Do You Need a 3 Row SUV?
After school sports? Car pool? Large family? A dog or two? Or do you just need extra cargo space for Costco runs and care free road trips? If you find yourself toying with the idea of upgrading to a full sized SUV with 3rd row seating, you’re in luck: SUVs with 3rd row seats are the trend right now and one of the most popular types of vehicles on the road.
We made a list of our top 9 favorites, from luxury vehicles to beloved American brands: these SUVs are all top safety rated and stylish. You can haul cargo around safely and capably and still feel like you’re driving around enveloped in luxury.
Our Top 9 Picks for SUVs with 3rd Row Seats
1. VW Atlas
This might be called a “New American SUV” because it was designed and built by VW’s American team in Chattanooga, TN, where it’s also built. This brand new SUV is designed to win back VW fans in the US and it’s doing just that: It recently won Cars.Com’s “Best of 2018” award. The VW team took a studied approach to the Atlas, adding features they knew customers would love, like Apple Car Play, and leaving some out, like a rear entertainment system, all keeping the price under $50,000 even when fully loaded.
What We Loved
- Tons of head room and plenty of leg room, even in the third row
- The center row is designed to fit three car seats
- The center row slides and tilts forward even with a child car seat installed, making third row access easy (though not with a seat installed with a seatbelt)
- Simple, elegant interior
2. Nissan Armada
The Armada has gotten a fresh new look–while the SUV kept its truck-like exterior, it now sports a more muscular, military-chic exterior. Inside, the amenities and comforts go from good to great. While the Armada does fall on the luxury end of the 3rd row SUV market, it can still be affordable if you don’t add all the bells and whistles.
What We Love:
- Great for families who love to road trip
- Works for drivers who need space for passengers and cargo; the space behind the third row is large for an SUV
- You can take it off-road: Armada is available in all-wheel or 4-wheel drive
- With 390 horsepower, the Armada can tow up to 8,300 lbs
- Decent fuel economy at 14MPG city and 19MPG highway, but probably best for buyers for whom fuel economy is not a huge concern
3. Infiniti QX80
If you’re looking for the ultimate in SUV luxury, the Infiniti QX80 is for you. As stylish on the inside as it is on the outside, this SUV has a 15-speaker Bose Premium audio system, truffle brown leather and ash wood finishes. The exterior features Infiniti’s distinct muscular shape accented with side chrome air intake vents, LED headlights that wrap from front to side, a chrome grille and windows that are framed in chrome.
The Infiniti QX80 is a full size SUV that seats seven or eight: with two bucket seats in the middle row and a 60/40 split three-passenger row in the rear. There is a center row bench seat option that increases seating to eight.
Many families want DVD players in their vehicles and the Infiniti QX80 has 7” color monitors on the back of the headrests of the front seats. They are large enough for third row passengers to see them and the sound can be heard on the sound system or on wireless headphones-just in case you can’t handle listening to the kids’ movies over and over and over again.
What We Love:
- The driving experience: a powerful 400-horsepower engine makes driving fun and confident
- Luxury leather details, beautiful ash wood trim and suede ceiling headliner (on Limited Model)
- Heated steering wheel and heated front and center seats
- Good seating configuration for larger families
- Easy to access third row
- Comfortable ride with good lumbar support and reclining second and third row seats
- Theater system with two screens and wireless headsets
- Snow and tow drive modes enhance the all wheel drive capability
4. Dodge Durango
With ample space and tons of cargo room this is a practical and affordable SUV. The front grille, muscular styling and a truck-like appeal give the Durango a bad-ass feel. It’s available in all-wheel drive which gives you capability to handle most challenging roads. But if you live in an area with a lot of troublesome roads, keep in mind the Durango is not available in 4-wheel drive, so it might not be ideal for you.
