Because of their relatively low cost and small thirst, and the adequate space they afford singles, couples, and empty nesters, compact crossovers get top billing in the SUV sales show.
But that doesn’t mean the bigger, thirstier, and more costly three-row SUVs aren’t important supporting actors in a crossover hit that is eating sedans for lunch.
These roomy vehicles are important because their three rows accommodate seven or eight passengers, and that’s catnip to what Subaru product planning manager Peter Tenn called “the child-raising generation.” Indeed, Tenn told me Subaru had to build the new, three-row Ascent SUV, which arrives in the showrooms next month, to halt the exodus of customers in need of more room.
Let’s take a quick look at a quartet of new, three-row SUVs, including the newly minted Ascent and Volkswagen Atlas, as well as 2018 redesigns of the Chevrolet Traverse and Lincoln Navigator.
Chevrolet Traverse ($29,930). This redesigned Traverse is a comely critter that’s lighter, easier on gas, peppier, and roomier than its predecessor.
While it has grown dimensionally (notably a two-inch wheelbase stretch), the new model is about 350 pounds lighter than the previous Traverse. The weight loss, coupled with the nine-speed automatic’s gearing and an advanced stop/start system, afford a fuel-economy improvement of 3 mpg on the V-6 model, despite an 8 percent bump in power — to 310 horsepower. The front and all-wheel-drive V-6 models obtain fuel economy numbers of 18 and 27.
The big Traverse can get out of its own way. The V-6 gets from 0 to 60 in the vicinity of 7 seconds, with the assistance of the smooth and decisive nine-speed gearbox. Handling was improved, but not at the expense of the Traverse’s considerable ride comfort.
Inside the new Traverse, one finds abundant space, including room to carry four-by-eight sheets of plywood. Compared with the other vehicles discussed here, however, the third row was not as adult-friendly.
Lincoln Navigator ($72,055). This is a serious luxury SUV (the top-of-the-line Black Label model I tested started at $93,705). It is also a vehicle that has taken a quantum leap past its predecessor.
While I’m not sold on the exterior design’s shaky marriage of rounded front and angular derriere, the interior is dynamite, a design exercise as gorgeous as it is original and distinctive. The workmanship is flawless, and the leather, wood, and suede elements exude richness.
Predictably, the Navigator is rigged for silent running, and its comfort level is teamed with surprising performance. It is remarkably energetic for a vehicle that weighs in at three tons, thanks to the good offices of a 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 that develops 450 horsepower and a whopping 510 pounds/feet of torque. There’s also a seamless, 10-speed automatic in the gift basket, as well as nice handling and braking.
The EPA fuel-economy estimate is a forgettable 16 city, 21 highway.
Volkwagen Atlas ($30,750). The Atlas (which I reviewed recently) is a big guy by VW standards, with a third row that will accommodate most adults.
The Atlas’s attributes also include good ride quality, competent cornering, precise steering, and ample braking. There’s also the exceptional new six-year/72,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.
Subaru Ascent ($31,995). Also recently reviewed, this largest Subaru ever gets good grades in everything from roominess and ride comfort to noise abatement, handling, and acceleration.
The Ascent is roomy business. It provides up to 85.5 cubic feet of storage and a second row of seats that can be adjusted to accommodate adults in the second and third rows.
Ascent motivation is courtesy of a new, 260-horse, 2.4-liter turbo. EPA ratings are 21 city, 27 highway.