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Midsize SUV Buyer's Guide

By on January 8, 2015 12:42 PM
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Toyota HighlanderChevrolet TraverseGMC AcadiaHonda PilotFord ExplorerNissan PathfinderDodge DurangoHyundai Santa FeMazda CX-9Ford Flex

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 2015 model year doesn't bring a lot of changes to the category, but we know the 2016 Ford Explorer will boast an updated look, a new turbocharged engine and cool new tech, among other enhancements. The upgraded Explorer was one of several new 2016 models unveiled at the 2014 Los Angeles Auto Show.

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 Durango also offers a V8 and Explorer offers two turbocharged options: 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 new Highlander offer seating for up to 8, while the others max out at 7. 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.

  • 2014 Chevrolet Traverse
    2015 Chevrolet Traverse
  • 2014 Dodge Durango
    2015 Dodge Durango
  • 2014 Ford Explorer
    2015 Ford Explorer
  • 2014 Ford Flex
    2015 Ford Flex
  • 2014 GMC Acadia
    2015 GMC Acadia
  • 2014 Honda Pilot
    2015 Honda Pilot
  • 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe
    2015 Hyundai Santa Fe
  • 2014 Nissan Pathfinder
    2015 Mazda CX-9
  • 2014 Toyota Highlander
    2015 Nissan Pathfinder
  • 2014 Toyota Highlander
    2015 Toyota Highlander

Three Rows or Two?

There's a smaller group of midsize SUVs designed with two rows of seats instead of three, including the Ford Edge, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Venza, Nissan Murano, Volkswagen Touareg, Honda Crosstour and Hyundai Santa Fe. The 2015 Ford Edge and 2015 Nissan Murano have both undergone complete redesigns, while the semi-premium Volkswagen Touareg benefits from a variety of enhancements.

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. For families that regularly need to transport three rows of people and more than a small amount of cargo at the same time, a minivan is often the better answer.

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.


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