2017 Ford Flex side ・ Photo by Ford Media
Carrying a big family comfortably was once the mainstay of the minivan, but times have changed, and crossovers now dominate the market. Our list of ten of the best seven passenger vehicles includes just one minivan (and no conventional SUVs). The choices lean towards fuel-efficiency and roominess, with technology and connectivity taking center stage. You’ll find two plug-in hybrids and one conventional hybrid. The most cavernous cabins just might surprise you. Of the vehicles we’ve omitted, the Dodge Journey ($22,495) and Grand Caravan ($25,995) are worthy of consideration for their affordable entry points.
The Mazda CX-9 ($32,130) is one of the most dramatically designed and best-handling SUVs in its class. While it was one of the slowest selling seven-passenger SUVs in 2017, sales were up significantly over 2016 following a well-received redesign and the top-of-the-line Signature trim level’s interior is simply stunning. The second row provides 38.5 inches of headroom and 39.4 inches of legroom, while the third row provides 35.4 inches of headroom and 29.7 inches of legroom. The CX-9’s 250 horsepower turbocharged 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. The FWD CX-9 is EPA rated at 22 city / 28 highway / 24 combined MPG, while the AWD version is rated 20 city / 26 highway / 23 combined MPG. (The Signature is less-fuel efficient.)
Photo by Mazda
GMC Acadia ($29,995) sales rose over 25% in 2017 over the previous year, following a successful redesign. The Acadia’s cabin is spacious. The second row provides 39.6 inches of headroom and 39.7 inches of legroom, while the third row provides 37.2 inches of headroom and 31.1 inches of legroom. GMC’s infotainment and connectivity features are top-notch, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support, as well as a built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot and a bevy of charging ports. The 2018 Acadia is available with a 193 horsepower (HP) 2.5-liter inline four-cylinder engine or a 310 HP 3.6-liter V6 engine. The AWD version is EPA rated at 21 city / 25 highway / 23 combined MPG with the 2.5-liter engine and 17 city / 25 highway / 20 combined with the V6. There are four trim levels: SLE, SLT, All Terrain, and the top-of-the-line Denali.
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The Ford Explorer ($32,140) was America’s best-selling seven-seat SUV in 2017, with over 271,000 units sold. The Explorer is available with three engine choices: a 280 horsepower (HP) EcoBoost 2.3-liter inline four, a 290 HP naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6, and a 365 HP EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6 engine. The 2.3-liter EcoBoost Explorer is the most efficient of the bunch. It’s EPA rated at 19 city / 27 highway / 22 combined MPG with FWD and 18 city / 25 highway / 21 combined with AWD. The naturally aspirated V6 is offered with FlexFuel capability. The Explorer’s second row allows for 40.6 inches of headroom and 39.5 inches of legroom, along with a third row that allows for 37.8 inches of headroom and 33.3 inches of legroom.
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The Hyundai Santa Fe ($30,950) was America’s third-best-selling seven-seat SUV in 2017, with over 131,000 units sold. The SE and SE Ultimate provide seven seating positions. The Limited Ultimate has second-row captain’s chars and only seats six. The Santa Fe’s second row provides 39.4 inches of headroom and 40.4 inches of legroom. The third row allows for 35.7 inches of headroom and 30.9 inches of legroom. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support are standard. The SE Ultimate and Limited Ultimate trim levels are EPA rated at 17 city / 23 highway / 20 combined MPG with FWD and 17 city / 22 highway / 19 combined MPG and AWD. The base SE is rated slightly higher. All versions are fitted with a 290 horsepower 3.3-liter V6 engine.
Photo by Hyundai
The Honda Pilot is offered in seven- and eight-passenger versions. The top-of-the-line Elite ($47,470) is the only trim level with seven-passenger seating. The Elite’s second row provides 40.9 inches of headroom, and 38.4 inches of legroom. (Second row headroom varies slightly between trim levels.) The third row allows for 38.9 inches of headroom and 31.9 inches of legroom. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support are standard in all variants, except for the base LX. The FWD Pilot is EPA rated at 20 city / 27 highway / 23 combined MPG, while the AWD version is rated 19 city / 26 highway / 22 combined MPG when equipped with the nine-speed automatic transmission (Touring and Elite). All trim levels employ a 280 horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine.
