CARS.COM — An important consideration for three-row SUV shoppers is not just how well they fit passengers, but also cargo. Each of the four contenders in Cars.com’s 2017 Three-Row SUV Challenge have folding second-row and third row seats to open up a large cargo area, but some are bigger than others.
The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse has the most maximum cargo capacity on paper; it was the longest SUV in the Challenge by 6 inches (almost a foot longer than the 2017 Toyota Highlander) and the tallest by a slim margin, as well. With these class-leading specs, the Traverse is followed very closely by the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas, with the 2017 Honda Pilot and Highlander bringing up the rear.
Maximum cargo space (cubic feet):
- 2018 Chevrolet Traverse: 98.2
- 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: 96.8
- 2017 Honda Pilot: 83.9
- 2017 Toyota Highlander: 83.7
Cubic Feet Don’t Tell The Whole Story
However, comparing these SUVs just by “maximum cargo capaicty in cubic feet” can be misleading. Cargo specifications are hard to translate into usable real-world cargo space, so we did our own testing with two golf bags and a large, expandable cargo box representing a large flat-screen TV box. Though we laid the cardboard box flat for visualization of the cargo area, general practice for transporting a cardboard box like ours with a flat-screen TV inside is to keep the TV upright.
However, comparing these SUVs just by their cargo specs can be misleading. Cargo specifications are hard to translate into usable real-world cargo space, so we did our own testing with two golf bags and a large, expandable cargo box representing a large flat-screen TV box. Though we laid the cardboard box flat for visualization of the cargo area, general practice for transporting a cardboard box like ours with a flat-screen TV inside is to keep the TV upright.
The two SUVs with the largest rear cargo capacity specifications, the Traverse and Atlas, were the only two able to fit the golf bags side by side behind the rear seat. In the Pilot and Highlander, they had to be stacked on top of each other to get the liftgate to close properly.
Each of the SUVs fit our large cardboard box with the second and third-row seat folded, but the Atlas swallowed it up with the most room to spare. Our expert judges also rated the Atlas the most roomy SUV cargo capacity, followed by the Traverse, Pilot and Highlander.
The Roomiest Three-Row SUV Cargo Area, But Is It the Most Convenient?
Though the Atlas offers a lot of cargo room, it’s missing a hidden storage area like the Traverse and Pilot, and the third-row head restraints do not automatically fold when collapsing the third row, so it’s harder to stow.
Ultimately, the SUV with the best cargo room is the one that fits more of your stuff most conveniently. So, besides the raw cargo space where our judges voted the Atlas best-in-class, there are unique features in each cargo area that may be more desirable depending on how you use the cargo room:
- Hidden storage: The Traverse and Pilot offer storage bins in the rear cargo area that’s an important feature if you’re carrying valuables such as laptops or cameras. As a bonus, the storage cover for the Pilot can also be flipped to a hard-plastic surface that’s easier to clean.
- Cargo cover storage: Each of the SUVs have a retractable cargo cover, but only the Highlander had a place to store it in the vehicle while it wasn’t in use. The other SUVs require you to store it at home or have it loose in the rear cargo area.
- Power outlets: The Traverse and Pilot offer 12- volt power outlets in the rear cargo area. The Atlas has one for third-row passengers, which can be reached with the third row lowered.
- Upholstery protection: The second-row seatbacks in the Traverse and Atlas offer upholstery protection with more durable fabric in the cargo area that extends up to the top of the seats so the seat fabric isn’t exposed. In the Pilot and Highlander, the seat fabric peeks out with the seats folded down, exposing it to potential damage from loading/unloading cargo; the Highlander was already showing signs of wear in that spot.
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