SUV Challenge: Family Lauds Hyundai, Scorns Honda


By Chris Woodyard, USA Today

He focuses on technology, acceleration and steering. She looks for style and practicality.

Together, Ed and LadyAnn Sabalburo, along with daughter LeaRose, 2, covered the bases when it came to evaluating the seven candidates in the TODAY/MotorWeek $40,000 Three-row SUV Challenge.

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

Together, the pair went over every detail of the crossovers SUVs lined up in a hotel parking lot while LeaRose happily scampered through their respective cabins. Then, Ed took each for a test drive.

The Sabalburos, from nearby Baldwin Park, east of Los Angeles, are casually looking for new family hauler that might replace LadyAnn's 2008 Acura MDX. They have another baby on the way.


After it was all done, Ed's evaluation: The Hyundai Santa Fe was most impressive, the Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander were basically tied for second and the Dodge Durango was "outside looking in." As for fewest kind things to say about of them, he hammered hardest on the Honda Pilot.

"Uninspired is the best way to describe it," Ed, 43, a movie studio project manager, said along the drive route. "And that's too bad because I love Honda."

In poring over the vehicles, LadyAnn, 33, an insurance claim manager, looked hard at space, quality of the interior and access to the the third row. She also had a few dealbreakers, such as, "A power liftgate is essential."

When it came to the Hyundai, LadyAnn pounced on features. "Ooh, I like this," she said of the sunshades that can be pulled down over the second-row side windows. As the day warmed up, she came to appreciate the cooled seats. "That is crazy," she said happily.

Ed, too, was impressed. When the oversize sunroof on the Santa Fe was opened, he said with gusto, "You just scored points with me now, man."

He carefully tinkered with the infotainment and navigation systems, noting how some had larger or more capable screens than others. As soon as his drive of the Hyundai ended, he proclaimed the vehicle as "exceeding all of my expectations" even though he said he didn't know much about the brand.

"I would be very happy with my wife driving this car, " said Ed, who drives a 2001 Nissan Altima. "I wouldn't let her near the Pilot." photos by Evan Sears


Camo Prius

They should get the Highlander. I wouldn't trust the Pathfinder.


Why in the world will a family of 3 need a 7 passenger SUV when a nice practical wagon a mini van would do. Heck a small to medium sedan will do great.

Ken L.

@ Wain,

Because that 7 passenger SUV is most likely smaller than a minivan? And that it meets their needs and wants perfectly? But what do I know? I am not a family of 3 and expecting another.

Troy S.

Why is no-one in the photo wearing a safety belt or why is the child not in a safety seat? Maybe they are getting out of the vehicle????

Jennifer Geiger, Assistant Managing Editor, News

@Troy S.
These photos were not taken during the driving portion of the test. The family spent a lot of time checking out the interior of each SUV before driving them.


Well, not exactly fair to the Pilot since it's the oldest and about to be replaced.

Tara F

I think that if or when the family buys their next car, you should post that they bought a new car and say what car they got and how they like it.

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