Best family SUV with 3rd row

2018 Ford Expedition Media Drive

Is your family growing? Do you need a new SUV? If you need one with a third row, there are plenty of choices – narrowing them down is going to be the issue.

After test driving and loading up plenty of three row SUVs, and loading them up with a family, we’ve come down to the best choice in a very crowded marketplace.

The 2018 Ford Expedition gives you the best space, power and practicality for the price, with full size seating in all three rows, but without the price tag of a Land Rover Discovery. It also looks a lot cooler than an MPV, and still has room in the trunk when all three rows are being used.

Now, before you start thinking this is an ad for Ford, it’s not. If it was, I’d be sipping on Pina Coladas in the Bahamas somewhere enjoying the spoils from my recommendation. But this comes from lots of driving and plenty of research. We’re not affiliated with any car companies or any dealerships.

So, now that we have that out of the way, here’s why we say that the Expedition is the one to go for.

You don’t need a V8

The Lincoln Navigator and the Ford Expedition are basically the same car. Lincoln, of course, is Ford’s luxury arm, so it makes sense that the Navigator offers plenty of power. But the best part is the Expedition gets the same engine.

It’s a twin-turbo V6 that makes a very healthy 375hp and 470 lb-ft, which is plenty in this day and age. Sure, you can buy a Chevy Tahoe or Toyota Sequioa and they have V8 engines, but the difference is those tiny little fans known as turbochargers are going to keep your fuel use down when you’re not blasting around the ‘burbs. They give you V8-like power from a smaller engine – win, win.

Also helping to keep fuel use down is theĀ 10-speed automatic, which makes sure that the engine is always in the right gear for the circumstances. If you need more power, it can drop down a couple of ratios. If you can utilise the engine’s low-end torque, it will shift up for you. But it always tries to keep things as efficient as possible.

There’s also stop-start tech which stops the engine when you’re sitting at a set of lights. No need to be idling when you don’t have to. And don’t worry – it will restart as soon as you take your foot off the brake.

When you have a family, keeping your fuel use low is going to help keep money in your pocket. And that’s the real end goal.



It’s easy to get in and out of

Sure, the Expedition is a big car. But because it’s big, the doors open wide, and that means it’s simple to get in and out of.

When you’re trying to fit a baby seat, or you’re trying to get the kids into one, having a bit of space is definitely preferable to being contorted into a small space – not every parent is a yoga instructor.

Parts are available

Sure, no one likes it if a vehicle breaks down, and in this day and age it just shouldn’t happen to a new car. But let’s face it, things do go wrong occasionally. And when they do, you want to know you’ll be back on the road quickly.

Ford’s extensive network of dealerships means service centres are everywhere, and on the odd occasion something does go wrong, parts are easy to get hold of.

See, it’s all well and good to have a nice exotic machine – a Bentley Bentayga would be lovely, right? – but when something happens and an alternator fails, or you need a new wheel for some reason, having to wait weeks for a part to arrive is a nuisance. And sometimes those parts can’t be shipped by air, they have to be literally shipped across the ocean, meaning a lot more time without your car. Not good.

Go with a known brand and one that can look after you while your car’s under warranty. And some dealers even have loan cars, so you won’t be without transport.

There’s space aplenty

Having three rows is excellent, but those three rows have to be usable. Picture the poor owners of a seven-seat Nissan Rogue or a Discovery Sport trying to wedge kids in the back. Worse than that, imagine them trying to cram adults into the back as well.

You need proper space to be able to feel like you’re a genuine part of the family, not just a third cousin twice removed. People always want to ride up front because there’s the most space, right? Well, in the Expedition, there’s actually space that adults can use in the first, second and third rows.

According to Ford’s website, it claims that “The 2018 Expedition has more hip room in the first and second rows than the Tahoe and Yukon as well as best-in-class second- and third-row leg room.” Thing is, it actually does live up to the claim.

It’s not a bad looking SUV

There are plenty of ugly machines on the market, but the Expedition isn’t one of them. It has a decent front end, a practical back and it doesn’t look out of proportion. As we mentioned before, it’s the same vehicle effectively as the Lincoln Navigator. And while the big Linc is the better looking of the two, the Expedition certainly isn’t ugly.

The price isn’t too bad

Sure, it’s not the cheapest machine on the market if you buy it brand new, but at $51,790, there’s a lot of metal on offer. And if you go second hand, then there’s plenty of bargains to be had. If you do decide to buy second hand, make sure you get something that still has warranty – you can never be too careful.

Owners love them and hang onto them

There was a recent study done by used car search site iSeeCars, which determined how long people held onto their cars for. And guess which model topped this list? Yes, you guessed it – the Ford Expedition.

According to the study, an owner would typically hold onto their Expedition for nine years on average, suggesting that this big family truck sees them through the years of growth in the family and is only moved on once the family has outgrown the vehicle or they don’t need quite as much space anymore.

But I don’t want an Expedition

It’s a good thing that there are plenty of choices on the market, then. We’ve just outlined why we think the Expedition is the best choice for a family needing an SUV with a third row, however there are plenty of other three row SUVs around.

These are some good options:

  • 2018 Chevrolet Tahoe
  • 2018 GMC Yukon
  • 2018 Nissan Armada
  • 2018 Infiniti QX80
  • 2018 Chevrolet Suburban
  • 2018 Toyota Sequoia

Interestingly, according to the study we mentioned before, the Sequoia had owners hanging onto theirs for an average of 8.9 years and the Suburban was 8.4 years.

