Are you a mom on the school run or a dad who must pick up your kids and their friends from sports practice, but you’re at a loss to find the best car for the job? Maybe you happened to read that Lincoln Aviator review and you’re mightily impressed with the car’s kid-friendly features and huge cargo space. But the Aviator is a mid-size SUV and you don’t know whether it’s the right size – or even too big – to fit into the odd parking spaces at school, yet you love its elevated ride height and you need a three-row SUV with seven seats… So, which one should you get?
SUVs can roughly be divided into three categories, namely compact crossover SUVs, mid-size SUVs such as the Lincoln Aviator previously mentioned, and full-size SUVs. The mid-size SUV arguably makes the most sense for the average buyer in the USA, and there are several compelling reasons for it. However, what you choose in the end will depend on what you need, how much you are willing to pay for it, and many other factors. Let’s have a look at each class of SUV, starting with the compact crossover SUV.
The Three Size Classes
Remember that many SUV classes overlap and some models may straddle classes. However, this guide should give you a fair idea of what is available out there.
Compact Crossover SUV
This is the smallest class of SUV available in the US; these vehicles can also be called crossovers because they are half car and half SUV. Many of them are essentially just station-wagon cars with rugged, SUV-like styling and an increased ride height. They deliver excellent miles per gallon, sometimes offer AWD, and they handle and drive like normal cars. They are typically five-seaters, but where three rows are offered, the back seat is small and can usually not accommodate adults – there is very little cargo space with all seats in use, too. They can handle adverse weather conditions and broken tarmac, but shouldn’t be taken on real off-roading tracks.
Advantages of the three-row compact crossover SUV
- Excellent fuel economy
- Small size means easy driving and parking
- Ideal for carpooling or the school run
- Low MSRP
Examples of three-row compact crossover SUVs
- Volkswagen Tiguan
- Tesla Model Y
- Mercedes-Benz GLB
- Mitsubishi Outlander
This is the broadest class and SUVs that fit here can span from affordable 2WD options just above the compact class up to models with powerful engine options and all the hardware to do rather serious off-road work. Their fuel economy is quite a bit worse, but they compensate by providing more space all around, especially in the third row, which can sometimes even accommodate adults. They are great for road trips with the third row folded, offering a huge trunk in a five-seater configuration. They can also tow a lot more – ideal for family vacations.
Advantages of the mid-size three-row SUV
- Biggest choice of models of all the SUV classes
- Reasonable MPG figures
- Massive range of engine and drivetrain configurations available
- Still quite easy to handle and park
- Some can accommodate adults in the third row
Examples of mid-size three-row SUVs
- Audi Q7
- Tesla Model X
- Lincoln Aviator
- Volvo XC90
- Acura MDX
- Lexus GX
- Land Rover Defender 110
Full-size three-row SUV
This class contains all the heavy hitters and the sky is the limit in terms of size, with some offering seating for up to nine people. Space for people and cargo is plentiful and many of these models can go off the beaten track, too. Their gas mileage is generally a little poorer with all that weight to lug around, but with a full complement of passengers and a trailer in tow, they can do the job of two cars, amply compensating for their thirst. They might not be great on the school run, as they require lots of space to park and turn and can be cumbersome to drive.
Advantages of full-size three-row SUVs
- Virtually limitless engine, transmission, and drivetrain choices
- The automatic choice for road trips with lots of people and luggage
- Capable off-road
- Plenty of power and a heavy-duty transmission mean they can haul big loads
Examples of full-size three-row SUVs
- Lincoln Navigator and Navigator L
- Toyota Sequoia
- Cadillac Escalade
- Mercedes-Benz GLS
- Ford Expedition and Expedition Max
The best SUV for parents
If you must have a three-row SUV for hauling children to school, the compact SUV will do a fine job at a low price and with excellent fuel economy. They’re too small for road trips if you have a large family, and a lack of performance counts against many of them. The mid-size SUV is the perfect compromise of a little bit more power, size, and capability, while still being easy to drive and not feeling like a passenger liner to pilot. If your budget stretches this far, it is probably the most versatile SUV around. The full-size class might simply be too excessive for the average parent – and they’re expensive too, when bought new.