Where's the Party? SUVs With Room for Eight or More

Many people choose to buy sport utility vehicles, at least in part, because of the vehicles' ability to carry passengers and cargo. With nearly 80 SUVs on the market in the 2005 model year, the choices seem bewildering, but size and interior capacity are helpful starting points in the decision-making process.

Cars.com Top 10: SUVs With Room for Eight or More
True nine-passenger models lead our top vehicle list for interior space, followed by several eight-passenger SUVs that also promise ample seating area.
Vehicle NameMaximum Seating*List Price
Chevrolet Suburban 1500  9$38,025 - $40,825
Chevrolet Tahoe  9$35,175 - $37,975
Ford Excursion  9$37,165 - $50,420
Ford Expedition  9$32,720 - $43,860
Cadillac Escalade  8$52,865 - $55,765
Lexus GX 470  8TBA
Lincoln Navigator  8$49,790 - $56,440
Nissan Armada  8$33,600 - $41,500
Toyota Land Cruiser  8$55,025
Toyota Sequoia  8$32,470 - $44,960

*To achieve the maximum seating configurations listed, it may be necessary to select optional equipment.

Three elements should be considered when selecting the best SUVs in the maximum-space category:

  • Maximum seating capacity
  • Ease of getting into the second- and third-row seats
  • Convenience of folding the third-row seat
Remember that maximum seating configurations might be available only as an option, or only on certain versions, rather than as standard fare. Another factor to consider, even in the best-laid-out models, is that getting into the third row can be a challenge for less-agile passengers. As a rule, third-row entry is easier if the second row contains bucket seats or captain's chairs instead of a bench seat. For additional information on the models mentioned in the chart above, click here.

How Many People Do You Need to Carry?
Most compact SUVs seat only five occupants, and a handful — including the youth-focused Honda Element — hold only four. Midsize models also typically carry five occupants on two rows of seats, but some can be equipped with a third row to boost capacity to seven or eight. Most full-size SUVs have three rows of seats and are able to hold between seven and nine occupants. In contrast, minivans generally seat seven and a few can carry eight.

If you need to haul an above-average load much of the time, whether passengers, cargo or a trailer, you're probably considering a full-size SUV — or at least a large midsize model.

The Ford Expedition may be equipped with an optional power-folding, third-row seat.

Excluding corporate cousins, six full-size SUVs and one midsize model have space for eight occupants — either standard or optional — but the 2005 selection includes only four that carry nine. Most SUVs have separate bucket seats up front, so even with two three-place benches in the back, the limit is eight. True nine-passenger models may be the same size as their eight-passenger cousins but have a bench of some sort in the front instead of bucket seats.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Full-Size SUVs
In addition to promising eight- or nine-passenger capacity, large SUVs offer plenty of potential cargo space. Of course, if passengers use the third-row seat, then luggage space at the rear may be curtailed sharply. Flat-folding seats are handy in both the second and third rows, but access to the rear isn't always easy. The seats can be removed in some models, but they can be heavy and require storage space.

Poor fuel economy is one of the foremost shortcomings of full-size SUVs. In city driving, some models barely manage to get gas mileage in the two-digit range. And although large SUVs are generally easier to drive than they used to be, they still present maneuverability problems. Some drivers may have trouble getting used to their size and more cumbersome handling.

Because minivans deliver many of the same cargo- and passenger-carrying virtues as SUVs, these vehicles may also warrant an SUV buyer's consideration. Nearly all seat seven occupants, and some can hold eight. Fuel economy is generally a lot better, and minivans are considerably easier to maneuver than big SUVs.

SUVs With Room for Eight or More
Chevrolet Suburban 1500 and 2500 (and related GMC Yukon XL 1500 and 2500): These corporate full-size cousins can have either bench or bucket seating up front and in the second row. A three-place bench goes in the third row.

Up to nine passengers can fit in the Chevrolet Tahoe when it's equipped with the optional, removable third-row seat.

