The Art Of The Three-row SUV

When it comes to practicality, nothing beats an SUV or crossover, except maybe a minivan. But when you add their stylish good looks and superior levels of comfort and safety, it’s no surprise why they have just about every other car beat. But, automakers aren’t content to rest on their laurels, so they have tried to bring SUVs up to minivan level by adding third-row seats to accommodate up to seven or eight passengers. However, most crossover platforms aren’t designed to handle these types of configurations. That said, some manage to incorporate an additional row. Read a VW Atlas review or look at the Kia Telluride to see how it’s done.

These vehicles are the epitome of practicality, or at least they claim to be. Generally, when you pop an extra bench behind the back seat row, you end up eating into cargo space. This is why so many seven-seaters only really function as five-seaters if you actually need to stow anything more than mom’s purse. But these aforementioned models manage to tread the fine line perfectly, and if you want to lean into the more luxury side of things, most allow you to swap out the second-row bench for captain’s chairs. This means that maximum occupancy drops by one, but what you get in exchange is well worth it. The bucket seats offer better comfort and support, and they make accessing the third row a lot easier.

A firm foundation

While a lot of mid-size SUVs offer third-row seating, it takes a very special wheelbase and chassis setup to make room for seven or eight people. And, even if an automaker gets that right, they then have to ensure there is enough power to move all that extra weight. At the very least, a well-tuned turbo four-pot is needed, but most manufacturers go the tried and tested route, slotting a vibrant V6 under the hood. The amount of horsepower such an engine can unleash makes it easy to haul large groups of people around town. Since these SUVs are hardier and stronger than most, you will normally get the option of an all-wheel drivetrain, too. This doesn’t mean they are off-road warriors, but they can handle slick roads and a bit of mud without a fuss.

Safe and sound

Something all parents share is the desire to protect their children, no matter how old they may get. Of course, personal safety matters, too, which is why most modern vehicles come with a slew of safety systems as standard. However, high-riders really do take the cake in this department. Driver-assist features abound, even on base model offerings. These are large machines, after all, so making them easier to handle means that everyone will have a safer and more comfortable time.

You can be guaranteed a rearview camera, but you should also expect blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assist. More often than not, a rear cross-traffic alert sensor is thrown in with this, along with lane departure warning. All of these systems work in tandem to make piloting these high-riders as hassle-free as possible. Rounding out any decent safety suite is forward collision detection with automatic emergency braking, an essential component on even the most basic product.

Keeping the kids gruntled

If your trips to and from school are spent in blissful silence and serenity, you’re one of the lucky few. Even when their noses are buried in their phones, most children will find a way to bicker, and longer trips make this a veritable certainty. To make every journey as pleasant as possible, you’ll want a car with at least a modest array of comfort features. If you opt for higher trim levels, you should already have comfortable leatherette seating, dual-zone climate control is essential, along with a decent infotainment suite.

Almost every brand will deliver when it comes to smartphone integration, offering Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Some even allow for wireless connectivity or support Alexa or Googe Assistant. All of these allow you to treat your infotainment system like an extension of your smart device – making calls, streaming music, or using navigation to make the journey as quick as possible. Nevertheless, most automakers will include HD or satellite radio channels and a fair number of speakers to keep the atmosphere pleasant.

Some noteworthy examples

The aforementioned Kia Telluride and Volkswagen Atlas deliver on every front, so going into additional detail about them would be superfluous. However, if you want something in your favorite brand, a bolder style, or a more luxurious price range, here are some additional options:

Chevrolet Traverse

One of the larger Chevies on the market, the Traverse follows the same recipe as the Telluride and Atlas, providing a spacious cabin that easily accommodates the additional seating. It, too, gets a V6 engine, so don’t expect stellar fuel economy figures, but it does have more than enough oomph to get around.

Beyond this, it has classic Chevrolet styling, and emphasizes comfort and liveability. However, it does fall into the trap that many American brands do, which is subpar material quality. On the plus side, it’s one of the most affordable seven-seaters on the market, and its infotainment suite is nothing to sniff at.

Cadillac Escalade

If you insist on owning American and don’t mind how much you have to spend to get top quality, then the Escalade is the perfect SUV for you. It’s not too hard to hit the six-figure mark when speccing on of these luxurious cruisers, but you definitely get your money’s worth. The V8 under the hood delivers abysmal mpg, but there is no faulting its power, with a whopping 420 hp on tap. You can also go the diesel route and option on the 4×4 drivetrain if you want to take it offroad – it doesn’t mind getting its Sunday best dirty.

But, where the Caddy excels, is inside the cabin. Apart from having loads of space, the materials are top-notch. Comfort is guaranteed, and you get a vast number of advanced features as standard. The one thing you’ll notice before any other is the enormous 38 inches of OLED glass that houses the infotainment screens.

Honorable mentions

Alternatively, you could consider the Hyundai Palisade, which is just a Telluride in slightly different clothes. The Genesis GV80 is one of the more affordable luxury options, or you could go with tried-and-true German models such as the BMW X7 or Mercedes-Benz GLS.

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