Whoever said the SUV is dead didn’t get the memo. The need to haul people, stuff, and some serious ass is still wholly alive and kicking — and car manufacturers don’t need to be told twice that Americans love to buy oversized. Fortunately big SUVs are better than ever. Gone are the low-rent interiors that used to plague the segment; the sheetmetal that ensconces drivers as they frighten small animals is swoopier and more handsome than ever before. Sure, for the most part mpgs approach the nadir of supercars, but that’s no reason to ignore the SUV’s capacity, comfort and snow-flinging prowess.
It’s no longer enough for a big SUV to transport seven; it has to look good and feel good (for both driver and passengers), while doing it. Our intrepid Octane crew drove five of the best seven-passenger SUVs out there, and what they found was a range of flavors suited for just about everyone. While none of these five SUVs are perfect, each is grand in its own right by virtue of style, quality and utility.
Best 7-Passenger SUV for the Busy Family Man: With all-wheel-drive, dual seven-inch screens for the middle row, Bose speakers, a 360-degree camera, a suite of driver safety sensors that warn and can brake the car to avoid a collision, a 265 hp V6 and a surprisingly non-annoying CVT, the QX60 (formerly the J30) is a people mover worthy of consideration. Flowing external styling in line with Infinit’s new fluid yet muscular design language and plenty of luxury space on the inside at a pretty strong price point means you’ll be road tripping the family to grandmother’s house while pleasing both driver and third row passengers alike. It also helps that the QX60 looks more like a tall wagon than a stilted people hauler. Now…about that D-pillar.
Miles Driven: 531
Verdict: We laud the styling, even if its only aim is to be different. Good thing they left in the practicality.
Memorable Moment: Seeing someone we knew, who commented, “Looks like things are going well for you.”
Best 7-Passenger SUV for the Cost-Conscious Carpooler: The Sorento is a great example of Kia’s strategy to offer affordable luxury across a wide spectrum of prices. The base model is a fantastic offering at less than $25,000, but our fully loaded version was $20k more, which puts it in range with some more “traditional” luxury options on this list. The Napa leather interior, panoramic sunroof, heated second row seats and all-wheel-drive did make the Sorento feel comfortable, cushy and safe. The 8-inch center LCD display along with Kia’s UVO infotainment system worked excellently; the silhouette of the car has a bit of a Lexus LX look to it, which brought confidence while we spent a few days at the one percenters’ playground of Martha’s Vineyard. Still, despite the strong 290 hp 3.3 liter V6 and all the bells and whistles, a $45,000 Kia seems a bit steep — then again, that’s what a Martha’s Vineyard guest spends for their weekend getaway, but that’s not the point.
Miles Driven: 255
Verdict: Kia’s come a long way, and the Sorento proves it.
Memorable Moment: Driving through Martha’s Vineyard and not feeling out of place or afraid to valet the car.
Best 7-Passenger SUV for the Man Who Wants it All:The luxo version of the Toyota Land Cruiser is as good as a big Japanese SUV gets with an attractive body and the kind of cabin digs that shelter you from the awful horrors of the great outdoors; that cabin also hauls eight, you and your big wallet included. The design is clean and crisp — step inside and you’re awash in comfort. There’s no wanting for grunt, either: the 383 horsepower and 403 lb-ft from the 5.7-liter V8 are apparent when you mash the throttle, but be careful: the big Lexus is a thirsty sucker.
It’s pricey because there’s only one trim level: the full Monty. To be exact, that’s 20-inch wheels, heated and cooled seats, power second and third rows, voice control and power liftgate plus a huge list of other amenities. We loved the adaptive suspension, automatic load levelling and Crawl Control, all of which make the LX570 off-road impressive well beyond its rich demeanor. The feeling that you can pretty much run over anything else in the parking lot (shy of a Hummer H1) is a bonus.
Miles Driven: 287
Memorable Moment: Feeling the potent V8 surge and being shocked by its power.
Verdict: Thick, rich and pretty damned addictive.
Audi Q7 TDI
Best 7-Passenger SUV for the Long Distance Hauler: The Audi Q7 is patiently waiting for a long-overdue overhaul. It’s been eight years since the Q7 was introduced, and very little has changed. This is both good and bad. Good because it’s a well proportioned and very successful seven-seater starting under $48,000 (TDI base is $53,000); bad because the dash and MMI all feel at least five years old. That said, this ride brings both confidence and capabilities to the table. Though music booms from a $6,300 sound system and drivers are cocooned in Audi’s signature beautifully luxed-out interior, the Q7 hasn’t traded practicality for prosperity. 406 lb-ft of torque get this German locomotive up and running in no time. The second and third level seats fold flat, and the air suspension in our model lowered the rear end with the push of a button to aid in loading; just don’t cry when you rip the leather while stacking your home depot lumber in the back.
Miles Driven: 436
Verdict: Long in the tooth, but no shortage on road legs.
Memorable Moment: A BMW E36 M3 owner eyeballed it and said “Nice car.”
Hyundai Santa Fe
Best 7-Passenger SUV for the Driver Who Wants Sleekness and Space: The new Santa Fe makes the previous generation look seriously dated. Adopting the taffy-pull design language that’s found most noticeably in the Azera and Sonata, it’s a handsome SUV that rivals the Japanese’s offerings. That swoopy sheetmetal is bolstered by a nicely appointed interior (especially with the saddle leather/black trim combo). You can even order up second row captains chairs, but you’ll have to kick out one of your friends in the process. The Driver Selectable Steering Mode (DSSM) allows you to order up Comfort, Normal or Sport, altering the steering for slightly better feel as you go up the ladder. Plus, the three-row version gets more oomph than the Sport version via a 290 hp 3.3-liter V6. It’s quick enough around town, but it could use a bit more punch at highway speeds for passing maneuvers. Just make sure your friends are on the thin side when you need more speed.
Miles Driven: 320
Verdict: Well-rounded and perfect for the driver who cares less about badges and more about practicality in a good-looking package.
Memorable Moment:Stopping for gas when a young lady asked “Is that a Lexus?”
Additional Contribution by Bradley Hasemeyer