Chevrolet Tahoe (and related GMC Yukon): Similar in structure to the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL, respectively, these two models are shorter overall. That means occupants in the available third row of seats shouldn't expect as much legroom.

Ford Excursion: Ford promises best-in-class interior volume with its largest model, which was rumored to be exiting the lineup but survived into the 2005 model year. While nine occupants aren't likely to find this much space anywhere else, the Excursion has obvious drawbacks, including dismal fuel economy and ponderous handling.

Ford Expedition: Ford's second-largest SUV leads its league because of its nine-passenger capacity and the convenience of using its third-row seat, which, when optionally equipped, can be folded into the floor at the touch of a button for more cargo space.

Cadillac Escalade (and related Escalade ESV): Cadillac's regular- and extended-length full-size models have front bucket seats, a choice of bench or bucket seating in the second row and a three-place rear bench seat. Cadillac's regular-length Escalade has significantly less legroom in the third row than the extended-length ESV model.

Lexus GX 470: Considered a full-size SUV like the Lexus LX 470, the GX 470 has the same eight-passenger capacity but is a little smaller overall, which translates to snugger seating in the rear.

Maximum seating capacity shrinks to seven when Lincoln's Navigator is equipped with second-row bucket seats.

Lincoln Navigator: Roughly the same size as the closely related but less costly Ford Expedition, the Navigator has an eight-passenger limit due to its front bucket seats. In the Ultimate edition, the third-row folding seat is power-operated.

Nissan Armada (and related Infiniti QX56): The Armada costs considerably less than the QX56 and doesn't have as many amenities, but its full-size structure and powertrain are similar to its more expensive sibling. Both can be equipped to hold seven or eight occupants, with a flat-folding three-place bench seat at the rear.

Toyota Land Cruiser (and related Lexus LX 470): These two related full-size models are a little smaller than the Toyota Sequoia but still seat as many as eight occupants.

Toyota Sequoia: Toyota's largest model has an eight-passenger capacity and features front bucket seats.

Though a midsize model, Honda's Pilot is also worthy of consideration because of its eight-passenger capacity and 60/40-split, flat-folding seats in the second and third rows. Its smaller overall size, however, inevitably curtails legroom in the rear seat. Back to top

Will All Occupants Be Comfortable?
You might think a full-size SUV invariably has more space per occupant than a compact or midsize model, but that's not always the case. Some smaller models are surprisingly roomy in the front and second rows, and certain full-size SUVs don't have as much space — at least in the rear — as you might think.

Folding the second- and third-row seats in the Honda Pilot reveals a flat load floor, which is beneficial when hauling large items.

Headroom is seldom a problem in SUVs of any size, but if a sunroof is installed, then space is typically a little tighter for front occupants. Shoulder and hip space are most important for bench seat comfort. Legroom varies considerably, and it's crucial for second- and third-row comfort.

As a rule, space is significantly tighter in the third row. Some SUVs are surprisingly skimpy, but a few are reasonably roomy. Third-row legroom is greatest in several full-size SUVs, including the Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Excursion and Expedition, GMC Yukon XL and Lincoln Navigator. Because of their shorter overall lengths, the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon have less legroom in the back. Shoulder space is ample in most full-size SUV third-row seats.

Looking at second-row legroom, the Ford Excursion, Infiniti QX45 and Nissan Armada score especially well. Some compact and midsize models actually offer more front headroom and legroom than full-size SUVs.

Most manufacturers provide dimensions for head, leg, shoulder and hip space in all rows of seats. Numbers are the only tangible way to compare interior dimensions, but they don't quite tell the full story. Only a trial run in the vehicle you're considering can demonstrate whether your family will have enough space for true comfort on long journeys.

Measured in cubic feet, cargo volume is another factor to consider. Most manufacturers provide two or more figures — one with the rear seat upright and one with it folded. For SUVs with three rows of seats, a third number measures cargo volume with both the second- and third-row seats folded.