Choosing the Right Three-Row SUV: From Compact to Large - Your Guide to Family-Friendly Utility Vehicles

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Updated: September 09, 2023
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Reading Time: 8 Min
Choosing the Right Three-Row SUV: From Compact to Large - Your Guide to Family-Friendly Utility Vehicles


You've got the whole family in tow, sports gear, groceries, and the family pet – and the minivan isn't cutting it. Fear not, because the SUV is here to save the day! In this SUV extravaganza, we're diving deep into the world of three-row sport utility vehicles


From compact charmers to mighty behemoths, we've got them all covered. Say goodbye to the minivan stigma and hello to versatility, style, and adventure. Buckle up because we're about to explore the better-than-minivan world of small, medium, and large three-row SUVs. Let's roll!


Which Three-Row Sport Utility Vehicle should I get?


There might not be a more versatile transportation tool than the three-row, seven-seater SUV. SUVs like the Acura MDX, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac XT6, and Ford Explorer are members of the mid-size class, but there are size classes below and above.


The compact class consists of the smallest vehicles that can be equipped with three rows of seats. Cars in this class include the new Tesla Model Y, Volkswagen Tiguan, and Mercedes GLB. 


The large, full-size class is at the top of the pile and populated by the likes of the BMW X7, Cadillac Escalade, Ford Expedition, Lexus LX, GMC Yukon, and Lincoln Navigator. And in between, mid-sized options have a foot in each door - small enough to be maneuverable but large enough to seat five or seven.



Better Than A Minivan


But a minivan can also transport seven people - often more - and is car-like to use and gives better gas mileage, doesn’t it? Yes, but they have two disadvantages. First, they have a shabby image, so buyers have avoided them recently. 


Second, they don’t have the ground clearance and ruggedness to travel on rough roads and rarely come in AWD. So the three-row SUV can be more things to more people: it can do the job of a minivan and an off-roader all in one, albeit with a few compromises. But which type is best for you?


Small, Medium, Large


There are three categories in the sports utility segment, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Here is a handy breakdown to consider before choosing which to test drive:


Compact Three-Row SUVs


The compact crossover is the smallest practical three-row SUV available in the USA. It can take seven people at a pinch if the two in the last row are children or very small. With all the seats in use, though, the trunk is tiny - good for a few shopping bags only. 


In all honesty, it’s only an occasional seven-seater; a full complement of passengers cannot go on a road trip with it in comfort. They would have to tow a trailer for their luggage and stop frequently to ease aching joints.


Still, they’re extremely popular because the short-haul seven-seater ability means they’re great for the school run or carpooling, and when used as a five-seater, the trunk is spacious enough. 


Their handling is tight, their MPG ratings are good, and the MSRP is still attainable for the average buyer. AWD is even available on some models.




1. Cheaper to buy


2. Easy to handle


3. Gives good gas mileage


4. Good trunk size as a five-seater




1. Tiny third-row back seat for small children only


2. Not suitable for rough off-roading


3. Limited towing ability


4. Very little cargo space with all seats in use


Mid-Size Three-Row SUVs


Many class members can accommodate seven adults and a fair bit more luggage, although the trunk is still not big with all seats in use. The models in this class are usually roomy, high off the ground, and can be had with a powerful engine, plenty of performance, and AWD. 


They can haul heavier trailers and are larger and more comfortable - although you would still need a trailer for luggage if you are using all seven seats.


These are much more practical for family holidays, with children in the rearmost row still adequately catered for, even for long stretches. 


It is an extremely popular class because these vehicles offer much more comfort and size than the compact seven-seaters but are easier to handle than the huge, full-size models. And their height means you can see farther in traffic and tackle rougher terrain.




1. Much more useable space all round


2. The third row can accommodate small adults


3. High-hp models available


4. Lots of techs available


5. Can haul heavy loads


6. Multiple seating configurations possible


7. AWD is available on most




1. Fuel economy isn’t very good


2. Can be cumbersome to park


3. Trunk quite small with all seats in use



Large Three-Row SUVs


These full-size heavy hitters are big, expensive, and popular in the US, where the roads and parking spaces can accommodate them. Imagine trying to thread a Lincoln Navigator through the alleyways of a small Italian town! 


They are large, require many cameras and assistance features to park them, and can drive anything from seven to nine people up the side of a mountain. Genuine 4WD is offered. 


They can haul heavy trailers and swallow tons of luggage. Most can usually accommodate full-size adults in all seats. While they offer lots of horsepower, they generally guzzle gas and offer rather dismal miles-per-gallon fuel economy ratings.




1. Space for all passengers to be comfortable


2. Spacious trunk in all configurations


3. Can go off-road if adequately equipped


4. Can haul heavy loads


5. Multiple seating configurations possible




1. Park with caution if you can fit it in


2. Handling can be cumbersome


3. Guzzles lots of gas



Parting Thoughts


If you want one vehicle to do it all, the three-row SUV seems to tick all the boxes. As occasional seven-seaters, the compact-class models are the closest to normal cars in handling and economy at the cost of space. 


In the classes above, vehicles are for every taste and need, up to the massive models that can crush off-road trails. With so much variety, there is truly something for everyone, and it's clear that the SUV is here to stay.