver assistance systems for enhanced safety. The rear- or 4-wheel-drive Tahoe is powered by a stout 5.3-liter V8 engine generating 355 horsepower. Max towing is 8,600 pounds, more than enough for a 25- or 30-foot boat. In normal driving, the Tahoe offers a quiet and uneventful ride with a grounded feel that your passengers will appreciate. The 3-row Tahoe starts at $48,960.
2016 Ford Flex
The Ford Flex is a spacious and versatile family vehicle. This uniquely designed wagon/crossover has been around for a while now, and it seems to get better with each model year.
With three rows of seating, the Flex can accommodate six or seven passengers depending on the trim level. Meanwhile, it still provides an abundance of cargo space thanks to a low, wide, rectangular cargo area perfect for luggage, gear and equipment of all kinds.
Within, the Flex’s comfortable, high-quality cabin offers an abundance of standard and optional features. It’s powered by either a 3.5-liter V6 producing 287 hp or a more robust turbocharged EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 making 365 hp for a max towing capacity of 4,500 pounds. The Flex feels solid, stable and smooth in everyday motoring and has a starting price of $29,600.
2016 Toyota Highlander
The Toyota Highlander may be the most well-rounded crossover on the market today. Refined, capable and appealing to the eye, it’s hard to find any shortcomings here.
This SUV gives families a choice between a 7- or 8-passenger configuration. The 7-seat layout utilizes comfortable captain’s chairs in the second row, while the 8-seat setup features a 3-passenger bench seat in this spot. This high-quality cabin offers all the latest technology and creature comforts your family could want, whether you’re casually tooling around town or hitting the open road for a few days.
The Highlander delivers a plush and comfortable ride for passengers in all three rows. It’s powered by one of two robust engines: a 2.7-liter 4-cylinder good for 185 hp and 1,500 pounds of towing capacity or a stronger, more spirited 3.5-liter V6 that makes 270 hp and tows up to 5,000 pounds. And if you live in a cold-weather climate, the Highlander’s available all-wheel-drive system delivers the stability and surefootedness you need to handle slippery road surfaces. Offered in five trim levels, the 3-row Highlander starts at $30,490.
2016 Honda Pilot
Touting world-class Honda reliability and craftsmanship, the all-new 2016 Pilot raises the bar for family SUVs in so many ways. With an abundance of leg, shoulder, head and elbow room across three rows of seating, this versatile crossover comfortably accommodates up to eight people.
There’s a 7-seat layout, but it’s only available in the newly introduced top-level Elite trim, which features a pair of captain’s chairs in the middle row. Regardless of configuration, the Honda Pilot’s interior is superb in terms of materials, packaging, amenities, safety and spaciousness — in other words, everything that matters.
Power comes from a strong 280-hp 3.5-liter V6 mated to either a 6-speed automatic transmission or a more sophisticated 9-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, but optional all-wheel drive is the way to go. Not only does it increase traction in bad weather, it also enhances everyday handling by channeling power between the left and right wheels as needed. Towing capacity is 3,500 pounds for front-wheel-drive models and 5,000 pounds for all-wheel-drive versions. The Pilot has a starting price of $30,145.
2016 Mazda CX-9
The three-row seven-passenger Mazda CX-9 has been completely redesigned for 2016. This modern and attractive crossover is intended to infuse a dose of style and driving excitement into the family vehicle category. Inside, the upscale cabin offers plenty of technology features and creature comforts. Seats are well contoured and nicely padded, minimizing passenger fatigue during long road trips. Fold down the two back rows for a generous cargo compartment that’s ideal for long items.
The CX-9 is powered by a strong 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Energy channels through a six-speed automatic transmission to either the front wheels or all four. Whichever setup you go with, the CX-9 delivers a sporty and engaging driving experience, regardless of its size. And depending on the model, you can get as much as 28 miles per gallon on the highway. For those who have boats or trailers, the CX-9 can tow up to 3,500 pounds. Available in 7 different trim levels, the base MSRP for this capable crossover is $31,520.