Best SUVs for third-row seating space

Are popular midsized SUVs a better alternative to a minivan?

Last updated: June 17, 2014 03:00 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 popular midsized 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 52.0 25.0
BMW X5 45.0 23.5
Chevrolet Traverse 55.0 24.0
Dodge Durango
49.0 26.0
Ford Explorer
48.0 27.0
Ford Flex
50.0 28.0
Honda Pilot 58.0 26.0
Hyundai Santa Fe
53.0 31.0
Infiniti QX60 55.0 27.0
Mazda CX-9
45.5 24.5
Toyota Highlander 53.0 27.5
Chrysler Town & Country 59.0 27.0
Honda Odyssey 59.5 29.0
Nissan Quest 61.0 26.0
Toyota Sienna 60.0 28.0

However, manufacturers are drawing attention to some new third-row features in an attempt to highlight their passenger friendliness. Toyota's redesigned Highlander SUV has a one-step second-row sliding seat that adds nearly three more inches of third-row space, but even with the added space, the third row is still tight in this SUV.

More seven and eight-seat passenger vehicles will hit the market later this year. Volvo has extensively updated the XC90 SUV, which will be fully revealed in August. Volvo promises improved fuel economy and the latest safety technologies. On the minivan side, the Kia Sedona, recently shown at the New York Auto Show and will also pack a host of available safety features for the money. The Sedona hits dealerships in the fall.

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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