If you want to carry your entire family or a big group of friends on a road trip, you’ll need a vehicle with lots of seating and plenty of cargo room. Minivans are typically the go-to choice for carrying seven passengers and their baggage, but they’re dull to look at and equally dull to drive. We prefer the style and sophistication of a three-row crossover or SUV. Unfortunately, in a quest to cram in three rows of seats, many large SUVs have only marginal amounts of cargo room. An Audi Q7 with all three rows of seats occupied has less cargo room than a Ford Fiesta, for instance. That makes little sense given that anyone traveling with seven or eight passengers will probably have a lot of stuff on board, too.
With that in mind, we looked for three-row SUVs that are able to haul lots of people and all of their belongings. These vehicles still have plenty of cargo room even when all three rows of seats are filled with people, meaning you can take six or more of your closest friends without limiting everyone’s suitcase size. Here’s our list of the eleven three-row crossovers and SUVs with the most cargo room.
First Place (tie): Cadillac Escalade ESV, Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon XL, 45.8 cubic feet
It’s hardly surprising that vehicles this large offer lots of interior room. Measuring between 222.4 and 222.9 inches long, these three long-wheelbase SUVs all have the same cargo room because they are essentially the same vehicle. The Escalade ESV and Yukon XL are simply primped and gussied-up versions of the Chevrolet Suburban. Even with the window-dressing, however, all three of these vehicles can haul plenty of people and plenty of cargo. They seat up to eight people and can tow as much as 9400 pounds.
The downside of all that space and capability is fuel economy: not one of these SUVs exceeds 15 mpg in the city or 21 mpg on the highway in EPA testing. The Escalade ESV only has a 403-hp 6.2-liter V-8 engine, earning ratings of 14/18 mpg with rear-wheel drive and 13/18 with all-wheel drive. The Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL are rated for 15/21 mpg with the 310-hp, 5.3-liter V-8, which drops to 12/15 mpg with the optional 352-hp 6.0-liter V-8 engine. The top-spec GMC Yukon XL Denali also can be equipped with the same 6.2-liter engine as the Escalade.
The three big SUVs vary in price based on their relative equipment levels and positioning. The 2013 Chevrolet Suburban is the cheapest at $43,540 after destination, the 2013 GMC Yukon XL starts at $44,900, while the 2012 Cadillac Escalade ESV requires $66,765.
Fourth Place (tie): Ford Expedition EL, Lincoln Navigator L, 42.6 cubic feet
After Ford killed off its gargantuan, gas-swilling Excursion in 2006, the company lengthened an existing model to sate customers who still wanted big SUVs. The Expedition EL launched in 2007 with a wheelbase extended 12 inches compared to the regular Expedition. The stretch necessitated unique body parts for everything behind the B-pillar, including new windows and doors. But the benefit was phenomenal interior room, with 24 cubic feet more cargo room than the regular Expedition. Ford then applied the same transformation to turn the Expedition’s twin, the Lincoln Navigator, spawning the Navigator L.
Both have a 5.4-liter V-8 engine, a six-speed automatic transmission, and a choice between rear- and four-wheel drive. The main differences concern styling and equipment, with the Lincoln positioned as the more luxurious version. It wears 18- or 20-inch polished aluminum wheels, while the Expedition EL has 17-inchers as standard. Goodies like leather seats, power seats, automatic climate control, and a power-folding third row are all standard on the Navigator L but optional on the Ford. As a result of those equipment disparities, there’s a big price gap between the two SUVs. The 2013 Ford Expedition EL costs $43,735 (including destination), while the 2013 Lincoln Navigator L starts at $60,935.
Sixth Place: Chevrolet Traverse, 24.4 cubic feet
The Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, and Buick Enclave are all built on General Motors’ Lambda chassis, but subtle differences between each model mean the three crossovers have varying amounts of luggage room. The Traverse has the most storage space behind the third row, besting the Acadia by 0.3 cubic foot and the Enclave by 1.1 cubic feet. The Chevrolet also is the cheapest of GM’s three-row SUV triplets, starting at just $30,485 (including destination) with front-wheel drive and a 3.6-liter V-6 engine. Despite being the cheapest of its siblings, the Traverse still has a long list of standard equipment like automatic headlights, Satellite radio, cruise control, OnStar, and seating for eight. A seven-seat configuration with second-row captain’s chairs is optional on LS and LT models, and standard on the top-spec LTZ. But the best news of all for thirsty road-trippers is that the Traverse has 12 cupholders.
