Pros and cons of 3-row SUVs that were built for families

Safety tech, touchscreens, and other creature comforts are key features of these mid-size SUVs.

The Hyundai Palisade is an all-new 3-row SUV.
The Hyundai Palisade is an all-new three-row SUV. –Hyundai

Three-row SUVs have been around for years, like the Chevy Suburban, but the modern midsize SUV has supplanted even the minivan as the leading family-friendly vehicle. 

Here are the pros and cons of the mid-size, three-row SUV market. Be aware that if you need something larger, there are full-size SUVs like the Ford Expedition. If you want something more compact than the following vehicles — but still want decent space and three rows — check out the Volkswagen Tiguan.

You’ll find plenty of great options among these 12 SUVs:

The 2019 Chevrolet Traverse has plenty of cargo space, but its engine feels underpowered. —Chevrolet

2019 Chevrolet Traverse

Starting Price: $29,930

Pros: The Traverse is almost like a Chevy Tahoe for people who don’t need the V8 power (or hefty price tag) of the large, truck-based SUV. The Traverse provides a max 98 cubic feet of cargo space, which is among the best-in-class. It also seats up to eight people comfortably, and the front row can enjoy an easy-to-use touchscreen.

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Cons: The Traverse has a somewhat drab interior. Appearance-wise, it looks nice enough, but it uses a lot of hard plastics. The V6 engine feels underpowered in the hulking Traverse.

The Dodge Durango has muscle-car styling and powerful available engines. —Dodge

2019 Dodge Durango

Starting Price: $30,195

Pros: Giving up your sports car for a family vehicle is hard. With the Durango, you can hold onto a bit of that rebelliousness with muscle car-inspired styling, available V8 engines, and performance packs. The Durango can tow up to 8,700 pounds, and its infotainment system is easy to use.

Cons: The Durango is one of the oldest options in this segment, and low-rent interiors make that apparent. At a time when newer options are offering a lot of content as standard equipment, the Durango doesn’t provide a ton of standard features.

The all-new Ford Explorer is available in the sporty ST and the efficient hybrid version. —Ford

2020 Ford Explorer

Starting Price: $32,765

Pros: The Explorer has been completely redesigned for 2020, yielding more cargo and passenger space. The Explorer also moves back to a rear-wheel-drive platform (more like a truck), improving handling and towing. The Explorer can now tow up to 5,600 pounds.

Cons: While the Explorer can seat up to seven, most trims only seat six. The base price is competitive, but options and packages will send the price rocketing up quickly. An upright tablet-like infotainment touchscreen protrudes well above the dash, which may be distracting.

The GMC Acadia is smaller than the competition but has an upscale interior. —GMC

2019 GMC Acadia

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Starting Price: $29,000

Pros: The Acadia is a bit smaller and more nimble than some rivals. It has an upscale, versatile interior, with seating for up to seven. GMC’s IntelliLink infotainment touchscreen system is easy to use and provides Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The available engine provides solid acceleration, and the AWD system has a drive mode system with Sport and All-Terrain modes.

Cons: That smaller size means less cargo space than nearly all other rivals on this list. Its 79 cubic feet of cargo space is closer to that of compact SUVs, and the third row is for kids only. While the base price is attractive, optioning it with enough features to make it compelling prices it well above the competition.

The Honda Pilot has tons of interior space, but its infotainment system is confusing. —Honda

2019 Honda Pilot

Starting Price: $31,450

Pros: The Honda Pilot is one of the most popular options in the segment. It has a true adult-friendly third row and provides 84 cubic feet of cargo space. The Pilot comes with a standard V6 engine as well as a host of standard driver-assistance features, including forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and automatic high beams.

Cons: The cabin of the Pilot is comfortable enough, but its not as upscale as some rivals. Although it’s spacious, accessing the third row can be tricky. Honda’s infotainment system feels dated, and it can be confusing to operate.

