The prototypical family car of the 21st century
If you need a vehicle with a spacious interior 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.
Key differences to consider when weighing midsize SUVs include seating capacity, how many rows you want, ease of access to the third row and driver/passenger storage space.
As the midsize SUV segment continues to evolve and mature, there has been increasing demand for two-row models. There has been so much activity in this growing segment that we've split our Midsize SUV Buyer's Guide in two.
Two-row midsize SUVs are five-passenger models that are slightly shorter than three-row midsize sport utilities, but offer considerably more cargo area and interior space than compact SUVs. They're ideal for people who never need a third row and would prefer to have a flat cargo floor instead.
For those who would rather have three rows when they need them, the Traverse, Pilot, Ascent 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.
The biggest news to hit the three-row midsize SUV market is the unveiling of the all-new 2020 Ford Explorer, which is expected to go on sale in summer of 2019, and the introduction of the 2020 Kia Telluride, the company's biggest midsize SUV. You can learn more about the new Telluride in the video at the top of this page.
On the two-row midsize SUV side, there's an updated Ford Edge, new Honda Passport, new Chevrolet Blazer, capable Jeep Grand Cherokee, freshened Nissan Murano and redesigned Hyundai Santa Fe. A significantly updated Subaru Outback is slated to arrive for 2020.
With no fewer than 20 solid options vying for your family dollar, this Buyer's Guide is the best place to begin the journey of choosing the right one.
Two-Row Midsize SUVs
These models are shorter than three-row midsize SUVs, with a flat cargo floor and a large cargo area.
Three-Row Midsize SUVs
Longer than two-row midsize SUVs, three-row models can seat up to eight people when you need to, or provide a generous cargo area when the rear row is folded.
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 four-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.
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.
BONUS CONTENT: 2019 Honda Passport First Look
New-Model Spotlight: First Review of the new-for-2019 Kia Telluride