Midsize SUV Buyer's Guide
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.
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 you're not 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.
Leading the list of new models for 2018 are a fully redesigned Chevy Traverse and VW's first-ever 3-row SUV, the Volkswagen Atlas. This is after the 2017 model year brought us a totally redesigned GMC Acadia, as well as updated takes on the Toyota Highlander and Nissan Pathfinder.
Key differences to consider when weighing midsize SUVs include seating capacity, ease of access to the third row and driver/passenger storage space. The Traverse, 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 sporting 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.
With no fewer than 11 solid options vying for your family dollar, this Buyer's Guide is the best place to begin the journey of choosing the right one.
In alphabetical order:
For our most recent midsize SUV comparison test we gathered a Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, GMC Acadia, Mazda CX-9 and Volkswagen Atlas, 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. And because they're so commonly cross-shopped, we also have a to-the-point Honda Pilot vs. Toyota Highlander comparison.
The Best Buy?
The Honda Pilot is consistently one our favorite Best Family Cars and a three-time winner of the Kelley Blue Book Midsize SUV Best Buy Award.
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.
Most midsize SUVs start around $30,000 and top out well into the $40,000 range, with the average transaction price coming in around $37,000 at last check. Most offer a V6 engine -- many exclusively -- but the Durango also offers two V8s 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.
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 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.
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.
Redesigned this Year: 2018 Chevrolet Traverse