Five Most Fuel-Efficient Vehicles With Third-Row Seating

January 3, 2015

Let’s just go ahead and say it: There’s a dearth of high-efficiency vehicles on the U.S. market that offer a third row of seating.

There are plenty of good hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric vehicles that could work well for families and still gas mileage (or MPGe, if you’re running on electrons) that would pass muster with the environmentalist in your house.

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The Toyota Prius V or Ford C-Max Hybrids both would make great family vehicles, as would the Ford Fusion Hybrid—and both top 40 mpg Combined. But once you throw in the third row as a requirement you move to a completely different competitive set.

There’s still no hybrid minivan on the market, no three-row model with ratings above 30 mpg Combined, and third-row vehicle with plug-in hybrid systems or electric powertrains.

Well...there’s one rather expensive exception. That’s the all-electric Tesla Model S, which starts at nearly $71,000 in its base form and does—if you count its two child-size, rear-facing jump seats—offer third-row seating.

It might actually work for some needs, as those who want a third-row seat often only want that capability for occasional across-town use, including an extra family member to dinner, or a couple extra kids from practice.

The Model S makes our list of most fuel-efficient vehicles with third-row seating, but if you call that a stretch and want to see some more affordable family contenders, you’ll definitely want to click through out list, of five of the most fuel-efficient vehicles with third-row seating.

2014 Tesla Model S

2014 Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S
EPA fuel economy ratings: 94 MPGe city, 97 highway (95 Combined)
Base third-row price: $70,890
Seating for up to: 7
Quick take: The Model S has no direct competitor. It remains the undisputed top choice in the growing world of plug-in electric cars, and there's a good case to be made that it's the most advanced car of any kind on the planet.

Officially the Model S is a five-seater, but two small rear-facing, temporary-use seats fold up from the cargo floor and will actually work if you need to pack in a couple of small kids. But with all of the power to spare in the Model S, you (especially the latest P85D), you might want to accelerate sparingly, though. Yes, the base Model S can only go 208 miles on a charge, according to the EPA (or up to 270 miles for the 85D), but that’s many times what most Americans drive per day, and with Tesla’s rapidly expanding Supercharger network you’ll be able to take on longer trips, too.

2015 Toyota Highlander

2015 Toyota Highlander

Highlander Hybrid
EPA fuel economy ratings: 28 mpg city, 28 highway (28 Combined)
Base third-row price: $48,415
Seating for up to: 7
Quick take: The 2015 Toyota Highlander offers a versatile and stylish alternative to the minivan, with available all-wheel drive and a thoughtfully designed interior.

The Highlander Hybrid is a rather large, roomy vehicle that’s great for families, whether for a long trip or a jaunt around town. And considering the Hybrid’s space and heft, and its V-6 underhood (assisted by Toyota’s finessed Hybrid Synergy Drive), that makes its 28-mpg EPA ratings all the more impressive. We like most of what we see, but hesitate a bit over the more truck-influenced exterior of the current model, and interior appointments that hardly jel with the price tag—easily over $50k once you add options.

2015 Nissan Rogue

2015 Nissan Rogue

Nissan Rogue
EPA fuel economy ratings: 26 mpg city, 33 highway (28 Combined)
Base third-row price: $24,865 (S FWD)
Seating for up to: 7
Quick take: The 2015 Nissan Rogue may have a small third row, but it's a better car than the previous generation in virtually every way.

The current Nissan Rogue remains a much more refined, agreeable vehicle than the last-generation model that's still sold as Rogue Select; the Rogue feels nimble and maneuverable for city driving, yet composed on the highway for family trips. It’s also one of the smallest crossover models to offer a third row of seating ($1,190 as part of a Family Package). If you’re in a warmer climate you’ll probably want to skip all-wheel drive; add it and you’ll see the city and highway numbers drop by 1 mpg.

2015 Mitsubishi Outlander GT

2015 Mitsubishi Outlander GT

Mitsubishi Outlander
EPA fuel economy ratings: 25 mpg city, 31 highway (27 Combined)
Base third-row price: $24,045 (ES FWD)
Seating for up to: 7
Quick take: The 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander isn't nearly as sporty as previous generations of the model, but it's now a decent choice for big families on tighter budgets.

The Mitsubishi Outlander is one of the few compact crossover models to offer a third row of seating, and it’s an affordable, efficient utility wagon that feels lean behind the wheel yet warm, quiet, and accommodating inside. It’s definitely not an enthusiastic performer in four-cylinder form, but its continuously variable automatic transmission helps it return some pretty impressive gas mileage. With all-wheel drive, the highway number drops to 29 mpg, so understand the compromises if you’re especially mileage-minded.

2015 Infiniti QX60 (2014 Hybrid pictured)

2015 Infiniti QX60 (2014 Hybrid pictured)

Infiniti QX60 Hybrid
EPA fuel economy ratings: 26 mpg city, 28 highway (26 Combined)
Base third-row price: $46,395
Seating for up to: 7
Quick take: The 2015 Infiniti QX60 has a rich look and excellent interior space, even if its powertrain and handling aren't so energizing.

The Infiniti QX60 Hybrid, with its four-cylinder engine and electric motor system, isn’t nearly as confident or perky of a performer as the normal, V-6-powered QX60; but if you don’t place a lot of importance on performance you might see the QX60 Hybrid as quite appealing. It’s a big vehicle, with three rows of seating and a third that even adults can get into for short stints, yet it’s rated up to 26 mpg in city driving. We managed to average 26 mpg in about 400 miles of mixed driving with an all-wheel-drive model. Keep in mind that for the greater all-weather ability you might gain with all-wheel drive, you’ll lose 1 mpg in this model’s EPA city rating.

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