The midsize SUV has eclipsed the minivan as America's preferred method for moving families around. Many offer three rows of seating, comfortable and nice looking interiors, and family friendly features like rear power outlets and entertainment options.
Also common are optional driver assistance aids, like active cruise control, lane change assist, and rearview cameras. Some midsize SUVs are even able to tow a surprising amount, and of course, you can put a lot of stuff in them.
Here are our favorites for 2016:
1. Honda Pilot
The Honda Pilot is the gold standard in the midsize SUV category. It has plenty of cargo space, three rows of seats, a surprisingly powerful engine, rock-solid reliability and a lot of very nice options that help make it a great family hauler.
The Pilot's interior is filled with materials that have a premium look and feel, and the seats are very comfortable. The 280 horsepower V6 allows the Pilot to tow up to 5,000 lbs with AWD, and 3,500 lbs with FWD.
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The real forte of the Pilot are the clever touches that show that Honda knew what they were doing. The back seats fold down with the touch of a button, and the backseat entertainment system features a 110v outlet, RCA and HDMI video inputs, headphone ports, and several USB outlets.
There are also cubbies of various sizes placed throughout the cabin for you to store the ever-increasing number of accoutrements we seem to need to get through life.
Available options for the Honda Pilot include the Honda Sensing driver assistance package, premium audio, and comforts like rear sunshades.
The Pilot's touchscreen infotainment system can be needlessly complex sometimes, especially for audio controls (what was wrong with a simple dial?) and the car suffers a bit of body roll when taking corners a bit too aggressively, but overall it is the vehicle other companies should benchmark when building a midsize SUV.
Base price: $30,345
2. Toyota Highlander
Another perennial favorite in this segment, the Toyota Highlander is a solid choice for a reliable family hauler. The Highlander is big, with lots of room for people and things. Like the Honda Pilot, the Highlander has three rows of seats, and the interior uses premium materials.
The Highlander's best feature is the amount of space behind the third row, which is not often optimized in three row midsize crossovers. The Highlander is also reliable, safe, and the driving dynamics are predictable. The Highlander is no canyon carver, but the driving characteristics are pleasant.
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The Highlander is offered with three powertrain options, a base-level 185 horsepower four cylinder, a 270 horsepower V6, and a hybrid that adds two electric motors to the V6 for a total of 280 horsepower.
The engine to get is the standard V6, because the increase of power offers no real decrease in fuel economy over the four, and the hybrid option offers no practical gain in fuel economy over the V6. All wheel drive is available on the V6 and Hybrid, but front wheel drive is standard.
The Highlander is offered with a number of great options, including heated and ventilated front seats, heated second row seats, a panoramic moonroof, rear seat entertainment, and a PA system that can transmit the driver's voice to the back seats, allowing you to tell your kids to stop hitting each other without having to raise your voice too much.
The downside to the Highlander is that the third row isn't roomy enough for adults. It also feels like a much bigger car to drive, and the four cylinder base engine simply doesn't have enough power to lug the Highlander's mass. Overall though, if you need a big car for your kids, the Highlander is worth a look.
Base price: $30,490
3. Nissan Murano
The best thing about the Nissan Murano is being inside of one. The interior is filled with very nice materials that wouldn't seem out of place in a luxury SUV, and the "NASA Inspired Zero-Gravity" seats are very comfortable over long distances. The interior's layout is very ergonomic, and there are a lot of standard features you would normally have to pay extra for, such as a dual zone climate control.
Options include a panoramic moonroof, upgraded infotainment and audio systems, and a 360 degree camera system that lets you see what's happening all around the car. The V6 engine makes adequate power and the ride is smooth and compliant. The Murano also gets pretty good gas mileage for the segment. Most notably though, it seems Nissan is figuring out the CVT transmission in the Murano, and it keeps getting better.
Finally, while there isn't a third row available, the Murano does offers a lot of space for cargo.
The Murano's CVT transmission, while improved, can be offputting to people when they go to accelerate. Also, the Murano's styling is certainly polarizing, and while the exterior makes it stand out, it really compromises interior visibility. All in all though, the Murano is an attractive option for those who don't need a third row and want a nice comfortable ride.
Base price: $29,660
4. Ford Explorer
The Ford Explorer is one of the O.G.'s of the midsize SUV class, and continues to be a great option. The Explorer is notable for it's powerful engines, giving you a choice of a standard 290 horsepower V6, an optional 280 horsepower turbo four, and a 365 horsepower Ecoboost turbo V6. Even with the four-pot, the Explorer can tow up to 3,000 lbs, and up to 5000 lbs for the bigger engines.
The Explorer also has an upscale interior, and has the room to sit seven. The MyFord Touch infotainment system offers voice control, Bluetooth, and settings that allow parents to restrict speeds and audio levels for their kids. Other options include driver assistance aids like automatic cruise control, and foot operated tailgate controls.
The Explorer Sport model is particularly notable, as it offers the turbo V6, a tighter steering ratio, a sportier suspension, and an more menacing appearance.
The biggest downside (or upside, if you're into that sort of thing) is that the Explorer, especially in the Sport trim, is starting to give off the same aura to other motorists that the Crown Victoria did; other drivers are going to think you're a cop, and may start to drive slower around you. The Explorer is also big and heavy, it doesn't have a great turning circle, and it isn't the most spacious, but it still makes a solid choice for the segment.
Base price: $31,050