The Hyundai Palisade is an all-new 3-row SUV. —Hyundai

2020 Hyundai Palisade

Starting Price: $32,395

Pros: The Palisade, an all-new three-row SUV, has an extremely comfortable and upscale interior, with a dash layout that will rival some luxury automakers. It has stout V6 power, plenty of USB ports for kids’ devices, and the third row is accessed by a simple one-touch release to the second-row seats.

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Cons: It’s too early to tell with the Palisade, as it has not yet been widely reviewed, but some buyers might find the front end looks to be a bit too garish.

The 2020 Kia Telluride has upscale looks and plenty of cargo space. —Kia

2019 Kia Telluride

Starting Price: $31,690

Pros: Hyundai is the parent company of Kia, and there are more than a few corporate cousins, including the all-new Kia Telluride. While it shares a platform with the Palisade, the Telluride goes for a more macho look, and you could even squint and see inspirations from Range Rover. The Telluride backs it up with an upscale cabin.

Cons: Those brawny looks are thanks in part to the tall design, which can be top-heavy. It is also a bit soft in the handling department and may share more with a minivan than an SUV when it comes to driving dynamics.

The Mazda CX-9 lacks the cargo space of some rivals, but is more fun to drive. —Mazda

2019 Mazda CX-9

Starting Price: $32,280

Pros: The Mazda CX-9 is an upscale, refined vehicle with impressive cabin quality and use of high-end materials. Despite its size, the CX-9 has agile handling, and the turbocharged engine provides solid acceleration.

Cons: That four-cylinder engine only provides enough oomph for 3,500 pounds of towing capacity. While the CX-9 has a spacious second row, its third-row seating is cramped, and cargo space is less than that of much of its competition.

The Highlander has a smaller third row, but easy-to-use tech. —Toyota

2019 Toyota Highlander

Starting Price: $31,680

Pros: The Toyota Highlander has received some subtle exterior tweaks for 2019. Inside, it features a spacious, comfortable cabin with high-quality materials and easy-to-use technology. The available V6 engine provides strong acceleration, and the standard Safety Sense suite provides plenty of high-tech safety features, like collision avoidance and lane-departure warning.

Cons: The base four-cylinder engine is pretty weak and doesn’t offer an improvement in fuel economy. The third row is cramped and only good for kids. The Highlander is one of the few vehicles on this list that does not offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A new Highlander is coming for 2020 with these features.

The Subaru Ascent provides standard all-wheel-drive and EyeSight safety tech. —Subaru

2019 Subaru Ascent

Starting Price: $31,995

Pros: The Ascent is a relative newcomer to this segment, and it’s a long-overdue addition to the Subaru lineup. It provides standard all-wheel drive, standard collision avoidance, and standard infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Ascent has spacious seating in the first two rows, and the ride is comfortable and composed.

Cons: Subarus typically have interiors designed for an active lifestyle, which means durable plastics over plush materials. As a result, some competitors will feel more upscale. The Ascent has a cramped third row.

The Pathfinder is a bit dated, but comes with standard V6 power. —Nissan

2019 Nissan Pathfinder

Starting Price: $31,530

Pros: The Nissan Pathfinder comes with a standard V6 engine that makes 284 horsepower. It also has an infotainment system that’s straightforward and easy to use. The front row of the Pathfinder is very comfortable.

Cons: The Pathfinder lacks available Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Rear seats are not very comfortable, cabin materials are subpar, and cargo space is less than that of most rivals. The Pathfinder also has an unrefined ride.

The Atlas makes up for its drab interior with tons of cabin space. —Volkswagen

2019 Volkswagen Atlas

Starting Price: $30,895

Pros: The Atlas is one of the most spacious vehicles on this list. It provides three rows of spacious seating, and its 96.8 cubic feet of cargo space is among the best in the class. The Atlas provides a ride that is surprisingly nimble for a vehicle of its size.

Cons: Cabin materials are not up to snuff for the segment. While the engines offered look potent on paper, the Atlas feels sluggish in real-world driving.