Often when you need to carry around a few people it’s out of necessity rather than just wanting to have a few more bodies in the car with you. That being the case, it’s usually on a budget.
We understand that folks want to find the cheapest third row SUV available, which is why SUV Authority is here to help. We’re talking new models in this article because while there is a plethora of used three-row SUVs and crossovers on the market, we road-test new vehicles and give advice on which is best, as you can see from our SUV reviews page.
There are a few things to note, as well. As a rule, the cheaper the vehicle, the smaller it is. This makes sense when you think about it. Imagine the amount of metal going into a vehicle – that’s going to cost a pretty penny.
It’s the same reason why tiny hatchbacks are cheaper than massive saloons – more materials, more money. This means that the cheapest new third row SUV isn’t going to be a full-size truck.
Instead, most of the cheapest third row SUVs you’ll find are in fact crossovers rather than dedicated off-road machines. The other thing to note is that because these are crossovers, the cheapest configuration is front-wheel-drive, rather than all-wheel-drive.
Again, it makes sense that a vehicle with front-wheel-drive which only has one set of driveshafts is cheaper than one that has several sets as well as an extra differential at the back. Plus there are extra computers, clutches and all sorts of bits and pieces to help power to be sent to the back wheels. That all costs money.
2018’s cheapest 3rd row SUVs
- Land Rover Discovery Sport – $44,795
- Buick Enclave – $40,000
- Ford Explorer – $32,140
- Mazda CX-9 – $32,130
- Subaru Ascent – $31,995
- Toyota Highlander – $31,230
- Nissan Pathfinder – $31,040
- Dodge Durango – $30,990
- Honda Pilot – $30,900
- Hyundai Santa Fe – $30,850
- Volkswagen Atlas – $30,750
- Ford Flex – $30,285
- Chevrolet Traverse – $29,930
- Kia Sorento – $29,600
- GMC Acadia – $29,000
- Volkswagen Tiguan – $24,595
- Mitsubishi Outlander – $23,945
- Dodge Journey – $22,995
You’ll need to bear in mind that although the prices above are the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), it may well cost a bit more than that once you’ve driven out the door. However, it’s a good comparison between models so you can determine which vehicle will suit your budget.
So, let’s have a look at some of these vehicles in a little more detail.
Land Rover Discovery Sport
Sure, it’s not the cheapest in this lot, but which of these crossovers offers more offroad ability than the Disco Sport?
Its stability control and short overhangs mean it’s able to climb up hills that would leave the others languishing, or at least grounded over a rock.
There may be a question mark over its reliability, being a Land Rover, but if you want to get away every now and then and you need the third row occasionally, there aren’t too many better machines.
With its punchy 3.6-litre V6 engine, the Enclave can get up and go, but there’s also the interior flexibility of being able to have five or seven seats. There are also a lot of little hidden storage spaces around the cabin – finding them is half the fun.
Buick also offers an amazing array of active safety tech, so you can be sure that if you’re carrying seven people, you’re looking after them all.
We’re big fans of the Explorer thanks to its styling, technology and engine choices. While the base model’s V6 can be a little old-hat, if you spend a little more, you can get two of the best engines Ford makes today.
Its EcoBoost V6 engine is also a work of art, delivering diesel-like performance from a turbocharged gasoline engine, and the four-cylinder turbo is pretty good, too (it’s the same engine as found in the Mustang).
But the Explorer’s massive interior space makes it one of the best value vehicles for anyone looking for three rows. There’s also an optional PowerFold third-row seat which folds flat just by pressing a button.
This Japanese-built seven-seat SUV is one of our favourites. Not just because it will take seven adults (rather than just tiny kids in the third row) but its interior quality is just so far above anything else in this price range.
The materials used rival German manufacturers, and we’ve declared that it’s like a cut-price Audi Q7. You can read our review here.
Its ride is excellent, the engine has plenty of power and the whole package is really worth taking a closer look at.
While a lot of folks have been wondering if the Outback comes with third-row seating, the only true seven-seat vehicle that Subaru offers today is the Ascent.
And with features like captain’s chairs, a 5000 lbs towing ability, in-built Wi-Fi and four levels of trims, the Ascent’s family and lifestyle focus is obvious.
But the real trick is that the Ascent comes in both seven and eight seat configurations – something that’s not very common these days.
The Highlander is also known as the Kluger in some markets, but regardless of what it’s called, this crossover is one of the most reliable machines you’ll ever come across.
With Toyota’s bulletproof V6, and a platform similar to a Camry, there are plenty of aspects that could be considered a bit bland. But fire up that engine on the onramp to a freeway and there’s nothing boring about it.
It’s not the most spacious seven-seater around, but it’s never going to let you down, which is a huge consideration for families.
This Nissan is another vehicle we’re quite happy to drive around in when offered. You can check out our road test and review at this link, but if you want the short version, it’s this – plenty of space, great ride, good power and lots of practicality.
It’s an easy car to drive, despite its overall size, and even if you get the front-wheel-drive version, you won’t care. The stereo is excellent and again, the whole package is nicely resolved.
If the Durango looks familiar, that’s because it is. In fact, it’s a rebadged Jeep Grand Cherokee. Okay, it’s a little different. But it’s certainly based on the same platform and uses the same powertrains.
The main difference, of course, between the Jeep and the Dodge is that the Dodge is available as a seven-seat SUV, while the Grand Cherokee is only a five-seat vehicle.