What We Love:
- Works for families who need seating for six or seven passengers
- Room for teens or taller backseat passengers
- Easy to use touchscreen functions
- Offers the height and space of a large SUV but the maneuverability of a midsize SUV
- Offers top features, conveniences and safety at a good value
5. GMC Yukon Denali
When you need room for the whole family, plus a friend and even a pet, and you also want top luxury details, the Yukon Denali is a great option. The GMC Yukon Denali is extremely spacious and has a full size 3rd row. On many new vehicles, lane keep assist isn’t really necessary, but with a vehicle as large as the Denali, it is really useful, particularly when driving narrow, busy highways. The huge mirrors and rear cross traffic alert, blind spot monitor and forward collision alert all play a part in keeping you safe on the road. And in an SUV as large as the Yukon, the safety features are important along with those huge mirrors you will be relying on.
What We Love:
- WiFi hot spot
- OnStar or easy to use navigation system
- Apple CarPlay
- Qi wireless charger
- Automatic running boards
- Tons of storage, including a huge place to stash a purse
- Third row that is comfortable for adults
- Fold flat seats
6. Mazda CX9
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 is a premium third row family crossover that gives you style AND space. Mazda believes in the details when it comes to cars and the CX-9 is not lacking, from leather seats to head up display to 12 BOSE speakers for optimum sound. As a crossover vehicle, the CX-9 has third row seating but is not a full size SUV. It’s tough to make a car with a 3rd row look sleek and sporty when trying to accommodate both passengers and cargo, but Mazda didn’t seem to have any trouble at all.
The CX-9 features Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology that gets a little more oomph from a smaller engine. Every aspect of the vehicle is engineered to maximize driving dynamics and efficiency. I didn’t notice any difference between the SKYACTIV technology and a traditional V-6 engine, if anything it performed much smoother.
What We Love:
- Distance recognition support: once you reach 19 mph the sensor will ensure you are at a safe distance. If you are too close you will be alerted.
- Seating for 7 passengers
- Stability and traction control
- Luxurious details throughout
Adaptive front lighting helps you see around corners at night; the headlights ‘bend’ with the steering
7. Ford Explorer
This has been the top selling 3 row SUV since practically forever. Look around, you’ll still see 10, 15 and 20 year old models on the road. Recently the design was updated for a more modern, refined look in the standard, Sport and Platinum models.
The third row isn’t as big as some of the others on the market, so this SUV may be better suited for a family of four who occasionally need space for an extra passenger or two. The cargo space is stellar, though, and Ford has spent a lot of time adding smart touches like the always-getting-better Sync infotainment system and active safety features.
8. Toyota Highlander
We can’t say enough about this family SUV. It’s roomy, capable and reliable. It’s available with just about every luxury you can imagine. And, it is the only 3 row SUV that comes in a hybrid. 28 MPG for a 3 row SUV is amazing. Plus, you can put your handbag in the center console, it is available with all wheel drive–a must in hilly or snowy climates– and it has center row captains chairs. This SUV has you covered on all counts.
What We Love
- Plenty of cargo space, even behind the third row
- Surround view camera eliminates the risk of *mistakes* even in a big car
- That hybrid option! Who doesn’t love saving money on gas?
- Sliding second row seats that make getting in and out of the third row easy
- That center console big enough for my handbag. So, certainly big enough for yours
9. Honda Pilot
If you are a Honda fan you should definitely put this on your look list. Yes, it’s big. But that means it has lots of leg room and head room. If you have kids or passengers who are on the larger side of size, this could be an ideal car for you. It includes many of Honda’s best features and like all Hondas, has a sterling reputation for reliability. And, the older boxy-shaped Pilot was redesigned for the 2016 model year and the new look is sublime; it’s elegant and much more refined.
What We Love
- The stylish touches inside and out
- A roomy, comfortable third row with plenty of head room
- A panoramic sun roof
- Huge center console
- Honda’s active safety technology including blind spot monitors, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning
- Lots of space = happy family
Style, Space and Safety Matter
No matter if you are in the market for a 3rd row SUV to get the kids and their friends around town–or if you restore vintage furniture and need cargo space, these are our favorite picks. We chose a selection that vary in price, but offer the ultimate in style, space and safety features.