Many families need a vehicle with a third row in order to sit 7 or 8 passengers comfortably, but most do not want to sacrifice the style, features and performance of an SUV. In fact, the market for minivans is shrinking and the market for SUVs (especially crossovers) is hot thanks to recent improvements in functionality, interior/exterior design and most importantly, gas mileage.
The 5 SUVs reviewed below stand above the rest. The 2012 models are emphasized since they are still on the market, but most details mentioned cover the 2013 models as well. This list is based on reviews and awards as well assessments of reliability, safety, features and MSRP. In most cases, the 3rd row is an option and does not come standard. These vehicles seat at least 7 and many can seat 8. There are other options from GMC, Toyota and Chevrolet available, but these are the best of the best. The complete list of SUVs, along with their fuel economy, capacity, rating and MSRP can be found here.
2012 Buick Enclave – $36,500
With a slightly higher pricetag compared to the others, the Enclave comes with a much more luxurious interior and a number of additional features. It received high marks from reviewers across the board for its smooth handling, comfortable, quiet and luxurious ride, exterior style and numerous standard features. Features added to the 2012 model include standard hill-top assist and braking override. There are four available trims which all offer both FWD and AWD versions and there are plenty of optional features to choose from. It comes with a 3.6 liter V6 engine that produces 288 horsepower and is more than capable to haul 8 passengers and their belongings. It makes uses of variable valve timing and direct injection to achieve power required to handle the Enclave’s size. However, reviewers mention that consumers shouldn’t expect sporty performance such as quick acceleration or agile handling. Just like the Traverse and CX-9, gas mileage is 17 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. U.S. News & World Report gave the Enclave its Best 3-Row Midsize SUV for Families award.
The Enclave comes standard with an adult-sized third row and can seat 7 passengers – 8 passenger is optional. The well designed seat sliding system allows passengers to use one hand to move the second row seats forward in order to easily access the rear seating. High tech features offered include a touch screen console with stereo, navigation, MP3 and hands-free calling capabilities. The luxurious Enclave also has special noise blocking technology to block outside noise and vibrations, including triple door seals and an acoustic laminated windshield. The Convenience Group adds remote start, a rearview camera and rear parking assist. The leather group adds all-leather seating, 4 way power passenger seat controls and heated front seats. The Premium Group adds a Bose stereo system, cooled and heated front seats, power-folding side mirrors and adaptive headlights. These special headlights turn with the steering to provide better light coverage.
If you’re looking for a family-sized vehicle that offers luxurious features and styling as well as smooth and comfortable ride at a reasonable price, look no further than the Buick Enclave.
2012 Mazda CX-9 – $29,725
The CX-9 is a well-designed crossover that provides sporty, fun-to-drive performance and a considerable number of standard features, including a third row. It is an excellent choice for those who the extra passenger and cargo capacity, but don’t want to give up the acceleration and handling of their previous car. Automotive journalists mention that its sleek and attractive exterior styling will catch more eyes than other standard-looking SUVs. Car and Driver has praised the CX-9 as the most fun of all the family SUVs. They also noted its precision steering and well-tuned suspension. While its first and second rows are roomy and adults fit in the 3rd row, the rear seat doesn’t have enough leg or head room for individuals whose height is close to or over six feet. Like the Traverse and Enclave, fuel economy is 17 city/24 highway. U.S. News & World Report gave the CX-9 its Best 3-Row Midsize SUV for the Money award.
There are three trims available: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The base price offers several remarkable features that aren’t offered at this level on other vehicles. These include hands-free Bluetooth phone capability, three-zone heating and air conditional controls, a six speaker stereo system and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated audio controls. The Touring and Premium Grand Touring models add leather upholstery and automatic headlights. Options include keyless entry, keyless start, halogen headlights, and power side mirrors with turn indicators.
If you’re looking for a 7 passenger vehicle for your family that is fun to drive, has a comfortable interior and is well-equipped for the price, nothing beats the 2012 Mazda CX-9.
2012 Toyota RAV4 – $22,650
Compared to its competitors, the RAV4 easily takes the prize for fuel efficiency with 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. This family vehicle also has more room for both cargo and passengers than many of its competitors. Cargo space with second and 3rd row seats is 73 cubic feet, while there is 36.4 cubic feet available when the second row is in use and 12.3 behind the 3 rows, which is impressive for a compact SUV. Other advantages include an optional, powerful 3.5 liter V6 engine with 269 hp (comes standard with 4 cylinder, 2.5L engine with 179 hp) and its car-like handling, comfort and performance. If you can afford the cost of upgrading to the V6, test drivers say it is well worth it. The third row does not come standard in the RAV4, but it is an option available on all trims. Reviewers find the first and second rows fairly comfortable, but mention that the optional 3rd row isn’t very adult-friendly and should really only be used by kids and smaller individuals on trips longer than going to the grocery store and back.
