Three-Row SUV Challenge 2016: What You Get

16_3Row_Challenge_Group_02_ES.jpg Three-Row SUV Challenge 2016 | photo by Evan Sears

CARS.COM — A $45,000 three-row SUV comes with a ton of features, but it’s not going to get you everything the segment can offer. The eight SUVs tested for’s Three-Row SUV Challenge 2016 were all required to meet a $45,000 price cap, including destination, and even without a large spread in pricing, they came equipped uniquely. SUVs ranged from the least-expensive 2017 Nissan Pathfinder SL at $40,390 to the priciest 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature at $44,915. Between those, the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited Ultimate was $43,160, the 2017 Kia Sorento SX $43,295, the 2017 GMC Acadia SLT-1 $43,325, the 2016 Honda Pilot $43,700, the 2017 Ford Explorer XLT $44,585 and the 2017 Dodge Durango GT $44,770.

Three-Row SUV Challenge 2016
Results | What You Get | Child-Safety Seats | Video

You can count on a few features in this price range: All SUVs were equipped with a backup camera, leather seating, heated front seats, navigation, power liftgate and smart entry system with push-button start. Beyond those staples, we dug into each vehicle’s features to show what $45,000 gets you for the money.

Creature Comforts

USB ports: Tied with five USB ports each, the Acadia and Pilot have the highest count of accessory power. The difference between the two is that the Acadia has USB ports in all three rows — two in the front, two in the middle and one in the third row — while the Pilot splits those USB ports between the first and second rows, with three up front and two in the middle row.

Heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel: Every SUV tested had heated front seats, but the Santa Fe was the only to include all-season derriere climate control with heated and cooled front seats, heated second-row seats and a heated steering wheel.

All-wheel drive: Surprisingly, not every SUV was equipped with all-wheel drive. The Durango came with rear-wheel drive, and the Acadia and Santa Fe with front-wheel drive. All of the others were equipped with four- or all-wheel drive, and the Pathfinder came with a unique two-wheel-drive selector that forces the AWD system to stay in the more economical FWD setting.

Seating capacity and captain’s chairs: Seating capacity ranged from six to eight occupants through a variety of seating configurations. The Acadia and Santa Fe had optional captain’s chairs, which shrink seating capacity to six, but they added crucial third-row access through the rear two seats. The Pilot was the only contender to offer an eight-occupant configuration with second- and third-row bench seats fitting three passengers each.

Hands-free power liftgate: Every SUV had a power liftgate, which is old news in this segment. Hands-free access on the Explorer, Santa Fe, Sorento and Pathfinder, however, allows users with a handful of groceries to open the rear liftgate by simply motioning at the rear of the vehicle or standing in the back with the key fob in hand.


Android Auto and Apple CarPlay: Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are the two easiest and most seamless ways to integrate a smartphone into your car, and the Explorer, Acadia, Santa Fe and Sorento camed equipped with both. These integrations mirror many of your phone’s main functions, including phone, text, music and streaming audio apps into the multimedia screens of each SUV.

Multiview backup camera: Like the hands-free power liftgate, there’s a high-tech twist to the traditional standard backup camera in a few of these SUVs: The Santa Fe and Pathfinder create a top-down view of the SUV through a collection of camera lenses placed around the vehicle that provides a 360-degree look around the vehicle for parking and low-speed maneuvers. After using one of these, you don’t want to go back to the old-school single-view backup camera. 

Wi-Fi hot spot: In-car wireless internet is still a budding technology that the Durango and Acadia include. Both have a built-in cellular data plan that powers an in-car Wi-Fi hot spot and in-car applications; after a free trial, both are subscription-based services. With the hot spot, multiple devices can be connected to the internet and provide in-car entertainment to tablets and other devices that may not have their own dedicated cellular plan. The difference between the two SUVs is that the Durango uses an older 3G connection while the Acadia has the most current 4G data connection capable of faster speeds.


Forward collision warning with automatic braking: Half of the SUVs were equipped with forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking that automatically applies the brakes when the system senses a forward collision is imminent. The Pilot, Santa Fe, Sorento and CX-9 included the feature.

Adaptive cruise control: Adaptive cruise control maintains a safe distance while following another vehicle and adjusts accordingly to slow or speed up to maintain the set speed. If the vehicle ahead of you slows, a car with adaptive cruise control automatically slows to keep pace. ACC systems often use the same systems that detect a collision with automatic braking, so it’s no surprise that the vehicles with forward collision warning are also the ones with adaptive cruise control: Pilot, Santa Fe, Sorento and CX-9.

Lane keep assist: The Pilot and CX-9 both include systems that sense when the SUV is leaving its lane and apply corrective efforts to keep the vehicle in its intended lane. This differs from a lane departure warning system (without lane keep assist) that only notifies the driver of a lane departure and doesn’t course correct.

Most Features for the Money

The Santa Fe Limited Ultimate in our comparison certainly checked a hefty number of boxes at its as-tested price of $43,160. While it didn’t have everything, such as AWD or more than two USB ports, the inclusion of forward collision warning with automatic braking, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a 360-degree camera, hands-free power liftgate, captain’s chairs and more put the Santa Fe in serious bargain territory. See how well the Santa Fe performed in’s Three-Row SUV Challenge 2016 here.

Latest expert reviews