Below are the three SUVs we think check most of the boxes for most families; they have their own particular strengths and weaknesses, but represent excellent buys for anyone in the market for a good, practical family lugger.
1. Mazda CX-9If you’re a driving enthusiast, look no further, for we have your chariot. Mazda’s second-generation large SUV has that essential third-row practicality mixed with lovely aesthetics and a level of handling enthusiasm that is especially rare in this class. It is the CX-9’s dynamics that really set it apart, too; sweet handling, along with an efficient 250HP, 2.5L turbo four-cylinder engine combine to make this a package that is far more than the sum of its parts.
It’s safe, too; for 2018 the CX-9 comes standard with autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear-cross traffic alert, in addition to Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, which reduces torque to certain wheels to assist with cornering stability. Lane assist and adaptive cruise control are available as well. A 7” or 8” color screen is part of a system with Bluetooth connectivity but no Apple Carplay or Android Auto as of yet. Almost uniquely for the class, the second row can only be had as a three-seat bench, and not with a pair of captain’s chairs; this might put potential buyers off.
While it is smaller than other three-row SUVs on the market, we think the premium interior and handling qualities shine through enough to make this a worthwhile option on any shortlist.
2. Chevrolet TraverseIn a class where space is treated with as much value as gold, the Traverse has tons of it. While considered more a crossover than an SUV, the handsome Traverse is comfortably the biggest in its class and its space is a commodity put to good use, with seven or eight passengers fitting in good comfort while still offering plenty of cargo space even with the third row in place. A torquey 2.0L turbo or grunty 3.6L V6 both come with a 9sp automatic, and all-wheel-drive is an option with the V6.
The Traverse is well equipped; airbags everywhere, ESP, GM’s OnStar accident and emergency services, as well as tri-zone climate control air-conditioning, HID headlamps and LED DRLs, engine stop-start, heated wing mirrors, 18” alloys and the generally-expected Bluetooth connectivity (with Apple Carplay and Android Auto) is all there, but the price starts to climb pretty quickly with a few choice options as you work up the range.
There are some excellent features to be had if you spend the money, like surround view camera, adaptive cruise control, blind spot alert and forward collision alert and automated emergency braking as well as the usual options like heated leather seats, sunroof, and bigger wheels to go with more color-coding and chrome. The quality inside could be better, to reflect the hefty price tag on the upper models, but most owners will be won over by the capacious interior and better-than-expected handling. That the Chevy is a chiseled, good-looking rooster helps a lot for school parking lot cred, too.
3. Honda PilotHonda’s V6 Pilot is a strong performer with the vault-like build quality and generous seating for seven. In a crowded class, the Pilot stands out with a good mix of interior practicality, strong performance from its standard 280HP 3.5L (offered with either a 6sp or 9sp auto), and a long list of features.
Great results in crash testing see the Pilot at or near the top of any comparisons with competitors (it’s a Top Safety Pick with the IIHS), and its good value Sensing Package includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert and lane-departure warning, blind spot alert, and parking sensors front and rear. The standard 5” display is a little pedestrian on the base model, but going up the range sees an 8” color screen utilized and with it comes Apple Carplay, Android Auto, satellite radio and some other bells and whistles.
There are plenty of useful storage solutions in the huge cabin, and that will win the hearts of most buyers. Handling isn’t class-leading, nor is it the worst, but its good engine performance and overall good-value should see it included on any shortlist.