2008 Hyundai Veracruz
16 City/23 Highway
With two of the top 10 most-fuel-efficient three-row crossovers on the market, the Hyundai brand makes a strong case for consideration among plus-size families, especially those with medium-size (or even minus-size) budgets. And although the larger Veracruz is thirstier than the other Hyundai ute, the Santa Fe, we think its ninth-place showing is just as impressive.
Why? Because the Veracruz is larger and more powerful. Hyundai's excellent 3.8-liter V-6 engine -- which produces 260 horsepower and 257 pound-feet of torque -- mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control makes it our clear choice of the two for the tasks of tugging and towing.
And even more significant, the Veracruz is laden with luxury features that can weigh down a vehicle as much as a few extra inches of length. Hyundai's clear benchmark for style and content for the Veracruz was the Lexus RX350, a vehicle the Veracruz closely mimics inside and out. As with its upcoming Genesis sedan, the Veracruz is a rolling statement from Hyundai that says "we're soooo not about cheap cars anymore."
As Hyundai's flagship SUV, then, the Veracruz is all about power, luxury, and size, not fuel economy. That it comes within 1 mpg of its smaller brother is even more remarkable.
2008 Mazda CX-9
16 City/22 Highway
There's really no other way to put this: Mazda hit a home run with its CX-9 crossover. Since its launch last year, pretty much every automotive journalistic entity has popped the liftgate and filled the CX-9's cargo hold to capacity with praise.
To be frank, the CX-9's praise is not so much for its fuel economy, which, at 16 mpg city and 22 highway, is decent but hardly segment busting. Rather, the praise comes on account of the Mazda's fabulous on-road manners that prove the real drivers out there (you know who you are) needn't send their kids off to boarding school just because they grew too big to fit in the back of the Porsche 911.
Sharing some bits with the Mazda 6 architecture, the CX-9 proves how prolific the now five-year-old platform is. Mazda's owner, the Ford Motor Company, has used portions of the same mechanicals on at least half a dozen Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, and Mazda models with great success. But although most share the CX-9's favorable handling attributes, none offers the same massive cargo capacity as the CX-9, let alone its third-row seat.
As a Mazda, the CX-9 should enjoy an impressive resale value, something that all families can appreciate. And we don't need to mention that it looks terrific; you probably figured that out on your own. So the CX-9 finishes at the bottom in this roundup of fuel-efficient three-row crossovers, but as we voted in this year's 5Best Trucks competition, there are many ways it tops our list.
2008 Buick Enclave/GMC Acadia/Saturn Outlook
16 City/24 Highway
There's not much to dislike about GM's trio of handsome new crossovers. And one of their strongest suits is fuel economy that, for their size and weight, is darn impressive. So what if they are in seventh on this list? In third-row accommodations, which is a major aspect -- if not the whole point -- of these trucks, they top this group. The three-across rear seat in each one of these trucks is not only spacious enough for adults but rather comfortable, too. If you were to give us a choice of sitting in the third row of an Enclave, Outlook, or Acadia versus that of the Toyota Highlander, Team America would win outright every time.
But the accomplishments of these trucks exist in more areas than just fuel economy. The 275-hp, 3.6-liter engine and standard six-speed automatic with manual shift control are great partners, offering plenty of smooth power to lug a full load of hockey players or, say, a 4500-pound fishing boat to their respective ponds without much complaint. Steering, handling, and braking also belie these vehicles' size and make for a driving experience that is not only capable but also enjoyable.
These GM trucks are darn good-looking, too, each reflective of the sensibilities of its brand, which makes choosing a favorite difficult, especially between the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia, which are priced nearly on top of each other. Things will only get more complicated with the arrival of the Chevrolet Traverse, the fourth vehicle to be built on the platform. Then again, who cares? It's not as if one could make a bad choice among them.