Seventh Place: GMC Acadia, 24.1 cubic feet
In keeping with the GMC brand’s hard-working stance, the Acadia wears bolder and more truck-like styling than the Traverse and Enclave. That means flared, squared-off fenders and a large, rectangular front grille. A mild update for the 2013 model year brought some revisions to the sheetmetal and interior, as well as more standard equipment. All Acadias now have a backup camera, LED running lights, rear parking sensors, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The presence of those gadgets helps merit the 2013 GMC Acadia’s base price of $34,875 after destination — which rises to $46,770 if buyers select the glitzy Denali. The Denali model’s price reflects the addition of a chrome grille, unique Cocoa Dune leather, panoramic sunroof, 20-inch aluminum wheels, and some other upscale trimmings.
Eighth Place: Buick Enclave, 23.3 cubic feet
The Buick Enclave offers the least cargo space of General Motors’ three Lambda-based crossovers, but its 23.3 cubic feet behind the third row is still more than adequate for a road trip with seven or eight passengers on board. Mechanical differences between the Buick and GMC crossovers are few: both have a 3.6-liter V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission, but the designs and options lists are quite different. The Buick is by far the most luxurious version of these crossover triplets, wearing miles of chrome exterior trim, Buick’s elegant waterfall front grille, and softer lines than the other two models. The equipment list is more generous, too, with goodies like HID headlights, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 18-inch chrome wheels, and power front seats all standard. Like the Traverse and Acadia, the Buick Enclave received a few design tweaks for the 2013 model year.
Ninth Place: Ford Explorer, 21.0 cubic feet
The Explorer nameplate has been a mainstay in Ford’s lineup since the first version launched in 1990. Today’s Explorer is more modern than ever, with a car-based unibody design, a long list of technology, and even a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine. That engine, a 2.0-liter turbo, allows the 2013 Ford Explorer to return 20/28 mpg (city/highway), impressive mileage for a large three-row SUV. On the safety front, the Explorer can be equipped with a Lane-Keeping Assist feature, inflatable rear seatbelts, and a system called Curve Control that automatically applies the brakes if the driver enters a corner too quickly. A feature called PowerFold can electrically fold the third row of seats to create a flat load floor for more storage space. There’s even a new Explorer Sport variant to satisfy lead-foots. It has a twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V-6 with 365 hp, larger brakes, and more chassis braces to improve handling.
Although it’s not as utilitarian as the first truck-based models, the Ford Explorer offers a good blend of passenger and cargo room, and overall performance. The Explorer can seat seven people, tow 5000 pounds, and is offered with all-wheel drive.
Tenth Place (tie): Ford Flex, Nissan Armada, 20.0 cubic feet
These two vehicles may have exactly the same amount of space behind the third row of seats, but they couldn’t be more different. The Ford Flex is a thoroughly modern and stylish crossover, whereas the Nissan Armada is a macho, truck-based SUV. The Flex is one of the most stylish three-row crossovers on the market, although its squared-off design and retro-wagon proportions can be polarizing. Buyers choose between a 287-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 with front- or all-wheel drive, and a twin-turbo 365-hp EcoBoost V-6 that is uniquely paired with all-wheel drive. The Flex can tow up to 4500 pounds, and the options list includes the MyFord Touch infotainment system and inflatable rear seatbelts.
The Nissan Armada, meanwhile, strikes a much more utilitarian pose. Its nose is defined by a large grille flanked by tall headlights. A slight curve in the roofline is meant to break up the boxy design, but overall the Armada has flat sides and a beefy, almost vertical liftgate. The Armada can seat eight if equipped with a second-row bench seat, and can tow up to 9000 pounds depending on configuration. The only engine choice is a beefy but thirsty 317-hp, 5.6-liter V-8 engine. If the Ford Flex is ideal for style-conscious drivers who wouldn’t be caught dead in a dowdy minivan, the Nissan Armada is better suited for drivers who want the capability to tow boats and handle light off-roading — all while carrying several people and their belongings.