Car Advice

Top tips to buy a seven-seat SUV

What do you look for in a seven-seat SUV, aside from seven seats?

BEFORE I BEGIN, I’ll mention this once and then leave it alone. Most people reading should buy a people mover, not a seven-seat SUV.

As the name suggests, a people mover is a better mover of people than the SUV as it is more spacious (particularly in the third row), can have up to eight seats, and has a lot of space behind its third row. It’s also usually cheaper, and certainly better value.  

It might not have SUV looks, but the people mover is a very practical alternative.

But I get it. Every time I suggest a people mover to a prospective buyer, back comes a snort of derision. Fine. I’ve said my piece, and we’ll move on to the seven-seat SUV.

Actually, there are two practical reasons to choose an SUV over a people mover and these are towing and off-roading, neither of which the people mover does at all well.

Once you get above the 1500kg braked towing mark, people movers struggle to offer a candidate, and none of them are suited for anything other than brief excursions down dirt roads. So with that out of the way.

What to look for in a seven-seater SUV

  • Split third row – you should be able to choose between a six and seven-seater, not between five and seven as per the Mitsubishi Pajero, which cannot split its third row.
  • Fold-down third row – the seats should fold into the floor, not up to the sides. This is because side-fold seats reduce visibility and cargo space. Some offroaders will argue that they could use the space in the floor for storing things like water, and that is true, so this point holds for the average SUV owner and not someone who bought a seven-seater but really wanted a five-seater. 
Tumble-forward is an option, but not as good as fold-flat.
  • Child restraint points readily accessible – the best place for child restraint points is on the back of the seat, near the top, so you easily can get to them. Anywhere else – in the roof, at the base of the seat – is a pain.
  • Third-row child restraint points – rarely seen, but having these is a flexibility bonus. It is a pain to put a child into a seat in the third row, though.
  • ISOFIX – these days, there should be two of these fixtures on the outboard seats. More on ISOFIX here.
  • Space behind the third row – it’s rare that you’ll take seven people with no luggage at all, so some space behind the third row is essential, even if only for a couple of day bags. The smaller sevens – those less than about 4700mm long – tend to struggle here. The XC90 has a healthy 600mm depth of loadspace, more than some small cars. If you run out of space, consider a roof pod, roof basket, or a smaller trailer.

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  • Easily operable seats – minimal effort required, and obvious to operate. The litmus test is a friend who hasn’t ever seen the car on a wet, cold night trying to get into the back. I regularly do this test and refuse to give any hints as to how to operate the seat. I’m kind of running out of friends, but at least the car gets tested and that’s more important. Also, small children should be able to operate the seats.
  • Cargo tie-downs – unfortunately, several SUVs come with only two or even no tie-down points for cargo in the rear. Or they may be poorly positioned. This is a significant safety risk.
  • Storage/drinks holders – should be a drinks holder and small storage compartment for every occupant, including in the third row.
The Toyota Kluger has good loadspace, but not quite level and lacks tie-downs. There are drinks holders for both third-row occupants.
  • USB/12v – these days, you need at least two upfront, at least one in the second row, and one in the third row. Not all SUVs offer the second or third-row options. You don’t want the kid’s devices running flat while you drive past all of that nice scenery to look at.
  • Split and fold-flat second-row – a good seven-seat SUV will offer a completely flat load space when the floor folds down, and the second row will latch down. Lesser models will have a slight uphill gradient so you don’t get that flat floor space.
  • Adjustable seatbacks and fore/aft adjustment – it’s important to be able to trade space between first, second and third rows. You can do that to some extent by adjusting the seatback angles. The first row will always have an adjustable seatback angle, but not always the second or third row.

  • Ventilation in the back – the third row absolutely must have some form of effective ventilation. Ideally, you want the second row to have their own controls for heating or cooling.
  • Third-row airbags – pretty much all seven-seaters have side (curtain) airbags that extend into the third row, but do check this.
  • Lights – lots and lots of lights! A good lighting system is at least three in the roof, one in the top of the tailgate, and a couple in the sides of the boot.
  • Sound system – can you easily bias the sound from front to rear? Not all seven-seaters have speakers right at the back.
  • Visibility – all-round, but particularly for the second and third row. Looking out of the window is one of the best ways to combat carsickness.

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  • Reversing camera – you need one of these, and it should be high quality. Not all are the same. Reversing guidelines and a zoom function is useful.
  • Cargo net – handy to secure things, although it’s not a full cargo barrier.
  • Electrically operated tailgates and seats – once you have them, you’ll love them. This is particularly useful for families with children who aren’t small enough to set seats up by themselves. 
  • Booster seats – like this one below: 
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Yep…that’s a booster seat.

  What you may not know about seven-seat SUVs

  • Eight seaters – one or two, like the petrol LC200s, are actually eight seaters. 
  • Limited payload – seven or eight people is a lot of weight, and that means you almost certainly can’t modify the vehicle and then fill it with seven people without exceeding its payload (exceeding the weight design limit), or towing at its maximum capacity.
  • Space in the back – with the larger SUVs the third row is actually quite comfortable, thinking here of the BMW X7 and Volvo XC90 in particular.
  • Third row better than middle second – many a time people will be more comfortable in the third row than the middle second row.
  • Seat position restrictions – you typically cannot use the third row if the second row is not fully upright.
  • Available as a five – some models like the Pajero Sport and LC200 are available as a five-seater. Typically, the lower end models have fewer seats.

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper