Towing, hauling, and people carrying are what SUVs are built for. We give you the rundown of the best 3rd-Row SUVs for under $15,000.
So, you’ve got the kids and the dog and a whole heap of stuff to schlep all the way upstate for a visit to grandmama’s house. The only question is, what vehicle do you choose when you need it to haul and carry like a champ and do it while contending surefootedly with rain, sleet, and/or snow? Why a three row SUV of course. Americans love their 3rd-row SUVs, and their mix of rugged brute force and practical versatility is why.
Below we run down the best 3rd-row SUVs for under $15,000. The good news is when buying a hefty used SUV, these vehicles average better reliability and durability than just about any other segment. Unlike, say, your used luxury car, which might end up needing more than it’s share of repairs down the line, these vehicles below tend to be much less of a hassle to maintain.
The third-generation Kia Sorento has a lot going for it. It got high marks for safety from both the IIHS and NHTSA, the latter of which gave the Sorento a five out of five. Starting in 2016, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto became available options. You’ll also have your pick of three engines, a 185hp 4-cylinder, 240hp turbo-4, or a 290hp V6, any of which are paired with a 6-speed automatic. The Sorento comes up a bit short on cargo room compared to some rivals, with a maximum of 73 cu. ft., which is more comparable to other compact crossovers but short of many other 3rd-row options. With that said, we find the Sorento to be one of the best-looking vehicles on the list. The 3rd-gen styling, rounded out with Kia’s tiger nose grille, gives the Sorento an aggressive look to match it’s better than average handling.
The Toyota 4Runner is best known for its rugged 4×4 capabilities, which make it the go-to for those wanting both an available third row and respectable off-road chops. The popularity, reliability, and durability of the 4Runner is why we have to go all the way back to 2009 to fit our price range of $15,000. Folks like their 4Runners and are loath to part with them, even after a decade of use. The available V8 engine grants the 4Runner an impressive tow rating of over 7,300lbs. If you’re serious about off-roading your 4Runner, look out for the Trail Addition version which upgrades those capabilities.
The Buick Enclave received a redesign in 2013 which gave it a new “waterfall” chrome grille, LED running, fog, and taillights. It also received a new dash, as well as wood and chrome accenting. The Enclave is powered by 3.6-liter V6 6-speed producing 275hp and 288 lb.-ft. of torque. Buick’s consistent reliability and excellent safety scores make the Enclave a perfect choice for a 3rd-row SUV.
In a segment known for its practicality, the Chevrolet Traverse is a stand-out. That’s because the Traverse performs at or near to top of the segment in a number of categories. Take the outstanding reliability or the quiet and comfortable ride. Consider too the 5,200lbs. of max towing capacity or the near minivan-like cargo hold which affords 24.4 cu. ft. behind the third-row, 70.3 behind the second, and a whopping 116.3 cu. ft. at maximum. The Traverse received a face-lift in 2013, giving it a new grille, liftgate, and taillights. The 2014 version also added new safety features like forward collision warning and lane departure warning. All of this is combined with cozy interior decked out with quality soft-touch materials.
The OG of SUVs, the Ford Explorer has come a long way. The earliest version was known for its top-heavy and wonky handling. But, by the fifth generation, the Explorer was transformed into one of the safest and most nimble of 3rd-row options around. Improvements in handling were only the beginning as the interior of the 5th-gen Explorer is notable for its modern design and quality trimming. If you’re looking for better than average fuel economy in this segment, the Explorer’s turbo 4-cylinder is the ticket, with an impressive 20 city and 28 highway mpg rating.
The excellently appointed GMC Acadia earns its spot on our list with an impressive line-up of features. First among them is the available bench seat for the second row, meaning the Acadia can accommodate up to eight passengers if need be. Upgrades on the Acadia include a 10-speaker premium Bose stereo, rear seat entertainment, dual panel sunroof, and navigation. The Acadia also boasts excellent safety scores complimented by forward collision alert, blind spot monitoring, and lane departure warning. The Acadia comes equipped with a V6 engine producing 288hp and netting 17city/24hwy for mpg.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is an exceptional option in the 3rd-row category. It’s upscale interior, generous cargo (13.5 cu. ft.,40.9 cu. ft., and 80 cu. ft. max), and sporty handling have made it a family favorite. Though there are options for four-cylinder engines in the Santa Fe, when going for three rows you’ll be looking a 290hp V6 engine that provides ample acceleration. Blind spot monitoring is available, as well as parking assist, cooled front seats, and memory driver’s seat come as part of the technology package.
The Ford Flex’s name is a bit of a misnomer. It doesn’t run on E85 ethanol blended “flex fuel” nor is it a hybrid. What it does have is an option for Ford’s V6 EcoBoost engines that, while it only gets a pretty average 17/24 mpg, lends a pleasant punch to the Flex’s acceleration. That snappiness will also push you back into some of the comfiest seats on this list. The rest of the Flex is just as accommodating for passengers, with decent room for full-sized adults even in the third row, thanks to the verticality of the Flex’s signature boxy design.
The Toyota Highlander has been a strong player among 3rd-row SUVs for two decades, and with good reason. A comfortable ride and a quality interior (including options for leather seats and leather wrapped steering wheel) make the Highlander an excellent longer-term vehicle. In fact, the Highlander is one of the vehicles owners are most likely to keep for over ten years. That shouldn’t be too surprising given Toyota’s sterling record on reliability. In addition to the inline-4 and V6, the Highlander is the only entrant on the list to offer a hybrid option. Highlander is about average in terms of cargo capacity with a max of 95.4 cu. ft. and a max tow rating of 5,000lbs.
Mazda’s always been known for producing fun, well-balanced vehicles, and their SUV offerings have consistently provided engaging driving experiences in a segment where that is a rarity. Their largest, the CX-9, got a (much needed) styling refresh in 2013, updating the grille, headlights, and vents. And while it looks good, it’s the peppy V6 engine and agile handling that allow the CX-9 to transcend its ho-hum interior and smaller than average cargo room. If a boring drive is what’s holding you back from a 3rd-row SUV, the Mazda CX-9 will quickly alleviate your anxieties.