January 2008
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Three-row SUVs: People movers
The Toyota Highlander is tops among 3-row SUVs

Toyota Highlander parked on street
The redesigned Toyota Highlander (available to subscribers) is now the highest-scoring midsized three-row SUV in our Ratings (available to subscribers). It topped a field of 14 vehicles in this class, slightly edging out the Honda Pilot and the more expensive Acura MDX. But because it's too new for us to have reliability data, we cannot recommend it at this time.

The Highlander, which has been one of the standard-bearers for three-row SUVs, has grown larger and more powerful while retaining the comfortable ride, quiet interior, and relatively good fuel economy. A hybrid version is available, but we were unable to purchase one in time for this report. Look for a report of it later this year. The previous Highlander Hybrid was our 2007 Top Pick among midsized SUVs.

For this issue, we also tested the new Buick Enclave and the freshened Ford Taurus X and Subaru Tribeca (all available to subscribers). Prices ranged from $34,270 for the Tribeca to $39,240 for the Enclave.

The new Enclave is the more upscale sibling of the large GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook; the latter rated very good overall when we tested it for the August issue.

The wagonlike Taurus X is a renamed Ford Freestyle with a new grille, a larger engine, a six-speed automatic transmission, and standard electronic stability control.

The 2008 Tribeca has revised styling and a larger, more powerful engine. It now runs on regular gasoline; the previous Tribeca required premium fuel.

All four of these three-row SUVs scored very good or excellent in our testing. But because we recommend only models with sufficient data to predict average or better reliability, only the Taurus X and Tribeca are recommended from this group. Like the Highlander, we have no reliability data yet on the new Enclave. However, the similar GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook have had average reliability in their first year.

MORE SUVs, Fewer Minivans

Three-row SUVs, which are designed to carry up to seven or eight people, have become the family hauler of choice for many. Like minivans, they are versatile in balancing people and cargo space. In addition, they come with all-wheel drive and have what many consider a less dowdy image.

The number of three-row SUVs has dramatically increased while Ford and GM have been phasing out their minivan lines. Ford recently discontinued its Freestar, and GM is no longer building the Buick Terraza and Saturn Relay.

In addition to the MDX and Pilot, other highly rated three-row SUVs that we've previously tested are the Saturn Outlook and Hyundai Veracruz, although we don't have sufficient reliability data to recommend the latter.

The Pilot will be replaced later in 2008 with a redesigned 2009 model, but there are few details about the new version. Ford will introduce a larger, boxier SUV for 2009 called the Flex, which further blurs the line between SUV and minivan.