Photo by Honda
The Pacifica Plug-In Hybrid ($39,995) minivan is the most fuel-efficient entry on our list of the best seven passenger vehicles. If most of your daily driving is local, you may be able to get through the day on electric power with the Pacifica’s 33-mile pure electric range. The EPA rates the Pacifica Hybrid at 84 MPGe with a full charge and 32 MPG combined while running on gasoline. The cabin is wonderfully roomy. The second row provides 39.6 inches of headroom (38.0 with sunroof) and 39.0 inches of legroom, while the third row provides 38.7 inches of headroom and 36.5 inches of legroom. There’s even enough space to haul 4x8 sheets of plywood. The Chrysler Pacifica was America’s second-best-selling minivan in 2017, trailing only the Dodge Grand Caravan.
Photo by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
The seven-seat Volkswagen Atlas ($30,750) is the new kid on the block, with a fresh face, solid handling, and a nicely-appointed cabin. The second row provides 40.4 inches of headroom and 37.6 inches of legroom, while the third row allows for 38.3 inches of headroom and 33.7 inches of legroom. The front-wheel-drive (FWD) Atlas is available with a 235 horsepower (HP) turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder or naturally-aspirated 275 HP 3.6-liter V6 engine. The all-wheel-drive (AWD) Atlas 4motion is only offered with the V6. The FWD Atlas is EPA rated at 22 city / 26 highway / 24 combined MPG with the 2.0-liter engine and 18 city / 25 highway / 20 combined with the V6. The AWD Atlas 4motion is EPA rated at 17 city / 23 highway / 20 combined MPG.
Photo by Volkswagen
The Toyota Highlander was America’s second-best-selling seven-seat SUV in 2017, with more than 215,000 units sold. Efficiency-minded families favor the AWD Highlander Hybrid ($36,670), which is EPA rated at 29 city / 27 highway / 28 combined MPG. It’s the most fuel-efficient entry on our list of seven-passenger vehicles without a plug. The Highlander Hybrid’s drivetrain combines a 3.5-liter V6 with three electric motors to provide a system net 306 horsepower. The second row provides 39.9 inches of headroom (without moonroof) and 38.4 inches of legroom, while the third row is best suited for smaller folks, with 35.9 inches of headroom and 26.7 inches of legroom.
Photo by Toyota
The luxurious seven-passenger Volvo XC90 eAWD Plug-In Hybrid ($64,950) is fitted with a supercharged and turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four that is paired with an electric motor for a total system rating of 400 horsepower. This delivers a winning combination of efficiency and performance, with EPA ratings of 62 MPGe and 27 MPG combined (when running on gasoline). Premium gasoline is required. It has up to 14 miles of pure electric range. The Volvo XC90 eAWD Plug-In Hybrid’s interior shines with stunning design and superior materials. The second row provides 39.3 inches of headroom without the panoramic sunroof (38.5 with the sunroof) and 37.0 inches of legroom, along with a third row that allows for 36.3 inches of headroom and 31.9 inches of legroom.
Photo by Volvo
Once upon a time, traditional three-row station wagons ruled the streets in America, but those days are long past. The boxy Ford Flex ($30,285) has many strong points, but was America’s slowest selling seven-seat SUV in 2017, with just over 23,000 units sold. The AWD Flex is offered with a naturally aspirated 287 horsepower (HP) 3.5-liter V6 or a 365 HP EcoBoost 3.5-liter V6. The naturally aspirated V6 Flex is EPA rated at 16 city / 22 highway / 18 combined MPG, while the EcoBoost V6 is rated at 15 city / 16 highway / 18 combined with the V6. The cabin is remarkably spacious, with a second row that provides 40.5 inches of headroom and 44.3 inches of legroom, along with a third row that allows for 38.7 inches of headroom and 33.3 inches of legroom. Get a Flex while you still can, as the sun will soon set on what might be America’s last great wagon.
Photo by Ford