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13 Best 3-Row SUVs for Families in 2021
By Zach Doell|Mar. 19, 20211 of 32
Here Are the Contenders for Our 2021 Best 3-Row SUV for Families Award
Sometimes you can’t trade passenger space for cargo room because you need to have both. If that sounds familiar, a 3-row SUV is probably for you. These do-it-all sport utility vehicles have seating space for the whole family plus enough room for all their luggage, too. They often provide a commanding view of the road ahead, a comfortable ride, and lots of advanced infotainment and safety features. Many 3-row SUVs have also become quite fuel-efficient in recent years.
Bear in mind that our scores change as we receive new data, so the scores in this slideshow may not match those you find elsewhere on our site.
Best Suv For Family 2021
Best Three-Row SUVs for Families
These three-row people movers that prioritize what parents want and need.
BY ERIC STAFFORDAPR 29, 2019
Here at Car and Driver, we celebrate vehicles that best fulfill their mission. Hence our annual lists of the 10Best Cars and 10Best Trucks and SUVs, which identify the models we think epitomize user interaction, driver satisfaction, and value. While our holistic evaluations include consumer-minded criteria, families have even more diverse wants and needs when shopping for a new crossover or SUV. It’s a classic example of different strokes for different folks. We understand that most moms and dads prioritize cargo volume, contemporary features, fuel economy, safety ratings, interior space, and—of course—value pricing.
How We Chose the Vehicles on This List
With those family values in mind, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best family SUVs, based on each vehicle’s basic specifications and our own real-world testing. All of the vehicles on this list of best family SUVs are mid-sizers (which is still plenty large), have three rows of seats for max people-hauling ability, and start at less than $33,500, making them accessible to as wide a range of families as possible. The Car and Driver technical staff measured lift-over heights—how high you have to lift to load luggage—and we counted how many carry-on bags fit behind the third row, as a measurement of cargo capacity. Likewise, we measured the driver’s seat height (also called H-point) and used lasers to determine outward visibility. We also compared their EPA highway ratings with real-world fuel economy by driving our own 200-mile fuel-economy route, where we maintain a GPS-verified 75 mph. Here are the top family SUVs, the ones we think will do the best for growing broods and all their gear.Chevrolet Traverse
CHRIS DOANE AUTOMOTIVECAR AND DRIVER
The Chevy Traverse was recently redesigned with a more trucklike appearance and increased interior space. In fact, it has one of the biggest third rows and most capacious cargo areas on this list. There’s 23 cubic feet behind the back seat, where we packed six carry-on bags (tied for most with the Ford Explorer) over its 30.5-inch lift-over height. The second row has 38.4 inches of legroom, while the third row offers a spacious 33.5 inches. The Traverse seats up to eight people with the standard second-row bench seat; the optional captain’s chairs drop that number to seven. While the driver sits slightly higher than in most rivals, at 30.1 inches, the Chevy has poor rearward visibility. Our testing revealed 150 feet of road obscuration to the rear–63 feet more than the nearest rival. Chevy restricts the availability of the top driver-assistance technology, such as automated emergency braking and lane-keeping assist, to the most expensive models. While the Traverse earned a five-star NHTSA crash-test rating, it hasn’t been evaluated by the IIHS. Still, families will appreciate the excellent infotainment system, which includes this group’s only standard 4G LTE mobile hotspot plus an optional rear-seat entertainment system. The base front-wheel-drive, V-6–powered model starts at $31,125, but a four-cylinder engine and all-wheel drive are available for extra coin in the sporty RS trim. The EPA estimates the four-cylinder earns 26 mpg highway, while the V-6 model is rated at up to 27 mpg highway. In our real-world highway test, the latter earned an impressive 27 mpg, and the four-cylinder version earned 26 mpg.
The Dodge Durango isn’t the most contemporary SUV on this list, but it offers the only V-8 engine and the biggest towing capacity. Every rival listed (except the Nissan Pathfinder) can tow only up to 5000 pounds, but the strongest Durango—that means the rear-wheel-drive V-8 version—can pull 7400 pounds. Surprisingly, the more powerful engine was more fuel efficient than the standard V-6 in our real-world testing. The V-8 exceeded its EPA-rated 22 mpg highway by 1 mpg, whereas the smaller engine missed its highway estimate by 3 mpg, returning 22. The base Durango starts at $31,690, while the cheapest V-8 model costs $45,490, which represents a significant investment. Regardless, the Dodge satisfies high-riding enthusiasts with the loftiest seating height in this set, at 31.6 inches. It holds eight people with the standard second-row bench; the optional captain’s chairs reduce capacity by one. The second row has 38.6 inches of legroom, while the third row offers an ample 33.5 inches. However, the Durango’s 32.0-inch lift-over height is one of the highest. We fit four carry-on bags in the cargo area behind the third row, which measures 17 cubic feet. While the Durango hasn’t been crash-tested by NHTSA and isn’t an IIHS Top Safety Pick, most models are available with driver assists, including automated emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring. The only desirable infotainment option is a rear-seat entertainment system; a mobile hotspot isn’t offered.
The Ford Explorer is the best-selling SUV on this list, but it’ll be obsolete once the all-new 2020 model arrives later this year. The current generation seats seven with the standard second-row bench and six with the optional bucket seats. The second row has 39.5 inches of legroom, and the third row offers 33.3 inches; together, they equal the most legroom behind the front seats in this set. There’s also 21 cubic feet behind the third row, where we loaded six carry-on bags—tied for most with the Chevy Traverse. Too bad it has an above-average lift-over height, at 31.3 inches. Inside, we measured the driver’s seating height at 29.8 inches and noted average outward visibility. Infotainment options include a 4G LTE mobile hotspot and a rear-seat entertainment system. Although no driver assists are standard, the Explorer is available with automated emergency braking and even a self-parking feature. The Ford earned a five-star NHTSA crash-test rating, but it’s not an IIHS Top Safety Pick. Starting at $33,460, the Explorer has the highest base price here. The entry-level model has front-wheel drive and a non-turbocharged V-6 engine. Along with all-wheel drive, a turbocharged four-cylinder and a potent twin-turbo V-6 are optional. The EPA estimates the regular V-6 earns up to 25 mpg highway and the four-cylinder earns up to 27 mpg highway. We tested the twin-turbo V-6, and it fell 2 mpg short of the EPA’s 22-mpg highway estimate—the worst result among these rivals.
The Honda Pilot isn’t the sexiest choice on this list, and it has more in common with a minivan than a rugged SUV. Still, it prioritizes safety and earned a five-star crash-test rating from NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick nod from the IIHS. Every model comes standard with a host of driver-assistance technology, such as adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist. The Honda also offers a load of family-friendly infotainment, including a 4G LTE mobile hotspot and a rear-seat entertainment system. Some models can even be equipped with an innovative PA system (called Cabin Talk) that allows parents to communicate with kids in the back seat. (“Attention, rear-seat passengers: Stop fighting or your mother is coming back there!”) The Pilot holds eight people with the standard second-row bench seat or seven with the optional captain’s chairs. The second row has 38.4 inches of legroom, while the third row offers an unremarkable 31.9 inches. Behind the back seat, there’s 19 cubic feet, which held four carry-on bags. The vertically challenged beware: The Pilot had the highest lift-over height here, at 32.1 inches. On the other hand, it had the shortest front obscured roadway, 11 feet–six inches less than the closest rival. The front-wheel-drive, V-6–powered model starts at $32,495, but all-wheel drive and a nine-speed automatic transmission are available. The EPA estimates front-drive versions earn up to 27 mpg highway, while all-wheel-drive models are rated up to 26 mpg highway. In our real-world highway testing, the latter beat its EPA rating and hit 27 mpg.
MICHAEL SIMARICAR AND DRIVER
The Kia Sorento is the most affordable crossover on this list, and it boasts excellent safety ratings. Not only did it score five stars in NHTSA’s crash testing, it and the Subaru Ascent alone were named IIHS Top Safety Pick+ winners. The Kia undercuts the Ascent’s starting price by more than $5600, at $27,335. The base model uses a four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive for an EPA-rated 26 mpg highway. All-wheel drive is optional, along with a V-6 engine that is rated at up to 26 mpg highway, which it matched in our highway fuel-economy test. Unlike most competitors, the Sorento doesn’t offer second-row captain’s chairs and only seats seven. While its second row has an above-average 39.4 inches of legroom, the third row has a mediocre 31.7 inches. That third row is best for kids (or in-laws you don’t like). The Kia also has the smallest cargo volume behind the back seat, 11 cubic feet, which accepted only two of our carry-on bags. However, the Sorento has the lowest lift-over height in our test, 28.5 inches. Drivers who want a commanding seating height should know the Sorento had the lowest among these rivals, at 28.6 inches. It had the shortest rear obscured roadway, 58 feet, and is available with driver-assistance technology, including automated emergency braking and lane-keeping assist. Too bad neither a Wi-Fi hotspot nor a rear-seat entertainment system are offered.
The Nissan Pathfinder has most everything families want in a crossover, as well as the second-highest towing capacity on this list. Whereas most competitors max out at 5000 pounds, this unassuming seven-seater can tow up to three tons (a.k.a. 6000 pounds). It also has more standard driver-assistance technology than some rivals; every model has automated emergency braking and rear parking sensors standard. Families will appreciate the optional 4G LTE mobile hotspot and rear-seat entertainment system. We measured the driver’s seating height at a below-average 29.2 inches but noted great outward visibility with short (meaning “excellent”) front and rear obscured-roadway measurements. Second-row passengers will enjoy the most legroom among these rivals, 41.7 inches, but the third row is one of the tightest, at 30.7 inches. Cargo volume behind the back seat is limited, just 16 cubic feet, and it held only three carry-on bags. Still, the Pathfinder earned a five-star crash-test rating from NHTSA, and it was named an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The front-wheel-drive, V-6–powered model starts at $32,275, and all-wheel drive is optional. The EPA estimates front-drive models earn up to 27 mpg highway, while all-wheel drive drops that number to 26. In our real-world highway testing, the latter earned 22 mpg, and the front-drive version earned 23 mpg.
The Subaru Ascent is one of the newest crossovers in this mid-size segment and brings the company’s standard all-wheel-drive system along with class-leading safety ratings and driver-assistance technology. It and the Kia Sorento are the only two listed here that earned the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designation as well as five-star crash-test rating from NHTSA. Every Ascent has adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist. Most models offer a 4G LTE mobile hotspot and up to eight USB ports, but not a traditional rear-seat entertainment system. The kids will actually have to watch the scenery go by (oh no!). The Ascent seats up to eight people with the standard second-row bench or seven with the optional captain’s chairs. There are also 18—yup, you read that right—cupholders. The driver sits 29.6 inches above the roadway and has excellent rear visibility. The second row has 38.6 inches of legroom, while the third row offers a middling 31.7 inches. We fit five carry-on bags in the 18-cubic-foot cargo area behind the back seat, hoisting them above a lofty 31.7-inch lift-over height. The entry-level Ascent starts at $32,970, with the obligatory all-wheel drive and a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine. The EPA estimates it earns up to 26 mpg highway, and it matched that number in our real-world test.
The Toyota Highlander is the second-best-selling crossover on this list (behind the Ford Explorer) with a slew of standard driver assists and a hybrid variant. Every model has adaptive cruise control, automated emergency braking, and lane-keeping assist. The Highlander was named an IIHS Top Safety Pick (but didn’t get the coveted top “+” rating) and earned a five-star NHTSA crash-test rating. The front-drive-only, four-cylinder base model starts at $32,625. However, a gas-powered V-6 engine and a hybrid version are optional, along with all-wheel drive. The EPA estimates the four-cylinder earns up to a mere 24 mpg highway, but the V-6 does much better, scoring up to 27 mpg highway. The hybrid is rated up to 28 mpg highway, but it’s more efficient in city driving, with estimates of up to 30 mpg—9 mpg higher than the thriftiest V-6 version. In our real-world testing, both the V-6 and hybrid earned 26 mpg on the highway. The Highlander is otherwise less impressive than the competition. It has the smallest third-row legroom here, at 27.7 inches, while the second row offers decent legroom, at 38.4 inches. The Toyota seats eight people with the standard second-row bench, but obviously the optional captain’s chairs will seat one less. There’s 14 cubic feet behind the third row, where we loaded four carry-on bags over its 30.0-inch lift-over height. We measured the driver’s seating height at 29.9 inches and noted short front obscured roadway visibility of just 19 feet. Too bad a mobile hotspot isn’t available, leaving a rear-seat entertainment system as the only desirable infotainment option.
MICHAEL SIMARICAR AND DRIVER
The Volkswagen Atlas definitely looks like rugged family transportation, and its spacious cabin and ample cargo space solidify that impression. Sure, it seats only seven people with the standard second-row bench or six with the optional captain’s chairs. However, it has the most third-row legroom on this list, at 33.7 inches; second-row passengers have the least legroom, at 37.6 inches—which is still more than adequate. The Atlas held four carry-on bags within the 21 cubic feet of cargo space behind its back seat. We measured its lift-over height at 30.1 inches and the driver’s seating height at 29.8 inches. Both numbers are about average, along with its outward visibility. Standard driver assists include automated emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring, but lane-keeping assist isn’t offered. Although the Volkswagen earned a five-star crash-test rating from NHTSA, it isn’t an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder model starts at $31,890, but all-wheel drive and a V-6 engine are optional. The EPA estimates the four-cylinder earns up to 26 mpg highway, while the V-6 model is rated at up to 24 highway. In our real-world highway testing, the four-cylinder achieved 27 mpg, and the V-6 version earned 24. Unfortunately, the Atlas lacks family-centric infotainment features, such as a mobile hotspot and a rear-seat entertainment system. It does offer up to 17 cupholders, which is less than in the Subaru Ascent but still more than two per passenger.