What to Look for in a Three-Row SUV

Many families are looking for larger cars that can easily haul a gaggle of kids, but they don’t want to get behind the wheel of a minivan. Enter the three-row SUV. When shopping for a three-row SUV, there are six must-have features that every family will want:

  • Easy access to the third row. It should be easy for kids to get into the third row. Nothing’s worse than whiny kids fighting over who doesn’t have to sit back there. In the Toyota Highlander, the second row’s middle seat can be stowed away, creating a pathway to the third row. The second-row seats in the Mazda CX-9 slide so far forward that they can touch the back of the first-row seats. This creates enough room for a child to get to the third row, and it’s especially useful if you have child-safety seats installed in the second row.
  • Air vents for the third row. Kids hate having to wait for fresh air to arrive, and parents hate having to clean up after a child suffering from stuffy carsickness. In the Kia Sorento, the third row’s air vents can be controlled by a child sitting in the third row.
  • Backup camera. With vehicles this big, backup cameras are a must. They are a great way to make sure little ones are not hanging around the rear of the car. In addition, they’ll keep you from hitting hard-to-see posts and bumpers. The Dodge Durango has a standard backup camera that’s viewed on a large screen, making it easy to see just what’s behind the SUV.
  • Easy-to-use seat belt buckles. It may seem like a little thing to some, but seat buckles that sit on stable bases, like those in the Chevy Traverse, will make you and your kids happier because kids of booster seat age and older can buckle up independently. In contrast, the Mazda CX-9’s buckles have flimsy bases that can be difficult for kids with limited dexterity to use. This means mom or dad has to help the child buckle up, and if that kid is in the third row, it could require acrobatics. Or a live-in chiropractor.
  • Power liftgate. This feature makes life easier and safer for multitasking parents. A simple push of the button on the CX-9’s key fob opens the liftgate, allowing mom or dad to keep a firm grip on the kids’ hands rather than fumbling with opening the liftgate.
  • All the extras. When you’re shopping for a three-row SUV, make sure to consider which features are particularly important to you and your family. Maybe you live in a cold climate and want to warm up the car before you take the kids to school. The Durango features remote start, allowing the car to be warmed—or cooled—to a set temperature before you get in. If you can’t stand hot car seats in the summer, the Kia Sorento has standard cooled front seats. Planning on hauling your family’s camper? The Ford Explorer’s standard trailer-sway control will make that a lot easier. If you hate digging through your bag for your car keys, you’ll appreciate the keyless start in the Durango, Sorento and CX-9.

Click here for more information about three-row SUVs and to find out find out which three-row SUV won the $37,000 SUV Shootout at

Kristin Varela is the senior family editor at 
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