Each of the above machines has decently sized third rows, plenty of luggage space and they drive very similarly. That said, the fuel use is a bit higher, and there certainly isn’t quite as much room for third row passengers.

Still, with plenty of choices out there, you’re bound to find one that suits your needs and budget.

But what about if you have three car seats? Are there any options?

The best SUV for 3 car seats: Family trucking

Fitting one baby seat to a car is fairly straight forward, because you can access it from both sides. Fitting two is a little harder, and it’s a bit squishy in the middle if you have to take some others along.

But fitting three car seats? Well, that’s where things get interesting. If you don’t have the width, you’re just not going to fit all three across the back row.

And even if you only have to fit two and put one in the third row, is there an Isofix mount or top tether anchor point back there?

To have three young children is a battle in itself, but now the real mission is the find something that will fit everyone in.

MPV or SUV?

Sure, you could have a people mover like the Kia Carnival – and actually, there’s nothing wrong with that – but most people are happier to settle on an SUV or a big crossover.

Check out several internet forums on the same topic and even if an MPV is suggested, it’s an SUV that they want. And really, who can blame them?

With a lifted ride height, it’s often easier on the back when lifting the kids in. And even more so when there are three.

Putting the outer two kids in their seats is clearly easier when the car is taller, but leaning in with the middle child (not age, location of course) is much better for the back.

Land Rover Discovery 4 second row seats

Seating issues

The trick here is to find vehicles that are not only wide enough, but also can accommodate the child seat bases.

What’s needed are seat squabs that are flat enough. If they’re too shapely, or the bolstering is too high, the child seat won’t sit flat and can rock around – not safe for the little ones.

Of course, this is going to depend on the kind of baby seat you buy, as some are wider than others, but as a general rule, the flatter the second row of seats, the better.

Keeping it safe

There are also factors like whether the car has Isofix points in all three back seats, or if they use top tether anchor points.

If you’d like to know more about these fixing methods, here’s a great article on ChildCarSeats.org.uk, which outlines the difference between how all the seat mounts work.

In addition, here’s a good video from Australia outlining the differences between top tether and Isofix and why the latter is far superior. You’ll note in the video how much simpler it is to fit an Isofix child seat.

This is crucial because if a child seat is installed incorrectly, it can make the difference between life and death.

Where to put the child seats

In fact, at this point we should take the chance to have a chat about seating positions. In this article, we’re assuming you’re after three car seats next to each other.

However, some folks will want (or need) to separate their kids, so if you have three child seats, then you may need to have a seven seat SUV.

2018 Lincoln Navigator

Outboard seats in the second row, one kid in the third row, and then one of the third row seats folded down. Sounds like a reasonable setup. But you have to think about all the stuff you’ll be carrying around with you.

Three kids in three child seats means three lots of food, diapers and maybe even prams. And fitting all that behind the third row can be a bit difficult. Even with one of the third row seats down, there still may not be enough room.

So, having a large luggage space and three across the second row could be a more reasonable way to go.

Depending on where you want the kids to be seated will also determine what kind of vehicle you’ll buy. For example, the Mitsubishi Pajero, despite being a reliable machine that is very good off road, doesn’t have a split third row. That means that you can’t have six seats as the third row is a bench. You can only have it in five seat or seven seat configuration.

A lot of other SUVs can fold down just one seat in the third row, so you can see how much more flexible they will be when it comes to carrying several passengers or car seats.

Check that the third row is also fitted with Isofix or top tether anchor points as a lot of vehicles can’t take a child seat in the third row, limiting their usability.

2018 Infiniti QX80 rolling shot

The best SUVs for three car seats

We’ve included seven seat SUVs in our list below, due to the fact they normally have large back ends, which is perfect for carrying two or three prams.

  • Land Rover Discovery (2016 and earlier)
  • Toyota LandCruiser
  • Infiniti QX80
  • Nissan Armada/Patrol
  • Lincoln Navigator
  • Volkswagen Atlas

You may notice that we’ve included an older model of vehicle, the Land Rover Discovery 4 (pictured at the top). That’s because, out of all the vehicles listed above, it’s probably the cheapest, being second hand, but also has one of the widest interiors compared with its exterior.

Sure, the Nissan Armada is wider overall, but it is a big machine. Parking it isn’t as easy as the Disco 4. But Land Rover’s reliability is a bit questionable.

The Atlas is a great choice, and one that is worth looking at closely, however if you don’t live in the US, you’ll struggle to find them.

If you’ve got the room in your garage, however, the Nissan or the Toyota would both be machines that will treat you well over many years.

And that’s what you need when you have three or more kids – a reliable machine that doesn’t let you down. After all, you don’t want to be thinking about a car. You need as much mental space to look after the children as possible.

So tell us, which of the above vehicles you are leaning towards? And if you’ve test driven any of them, which do you prefer. Let us know in the comments below.

About Karl Peskett 414 Articles
A passionate writer, editor and driver, Karl is the go-to man when it comes to four wheels. With stints in television, radio, print and online, Karl has been writing about cars for more than a decade. He drives around 100 vehicles every year and has tested everything from Bugattis to Suzukis. Sometimes on track, sometimes off-road, his focus is on producing objective journalism without fear or favour.

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