One of the hardest parts about buying a new vehicle is narrowing it down to just the right make and model. Most buyers don’t have the chance to do a side-by-side driving comparison, but we do. This week we do that with family-size 3-row utilities. And, once again team up with our friends at, to see which one stands above the pack.

Three row crossover-style SUVs are firmly entrenched in the American culture, being more or less the replacement for the full-size station wagon of generations past. Families depend on them to haul their brood and possessions, and manufacturers rely on them for the bottom line. With so much at stake, the competition is fierce.

We joined our colleagues at near Chicago where 4 of these hefty haulers were ready for our challenge. We also had the help of a local buyer, who’s looking for the best option for his family. 

As in our previous challenges, there was a price cap; $46,000. All are V6 powered with automatic transmissions; all but one includes all-wheel drive, and have a Combined Fuel Economy rating of 19 or better. While there are quite a few choices in this class most have remained much the same since the last test, so this challenge targeted four with recent redesigns and updates.

Last year’s winner… the Honda Pilot.  

An all-new entrant… the Volkswagen Atlas.

The fully redesigned Chevrolet Traverse.

And the updated… Toyota Highlander.

Each one went through careful scrutiny, and at the end this is how they ranked.

The fourth spot went to the Toyota Highlander. This all-wheel driver was equipped with a new 3.5-liter V-6 engine and an 8-speed automatic. The $44,514 sticker put it at the top of pricing. But it had the shortest wheel base and overall length, so it lost points for space in the second and third rows.

FRED MEIER: ”The highlander was the smallest SUV here, but it had some of the most comfortable front seats. They were plenty wide, not too narrow, nicely bolstered.”

GARICK ZIKAN: “One of the things you notice about the Toyota Highlander on the road is how polished it feels. It really is a quiet and smooth ride, and that shelf along the dash really is a nice feature”

JOHN DAVIS: While the 2017 Honda Pilot came out on top last time around, it garnered a 3rd place finish here. The Pilot is well designed, and as solid as they come. Its price is just under the Highlander at $44,370. It also shares the Highlander’s Combined MPG rating of 22 from its 3.5-liter V6 and 9-speed automatic. 

BRIAN WONG: “The Pilot’s 9-speed transmission which is one of its two transmissions has always kind of baffled me. There’s a noticeable delay in acceleration. So you hit the gas and you have to wait for a second for the engine to catch up”

MIKE HANLEY: “Honda’s touch screen multimedia system was the hardest to use in our test because it lacks familiar controls like volume and tuning knobs and its menu structure is the least organized.”

JOHN DAVIS: Second place goes to the 2018 Chevrolet Traverse, the only front-wheel drive ute in this test. But it has the most horsepower at 310 from a 3.6-liter V6 mated with a smooth 9-speed automatic. The Traverse is rated at 21-miles per gallon. At $44,185 it comes in a few hundred dollars less than the Pilot… while providing the longest wheelbase and overall length among this group.

BRIAN WONG: “It uses that space very well.  It has the most cargo room and the most spacious second and third rows.”

GARICK ZIKAN: “The Chevrolet Traverse can certainly haul people and their possessions in a comfortable cabin, but it really brings more to the driving experience than just that. On the road it’s easy to maneuver and really has a sense of confidence”

JAMES GORMAN: “I was impressed by the overall design of the interior, the spaciousness of it. Again, not what I would consider luxurious, but a decent vehicle and something I could certainly see myself driving from day to day.”

JOHN DAVIS: That leaves first place to the new kid on the block, the 2018 Volkswagen Atlas with 4MOTION. The 3.6-liter V6 and 8-speed automatic produced the least horsepower and lowest combined MPG among these competitors. But, with a sticker at $43,615, it boasts the best price. And with measurements that are close to the Traverse… The Atlas earns points for rear room for people and cargo, as well as technology.  

MIKE HANLEY: “The Atlas’s multimedia screen looks great.  It’s got vibrant colors and a very high resolution, but it’s easy to bump into controls on the touch sensitive panel.”

JAMES GORMAN: “The multimedia was phenomenal in this vehicle. The other really noteworthy aspect of this car was the spaciousness. I was able to sit in the second row and get it in a comfortable seating position and then immediately climb into the third row and also sit comfortably.”

JOHN DAVIS: All of the big utilities can get the job done. But it’s no longer just about roominess and practicality. Technology and refinement raise the bar, and for now the Volkswagen Atlas can shoulder the demands to meet that challenge.

Click here for the full results. 


  • 2017 Honda Pilot:
  • 2018 Volkswagen Atlas:
  • 2018 Chevrolet Traverse:
  • 2017 Toyota Highlander: