Midsize SUV Buyer's Guide

By KBB.com Editors on January 16, 2017 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. The SUVs are listed in order of popularity, based on recent sales numbers.

What's New

The 2017 model year brings us totally redesigned GMC Acadia, as well as updated takes on the Toyota Highlander and Nissan Pathfinder. Looking futher ahead, the 2018 model year will include an all-new Chevrolet Traverse (below) and Volkswagen's first 3-row SUV, the 2018 Atlas, both of which should arrive around the middle of 2017.

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 is a two-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.

Common Themes

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. 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, 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.

2017 Ford Explorer

Starting Price: $32,605

Ford continues to add tech innovations and luxury features to the segment's best-seller. Read More

2016 Toyota Highlander

Starting Price: $31,430

Roomy, comfortable, reliable and thoughtfully designed, the Highlander is a midsize SUV benchmark. Read More

2017 Honda Pilot

Starting Price: $31,495

All-new last year with even more smart convenience, tech and safety features, the Pilot is also a two-time Kelley Blue Book Best Buy. Read More

2017 Chevrolet Traverse

Starting Price: $29,595

With a roomy interior and pleasant road manners, the Traverse is comfortable for the whole family. Read More

2017 Nissan Pathfinder

Starting Price: $30,930

The Nissan Pathfinder offers sedan-like handling and refinement, and has more power, updated styling, and new tech features for 2017. Read More

2017 GMC Acadia

Starting Price: $29,995

All-new for 2017, the carlike Acadia is upscale and sophisticated. Read More

2017 Dodge Durango

Starting Price: $31,785

The bold, brawny Durango is the only midsize SUV available with a V8, and is ideal for those who want to tow. Read More

2017 Hyundai Santa Fe

Starting Price: $31,695

Already known for its versatility and value, the Santa Fe comes with new family-friendly features for 2017. Read More

2016 Ford Flex

Starting Price: $30,605

Wrapped in fun retro-styled sheetmetal, the Ford Flex is surprisingly roomy and fun to drive. Read More

2016 Mazda CX-9

Starting Price: $32,420

Mazda's gorgeous new SUV is the most athletic, agile midsize crossover available. Read More

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: Volkswagen's All-New 2018 Atlas


 


 

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