Not quite full-size models yet larger than a midsize, the three-row SUV is the sweet spot of the SUV class targeted by a wide variety of automakers. For 2015, we tally ten models in this class, not including luxury brands.
Three-row SUVs offer ample cargo space, all-wheel drive capability a higher ride height, and minivan like seating. They can seat at least 7, albeit some are a bit challenged in terms of third row seating comfort. Some models such as the Honda Pilot can seat eight.
All of the models in this class can come well-appointed for about $40,000. They come standard with a powerful V-6 engine with some models offering more powerful engine upgrades with turbocharged engines and one available V-8.
Let’s take a look at the 2015 three-row SUV models:
The Traverse has its share of pros and cons. It offers spacious cargo room, parking assist, and new for 2015, with built-in Wi-Fi with 4G LTE connectivity. However, the Traverse 1LT, which costs about $40,000, lacks navigation, leather or a power liftgate. The Traverse also has sub-par fuel economy of 17-mpg city and 24-mpg highway with front-wheel drive.
The Durango is one of the standouts in the three-row crossover class. It was significantly updated in 2014 and for less than $40,000, you get leather seats, rear heated seats, navigate and power liftgate in the Durango Limited. The Durango was the Big Test Winner among three-row SUVs in the August 2014 edition of Motor Trend.
In addition to the Limited, the Durango also comes in SXT, R/T Citadel, and SRT8 trims which features the 5.7-liter 360 horsepower V-8 hemi engine. With the V-8 and all-wheel drive, the Durango SRT8 has a fuel economy rating of 14-mpg city and 22-mpg highway. The Durango has a best-in-class towing capacity of 7,400 pounds.
The Durango is the only model in the class with standard rear-wheel drive instead of front-wheel drive. With rear-wheel drive, the Durango’s fuel economy is rated at 18-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. The Durango’s improvements should help it boost its historically low resale value.
The Explorer was completely revamped for the 2012 model year, but the model has added new features and available EcoBoost engines. In base form, the Explorer’s fuel economy is rated at 17-mpg city and 24-mpg highway, the same as the Chevy Traverse.
The Flex is more of a stylish minivan alternative than an SUV but it does seat six-to-seven passengers with an all-wheel drive option. The Flex’s fuel economy is rated at 18-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. The Flex, like the Explorers, offers an available 3.5-liter 365 horsepower V-6 EcoBoost engine, which is the most horsepower in three-row crossover class.
The Acadia is the sibling of the Chevy Traverse, but if offers more premium features. The luxurious Acadia Denali model can top $50,000 in price. With all-wheel drive, the model’s fuel economy is rated at 16-mpg city and 24-mpg highway.
The Pilot is due for a refresh in 2016 so little is changed with the 2015 model. The Pilot’s boxy exterior design makes it a roomy choice for families with seating for up to eight. The Pilot’s 250 horsepower V-6 engine is the least powerful fin the class. It’s fuel economy is rated at 18-mpg city and 25-mpg highway with front-wheel drive.
Hyundai Santa Fe
The Santa Fe was the winner in an seven model comparison in a USA Today piece in August 2014. The Santa Fe offers the longest warranty and a great amount of features for less than $40,000 including panoramic moonroof, power liftgate, ventilated front seats, backup camera, and navigation.
On the downside, the Santa Fe has a smaller cargo area than its competitors with little room behind the third row of seats. The Santa Fe’s fuel economy rating is 18-mpg city and 25-mpg highway.
The CX-9 was the Motor Trend SUV of the Year in 2008 and the model hasn’t changed much since then. True to Mazda’s zoom-zoom marketing campaign, the CX-9s handling for its size may be its best attribute. It also has comfortable second and third row seats.
The fuel economy of the CX-9 with all-wheel drive is 16-mpg city and 22-mpg highway, which is the worst in the class with its 3.7-liter 273 horsepower V-6 engine.
The Pathfinder features a revised Continuously Variable Transmission for 2015. The Pathfinder has a fuel economy rating of 19-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. The Pathfinder Hybrid, one of two three-row hybrid crossover models, is rated at 25/28.
The Highlander received a refresh for 2014 brought some interesting changes. Cargo space actually went down by 14 cubic feet but Toyota upgraded the interior quality with rich textures and more comfortable seating. The Highlander suffers from a tight third-row seating area and styling that can be polarizing.
The Highlander has the best resale value in the three-row SUV class with an IntelliChoice 5-Year Retained Value rating of 56%. The Highlander’s fuel economy rating is 19-mpg city and 25-mpg highway with front-wheel drive, which ties it with the Pathfinder for the best fuel economy in the class. The Highlander Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient three-row crossover with a rating of 28/28.
Top 2015 Three-Row SUV Models
The three-row SUV class offers buyers a lot of solid choices and decisions to make. Our picks for the top 5 2015 three-row SUVs are:
– Toyota Highlander
– Dodge Durango
– Nissan Pathfinder
– Hyundai Santa Fe
– Ford Flex
Reflection & Looking Ahead
There weren’t a lot of changes in the three-row crossover class for 2015 but there was one noticeable subtraction. The Subaru Tribeca was discontinued at the end of the 2014 model year, leaving Subaru without a vehicle in the class and SUV buyers one less vehicle to choose from. Compact SUV models like the Mitsubishi Outlander and Nissan Rogue offer an available, but very small, third-row seat.
However, there will soon be a new addition to the three-row crossover class. The all-new Volkswagen CrossBlue, is slated for a 2016 release. The CrossBlue will likely offer a diesel engine, making it the only diesel three-row crossover.