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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10 Comments

  1. Steve-O
    October 16, 2016 at 9:13 pm — Reply

    I’ve looked at the XC90 in great detail. There’s a lot to like but a lot to dislike. The space in the third row is really sub-optimal, given the very large size of the car. It’s no larger than the space in a 7 seat SUV a size smaller. Second row passengers have to put up with the large transmission tunnel down the centre of the car. So the middle passenger in the second row has to straddle this large lump. There’s also no USB port in either of the second or third row (there’s only one in the whole vehicle). Worse still, the third row seats cannot be raised or lowered from the rear of the car; they are not electronic (such as in the Q7 which has buttons at the tailgate) nor do they have a strap on the back of them allowing you to raise and lower them from the rear of the car. In the XC90, you either climb in from the rear (which is ridiculous) or you raise each one by going around to each passenger door in turn to access the mechanism. Further, there is nowhere in the car to stow the luggage cover. So it’s either left behind in the garage or it floats around in the passenger compartment if not being used.

    • October 16, 2016 at 9:22 pm — Reply

      Hi Steve-O – good mini-review. You may be interested to know pretty much all those points were covered here:

      https://practicalmotoring.com.au/car-reviews/2016-volvo-xc90-t6-r-design-review/

      A couple of comments though; the third row space isn’t too bad, and there’s 600mm of space behind the third row which is a lot. Agree re USB but there are extra 12v outlets, and the lack of rear-access operation, and the cargo blind which is a problem when you convert from 5 to 7 seats.

      • Steve-O
        October 16, 2016 at 9:41 pm — Reply

        I was actually truly surprised at how little room there was in the third row; particulalry given the size of the car. There’s no more room than in a Sorento, which is a smaller vehicle. But yes, there’s good boot space with the third row in place (unlike the Sorento).

        The XC90 is impressive for sure. But having looked at the Sorento in similar detail, I found it even more impressive as an overall package, and half the price. I was genuinely surprised (almost shocked if I’m honest) at how good it was.

        But as you rightly say, the best 7 seater is a people mover. And to that end, the Carnival is fantastic.

        Thanks for an informative piece. For the record, I don’t work for nor have any affiliation with Kia!

  2. Dave
    October 18, 2016 at 8:31 pm — Reply

    One thing I think is lost in a lot of reviews of 7 seaters that people are buying them as they have kids 🙂 Now it is recommended to keep your kids in boosters until 145cm that means your having kids in boosters past 7. We updated our Discovery 3 earlier this year we have 4 kids and 3 in boosters needed something that could tow and looked at the Everest, Fortuner, Colorado and Mux.

    Could not get 3 seats into 2nd row of any of the them :(. If you put two car seats in the 2nd row to put one child in the 3rd row the 40/60 then cannot split, so they need to enter via boot or climb over the seat. Only the Everest had anchor points in 3rd row although seats where too small for an adult for any length of time. Everest also had the worst access to the third row of any of them if your an adult.

    So we ended up with a new Discovery 4 paid the extra $’s as it works for people with car seats. All three 2nd row seats individually flips and each can hold a booster seat. So two seats in the 2nd row and one in the 3rd row that they can get in via a passenger side tumble forward as well. Not the 60/40 on the wrong side 🙂 I found it funny that the D4 is basically a updated D3 from 2005 and was still a long way ahead of the rivals for seating as a family car.

    • October 18, 2016 at 8:49 pm — Reply

      I used to own a D3 and loved the interior, and the way it all folded down flat. Not many 7 seaters can do that. Child restraint points in the third row is a rarity, but Ford tend to come good with them. The Everest is not a class leading seven seater by any means. Agree it’s impressive that the Discovery (no “4” any more) is still so good, in effect 11 years after its launch!

      • Dave
        October 18, 2016 at 9:09 pm — Reply

        The no child anchors in 3rd row is weird as many cars the only ones that can fit in the 3rd row are kids. If you go on the 145cm rule for a booster then they will be too big to fit in the 3rd row of most 🙂 After rule changes now most boosters have anchor points apart from the cheap portable ones. Although seems car makers not catching on to this probably as most cars are not made for Australia. Hence the 60/40 splits on the wrong side.

        • Rachel
          November 5, 2016 at 11:29 am — Reply

          The Discovery 4 is one of the few cars with 3 full seats in Row2 all with child seat tethers and you can install tethers on Row3 seats plus they are comfortable for a full size adult. Each of the 5 seats in Rows2+3 also fold down independently. Front and side airbags on Row 1+2 and curtain airbags on Row 2+ 3. It can’t be beat and the Discovery is the supremely competent offroad and onroad. We love ours.

  3. Dan
    August 18, 2017 at 4:26 pm — Reply

    No third row airbags yet for Citroen, even in their 2017 update of their C4 Grand Picasso. I’m having real problems finding a non-van, 7 seater with third row airbags and 360 degree surround camera (if I’d never tried one, I wouldn’t know what I was missing). Besides the Land Rovers (some friends have owned shockers), there is nothing priced between the $55K Pajero Sport Exceed and the $110K series 2 XC90. Pity Mazda haven’t put the surround camera on their ToDo list.

  4. Charlie Medina's Smiling Coach
    February 25, 2018 at 5:22 am — Reply

    Driven and investigated many 7 seaters and the Q7 slays all of them. For a price…

  5. Alan
    November 14, 2019 at 5:38 pm — Reply

    I’ve owned 3 People Movers back when we had children – I look at the 7 seat SUVs and wonder why people don’t buy more Carnivals etc. Far more practical. VW has some nice ones too.

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper