A new school season is here, and that means a new season of after-school carpooling has begun again. Some trucks haul air in Texas, but for those of us hauling kids and their stuff to and from school every day (along with the friends we pick up along the way), the third-row vehicles are almost our only option. And that’s where these newest crossovers and SUVs with third rows come in awfully handy.
I’ve chosen four 2019 third-row vehicles to review, although almost every automaker now has one in their dealer showrooms. Where once if you needed a third row, you had to choose between a minivan or a rough-riding full-size SUV, none of the four vehicles reviewed below check off those boxes. Comfort is always a better option when tackling the ups and downs of growing great people.
The seven-seat Kia Sorento, with a base MSRP of $26,290, is the most affordable of this bunch, and yet there’s a lot to love about this crossover. It’s also the only one that gives you a choice in engines. The base L trim powertrain is a 181 hp, 2.4 liter 4-cylinder mated to a six-speed transmission, delivering MPG estimates of 22 City and 29 Highway. I drove the very much livelier LX V6 trim, which is powered by a 290 hp engine linked to a more responsive eight-speed transmission; this V6 offers EPA estimates of 19 City and 26 Highway. The third-row is only comfortable for smaller children, so don’t plan on taking a whole carload of high schoolers on a long trip. The interior is very quiet with a great audio system, so you can always crank up the music to drown out the kids.
The 2019 Mazda CX-9, with a base MSRP of $32,280, is a very roomy seven-seat crossover that drives smaller than it appears. This is a perfect choice to replace the minivan. Since it drives like a smaller car, I found that parking was super easy – think parallel parking at those baseball games at the schoolyard. My favorite accessory that comes standard is the 3-zone climate control. The AC can be blasting in the back after those weekend games without freezing out the chauffeur. The CX-9 is a sleek large crossover attracting buyers seeking a luxury vehicle without the luxury price tag. Mazda reports the MPG on this one is 20 City/26 Highway. I wasn’t able to get these numbers, but I did get 18 and 24 respectively. However (and this is full disclosure), I have a lead foot and lots of errands.
The 2019 Lexus RX 350L, with a base MSRP of $48,020, is the new extended version of the Lexus crossover mainstay. This remains a true luxury car with a silky-smooth ride, while inside is a tasteful interior of buttery leather and polished wood. It’s the smallest of the three, and the Lexus RX 350L’s third row will only fit two and it’s better suited for smaller children. So, if you’re tired of being the neighborhood chauffeur and ready to treat you and yours to a grown-up car, this is a perfect option. This car comes with the Lexus experience that is worth it when you’re juggling the hectic schedules of family life these days, and is also worth it if you’re not juggling any longer. The MPG is 18 City/25 Highway.
The eight-seat 2019 Ford Expedition, which is the one truck-based SUV in this comparison, comes with a base MSRP of $52,130; it’s the biggest of the lot and can get bigger if you opt for the MAX trim. The Expedition has a third row that can accommodate three adults or full-size teenagers and the MAX trim – which offers an extended wheelbase and overall length – can handle all their gear behind the third row. If you regularly take the team on out-of-town trips, then this is the SUV for you. The peppy 3.5 liter EcoBoost engine can easily handle a full SUV load without straining.
When only a Ford will do, the Expedition says you could drive a truck if you wanted to, but you’re ready for more interior space. When you don’t have the whole team on board, the third row folds down with a touch of a button to give you more cargo space. The MPG on this one is 16 City/21 Highway.
That third row comes in handy when you need it – and when you don’t have it, you miss it. With gas prices so low (for now), that crossover with the extra seating is an easier choice to make than ever before.