November 2008
send to a friend printable version
3 row SUVs
The Ford Flex and Mazda CX-9 rate among the best but the redesigned Honda Pilot slips

Ford Flex
All videos
The New Ford Flex and the upgraded Mazda CX-9 (both available to subscribers) now rank among the best 3 row SUVs we’ve tested. They trail only the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, the conventional Highlander, and the Acura MDX in our Ratings (available to subscribers) of midsized models.

The redesigned Honda Pilot (available to subscribers), however, has slipped from being one of our top-rated 3 row SUVs. Although it scored only slightly lower, the Pilot drops back to midpack in our rankings, behind 10 other competitive vehicles.

We tested two large 3 row SUVs in addition to the three midsized vehicles in this group: the redesigned Toyota Sequoia and the new Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid (available to subscribers). The Sequoia outscored all of its direct competitors among large SUVs but is far below the pricier Mercedes-Benz GL450. Even with the best fuel economy in the large SUV class, the Tahoe Hybrid ranks only midpack, slightly better than the conventional Tahoe. The GMC Yukon Hybrid is a virtual twin of the Tahoe Hybrid.

Prices of our midsized 3 row SUVs range from $35,830 for the Pilot to $38,615 for the CX-9. The large SUVs are priced at $54,005 for the Sequoia and $55,585 for the Tahoe Hybrid.

The CX-9, Pilot, and Sequoia are the only vehicles in this group that are recommended, thanks to their average or better predicted reliability ratings. The Flex and Tahoe Hybrid are too new for us to have reliability data.


Honda Pilot and Ford Flex
Photo by Tracey Kroll

Three-row SUVs have been popular in recent years. They have seating for up to seven or eight people, so many families now choose them instead of minivans. But the third-row seats in many midsized models have limited space, are cumbersome to access, and are best suited for children. Usually, larger SUVs have roomier third-row seats and extra towing and cargo capacity but are often more expensive to buy and fuel. Overall, minivans still provide the best balance of roominess, manageable size, and fuel economy.

Ford’s new Flex wraps a versatile, cavernous interior in a distinctly boxy styling. It is also lower and more wagon-like than others in this class.

The Mazda CX-9 has improved considerably since we last tested one in 2007, helped by a larger engine and improved braking. It is one of the sportiest SUVs we’ve driven and has a roomy, quiet, well-crafted interior.

The Pilot remains a very practical vehicle with seating for up to eight, slightly improved fuel economy, and a reasonable price. But pronounced road noise, so-so acceleration and braking, and interior quality that’s not as good as the model it replaces cost it points in our testing.


More models are being released in this rapidly growing 3 row SUVs category. We could not purchase the Chevrolet Traverse, a twin of the GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook, or the Kia Borrego in time for this test, but they will be in a future issue.

With consumers looking for better fuel economy, manufacturers are also bringing more hybrid and diesel SUVs to market as quickly as they can. Hybrid versions of the Chrysler Aspen and Dodge Durango are due early this fall, and the Mercedes-Benz GL320 diesel is on sale now. Diesel versions of the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 are imminent.

And if you're looking for a vehicle that is pretty much the polar opposite of the SUV, check out our review of the Smart ForTwo car.

Posted: October 2008 — Consumer Reports Magazine issue: November 2008