For those that absolutely refuse to buy a minivan.
The three-row crossover segment is becoming one of the hardest fought in the industry. It serves those with expanding families, and families that need to move a lot of stuff and people. The three-row crossover is for those that really, really, don't want the stigma of a minivan but will need to haul up to eight people and a bunch of gear. It's also ideal for long road trips with a larger family, assuming the third row offers enough space or is comfortable enough. There's also the benefit of fuel economy over a full-size body on frame SUV, although the sacrifice is in adventuring off-road with the family.
The Kia Telluride was a breath of fresh air when it first showed up last year. It arrived with the aesthetic class and style of a Range Rover, well thought out utility, space inside along with a generous cargo area, and a wealth of family-based features and options. It also brings a premium experience but without the sticker shock that usually comes with it. It's been selling like hotcakes, and, starting at $31,690, we're not surprised.
The Telluride isn't quite perfect, but you'll be hard-pressed to find something more functional and family-friendly, even if you step up into something more luxurious. It's powered by an all-aluminum 3.8-liter V6 engine that produces 291 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque and gives 20/26/23 mpg city/highway/combined for front-wheel-drive models. However, the drop to 19/24/21 mpg is not a steep one to go with the all-wheel-drive option if you need it.
Hyundai's big entry into the mid-size three-row-crossover shares the Kia Telluride's underpinnings. Its bold styling is aimed squarely at the American market, and, like the Telluride, can be optioned to carry eight people. It also uses the same 3.8-liter V6 engine, and it costs virtually the same as its counterpart. That makes it a hard decision to choose between the two crossovers. We only give the edge to the Telluride for its slightly larger cargo capacity behind the third row; however, the Palisade does offer a little more luxury and character.
Mazda likes to inject purposeful driving dynamics into every vehicle it sells, and the CX-9 is no different. It's not going to thrill you like something smaller and lighter, but it won't bore you either. It blends that drivability with utility and style and will seat seven people. However, the third row needs to be investigated first as it could be too cramped for some. The CX-9 would be our choice if we knew we would only need the third row occasionally and would leave them mostly folded down to free up valuable cargo space. Along with a premium level interior, the CX-9 comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine generating 250 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. That puts fuel economy at a respectable 22/28/24 mpg city/ highway/combined for front-wheel drive, and 20/26/23 mpg for all-wheel-drive models.
The Honda Pilot has been usurped as the segment leader in our eyes by Kia and Hyundai's offerings, but it's still a contender not to be overlooked. It's a remarkably well-rounded crossover, has a spacious interior for up to eight people, build-quality is excellent, and boasts Honda's extensive suite of driver assistance and safety features. The 3.5-liter V6 engine develops 280 hp and 262 lb-ft of torque and makes the Pilot surprisingly quick off the line. The smooth and accurate nine-speed automatic transmission is also a highlight, and fuel economy is rated at 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined for front-wheel-drive models, and only dropping one mpg each on all-wheel-drive variants.
The Volkswagen Atlas is still new to the market and can give crossover shoppers a headache with its 11 trim level options. It also has the choice of either a frugal 235-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine or a more powerful 3.6-liter V6 engine that allows the Atlas to tow up to 5,000 lbs. We like it a lot for its acres of space inside, an abundance of standard features, and emphasis on design. It doesn't have the driving dynamics to rival Mazda's CX-9, but it does offer exceptional ride quality. Unfortunately, the V6 is a little thirsty, while the four-cylinder engine competes with its rivals at 20/24/22 mpg city/highway/combined. It maxes out as a seven-seater, or it can be optioned as a very comfortable six-seater.
It's not as powerful as its German rivals, and the ride quality isn't quite as good, but the Volvo XC90 is a compelling three-row crossover. It's stylish inside and out and comes with a long list of standard and available features. It also manages to seat seven people comfortably with room to spare for cargo. The twin-charged four-cylinder engine develops 316 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, while the single turbocharged engine makes 250 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The single charged engine has fuel economy licked with 21/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined, and both engines make more than adequate power.
There's some debate over whether the X7 is an SUV or a crossover. BMW doesn't want it to be called either, labeling it a Sport Activity Vehicle (SAV). Nobody but BMW takes that seriously, and we label it as a crossover as it's a unibody vehicle without a low-range transfer case for off-roading. What the X7 does offer when compared to its full-size SUV cousins is size, comfort, and luxury. As a family vehicle, the X7 is a seven-seater but doesn't provide any more utility than some of the cheaper options, and we found the third row cramped.
What you do get, though, is phenomenal ride quality, a luxurious interior, and a choice of smooth and powerful engines. The 3.0-liter turbocharged inline-six produces 335 hp and 330 lb-ft of torque, a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 comes with 456 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, and the M50i model ramps the power up to 523 hp and 553 lb-ft. The six-cylinder will get you 20/25/22 mpg city/highway/combined, while the V8 engines return 15/21/17 mpg.
The best way to describe the GLS is as the crossover version of the S-Class, and there's even a Maybach option. It will seat six or seven people depending on the configuration, but all of them will be more than comfortable. The GLS oozes prestige without needing the glaring aesthetic features of the BMW, but if there's a three-row crossover that rides better than the BMW, it's the new generation GLS introduced for the 2020 model year.
The standard Airmatic air suspension doesn't fail to impress, but the optional E-Active Body Control (E-ABC) suspension system takes ride quality and control to the next level. The standard twin-turbo straight-six engine doesn't disappoint either, but most will go for the 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, making 489 hp and 516 lb-ft of torque. Both engines have a secret weapon, though, in the form of an electrically enhanced boost mode. The V8 engine also features cylinder deactivation technology, but fuel economy isn't great with number of 18/16/21 mpg city/highway/combined. The twin-turbo straight-six engine fares better with 21/19/23 mpg.
While the Toyota Highlander seeks to compete with the segment leaders, it does generally fall a little short. However, it's still a great crossover, if cramped right at the back. With Toyota's hybrid powertrain installed, though, there's not much competition if fuel economy is a concern. Under the hood is a 2.5-liter inline-four-cylinder engine working with an electric motor to deliver a combined 243 hp. The drivetrain is available as front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, but, either way, fuel economy is above reproach. In front-wheel-drive form, expect 35/36/36 mpg city/highwaycombined. With the all-wheel-drive option ticked, expect 35 mpg all the way across the board. Using the same size gas tank as the standard gas-powered model, the Highlander Hybrid will go 608 miles on a single tank.
The Explorer sells incredibly well in the US, and with good reason, although, for those planning to use the third row a lot, we would look elsewhere. What we love about the Explorer are its safety features, infotainment, performance, and interior and cargo space. It's a solid all-rounder that utilizers a 2.3-liter four-cylinder making 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, while a 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 EcoBoost is fitted to the ST and Platinum trim models. That makes 365 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque in Platinum trim and 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque on the much sportier ST model.
Fuel economy is at its best with the four-cylinder engine with rear-wheel-drive only at 21/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined, dropping to 20/27/23 mpg in AWD. The larger engine comes only with all-wheel-drive and returns 18/24/20 mpg.