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Shopping for a Three-row SUV? Look for these 6 Features

Not all large SUVs are created equal. Here are some interesting features worth seeking out.
Stephanie Wallcraft

Some people may be delaying or rethinking their impending automotive purchases as the COVID-19 pandemic’s distancing measures wear on. But there’s a group of families who won’t have much of a choice: if you need a new car and regularly have more than two kids to move around, then a large SUV is most likely in your future.

Of course, there’s also the minivan, which for many situations would be an even better solution. But enough people prioritize fashion over function that relatively few buyers seem to want to consider minivans these days.

Anyway, if it’s been a while since you last bought a new vehicle, then you might feel like you’re wading into an entirely new realm of possibilities. (For example, a friend of mine buying a new car after eight years recently exclaimed, ‘what do you mean they all come with back-up cameras now?!’)

There are certain features that go a long way in making some three-row SUVs more user-friendly than others, and most are not universally available. Here are some very useful things you should consider seeking out when shopping today’s family haulers. 

USB ports in the third row

three-row SUV

Which passengers always end up being shoved into the third row? It’s the pre-teens and teenagers, right? They’re relatively self-sustaining and don’t need to be within arm’s reach as much as younger kids do. They’ll also last a lot longer back there without complaint if they can keep their devices charged easily, which is why it’s going to be a boon to families with kids this age to find that automakers are starting to put USB ports in all three rows. Not every large SUV has this feature, though, even among the recently redesigned ones – you’ll find it in the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride, for example, but not in the Toyota Highlander – so take the time to look for it if this is likely to make a difference for you.

Seats that fold all the way flat

three-row SUV

It’s annoying to own an SUV large enough to transport things like lengths of baseboard only to find they flex and bounce around while you’re driving because the seats don’t fold down into a flat surface. Regardless of whether they drop manually or with a push of a button, uniformly flat folded seats are a perfectly reasonable expectation in a modern large SUV.

Second-row seats that slide without removing a car seat

three-row SUV

Three-row SUV

 There are plenty of SUVs on the market that allow you to slide a second-row seat forward to provide access to the third row without having to remove a car seat first. This is especially helpful for families with younger children whose car seats still use the LATCH connectors since they require a careful fit that can be hard to get perfect every time.

Lots of usable cupholders

Three-row SUV

As parents know, cupholders hold much more than drinks: they end up housing snacks, crayons, LEGO pieces, and much more. (Have you ever seen the suggestion to line cupholders with silicone muffin cups to stop crumbs and wax from collecting in the crevices? Most “car hacks” don’t work, but this one is a great idea.) The Subaru Ascent launched with an often-lauded 19 cupholders a few years ago, and while you don’t necessarily need quite that many, having a variety of options available to your passengers is helpful. My favourites are designs that are integrated into the door-panel armrests, which tend to be easier for younger kids to reach than the ones that are set lower.

An available Wi-Fi hotspot

three-row SUV

I’ll put a caveat on this one: in-car Wi-Fi is handy, but it usually requires either paying for a subscription (such as OnStar in General Motors vehicles) or installing a separate SIM card. Depending on your mobile plan, it may be more cost-effective to simply set up your phone for tethering. But the convenience of in-car Wi-Fi hotspots, which simply turn on as you start the car and don’t require much technical acumen to set up, may be worth the extra cost to some drivers.

A power liftgate

three-row SUV

Automatic liftgates are a nice feature to have in most hatch-style vehicles, but they can be a near-necessity in larger SUVs, especially for those with smaller statures. Some models offer hands-free versions that can be opened by standing behind the vehicle with the key fob for a few seconds or waving a foot under a corner of the rear bumper. However, these add-ons are usually found in the most expensive trims, so it’s a good idea to give some thought to whether you’d benefit enough from hands-free operation to make it worth the extra money.
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