Reviewers point to its quite basic interior and its standard performance as being its primary drawbacks. However, for the money, it offers a solid alternative for those who need a third row and extra cargo space to haul their kids and their belongings around. The RAV4 also benefits from Toyota’s established reputation for vehicles with long life spans and high resale values. U.S. News & World Report gave the RAV4 its Best 3-Row Compact SUV for the Money award for 2012.
It comes in Base, Sport and Limited trims that upgrade the interior, add features and put a bit more “zip” in the performance. A USB port with iPod connectivity, hands-free phone capability via Bluetooth and one-touch fold-flat levers for the second row seats all come standard. The sport trim adds 18 inch alloy wheels, a dark charcoal interior and a sport tuned suspension. Lastly, the Limited trim has a smart key system, dual zone automatic climate control and an available audio and navigation display. For the 2012 RAV4, Toyota is offering a three-year subscription to Entune’s apps and services with its audio system. By connecting their smartphone, the owner gets access to Pandora Internet radio and other premium services.
If you are looking for a reliable family vehicle that is affordable, functional/practical, and performs well, take the 2012 Toyota RAV4 into serious consideration.
2012 Dodge Durango – $28,995
Dodge updated this 7 passenger sport utility vehicle in 2011 by changing implementing a car-like unibody, and reviewers such as Edmunds have cited this as part of the Durango’s noticeably improved ride and handling as well as increased refinement overall. Since this complete redesign was just last year, very few changes were made to the 2012 model. However, this SUV still stands up strong against its competitors. The interior is tastefully designed and noticeably more attractive than its competitors since it was updated with higher quality materials. The features are now much more intuitive as well. Dodge also gave the vehicle a more powerful Pentastar V6 engine with 290 horsepower. For even more power, Dodge offers an optional 5.7 liter, rear wheel drive Hemi V8 engine with 360 horsepower.
In addition to its upscale interior, critics praise the Durango for its tough good looks and impressive performance. The interior is quiet, comfortable and has plenty of room for passengers in the first two rows. It is also considerably fun to drive thanks to its surprisingly agile handling and powerful engine. Drawbacks to the Durango include the third row being roomy enough for kids but not for adults/taller individuals, and its fuel economy is below average at 16 city/23 highway (which gets worse with AWD and/or the V8 engine – 14 city/20 highway).
There are four trims: SXT, Crew, R/T and Citadel, all of which come standard with rear wheel drive and offer the option of AWD. Other standard features include satellite radio, stability control and third row seats. The Crew trim adds features such as a 10 speaker stereo, Bluetooth, iPod input and a 6.5 inch navigation/stereo touchscreen. The R/T comes with the V8 and fine-tuned steering to handle the power. The Citadel trim builds on all of this by providing a number of previously optional features as standard including: a navigation system, rear park assist, blind-spot monitoring and heated second row seats.
2012 Chevrolet Traverse – $29,660
Consumer Guide Automotive gave the Traverse its 2012 Midsize SUV Best Buy Award (the CX-9 received this award as well). The National Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave this Chevy its highest ratings, making it a Top Safety Pick. While the base price is slightly higher than the Durango, reviewers have noted that it may be worth it for the much roomier, adult-sized third row which comes standard. It has also been praised for its stylish appearance, useful standard features and having the most interior space in its class. The 8 passenger Traverse was ranked 2 out of 22 Affordable Midsize SUVs by U.S. News & World Report. Its car-like handling and average power are adequate for its size, but it still lacks the performance of some of its rivals. This SUV will get you around in style and comfortably, but critics warn that exciting handling and power should not be expected. A few reviewers also found some of the interior materials to be low quality. The Traverse’s fuel economy is 17 city/24 highway.
The 3.6 L, V6 Traverse offers four trims that all offer a choice of AWD or FWD: LS, 1LT, 2LT and LTZ. All trims benefit from a review camera system, remote keyless entry and AM/FM/CD stereo with MP3 playback capability. The 1LT includes UltraSonic park assist and Bluetooth connectivity. For the 2LT, Chevrolet adds heated front row seats, a Bose 10 speaker sound system, three zone heating and cooling, remote start and a powered rear lift gate. The LTZ adds heated, power folding side mirrors, a second row console and perforated heated and cooled leather seats.
See the full list of vehicles.
If you are interested in getting a capable, stylish and comfortable family vehicle that has plenty of space for everyone (even those in the rear seats) and their stuff in addition to decent fuel economy, the 2012 Chevrolet Traverse is definitely worth checking out.