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

$40,000 3-Row SUV Challenge

Family-friendly SUVs are still a big business: There are plenty of kids to cart around, groceries and sports equipment for kids of all ages to carry.

$40,000 3-Row SUV Challenge
Index | What the Judges Said | Mileage Drive

We focused this Challenge on three-row SUVs that cost less than $40,000, including a destination charge, and achieved at least 19 mpg in EPA combined city/highway fuel-economy ratings. We picked the price based on Cars.com's listings for SUVs that came with the features we know are popular with families. After four days of testing by experts from Cars.com, USA Today, "MotorWeek" and a real-life, in-market family, here's how the results broke down:



What You Get for $40,000 (Click for Full Table)






$40,000 3-Row SUV Challenge
Index | What the Judges Said | Mileage Drive


Cars.com photos by Evan Sears. 



Leave the comparison testing to the experts at C&D and Edmunds as you guys totally blew this one. I work at a leasing company that caters to Pharma Executives and Directors and we've distributed all of these models. So far we've been asked to take back five, yes five, Sante Fe's due to the lousy ride. Given we've only provided nine I'd say that's a real notable issue.
The overwhelming favorites based on real world feedback is the Durango and Pilot. They're the only two models that we've been asked to increase the allotments for. One thing you did get right was the Traverse as it's totally outclassed by the others and in our experience very poorly built.


So the winner is the best 3-row family crossover if you don't need the 3rd row or useful family features? I wish these tests emphasized what typical shoppers are actually looking for in this segment. This definitely should have been one of the comparisons where families are brought along.

There was a family involved as we always do. They scored the Santa Fe highest as well.


How did you test acceleration and braking? I can't find the numbers.

RIP Kaizan

Hands down a Sorento, any other questions?


Still won't buy a Hyundai ... thinking about its value after 4-5 years. Truth be told when my lease comes due on my '12 Pilot.


What about Mitsubishi Outlander? We bought one for $30k new, all options, awesome to drive, and far more expensive.
I don't understand why it's not included in your test.


I just read the description you gave about the family who tested the SUVs. It mentioned they were looking for a bigger ride than their MDX. So, is the Santa Fe bigger/roomier? Would they chose it over the other SUVs?

Traverse has no leather and no navigation? Yet, it cost the same if not more than the others on the test? No wonder it's at the bottom.


Chevy did themselves a disservice offering an LT 1 model with a $800 tow package option included.

A Traverse LT 2, it has more options and is still under 40 K as shown on Cars.com price with options feature.

Phil Bickel

See who's $40,000 is worth the most after the five to six years it takes most people to pay for them. I wonder who wins that challenge?


In my experience most cars that are in Good shape with a fair amount of mileage after 5 years should hold about 1/3 their original value price. Santa Fe is about $15K after 5 years with 80K miles. That would be a good comparison matrix to do, value retention after 5 years projected from previous years.


2008-09 Highlander is Made in Japan and is better built and better looking than one tested here. It is much lighter and a bit faster. It uses 1 mpg more. The new one may has better interior materials but it also costs 5G more. And in reality it is only a bit wider, and in many other dimensions it is smaller. It uses same engine and has same wheel base. Toyota really blew some dust in your eyes, people. Check for yourself http://www.cars.com/go/compare/trimCompare.jsp?acodes=USB90TOS141A0,USC40TOS141B0

And the reviewers here said that comfort is super in the Lander, they must didn't not sit in the back seat of 2008-2013. Because new is not always better. Old Lander is better car if you value driving dynamics, reliability, and build quality more than 1 extra mpg and nicer materials on the doors.

Al I like to say, "I don't have to seat on dashboard".

Rebecca Zarza

I know this article is for $40,000 cars but I'm more interested in a basic model or gently used in the mid to high 20s. That being said I cannot find a Sante fe with a third row for under 36000. I found THREE new cars in a new and used search of the Sante fe with third row in 500 miles! All were close to your price point of 40000 but that's my selection? Three? All others were the sport version. I'd rather have lots of options of where to buy because the third row is standard. We are leaning toward the pathfinder, but seriously considered the traverse.

Rebecca Zarza

Update-I looked again and there are 20 in all price points new and used within 500 miles of the seattle area. A little better but still feel pretty restricted, or all the dealers are not marking the third row? I went on a Hyundai lot and they had 50 of the sport and 0 with the third row


No Kia Sorento? How about a Subaru Tribeca H6? Mitsubishi Outlander? Why the Durango and not the Journey? Cars.com missed some real, solid contenders. I think the Sorento in the EX package would have been outstanding in this field.

Kyle W

In my experience with these SUVs, my favorite was hands down the Hyundai Santa Fe. I've found plenty of Santa Fe's with leather, third rows, and navigation for under $35k. I was not surprised at all to see it win this comparison test. Oh, and where in the world is the best-selling Ford Explorer?!


"The Honda Pilot's year-over-year sales decline was the worst among America's 20 Top-Selling SUVs" - GCBC

Well, go figure.

Michael Combs

What happened to the Ford Explorer in your test? You had it listed in the beginning of this article.

I'm sure it was chosen 1st so you took it out. The explorer limited loaded is under $40K.


I got quoted under $40k for a 2LT Traverse with leather, 2 sunroofs, and Navigation. Would it rank higher if this was the model tested?


It's an article people. No need to be rude. If you don't like the article, go find one you do like. Thanks for the read Cars.com

Post a Comment 

Please remember a few rules before posting comments:

  • If you don't want people to see your email address, simply type in the URL of your favorite website or leave the field empty.
  • Do not mention specific car dealers by name. Feel free to mention your city, state and brand.
  • Try to be civil to your fellow blog readers. This blog is not a fan or enthusiast forum, it is meant to help people during the car-buying process and during the time between purchases, so shoppers can keep a pulse on the market.
  • Stay on topic. We want to hear your opinions and thoughts, but please only comment about the specified topic in the blog post.
view posting rules

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In

Search Results

KickingTires Search Results for

Search Kicking Tires

KickingTires iPhone App