$40,000 3-Row SUV Challenge: Squeezing Into the Third Row



By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY

Let's face it: Most of us older than 10 will never ride in the third row of a three-row crossover SUV.

Why would you? First, it requires a lesson in how to move the second-row seats out of the way in order to clamber back there. Usually done in frustration, you just wriggle and crawl to the third row.

What's the Best 3-Row SUV for $40,000

Then there is the seat itself: less legroom than on the worst airline. Your knees almost reach mid-chest. You're so far removed from the driver that one model tested, the Toyota Highlander, had an intercom for the driver. Yes, an intercom.

For the Cars.com/USA Today/"MotorWeek" $40,000 3-Row SUV Challenge, your reporter, all six-feet-two, took each test drive in each SUV from the third row. Here are my notes:

2014 Chevrolet Traverse


Roomiest -- better-than-average space, including enough headroom. Barely.

2014 Dodge Durango

https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/33/1400198112-1425510626533. https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/31/222475775-1425510599231.

The tumble-forward second-row seats made entry easier but reduced knee room since they don't slide forward. Air conditioning vents from the headliners were nice. And there's adequate headroom.

2014 Honda Pilot

https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/66/-153665231-1425510626666. https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/28/1571169486-1425510570028.

Best-in-class headroom because of the SUV's boxy, upright style. Good visibility forward. The headrests were downright painful.

2014 Hyundai Santa Fe

https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/84/-1574524611-1425510570184. https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/12/-735356112-1425510626612.

Headroom terrible, requiring a cocked head. Knees all the way into the chest. On the plus side, separate heat and cooling controls for the third row.

2014 Mazda CX-9

https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/54/-1982216155-1425510626854. https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/15/-445534253-1425510570115.

Poor headroom but overall comfort is adequate. Bonus: Each side has not one, but two cupholders.

2014 Nissan Pathfinder

https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/55/128951624-1425510599955. https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/89/775132349-1425510626389.

Headroom is OK, two cupholders on each side. Go figure.

2014 Toyota Highlander

https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/14/-1680720810-1425510626914. https://www.cstatic-images.com/stock/765x765/5/1632411305-1425510626905.

Little headroom, but a personal light and vent in the headliner. Has a nice feature to tuck away the second-row seat belt.

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

Honda Pilot Nissan Pathfinder Mazda CX-9 Chevrolet Traverse Hyundai Santa Fe Toyota Highlander 40000 3-Row SUV Challenge Crossovers SUVs


Former managing editor David Thomas has a thing for wagons and owns a 2010 Subaru Outback and a 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.  Email David

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