Which SUV Has the Best Third-Row Access?

Group_A_02.jpg 2016 Three-Row SUV Challenge | photo by Evan Sears

CARS.COM — An SUV’s third-row seating could easily be called no man’s — and no woman’s — land. This necessary but often cramped space is for kids only, but they still need a way to get back there that doesn’t involve climbing over the seats. During our Three-Row SUV Challenge 2016, we took a closer look at the third-row access for each of our competitors.

We looked at how easily the second row could be manipulated to create a pathway to the third-row seat, kept an eye on just how wide that walkway was and noted step-in height. Parents should also look for a wide enough space that they can climb back there should they need to help little ones get buckled into their booster seats.

Related: Bench Seats Versus Captain’s Chairs

If you can’t find a three-row SUV or you find one where third-row access doesn’t pass muster, consider getting second-row captain’s chairs to create another way to access the third row.

Three-Row SUVs With Second-Row Captain’s Chairs by Model Year

17Dodge_Durango_SO_ES_TRA_anim.gif 2017 Dodge Durango | photo by Evan Sears


2017 Dodge Durango

For multitasking moms and dads, it only takes one hand to flip and fold the Durango’s second-row seats forward. This creates a wide passage to the third row that any child or parent can traverse, making it one of our favorites for easy-to-use third-row access.  

17Ford_Explorer_SO_ES_TRA_anim.gif 2017 Ford Explorer | photo by Evan Sears


2017 Ford Explorer

This SUV’s second-row seat also flips and folds to access third-row seating, but the seat is heavy and it’s a multistep, multilever process. The pathway to the third row, however, is wide, which adults will appreciate if younger children in booster seats are destined for the wayback.

17GMC_Acadia_SO_ES_TRA_Anim.gif 2017 GMC Acadia | photo by Evan Sears


2017 GMC Acadia

The Acadia shrunk more than 7 inches with its redesign, and it shows when it comes to third-row access. The second-row seat cushions fold upward and the whole seat slides forward, but there’s hardly any passageway to the third row. Thankfully, our test car had captain’s chairs — that’s the only way an adult can navigate to the third row in this SUV.

16Honda_Pilot_SO_ES_TRA_anim.gif 2016 Honda Pilot | photo by Evan Sears


2016 Honda Pilot

The Pilot treats families well thanks to its one-touch button on the second-row seats that folds and slides them forward for easy third-row access to third-row seating. The pathway to the third-row seat isn’t the widest, but we were able to negotiate it.

17Hyundai_SantaFe_SO_ES_TRA_Anim.gif 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe | photo by Evan Sears


2017 Hyundai Santa Fe

We had to use a little muscle, but we were able to slide the second-row seat forward with just one hand, creating a narrow path to the third row. Even though our Santa Fe had captain’s chairs, the space between them is a little narrow; it’s doable, but some adults will have to shimmy between the chairs.

17Kia_Sorento_SO_ES_TRA_Anim.gif 2017 Kia Sorento | photo by Evan Sears


2017 Kia Sorento

The Sorento skimps on third-row access, earning it a B in the feature in our Car Seat Check. But like its Hyundai sibling, we were able to fold and slide the second row forward one-handed.

16Mazda_CX-9_SO_ES_TRA_Anim.gif 2016 Mazda CX-9 | photo by Evan Sears


2016 Mazda CX- 9

Space is at a premium in the redesigned CX-9, so we were surprised that this SUV had such a sizable pathway to the third row, though it wasn’t as large as the pathway in the Explorer. The second-row seats fold and slide forward easily.

17Nissan_Pathfinder_SO_ES_TRA_Anim.gif 2017 Nissan Pathfinder | photo by Evan Sears


2017 Nissan Pathfinder

Just pull up on the lever and the redesigned Pathfinder’s second-row seat cushion folds upward while the seat slides to create a wide opening to the third row. The higher step-in height, however, was a negative for our testers.’s Editorial department is your source for automotive news and reviews. In line with’s long-standing ethics policy, editors and reviewers don’t accept gifts or free trips from automakers. The Editorial department is independent of’s advertising, sales and sponsored content departments.

Latest expert reviews