Need a few more seating spaces but have some challenging budget constraints? Pick your vehicle carefully, and you won't have pay much more at all.
For under $30k there are many vehicle choices with a third row, but you even have a number of choices for less than $25k—or even, in a couple of cases, less than $20k.
Remember, in any case, when you're cross-shopping vehicles with third rows, pay attention to how easily you can fold the seats, how much reach is required to fold them, and how flat they fold, of course in addition to how well passengers fit back there and how easily they can wedge themselves in. And if it's for the little ones, make sure there are enough LATCH connectors, in the proper places, for your child seats and that they properly fit.
No longer does the requirement for three rows mean you're stuck getting either a van or minivan of some type or a trucky Suburban. While there's not likely to be a three-row pickup or sports car any time soon—and no sedan has emerged yet with three rows (we're still wondering about the three-row Tesla Model S prototype), you sure have a lot of choices, including crossover utility vehicles and other cars that bridge the gap between vans and wagons.
While most of the vehicles on this list aren't eye candy, they take care of the practical needs of a growing family—or a parent who has to do occasional carpool or soccer-team duty—on a budget. And as an added bonus, several of them have economical four-cylinder powertrains.
In addition to the following, the 2010 Dodge Journey and Mitsubishi Outlander were close behind. Both of them can be had for less than $25k in five-passenger form but top the limit when you add the third row. On the other hand, with most vehicles on the market quite heavily discounted nowadays, you're likely to find final prices well under MSRP on any of these models.
For reference, we've listed MSRPs for each of the models, including destination charges, along with Overall Ratings and Bottom Line summaries from our companion site The Car Connection.
2010 Dodge Grand Caravan
Dodge Grand Caravan
TCC's Overall Rating: 8.2
TCC's Bottom Line: The 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan puts its money on its flexible interior and entertaining features, but its performance is matched and styling bettered by newer competition.
Price: $23,995 (SE)
Even the base SE model of the 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan comes with Stow 'n' Go seats, combining a fold-flat second row with a third row that folds completely flat into the floor. While the Grand Caravan was redesigned for 2008—with its exterior and interior details becoming a little chunkier and boxier, Dodge's minivan hasn't become any more fashionable or sporty over the years. But it's still one of the top choices for those who want to keep the kids happy on a tight budget. And, if you have a little more to spend, there are options on the Grand that aren't always offered on minivans, like backseat TV, second-row heated seats, and a socially conducive Swivel 'n' Go system.
2010 Toyota RAV4
TCC's Overall Rating: 7.4
TCC's Bottom Line: Though it might wear a spare tire on its tail like the hard-core SUVs of yore, don't let that throw you off. The 2010 Toyota RAV4 is actually a practical, fuel-efficient choice for frugal families on the go.
Price: $23,535 (4-cyl. base with option)
Even in base four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive form the 2010 RAV4 is available with a third-row seat option for just $940 extra. You probably wouldn't expect it to be very roomy, but it's actually not so bad for occasional use. The four-cylinder RAV4 is also great on gas and is remarkably refined and comfortable, while being manageably sized for city-dwellers.
2009 Kia Rondo
TCC's Overall Rating: 7.4
TCC's Bottom Line: You likely won’t be drawn to the 2010 Kia Rondo because of its looks, but you’re likely to see it in a different light if you do your research first.
Price: $19,795 (2009)
The Rondo probably isn't a vehicle you're going to fall in love with at first sight. It doesn't look like a minivan, which a lot of moms and pops are going to love, though from the outside it's either an especially homely-looking crossover, or an oddly tall wagon. But it's a vehicle that makes sense from the inside out: Take a look inside, especially when you're craving practicality, and you'll be hooked. The Kia Rondo has hinged rear doors, which make it easier to get into in a driveway but more difficult than a minivan—or the Mazda5—in a tight parking space.
2010 Mazda Mazda5
TCC's Overall Rating: 7.2
TCC's Bottom Line: For families looking for fuel-efficient, maneuverable, and roomy transportation—with a fun-to-drive feel—the 2010 Mazda5 is your best and only choice.
Although the 2010 Mazda5 has one of the lower Overall Ratings of these five budget-priced third-row vehicles, it has a lot going for it. If the editors of High Gear Media could pick one vehicle of this lot, it would likely be the Mazda5, which has excellent handling, a responsive small-car feel, and excellent sliding side doors that open easily without power assistance. You can even fit six adults in a pinch. And did we say it's the only one in this group that offers a manual transmission?
2010 Kia Sedona
TCC's Overall Rating: 7.2
TCC's Bottom Line: The 2010 Kia Sedona is one of the most affordable minivans, but most practically minded families won't know the difference.
Price: $24,990 for LWB, $22,990 for SWB
The 2010 Kia Sedona is offered in two lengths—including a short-wheelbase (SWB) model that stickers at less than $23k and a long-wheelbase (LWB) model that sells for less than $25k. Between the two, unless you have some very tight parking-space requirements, we'd recommend the LWB model as you get a superior third row arrangement that folds flat into the floor. Otherwise, the Sedona is an aging design relative to more modern rivals like the new 2011 Toyota Sienna and of course the Dodge Grand Caravan, but pragmatists won't mind.