Best 3rd Row SUVs of 2021 and 2022

·14-min read



If you plan on using a vehicle's third row a lot, let us at least make the suggestion that a minivan would be a smarter bet than anything you're going to see on this list of best three-row SUVs. Their third rows are bigger, more comfortable and easier to get to. The kids will definitely be happier. Here are our two top choices.

OK, now that that's out of the way, we totally get why minivans are totally depressing and that if the kids want to be happier, they can buy their own darn vehicle. You're buying, you're driving, you're being seen in it and you'd rather have a three-row SUV. Fair enough. Luckily, there are more choices than ever and they're really good. The best do a particularly good job of being family friendly without looking like a drab transportation appliance, although really, you can't go wrong with any of the mainstream three-row SUVs. Now, some of the luxury choices are a bit suspect, including those that are otherwise very appealing but have cramped third-row seats (the Genesis GV80 and Land Rover Defender come to mind). We're focusing on three-row SUVs here, so having a usable third row is a must.

In this list, we have broken things down into four sub-categories:

Best Three-Row Crossover | Best Full-size Three-Row SUV | Best Luxury Three-Row SUV | Best Flagship Luxury Three-Row SUV

Note that we define crossovers as SUVs since most buyers use the terms interchangeably, but acknowledge that "crossover" is literally a vehicle with a car-like unibody structure as opposed to the truck-like, body-on-frame construction that traditionally has defined "SUV." In other words, we consider all crossovers SUVs, but not all SUVs are crossovers (specifically those in the full-size segment and some in the flagship luxury segment).

Best Three-Row Crossover

Hyundai Palisade

Why it stands out: More third-row and cargo space; well-executed tech; high-style interior
Could be better: No hybrid or performance version

Read our full 2022 Hyundai Palisade Review and follow updates on our long-term Palisade test

The Hyundai Palisade is mechanically related to the Kia Telluride, and choosing between this pair of masterfully executed family haulers could basically come down to a coin flip. Or, more realistically, which you think looks better. For its part, the Palisade has a more luxurious vibe, which is most obvious in its Limited (pictured above) and Calligraphy trim levels that could easily compete with actual luxury-brand SUVs. The main reason for this is the stylish, well-made cabin that not only looks great, but boasts useful storage, user-friendly infotainment tech and more space than nearly every competitor — bigger kids and even adults will be perfectly comfortable in the third row, and you can fit more stuff behind the raised third row. Hyundai's driver assistance and safety tech is also among the best-executed in the industry. If there's a major hole in its game, it's the lack of a hybrid powertrain or a more powerful version.

Kia Sorento

Why it stands out: Unique size; efficient engines including two hybrid choices; high-end cabin; well-executed tech
Could be better: Less standard power than similarly priced midsize models

Read our full 2022 Kia Sorento Review

The Kia Sorento basically has the exterior dimensions of a two-row midsize SUV, but manages to sandwich in a third row for those who could foresee needing one on occasion, but not frequently enough to warrant driving around a bigger, thirstier and pricier vehicle like Kia's Telluride. It's basically for those who don't necessarily think that bigger is better. And for its part, the Kia Sorento is appealing for myriad other reasons. Completely redesigned for 2021, it features revised styling in keeping with but not copying the successful Telluride. There are even slightly different styling flavors, including the sportier SX Prestige and more rugged X-Line that can now be paired with most trim levels (pictured above left). Inside, material quality is elevated, the design is handsome and technology is not only abundant, but user friendly. The same well-executed driver assistance and safety features that so impress in the Palisade and Telluride are also available in the Sorento. Perhaps most significantly, however, is that the Sorento is one of the very few three-row SUVs offered as a hybrid. Its 37 mpg blows away the V6-powered competition, and there's now a unique plug-in hybrid choice for 2022 (pictured above right).

Kia Telluride

Why it stands out: More third-row and cargo space; well-executed tech; well-made interior; doesn't look like a family hauler
Could be better: No hybrid or performance version available

Read our full 2022 Kia Telluride Review

If you've already read the above description of the Hyundai Palisade, you've already been briefed about its mechanical commonalities with the Telluride and that they share the same fundamental strong points: space, technology, quality and value. They also do so to an extent that outpaces their competitors. Of the two, the Kia Telluride has received the greater share of accolades, largely because its styling seems to resonate with more people. Basically, style is the tie breaker. There's more than a whiff of Range Rover to its blocky proportions and restrained detailing. Heck, "Telluride" is even written across the hood, much like a Range Rover would be. Basically, the Kia Telluride doesn't look like a three-row family hauler despite being one of the best three-row family haulers. Win-win.

Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Why it stands out: Best fuel economy in its segment by many miles; high-end interior
Could be better: Cramped third-row seat; sluggish and simplistic infotainment

Read our full 2021 Toyota Highlander Review

The Telluride and Palisade might be excellent, class-leading three-row crossovers, but their fuel economy is simply average for the segment at 21 mpg combined. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid, on the other hand, gets 35 mpg combined. That difference is as massive as it seems. Besides the environmental benefits, you will save an average of $850 per year at the pump with the Highlander Hybrid, according to the EPA. When you consider it costs only $1,400 more than a comparable V6-powered Highlander, you're looking at an incredibly quick payback time. True, it has only 243 horsepower, which means it's on the slow side for the segment, but considering how most people drive their three-row family haulers, we think the 14-mpg advantage will more than make up for that. Besides its fuel economy, though, the recently redesigned Highlander is appealing in its own right with Palisade-rivaling interior quality, composed ride and handling, and ample feature content. If there's reason for pause, it's the rather cramped third-row seat that is comparable to the Sorento's. Clearly then, you have to be willing to sacrifice max three-row space for max fuel economy. We're guessing many buyers will find that acceptable.

Best Full-Size Three-Row SUV

2021 GMC Yukon Denali
2021 GMC Yukon Denali

Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban and GMC Yukon

Why it stands out: Fuel-efficient diesel engine; more third-row space than most; luxurious interiors
Could be better: Many driver assistance features not available on lower trims

Read our full 2022 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban Review plus our GMC Yukon Denali Review

The Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban have long been best-selling full-size SUVs, but those sales didn't reflect its strength relative competitors. A switch to an independent rear suspension for the all-new generation for 2021 has radically transformed it, however. The third-row in the Tahoe and its GMC Yukon twin go from nearly uninhabitable to one of the biggest in any vehicle. Cargo space has ballooned, including in the extended length Suburban and Yukon XL, and the cargo floor is lower. The ride and handling have also been dramatically improved. Besides the suspension-related improvements, there's a new diesel engine option that gets you crossover-like fuel economy, numerous new features and a best-in-class interior. The GMC Yukon even gets its own interior design for the first time, but it's exclusive to the Denali trim level. Add it all up, and you get a full-size SUV family that we can now recommend.

2022 Ford Expedition Timberline
2022 Ford Expedition Timberline
2022 Ford Expedition Limited Stealth Edition Performance Package
2022 Ford Expedition Limited Stealth Edition Performance Package

Ford Expedition

Why it stands out: Silky smooth V6 with class-leading torque and fuel economy; best-in-class third-row space
Could be better: Less attractive and luxurious interior than Tahoe/Suburban/Yukon

Read our most recent Ford Expedition Review and read about the significant updates made for the 2022 Expedition

Until the Tahoe was redesigned, recommending the Expedition was an easy choice. Now, the playing field has largely been leveled between the two, with the scales tilting toward the GM SUVs in terms of interior design and quality, infotainment features, and the available diesel engine. While it can't do much about the latter, at least the Expedition gets an updated interior for 2022. Ford also still has the biggest, most comfortable third-row seat, though, plus the piece de resistance: its silky smooth 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 that produces 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque (and it goes up to 440 hp and 510 lb-ft in the new 2022 Expedition Timberline pictured above left). Besides that being class-leading torque, it's horsepower also blows away most competitors, including GM's 5.3-liter V8 found in most trim levels. In other words, just because it's been around a while doesn't mean you should ignore it.

Best Three-Row Luxury SUVs

Acura MDX

Why it stands out: Superior handling; versatile second row; value for your money; reliability reputation
Could be better: Steep tech interface learning curve; stiff brake pedal feel; no plug-in hybrid option

Read our 2022 Acura MDX Review

The MDX was completely redesigned for 2022. It's more luxurious than its predecessor, making Acura's three-row crossover a more convincing competitor for the Audis, BMWs and Lexuses of the world. It also has Acura's most up-to-date in-car technology, though the interface is an acquired taste. Most important, though, the MDX is not only more engaging to drive than before, it also outpaces its three-row competition — credit to Acura's latest-generation Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system as well as an increased focus on driving pleasure. At the same time, though, the MDX remains one of the most sensible luxury SUV choices. The third row is friendlier for teens or adults, and the versatile second row features a removable middle-seat portion, meaning you don't have to choose between seven-passenger capacity or more comfortable second-row captain's chairs. There's also the matter of getting more equipment for your money, as well as the MDX's traditionally strong resale value and reliability.

