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Third Row Seats: The 6 Top-Rated Family Wagons That Have Them

April 8, 2011

If you have more than four in your family, or in your extended family, taking everyone even out across town can get complicated—unless you have a third-row seats.

Getting real capability for six or seven no longer means that you have to settle for a boring van or basic SUV. Today's market offers plenty of excellent third-row-seat choices spanning from value-priced to luxuriously laden—and even sporty, in a few cases—you're far less likely to feel like you had to settle.

Considering Overall Rating numbers from our companion review site The Car Connection, we picked out the six highest-scoring vehicles that also have third-row seats.

Be sure to check The Car Connection for the full reviews, which include a lot more detail on the ins and outs of each, covering categories including styling, performance, comfort, safety, features, and even a green rating. High Gear Media editors at our companion review site The Car Connection haven't only taken these vehicles for drives; in nearly all cases, they've folded down the seats and actually tried out the second and third rows.

Click through the next few pages to see the top-rated third-row SUVs:


2010 Ford Flex

2010 Ford Flex

Ford Flex

Overall Rating: 8.7
From The Third Row: Cavernous, comfortable, and enough space for adults.
Bottom Line: A singular look, along with top-shelf turbo power and features, earns the 2011 Ford Flex our top score among utility vehicles.

If you're the type who's looking for a vehicle with third-row seating, but you can't stomach another minivan, or even another faux-rugged utility vehicle, the Flex should be at the top of your shopping list.

For one, it has a foxy, boxy style like no other—far more charismatic than GM's crossover clones—with rich interior trims and finishes that shame all but pricier Land Rovers in some respects.

The boxiness pays off inside, where the wide, cozy bucket seats in the first and second rows are cosseting—especially the second-row seats with their flip-up footrests. Testers admit that the Flex forgoes some third-row comfort for those amazing second-row thrones, but two adults will still be comfortable enough back there for a long jaunt across town.

In addition, the 2011 Ford Flex rides better than most taller crossovers, and while it could hardly be called sporty—even with the EcoBoost engine upgrade, it has a more stable, planted feel in corners than you'd probably guess.


2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

2009 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Cadillac Escalade Hybrid

Overall Rating: 8.5
From The Third Row: Taller adults might get squished, but oh, you're rolling in a 'Slade.
Bottom Line: The 2011 Cadillac Escalade delivers solid, luxurious, and spacious accommodations with an advanced feature set.

For many of those seduced by the Escalade's uniquely American, 'King of the Road' look and feel, what it comes down to is being able to live with the fuel economy. That's why the Escalade Hybrid—which gets an EPA-rated 20 mpg city, 23 highway, rather than as low as 13/18 for the standard version—makes a lot of sense.

With badging quite small and subtle, the Hybrid powertrain itself is a talking point only when you want it to be, and the rest of the time your passengers—or even you—probably won't even know the difference given the performance of the V-8 and excellent Two Mode hybrid system. Best yet, the Hybrid has the same secure, confident feel as the standard Escalade.

Our only complaints with the Escalade Hybrid models is that they're not offered in the longer ESV form that brings a roomier, easier-to-access third row. And as with GM's other truck-based full-size SUVs including the Chevrolet Tahoe and GMC Yukon, the third-row seats are an old-style design that doesn't fold; rather, they need to be lifted out of the vehicle and, depending on your strength and arm length, it's probably a two-person job.


2011 Lincoln MKT

2011 Lincoln MKT

Lincoln MKT

Overall Rating: 8.5
From The Third Row: Whether it's kids or cranky spouses, the MKT has the luxury goods and entertainment extras to soothe.
Bottom Line: The swinging style sets an audacious mood—and the 2011 Lincoln MKT backs it up with turbo V-6 thrust.

The 2011 Lincoln MKT is based on the same underpinnings as the Ford Flex, but you probably wouldn't know it. With its own stretched-out, broad-shouldered take on the classic long American luxury wagon, the MKT looks like something that might appeal to a modern version of the Mad Men set.

Like the Flex, the MKT has limousine-like comfort for four adults, with four individual buckets plus seating for two more adults in the third row. That rearmost row is also quite easy to get to. With a sweet THX sound system, a huge panoramic sunroof, and available heated-and-cooled seats in the first two rows—plus techy features like active parking assist and adaptive cruise control—the MKT has what it takes to impress a more discerning crowd. There's even an optional fridge that wedges between those middle-row seats.

