Hey, you. Yes, you. Don’t pretend you just noticed something on the back of your hand or that your phone is buzzing in your pocket. We’re talking to you. You who couldn’t get enough of procreating and now need three rows of seating in a vehicle. We know you well enough to know that you don’t want a minivan and that only a two-box crossover will do. Lucky for you, carmakers are swiping right on you, which explains the flood of new three-row products tailored for your life. There’s so much churn in the class right now that, for most of our testers, this is our first exposure to three of these models.
Most promising is the Ford Explorer. It might look like a malnourished example of the last-generation model, all vacuum-packed bulge split by bone lines, but it’s so new that the engine is facing a different direction, and if you don’t opt for all-wheel drive, the torque goes only to the rear wheels. Ford’s turbocharged 2.3-liter inline-four is on duty and has 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque turning the Ford/GM co-developed 10-speed automatic. The XLT is the lowliest Explorer trim, and this one packs all-wheel drive (a $2000 upcharge), 20-inch wheels ($1295), Ford’s Co-Pilot360 Assist+ suite ($795), and a towing package ($710), for a grand total of $46,810.
Hyundai and Kia have built three-row crossovers before, even big ones, but who besides us remembers the Veracruz and the Borrego? The Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride are the first big Korean crossovers poised to make a real mark on the segment. They share a lot, including their 291-hp V-6, eight-speed automatic transmission, and platform. Both have a 114.2-inch wheelbase, the test’s shortest, but somehow the second-row seats are among the roomiest. At our $48,000 price target, you get a Palisade Limited with all-wheel drive, which means its window sticker abounds with standard equipment, from a pair of sunroofs to lane-keeping assistance to auto-leveling rear dampers. Toss in $160 for floor mats and this Palisade is a $47,655 proposition.
The Telluride’s top trim level, SX, also includes stuff like the two sunroofs and the second-row captain’s chairs, but it caters to a slightly more frugal buyer by leaving off a few extras. This one, of course, added them in with the $2000 SX Prestige package. Fully loaded, our Telluride came with ventilated second-row seats, richer leather, and a fake-suede headliner, among other goodies, for a final tally of $46,910.
Buick’s second-gen Enclave is two years old, which makes it a slightly familiar member of the group. It remains related to the Chevy Traverse and is built on the same long version of the C1 platform. GM’s corporate 3.6-liter V-6 makes 310 horses here and a nine-speed transaxle does the shifting. Our Essence-trim example is one step up from Buick’s base model, and all-wheel drive adds $2000 to the chit. Spending an additional $1695 for the Sport Touring package nets 20-inch machined-face aluminum wheels and a unique grille. Powered front and fixed rear sunroofs cost $1400, while the $495 black paint and $270 set of floor mats land this Enclave at $49,055, the highest price in the test.
The Mazda CX-9 is the known quantity here, having been atop this hill for three 10Best awards as well as through two comparison tests in which it vanquished the Chevy Traverse, Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, and Volkswagen Atlas. Mazda isn’t messing with success. The big news for the CX-9 this year is more standard equipment and available Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality. Mazda’s 250-hp turbocharged four-cylinder and six-speed automatic are unchanged. Our Signature test vehicle stands at the top of the CX-9 mountain and includes all of Mazda’s juiciest equipment—adaptive cruise, keyless entry and start, and the brand’s G-Vectoring Control steering-feel-boosting system. Special paint, a cargo mat, and illuminated sill plates add $975 to the bottom line, bringing our Mazda to $47,385.
To see how the Mazda measures up against its latest competitors, we steered north to family-friendly Petoskey and then into the Upper Peninsula for the winding roads along Lake Michigan—which does, technically, experience semidiurnal water-level changes. Here we learned that the tide in this segment is indeed turning.