Lincoln Aviator

Why it stands out: High-style cabin; massive power; relatively spacious third-row; ample cargo space
Could be better: A cheaper, less-powerful entry model that would open the Aviator up to more buyers

Read our full 2022 Lincoln Aviator Review

You won't hear us say this very often, but the Lincoln Aviator has too much power. With a standard 400-horsepower turbo V6, the Aviator obliterates the base and upgrade engines of most competitors. That's definitely commendable, and we're not really complaining. It's just that the Aviator is so good, it could easily offer a less robust engine and cater to more buyers with a lower price. They'd still be getting a spacious, well-equipped, easy-to-use and high-style interior, plus a refined driving experience that attempts to make your time behind the wheel "effortless" as opposed to "sporty." Yes, even with 400 hp, the Aviator is more about grand-touring speed than taking corners (appropriate for a Lincoln). And, speaking of Grand Touring, the Aviator's trim of that name is in fact a plug-in hybrid that boasts 494 hp and 630 pound-feet of torque. It also has a useful 21 miles of electric range.

Volvo XC90

Why it stands out: Spacious third-row and cargo area; Scandinavian design; wide price range; available plug-in hybrid
Could be better: Unrefined engines; tech interface doesn't agree with everyone

Read our full 2021 Volvo XC90 Review

You can get an XC90 dressed to the nines with the 400-horsepower plug-in hybrid powertrain and every high-tech, leather-lined option available for nearly $80,000 and walk away with a truly special luxury SUV befitting that price tag. At the same time, though, you could get a base XC90 T5 for less than $50,000 and walk away with a well-equipped and well-made family SUV that's more spacious, efficient and stylish than most luxury models. Such widespread appeal and competitiveness are rare. The XC90 is a great luxury SUV no matter the price or trim level.

Best Flagship Luxury Three-Row SUV

Cadillac Escalade

Why it stands out: 38 inches of OLED screens; diesel engine; tow capability; adult-friendly third row; Super Cruise
Could be better: V8 fuel efficiency; gargantuan size impedes handling and maneuverability

Read our full 2021 Cadillac Escalade Review and our specific Escalade Diesel review

The Escalade was all new for 2021, radically improved and far more competitive. The switch to an independent rear suspension has taken the third row from uninhabitable to one of the biggest on the market, while also benefiting the ride, handling and cargo space. The styling is more refined and the interior gets a serious upgrade in terms of materials, design and technology. Specifically, the 38 inches worth of three OLED screens that surround the driver. The Escalade is also available with GM's highly advanced Super Cruise hands-free driving technology. Another key new element is the addition of a diesel engine, which provides the same 460 pound-feet of torque as the standard 6.2-liter gas V8, but will save you on average $950 per year on fuel. It's the one to get.

Lincoln Navigator

Why it stands out: High-style cabin; buttery smooth and massively powerful engine; unmatched third-row space
Could be better: Touchscreen seems awfully small thanks to Cadillac; gargantuan size impedes handling and maneuverability

Read our full 2021 Lincoln Navigator Review and read about the significant updates made for 2022

It's easy to be wowed by the range-topping Navigator Black Label models that can be dressed up in the exquisite color "Themes" of deep green or icy blue. They're truly special, and if you have the cash, the priciest Navigators are without question the most desirable ones. At the same time, every Navigator benefits from the same general Mid-Century Modern-inspired interior design (updated with a bigger touchscreen for 2022), unmatched passenger space, abundant features list, refined road manners and a standard engine that produces 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. Despite this significant power advantage over the 6.2-liter Escalade, it's also more efficient (although Lincoln doesn't offer a fuel-efficient answer to the diesel Escalade). Sure, it's still gigantic and rather truckish in many regards, but the Navigator can still stand tall against the world's finest flagship luxury SUVs.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLS 580

Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class

Why it stands out: Beautiful interior; impeccable engineering oozes from everything; diverse model line; well-executed safety tech
Could be better: Overwhelming and confusing tech interface

Read our Mercedes GLS Review

The Mercedes GLS is so much bigger and so much nicer than three-row luxury SUVs like the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 that it's elevated beyond them into the uppermost echelon of luxury SUVs: the flagships. That it has three rows is in some ways just a bonus for those seeking the most advanced SUV Mercedes has to offer (the Maybach GLS 600 doesn't even have it), but that aft-most row is also genuinely adult-friendly, which is rare among luxury makers. As such, the GLS can at once compete with the Range Rover and Navigator ... not to mention the Bentley Bentayga and Rolls-Royce Cullinan when in Maybach guise. Of course, we think the Maybach and AMG GLS 63 versions are borderline offensive in their overkill and extravagance, but if you want the best, then it's certainly hard to argue against them.

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