$40,000 3-Row SUV Challenge: Squeezing Into the Third Row

Third-row-main

By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY

Let's face it: Most of us older than 10 will never ride in the third row of a three-row crossover SUV.

Why would you? First, it requires a lesson in how to move the second-row seats out of the way in order to clamber back there. Usually done in frustration, you just wriggle and crawl to the third row.

What's the Best 3-Row SUV for $40,000

Then there is the seat itself: less legroom than on the worst airline. Your knees almost reach mid-chest. You're so far removed from the driver that one model tested, the Toyota Highlander, had an intercom for the driver. Yes, an intercom.

For the Cars.com/USA Today/"MotorWeek" $40,000 3-Row SUV Challenge, your reporter, all six-feet-two, took each test drive in each SUV from the third row. Here are my notes:

2014 Chevrolet Traverse

Traverse-3rdRowAccess_anim_500px
Traverse-third-row

Roomiest -- better-than-average space, including enough headroom. Barely.

2014 Dodge Durango

Durango-3rdRowAccess_anim_500px Durango-3rd-row

The tumble-forward second-row seats made entry easier but reduced knee room since they don't slide forward. Air conditioning vents from the headliners were nice. And there's adequate headroom.

2014 Honda Pilot

Pilot-3rdRowAccess_anim_500px Third-row-pilot

Best-in-class headroom because of the SUV's boxy, upright style. Good visibility forward. The headrests were downright painful.

2014 Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai-3rdRowAccess_anim_500px Santa-fe-third-row

Headroom terrible, requiring a cocked head. Knees all the way into the chest. On the plus side, separate heat and cooling controls for the third row.

2014 Mazda CX-9

Mazda-3rdRowAccess_anim_500px Cx-9-3rd-row

Poor headroom but overall comfort is adequate. Bonus: Each side has not one, but two cupholders.

2014 Nissan Pathfinder

3rdRowAccess_anim_500px Pathfinder-third-row

Headroom is OK, two cupholders on each side. Go figure.

2014 Toyota Highlander

Highlander-3rdRowAccess_anim_500px Highlander-3rd-row

Little headroom, but a personal light and vent in the headliner. Has a nice feature to tuck away the second-row seat belt.

Cars.com photos by Evan Sears

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