Cars.comparison: Three-Row Crossovers

What do you get when you combine a minivan's carlike ride and handling, fuel efficiency and roomy cabin with SUV styling cues? The answer is the three-row crossover, a fast-growing segment in the car market. We compare three all-new entries to see which is the best minivan-alternative.

 = Category winner
The Contenders
2007 GMC Acadia SLT FWD2007 Hyundai Veracruz Limited FWD2007 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD
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Base MSRP
$33,225$32,305$33,875
Price as tested
$34,310$35,380$37,185
Size (in inches)
Length:
200.7190.6199.8
Width:
78.276.676.2
Height:
69.968.968.3
Acceleration
None of these vehicles is able to move out with gusto, but the Acadia's transmission is lazy, which hurts its highway passing performance. The transmission is smooth, but the engine doesn't move the Veracruz's bulk with any authority. The manual-shift feature doesn't help much in this regard. It's slightly swifter than the other two, but even the Mazda doesn't come to the party with much pep. However, the CX-9's transmission is by far the best of the bunch.
Gas mileage (city/highway, mpg)
18/2618/2516/22
Ride and handling
The Acadia handles curves with an ease that is reassuring if not thrilling. It also offers a nice ride-comfort compromise: It's not as soft as the Veracruz or as firm as the CX-9; it's just right. The GMC is the heaviest of the three, though, and that extra weight doesn't go unnoticed. The soft suspension tuning makes for comfortable highway cruising, but the Veracruz loses its composure in tight turns, exhibiting significant body roll. Numb steering feel with some play in the wheel diminishes what little connection exists between the driver and the road. Zoom-Zoom for soccer moms indeed; the firm-riding CX-9 is impressively sporty for its size. Though the steering system has a bit too much assist, it delivers precise, carlike moves.
Styling
The most masculine-looking and imposing of the three, the Acadia's look mimics its GMC siblings. The closest there is to automotive camouflage. Remember where you park it, because it looks like everything else out there. The swoopy lines and sharp angles of Mazda's sports cars have been incorporated into this crossover, and it really works.
What the kids will say
"Don't mess with Timmy's mom.""Wait, this isn't my mom's car ... oh, there it is.""That looks like one of my Hot Wheels."
Cabin isolation
For something this big, the Acadia has remarkably little wind noise. Road noise is more pronounced, but it's easy to hold a conversation with folks in the backseat. Engage the caterpillar drive! It was hard to tell the engine was even running while on the highway, though rough surfaces evoke rattle from the suspension. The big 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires contributed to more road noise than the other two, but it wasn't enough to be off-putting.
Interior quality and ergonomics
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One of GM's best interiors is perfectly acceptable, but not quite up to par with the other two. The small automatic climate controls can make for difficult adjustment.
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While Hyundai has certainly upped its game, with well-executed imitation metal trim and soft dash surfaces, the imitation wood is disappointing. There are ergonomic quirks, too, like a hard-to-read control panel display and some useless storage areas scattered about.
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Mazda trots out its best interior to date in the CX-9. This is as close to luxury as non-luxury gets, with high-quality simulated wood finishes and a lot of attention to detail, even on the doors.
Third-row comfort
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The only one with a theoretical three-seat third row, the Acadia's rearmost seat suffers from limited legroom, but its headroom is the best of the three.
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The Veracruz's third row offers passable comfort for two adults, which is about as good as it gets in this class.
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A tight squeeze for adults, but doable for a short trip. That sleek exterior shape makes for limited headroom here.
Cargo volume (cu. ft.)
Behind third row
19.76.517.2
Behind second row
68.940.048.4
Behind first row
116.986.8100.7
Overall value
There's a lot of crossover here for the money. It has more room than the other two, is a comfortable cruiser and has some tough looks. Appointments like leather and a head-up display are available without moving to the top trim level. Because the base trim level's price starts well below the other two, buyers can get a lot of crossover for not a lot of money if they choose the still-well-equipped GLS model instead of our Limited. The Veracruz also has the best warranty. All-wheel drive skews the CX-9's as-tested price, but in front-wheel-drive form it's very close to the Veracruz Limited's. If it weren't for the low-priced base Veracruz, the CX-9's noticeable superiority in interior quality would certainly make up the few hundred dollars' difference between the top trim levels.
 
Editors' choice
GM was the first to the party with a new line of three-row crossovers, and it's held up well against the competition. It didn't come out on top in this dust-up, but it's still a wise choice for domestic-inclined buyers hankering for a crossover that has a winning ride and SUV-tough looks. Hyundai has a knack for offering high-quality products for less money than the other guys. This version of the Veracruz offers little savings, though. In such a crowded class, any dollars saved won't make up for the uncompetitive driving experience or sad-sack styling. Mazda had one of the most engaging minivans on the market a few years ago with the MPV, and now the company somehow brings a sporty feel to the CX-9. If sitting in the cabin didn't win the battle by itself, driving the CX-9 sealed the deal.
Posted on 7/1/07
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