SUV comparison: Four of a kind seven-seat vehicles

Moving Well | Tim Nicholson | Posted on 05 February 2020

Four of the top-selling seven-seat family SUVs, compared.

Growing families have a lot more choice these days when it comes to buying a vehicle with more than five seats. Thankfully, there are a lot more options than there were in the 1980s and ’90s when you had the choice of a generic people-mover-style van with zero personality, or another box on wheels. 

Anyone in the market for a seven-seater – or in some cases an eight-seater – vehicle can now pick from a number of SUV models of varying sizes and capabilities, including serious off-roaders. Some SUVs offer a third row suitable for daily use that will comfortably sit kids of varying ages. Others have a third row that’s better suited for occasional use. 

And then there are the traditional people movers. But even they are a bit sexier than they used to be. We’ve pulled together four very different, but very capable, seven-seat offerings in the market. 

Honda CR-V

The Honda CR-V is just one of many family SUVs on the market.


Kia Carnival (from $42,990 to $63,290 plus on-road costs) 

The Carnival nameplate goes back about 20 years in Australia and the early versions offered cheap, uncomplicated motoring for families requiring more space than a sedan or wagon could offer. Preceding the SUV boom, the Carnival was a sales hit for Kia. 

In 2015, Kia launched the current-generation Carnival that, to this day, is one of the best fit-for-purpose people movers on the market. The Korean car-maker produced a spacious, reliable and visually appealing MPV that also offers a genuinely engaging drive experience. A major update in May last year further improved the Carnival, with a new automatic transmission and additional safety and in-car tech. 

The Carnival shares many of its underpinnings with the equally impressive Sorento SUV, including the gutsy 3.3-litre V6 petrol and 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel engine – both excellent powertrains. 

The Carnival’s main party trick is its clever use of interior space. It can comfortably seat up to eight people across three rows, but the cabin is so flexible that you can stow seats in the floor to increase interior space further. It can also swallow a huge amount of luggage – 960 litres in fact, with all three rows in place. Stow the third row and that increases to 2220 litres, and 4022 with both rear seating rows lowered. 

It is also packed with standard gear, particularly in top-spec Platinum guise, which feels properly premium.  

Thumbs up:  Lots of car for the money and a super comfortable ride. 
Thumbs down:  Bus-like styling can put some buyers off, and it’s showing its age inside. 

Kia Carnival 
Kia Carnival 

The Carnival’s main party trick is its clever use of interior space.


Mazda CX-9 (from $46,420 to $68,523 plus on-road costs) 

Competition in the large family SUV segment is fierce these days, with all of the major manufacturers focusing on driveability as well as functionality. One seven-seat SUV that doesn’t look or feel like a family hauler is Mazda’s CX-9. Since its launch in mid-2016, the CX-9 has developed a reputation as one of the best driver’s cars in the segment. Mazda engineers managed to build a circa-two-tonne SUV that is actually dynamically engaging. The smooth and punchy 170kW/420Nm 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine helps. 

But dynamic prowess is nothing without function in this segment. The CX-9 is a genuine seven-seater, sitting above the smaller CX-5 and alongside the similarly positioned, diesel-only CX-8 seven-seater – a recent winner in the 2019 Australia’s Best Cars awards for best family wagon. 

The CX-9 has comfortable seats in all three rows and while the third row is not as easy to access as it is in the Carnival, it’s on par with its SUV rivals. The third row has useable space for kids and there are plenty of storage options back there too. Cargo space of 230 litres is also similar to its SUV competitors, and it increases to 810 litres with the seating rows folded.  

Safety-wise it has a five-star ANCAP rating and it’s offered with a high level of standard safety gear across the range.  

Thumbs up:  Looks and feels premium, smooth turbo-petrol engine. 
Thumbs down:  Can get thirsty, no air vents in the third row.  

Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9

The CX-9 has developed a reputation as one of the best driver’s cars in the segment.


Honda CR-V (from $34,490 to $38,990 plus on-road costs)  

For those families who don’t need a third seating row all the time, there are a bunch of offerings that cater for occasional use. These models are flexible enough to help you cart yours and other people’s kids to a sports match, but also give you a decent amount of luggage space when the third row isn’t in use. The Nissan X-Trail, Mitsubishi Outlander and Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace all fit this description, but one of the better picks out of these smaller seven-seaters is Honda’s CR-V.  

The seven-seat CR-V is available in two front-wheel-drive model grades – VTi-E7 from $34,490 and the higher spec VTi-L7 at $38,990 before on-road costs. The CR-V has a flexible interior and is more spacious than its exterior dimensions suggest. It’s not as easy to access the third row as some of the larger full-time seven-seat SUVs, but there is decent room for kids in the back and they have access to roof-mounted air vents. Safety wise it has curtain airbags that stretch back far enough to protect the third-row occupants. It has decent cargo space with the third row in place and adequate head room. 

Honda’s 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine might seem small for this size of vehicle, but it’s a sweet unit and offers solid performance. The cabin materials and layout push the CR-V ahead of some of its medium SUV rivals. 

Thumbs up:  Well packaged and it has curtain airbags for the third row. 
Thumbs down:  Less cabin space than the pricier, larger SUV set. 

Honda CR-V
Honda CR-V

The Honda CR-V caters for those families  who  don’t need a third seating row all the time.


Ford Everest (from $56,190 to $73,990 plus on-road costs) 

Seven-seat SUVs are all well and good for space and practicality, but some people also want the ability to go off road. The past few years have seen an influx of rugged seven-seat 4x4s entering the market – largely based on popular utes – and the Ford Everest is one of the best. 

Sharing its underpinnings with the Ranger ute, the Everest is a big SUV that has genuine off-road chops. It can comfortably accommodate two children in the third row and access to the rear pew is relatively easy. Unlike some of its ute-based SUV rivals, the Everest’s third row folds flat into the boot floor when it’s not being used, making for a more useable cargo area. 

While the Everest might be based on a ute, it has a well-appointed and comfortable cabin – particularly the higher-grade Trend and Titanium – and the latest infotainment with Ford’s Sync 3 connectivity system.  

For those who love the butch look of the Everest but will never venture off the tarmac, there are two rear-wheel-drive variants available. Ford offers the Everest with the trusted 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel, as well as the newer 2.0-litre four-pot turbo-diesel found in the hardcore Ranger Raptor. 

Thumbs up:  It’s a genuine 4x4 and has a choice of two gutsy diesel engines. 
Thumbs down:  Top-spec variants are expensive, and it’s not as car-like as soft-roaders. 

Ford Everest
Ford Everest

While the Ford Everest might be based on a ute, it has a well-appointed and comfortable cabin.


Don’t forget 

If you’re in the market for a seven-seat people-mover or SUV, be sure to take your family along for the test drive. The best way to know if any vehicle is going to truly suit your needs is by getting your kids’ opinion on the second and third seating rows. Also check that any seven-seater you look at has curtain airbags that run all the way down to the third row. This ensures better occupant protection for all three rows of seating.