• 3-row SUV AWD Comparison

Event: Three-Row SUV Comparison Review

Family-size Seven-Passenger Crossovers Compared

Clean Fleet Report test drives and reviews more than 100 vehicles each year, bringing you in-depth insight into cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles. Usually this is one at a time. So, when given the opportunity to do a head-to-head comparison drive, we jump at the chance. Recently the automotive journalist organization for Southern California, Motor Press Guild, held such a comparison event. Clean Fleet Report drove three seven-passenger crossovers from three different manufacturers. Here is a quick look at the three.

Three-tow SUV comparison

Three built to take the family on the open road

2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium 4Motion

The Atlas, introduced in 2017 as a 2018 model, is Volkswagen’s first seven-passenger SUV. Designed for the American market and built in Tennessee, this contemporary styled family-sized hauler welcomes its occupants with a spacious cabin. The 3.6-liter V6 drives Volkswagen’s, 4Motion all-wheel drive system through an eight-speed automatic. The power, 276 horsepower (hp)/266 pounds-feet (lb.-ft) of torque, was good for daily driving, but we would need to drive it when fully loaded, or towing, to see if there could be a strain on the engine. The 2018 Atlas is balanced nicely and grips the road well, with only aggressive cornering producing any noticeable body roll. Fuel economy for the Atlas V6 is EPA rated at 17 city/23 highway/19 combined. These numbers are in line for a 4,500 lb. SUV.

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

Inside the Atlas hits an upscale note

Climbing inside, you will immediately notice the Atlas’ spacious interior and the high quality of the materials. Achieved by having near squared-off sides and a tall roof, shoulder room is expansive and leg room is good for even the tallest passengers. If you don’t want to seat seven passengers, the Atlas can be ordered with a Captain’s Chair second row option. Access to the third row was through Volkswagen’s clever fold-and-slide second row, that made getting to the 50/50 split-folding third row an ease. Once out back, two adults could ride for a quick jaunt, but for a longer road trip, best leave the third row to the kids.

Base Pricing

$30,750 for the Atlas S with the four-cylinder engine and front wheel drive

$32,150 for the Atlas S V6 with front-wheel drive (FWD)

$33,950 for the Atlas S V6 with all-wheel drive (AWD)

2018 Chevrolet Traverse AWD High Country

Built in Michigan, this full-size SUV comes in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive. Clean Fleet Report drove the highly optioned AWD High Country model and were immediately impressed with the road feel. The 3.6-liter V6, with the nine-speed automatic, puts out 310 hp with 266 lb.-ft of torque, utilizing twin rear clutches to apply torque to the rear wheels on a traction priority basis. This translates into a very confident feel when taking higher speed corners and was something that could be felt when pushing the Traverse to the edge of grip. The weight and power were balanced well for a very confident and easy-to-drive family vehicle. The EPA rates the fuel economy at 17 city/25 highway/20 combined, slightly better than the Atlas (the base FWD four-cylinder model hits 20/26/22)

2018 Chevrolet Traverse

The Traverse has a balance of good and not-so-good interior features

The interior was large, with leather-trimmed seats and soft materials throughout the cabin offering a welcoming look and feel. Two things about the interior seating, one good and one not so good. The good: each row of seats are a bit higher than the preceding row, so passengers have good visibility even from the last row. The not so good: the nifty slide feature of the second-row seats (tip forward, then slide forward) making for easy access to the third row, was only on the passenger side. The industry standard for this useful feature has it on the driver side also.

Offered in eight trim levels, you can go from basic in the L trim with cloth seats to the High Country where touches of luxury are all around. And if making a visual statement is your thing, the Traverse Redline Edition has been pretty much blacked-out—everything from the light bezels to the windows and window trim to the iconic Chevrolet bowtie emblem.

Base Pricing

$30,875 for the Traverse L, FWD

$52,600 for the Traverse High Country, AWD

2019 Subaru Ascent AWD

Subaru dealers were crying for a seven-passenger SUV. Loyal customers were leaving Subaru when their family outgrew the Forester and Outback models. The solution was to start production in Indiana of the all-new, seven-passenger 2019 Subaru Ascent.

2019 Subaru Ascent

The Subaru Ascent is new and bigger than any previous Subaru

The all-new 2.4-liter turbocharged, boxer engine (horizontally opposed pistons, four-cylinder) puts out 260 hp and 277 lb.-ft of torque. The boxer engine had ample power, but was a bit noisy when stressed, as in climbing a hill or flooring it to make a freeway pass. The AWD Ascent uses a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. Subaru has been on the design and development forefront of the CVT for so long that this current version complements the engine very well and moves along the 4,603 lbs. with seamless shifts and smooth performance. EPA fuel economy is 21 city/27 highway/24 combined, the best of these three (on the base and Premium model).

The interior did not feel as large as the Volkswagen Atlas or the Chevrolet Traverse, but this did not mean it was cramped. There was plenty of room for the front occupants in a well laid-out cockpit, where all gauges and controls were within easy reach of the driver. The second row bench seat (Captain’s Chairs are an option) is quite versatile with the way it can be folded and slid, making for easy access to the third row. Subaru says you can put three in the third row, which is possible if they are small of stature. 

Both the exterior and interior of the Ascent will be familiar with Subaru owners. The Ascent is a blend between the Outback and Forester, making for a very safe design, which is fully understandable. Subaru has had an incredibly long run of sales success, so its first foray into the third-row SUV category had to be a model that is comfortable and safe for its loyal customers.

Base Pricing

$31,995 for base model, AWD

$44,695 for Touring model, AWD


The 2018 Atlas, in its first year, has been a sales winner for Volkswagen. It will appeal to you if you want a solid German build, fit and finish. The interior was on par with the best in the class, but this should be expected from a company that includes Audi and Porsche. The Atlas will give you a spacious interior and a quiet, comfortable ride, but had the heaviest feel of the three we tested.

2019 Subaru Ascent

Choosing between these three capable crossovers is difficult

The Subaru Ascent will be a hit with current Subaru owners wanting to move into a larger, family-size SUV. The exterior and interior will be very familiar to them, so the transition into this larger vehicle will be seamless. Non-Subaru owners will take a bit longer to warm-up to it, but this will not be a lengthy process. While none of these three SUVs had exceptional fuel economy, the Subaru Ascent had the best.

The 2018 Chevrolet Traverse, is, as the Chevrolet rep told us, “selling faster than we can make them.” After driving the Traverse, I can see why. The Traverse is, overall, a well-balanced SUV offering a confident and comfortable ride with good power distribution and nimble handling.

So, does Clean Fleet Report have a favorite? Nope, no way, nada! You need to drive each of these, and the other seven-passenger, three-row SUVs on the market, for yourself. You can’t go wrong with your decision.

Whatever you buy…happy driving!

Product Overview

2018 Volkswagen Atlas V6 SEL Premium, with 4Motion

2018 Volkswagen Atlas

The Atlas boasts a Euro-feel even though it’s built in Tennessee




3.6L V6

276 hp/266 lb.-ft torque

4,502 lbs.

5,000 lb. maximum towing capacity

EPA fuel economy: 17 city/23 highway/19 combined

2018 Chevrolet Traverse AWD High Country

2018 Chevrolet Traverse

Each of the three had its own (mostly) high and low points

3.6L V6

310 hp with 266 lb.-ft of torque

4,362 lbs.

5,000 lb. maximum towing capacity

EPA fuel economy: 17 city/25 highway/20 combined

2019 Subaru Ascent AWD

2.4L turbocharged, Boxer engine

260 hp and 277 lb.-ft of torque

4,603 pounds

5,000 lb. maximum towing capacity

EPA fuel economy: 21 city/27 highway/23 combined

Related Stories You Might Enjoy—More 3-Row SUV Tests

Road Test: 2018 Lincoln Navigator Black Label AWD

Road Test: 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

Comparison Test: 2018 Volkswagen Atlas: V6 vs 4

Road Test: 2018 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Nissan Pathfinder

News: 2018 Lexus RX 450L Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander

First Drive: Tesla Model X P100D


Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition, we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

Share This Post

About Author: John Faulkner

John Faulkner is an automotive marketing professional with more than 30 years experience branding, launching and marketing automobiles. He has worked with General Motors (all Divisions), Chrysler (Dodge, Jeep, Eagle), Ford and Lincoln-Mercury, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota on consumer events and sales training programs. His interest in automobiles is broad and deep, beginning as a child riding in the back seat of his parent's 1950 Studebaker. He has a keen appreciation of Art Deco design, no bias for domestic versus foreign makes and loves competition - whether that be F1, IndyCar, Sports Cars, NASCAR or participating in Track Days at places such as Laguna Seca, Thunderhill or Willow Springs. John lives in Dana Point, CA, and enjoys a top-down drive on PCH on an early Sunday morning.

4 thoughts on “Event: Three-Row SUV Comparison Review

Let us know what you think.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.