Three-row crossovers like the Kia Sorento and Mitsubishi Outlander are so attractive to families right now. If you have more than one child, especially if they’re in a car seat, suddenly the need for six, seven or even eight seat belts becomes a must. And you’re not going to be caught dead in a minivan, or so the sales figures suggest.
The problem is that, in order to fit three rows of seats in, these crossovers can be large and ponderous, expensive, or both. Especially if you live in a crowded city, enormous SUVs grow tiresome quickly. However, there are alternatives.
2016 Mitsubishi Outlander
You’re tempted by the 2016 Mitsubishi Outlander because, at less than $24,000, it’s the least expensive three-row crossover on the market. With seven seat belts, it presents a solution to a family of four who might need to do a carpool run every now and then, or squeeze some extended family in over the holidays.
I say “squeeze,” because fitting seven adults into the Outlander is pretty ambitious. I’m 5-foot-10 and I kind-of-sort-of fit without suffering from a concussion. Legroom is dependent on how much you can negotiate with the second-row passengers, as the 60-40 split seat slides fore and aft a pretty decent distance. If you have kids in booster seats, everyone should be happy, but large car seats may render the third row useless for all but, well, kids.
For a shade over the $33,000 mark, you can get an Outlander SEL with all-wheel drive and a full suite of safety and convenience features that range from adaptive cruise control to a power tailgate, power folding mirrors and an absolutely thumping audio system. But you’re also limited to a four-cylinder engine with 166 horsepower, which is adequate around town and even in most highway situations if you put your foot down. But load the car up with people and the Outlander is destined for the slow lane.
Fuel economy, 24 mpg combined in my experience, isn’t stellar either. A V6 is available in the more expensive GT model, but it’s also thirstier.
And a more expensive Outlander falls into the territory of a larger rival like the Kia Sorento.
2016 Kia Sorento
The 2016 Kia Sorento is all-new and more refined than ever before. It’s also less lumbering than some of the biggest three-row crossovers on the market, making it attractive for those who don’t need the space and bulk that come with many three-row SUVs.
All but the most basic Sorentos, which kick off right around where the Outlander starts, have seven seats. It’s possible to get a four-cylinder, seven-seat Sorento for around $27,000, but most will have the 3.3-liter V6 that’s incredibly strong and polished. Mated to a six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive, a four-cylinder Sorento is capable of around 23 mpg combined. V6-powered all-wheel drive models offer an EPA-estimated 19 mpg combined and shouldn’t feel strained when loaded to capacity.
The Sorento’s extra few inches in length and width might make it less maneuverable than the Outlander in tight urban traffic (or in those excruciatingly narrow mall parking spaces), but they pay dividends with a more spacious interior, especially if you’re trying to fit three people across the second-row seat.
Strangely, the third row is no more hospitable than that of the Outlander’s, despite the added external size. Adults will feel like they’ve plopped down onto a folding beach chair after they’ve squirmed their way past the second row. And annoyingly, you can only slide the right side of the second row forward to create a pass-through to the rearmost bench, which is annoying if you have a car seat strapped in on that side.
A Sorento equipped like an Outlander SEL, though with a V6, is roughly $4,000 more expensive. Yet Kia has a much more refined product from the moment you open the driver’s door. Blindfold your passengers and they’ll mistake the Sorento for a Lexus. OK, maybe a five-year-old Lexus, but still. The switches, the radio and navigation and especially the available adaptive cruise control all work more smoothly and the Sorento, crucially, feels more modern.
Choosing the Right Crossover SUV
Both Kia and Mitsubishi dealers are aggressively discounting their crossovers these days, so there are deals readily available. Still, the Outlander makes more sense below $30,000. A Sorento in loaded SXL trim, meanwhile, is a convincing alternative to a luxury crossover in base trim. And that might be good if your kids are grown up and aren’t inclined to smear food or crayons into the leather and carpet.
Make no mistake, you get what you pay for with Outlander. But if your goal is to have a lot of seats for not much money, it’s not the worst way to go.