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Best SUVs for third-row seating space

Are SUVs a better alternative to a minivan?

Consumer Reports News: October 29, 2013 04:00 PM


Automakers tout the size of their SUV's third-row seats claiming they are accessible and usable. And while SUVs are pitched as a hipper alternative to the minivan, they still can't rival the big people movers.

We took a look at a variety of SUVs and compared third-row seat room to the minivans on the market. As you can see from the chart, size matters. The Nissan Quest, for example, has the most shoulder room--15 inches more than the third row of the Mazda CX-9. Among SUVs, the Honda Pilot has the best shoulder room of the bunch, rivaling some minivans.

Model Shoulder room (in.) Fore aft (in.)
Midsized SUVs
Acura MDX 50.0 24.0
BMW X5 45.0 20.0
Chevrolet Traverse 55.0 24.0
Dodge Durango 49.0 26.5
Ford Explorer 48.5 27.0
Ford Flex 50.0 28.0
Honda Pilot 58.0 26.0
Infiniti JX 55.0 27.0
Mazda CX-9 45.5 24.5
Chrysler Town & Country 59.0 27.0
Honda Odyssey 59.5 29.0
Nissan Quest 61.0 26.0
Toyota Sienna 59.5 29.0

However, manufacturers are drawing attention to some new third-row features in an attempt to highlight their passenger friendliness. The 2014 Acura MDX, has a three-inch wider access to the third-row and is two inches lower step in height compared to the previous model. Also, both sides of the second row can be moved and folded, making it easier to get in and out.

Toyota announced improvements to their new Highlander SUV set to go on sale in early 2014 with a one-step second-row sliding seat that they say adds nearly three more inches of third-row space. Toyota also claims an increase in overall interior width by 4.3 inches in the third-row and a recline function to more comfortably fit up to three passengers. Rear cargo space behind the third row has also increased by up to 34 percent for more storage space. Even with such enhancements, the third row is still going to be tight fit in this SUV.

If you are looking to regularly travel with seven or eight passengers, a minivan is still the best bet. Passengers will be more comfortable than in an SUV, access is easier, and fuel economy is likely better. With some rare, full-sized exceptions, the pop-up third row seats in SUVs are best reserved for small, agile passengers in a pinch.

See our full list of best and worst 3-row vehicles.

Liza Barth


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