In fact, it's no mistake that the Lincoln MKT is the heir apparent to the Lincoln Town Car, the longtime mainstay for limousines and executive-car fleets. With that much space on tap, livery companies—along with Ford Motor Co.—can turn this interior into a very special place, if it isn't already.


2010 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class

2010 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class

Mercedes-Benz GL-Class

Overall Rating: 8.5
From The Third Row: It's no rough-and-tumble Gelaendewagen, and we're happy for that.
Bottom Line: A nimble ride and elegant, tough styling help the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class charm the mud right off a Range Rover.

The Mercedes-Benz ML-Class is a pretty handsome, luxurious SUV with impressive performance on- or off-road; but even more impressive is the GL-Class. With just a little more length, it offers a usable third-row seat, and the boxier roofline and more traditional rugged look is altogether more flattering.

While the V-6-powered GL350 is perfectly fine for families who need to watch the bottom line, the GL450 is good for those who just must have a V-8, and there's even a special-lease hybrid version, the GL350 Bluetec is our pick of the lineup. The 50-state-legal clean-diesel engine makes 400 pound-feet of torque, which makes it even better for towing than the V-8 while better-rated at an EPA 17 mpg city, 23 highway.

Overall, the 2011 GL-Class offers lots of truck-caliber performance and space—plus a third row good for adults—without the need to settle for something quite as large as a Navigator or Escalade. "All the way back, the GL shines with a third-row bench that's one of the few in existence with adult-sized room," says companion site The Car Connection in its full review of the GL. And thanks to the tilt-and-flip second row, it's easier to get to the third row than you might think.


2011 Ford Explorer

2011 Ford Explorer

Ford Explorer

Overall Rating: 8.3
From the Third Row: A roomy third row and smooth carlike ride give rearmost passengers have a lot to be thankful for.
Bottom Line: The 2011 Ford Explorer a formidable shot right at the heart of the crossover market--one that's sure to pull some of the remaining SUV loyalists off their very high horses.

For many years, the Ford Explorer was at the heart of the family vehicle market, and you couldn't go more than three or four driveways in suburban-mall parking lots without seeing an Explorer. Times have changed a bit, and the market has migrated to more carlike crossover vehicles.

And now, Ford has followed, making the 2011 Explorer much more carlike, yet still rugged, and updated with all the latest in-cabin tech. Front and center for the driver and passenger is the new MyFord Touch, a touch-screen-based system that works with Sync Bluetooth connections and allows fingertip-swipe control of climate and nav, as well as audio functions for the excellent Sony sound system.

The new Explorer has just a skosh less people space than the seven-seat Flex, but its design has some advantages—and we love the third-row power seat-folding mechanism, which smartly positions into one of several settings without the need to reach, strain, or even hold a button down. There's still some off-road ability built in, but Ford has borrowed some of the best of Land Rover here with a multi-mode terrain-management system that lets you select that you need help with, say, Snow, and focus on staying safe while the kids are screaming in back.


2011 Honda Odyssey EX

2011 Honda Odyssey EX

Honda Odyssey

Overall Rating: 8.3
From the Third Row: Log some time in the second or third rows of this vehicle and you might just give minivans another chance.
Bottom Line: The 2011 Honda Odyssey remains the best-handling of the minivans, with some of the most innovative seating configurations and entertainment features, but it's also the priciest.

The Odyssey is the perkiest-driving larger minivan, with steering and handling as what distinguishes it, dynamically, in a crowded market. Its powertrain is one of the most refined in its class, too, and thanks to a new six-speed automatic offered on some of the line, the Odyssey can achieve an EPA class-leading 19 mpg city, 28 highway—essentially the same fuel economy as a mid-size, V-6 sedan. Although we also like the way the interior is packaged in the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country, as well as the way these vans drive, the 2011 Honda Odyssey has a lot going for it that, for value-minded third-row shoppers, pushes it to the front of the pack.

According to Honda, the Odyssey has a class-leading five LATCH connectors and can fit more child seats than any other minivan. Meanwhile, thanks to a nice, smooth, and low floor, along with that wide-opening sliding door, it's especially easy to access a child in one of the seats—or for an adult to get into the third row. Yet seats are adult-friendly in all three rows, and the third row doesn't need power assist—it can be folded with one arm.

In addition, the Odyssey's a safety leader, with top marks in federal (NHTSA) crash tests as well as those from the IIHS—and the Top Safety Pick accolade signal that this is one of the safest vehicles at any price. Factor in a class-first wide-screen entertainment system with HDMI inputs and you have the stuff to keep tots safe, sound, and quiet.

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