There’s plenty of scope for heading offroad in the Durango as well. Just let the tyres down a little and you’re good to go.
Like Toyota, Honda trades on its reputation for being reliable and the Pilot is no exception. However, despite being a midsize SUV, like the Ascent it’s also an eight-seat vehicle.
Honda’s excellent 3.5-litre V6 makes the Pilot effortless on the road and while the third row can be a bit of a squeeze for taller folk, those with young and growing families will surely appreciate being able to carry everyone together.
Hyundai Santa Fe
The redesigned 2019 model is a true class act. With quality that will make you question whether it is indeed a Hyundai, the new Santa Fe’s interior presentation is right up there with the best.
Mazda certainly leads this field, but there’s no denying that Hyundai is right on its tail and ready to overtake.
The third row is still lacking in enough headroom for adults and the extra weight hurts its off-road performance, but as a piece of transport that can occasionally go onto the beach, it’s well worth a close look.
Veedub is on a roll, despite its issues overseas with diesel engines, and the Atlas is evidence of a company that’s building vehicles that people want.
With classically classy build quality, excellent plastics choices and heaps of space, the Atlas is a midsize crossover that offers a lot of flexibility. Its engine is probably a little underdone in such a large vehicle, especially when all loaded up, but there’s no denying how smooth it is.
And for those that don’t want a seven seat option, there’s a five seat version coming.
The reason the Flex is one of the cheaper vehicles in our list is that it’s been around since 2009 and there hasn’t really been much done to update it. Sure, there are a few tweaks here and there, but it’s effectively the same SUV as we’ve seen for many years.
But that makes it good value. People aren’t going to pay for old-hat vehicles, so you can get it quite cheaply. Its square shape makes it very practical and there’s enough grunt from the 3.5-liter V6.
Can you traverse in a Traverse? Most certainly. Ahem, sorry, we couldn’t help it.
This is one of the smaller seven-seaters, but we think that buyers looking at one closely probably won’t mind. You will probably see some reviews pop up with this vehicle also being called the Equinox – don’t worry, it’s the same thing.
The infotainment system is very easy to use, the ride is very smooth and the space for rows one and tow is very good indeed. We would like to see a bit more power, though.
Like the Santa Fe, the Kia Sorento, which runs on the same platform and shares powertrains, has a good blend of space and driveability.
It’s a nice size to be able to thread through city streets, but still has plenty of scope to get off the beaten track when required. Check out our review of the Sorento here, but it’s important to note that if you want the smoothest ride, you need to go for the base model.
It has the smallest wheels and therefore is the most supple. But with the Santa Fe being newer, it has the edge on quality. Still, the Sorento is cheaper.
The Acadia is an interesting one. It’s pitched at those who want something a little more modern and edgy, but its interior isn’t quite up to the quality of other vehicles, so as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.
It shares its 3.6-litre V6 with the Enclave mentioned above, however, the cheapest version comes with a four-cylinder which isn’t quite enough to motivate the Acadia properly.
Like the Traverse, the infotainment system is one of the best to come to grips with, and that third row is just big enough for most people.
We’ve included the Tiguan but there’s a caveat. We’re talking about the Tiguan Allspace, which has the extra two seats in the longer back end.
Like most VWs, the Tiguan’s build and driving manners are en pointe, and the space in the second row is also excellent. But it’s the way it handles that really makes the Tiguan stand out.
And forget any notion that the Tiguan is still a dowdy machine. It has a lot of tech, looks great and feels good from behind the wheel.
Like the Ford Flex, there’s a reason the Outlander is cheap – it’s old. No matter how many updates have been done to it, it’s still the same basic machine and the interior has hardly shifted forward over the years.
But it’s good, honest transport and a cheap way to get a seven seat SUV. And if you go for an AWD version, you can actually head offroad more than you’d expect to be able to.
The tagline of the review by Car and Driver says it all – “Tolerably practical, practically tolerable”.
It’s a seven-seater that’s both cheap and accessible, but its reason for still hanging around is purely a numbers game. Dodge is making good money off of the Journey because the company hasn’t had to do much to it.
One of its saving graces (which is both a blessing and a curse) is that it still uses hydraulic steering. This hurts you at the fuel bowser, but it relays good feedback which can’t be said of many of the newer vehicles listed above.
Which should you choose?
Both Kia and Hyundai have excellent warranties and Toyota’s reputation for building a rock-solid vehicle is also well deserved.
The Buick is a bit of a left-field choice but its styling and active safety tech mean it’s another good one to have on your shopping list.
The above are base models, so if your budget allows for it, you can always add leather seating and other options to help it feel a bit more premium.
It’s worth noting that these SUVs certainly aren’t spacious with all three rows in place. In fact, adults may struggle to get into the back of some of these vehicles. In the case of the Land Rover Discovery Sport, it’s classed as a 5+2 seater.
What does 5+2 mean in a seven-seat vehicle?
Any time you see a “+2” description, it means the seats are what’s called “occasional seats”. It points to the fact that you don’t really want to be sitting in them for a long period, even if you’re a kid. You’ll often see sports cars advertised as 2+2, which means it’s basically a two-seater with two tiny little (barely usable) chairs in the back.
Of course, heading into the used car market and your options open up somewhat. Even a demonstrator model from late last year will be a good option, so if you must have something bigger, then go for the latest you can find, preferably with warranty. Just check that the warranty is transferable to a new owner.