Midsize SUV Buyer's Guide

By KBB.com Editors on February 18, 2016 11:02 AM

The prototypical family car of the 21st century

If you need three rows of seats but don't want a big, thirsty full-size SUV, and aren't ready to succumb to the utter domestication of a minivan, welcome to the midsize SUV market. Midsize SUVs aren't as roomy as either of their two closest alternatives, but they're better suited for foul-weather driving than minivans, thanks to higher ground clearance and widely available all-wheel drive, and they're more efficient and more manageable than full-size SUVs.

Midsize SUV shoppers also enjoy more choices, with no fewer than 10 solid options vying for their family dollars. And this Buyer's Guide is the best place to begin the journey of choosing the right one.

What's New

The 2016 model year brings us an all-new Mazda CX-9, in addition to the all-new Honda Pilot and enhanced Ford Explorer that went on sale earlier this year. Looking ahead, the 2017 model year will feature a redesigned and rethought version of the GMC Acadia, and we expect a new Chevrolet Traverse to follow.

Head to Head

For our most recent midsize SUV comparison test we gathered a Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, and set out on a roundabout route to our local mountains. Nothing brings out a car's character like driving it back to back with its closest competitors.

The Best Buy?

Following up on its strong performance in our midsize SUV comparison test, the new Honda Pilot took home the Kelley Blue Book Midsize SUV Best Buy Award of 2016

Crossover or SUV?

The first SUVs were built like trucks, with body-on-frame construction. But car-like unibody construction offers better fuel efficiency, ride and handling, so that's how most of today's SUV-looking vehicles are constructed. It's all upside, since few buyers need the added off-road ruggedness or towing ability that a truck-like architecture can provide. And for those who do, full-size SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, Ford Expedition and Toyota Sequoia are still based on full-size trucks.

Common Themes

Most midsize SUVs start around $30,000 and top out well into the $40,000 range, but the average transaction price is about $32,000. Each offers a V6 engine -- many exclusively -- but the Durango also offers a V8 and the Explorer offers turbocharged options including an efficiency-focused turbocharged 4-cylinder and a power-focused turbo V6. All midsize SUVs are available with all-wheel drive.

Big Differences

Seating capacity, ease of access to the third row and driver/passenger storage space are a few of the key differences to consider when weighing midsize SUVs. The Traverse, Acadia, Pilot and Highlander offer seating for up to eight, while the others max out at seven. Opting for second-row captain's chairs when available can ease access to the third row -- especially handy for families with two car seats -- but it reduces seating capacity by one position. The Honda Pilot is positively minivan-like in its front-row storage options, standing in contrast to the comparatively stingy Dodge Durango.

  • 2016 Chevrolet Traverse
    2016 Chevrolet Traverse
  • 2017 Dodge Durango
    2017 Dodge Durango
  • 2017 Ford Explorer
    2017 Ford Explorer
  • 2016 Ford Flex
    2016 Ford Flex
  • 2017 GMC Acadia
    2017 GMC Acadia
  • 2016 Honda Pilot
    2016 Honda Pilot
  • 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe
    2017 Hyundai Santa Fe
  • 2016 Mazda CX-9
    2016 Mazda CX-9
  • 2016 Nissan Pathfinder
    2016 Nissan Pathfinder
  • 2016 Toyota Highlander
    2016 Toyota Highlander

Are Two Rows Enough?

For buyers who want everything a midsize SUV has to offer but don't need three rows, consider the Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Nissan Murano, Volkswagen Touareg and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. 

Midsize or Minivan?

Midsize SUVs are compelling alternatives for parents still honoring their promise to never drive a minivan, but minivans are far more cavernous and those power sliding doors are really, really convenient. If your family regularly transports three rows of people and more than a small amount of cargo at the same time, we encourage you to check out our Minivan Buyer's Guide

Luxury Land

If you're interested in stepping up to something like a BMW X5 or Audi Q7, be aware that the average transaction price in that category is about $51,000. Still interested? Check out our Midsize Luxury SUV Buyer's Guide to see all your options.

First Pics: Check out the Gorgeous New 2016 Mazda CX-9