5 Best Seven-Passenger Tow Vehicles of 2014

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5 Best Seven-Passenger Tow Vehicles of 2014

Background photo by The AutoMotovated Cyclist

One of the fastest-growing segments of the automotive industry is the seven-passenger SUV. Even though the third row seems to go unused 90% of the time, people like the idea of capability, and they’re more likely to buy a vehicle that serves the extreme ends of their needs, rather than settle for a vehicle that just meets the vast majority of their needs. That’s what makes America great.

Let’s assume, though, that you’re a motorcyclist who actually does need that third row. You have a big family, or you and your friends like to load up a trailer full of dirt bikes and head for the hills. Good for you.

Each vehicle on this list is capable of towing at least 3,500 lbs as equipped, and can carry a payload of at least 1,200 lbs. In order to qualify as “Best,” the vehicles must have a combination of capability, value, power, efficiency, comfort and driveability both while towing a load and when not.

Why five best? With seven passengers in each vehicle, you can round up 35 people and get them from point A to point B in a hurry. That’s a party, and that’s enough for us.

2014 Chevrolet Suburban LTZ 4WD
2014 Chevrolet Suburban LTZ 4WD

2014 Chevrolet Suburban LTZ 4WD

Engine: 5.3-Liter V8
Transmission: 6-speed Automatic Transmission
Horsepower: 320 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 325 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway
Max Towing (as equipped): 8,000 lbs
Max Payload (as equipped): 1,576 lbs
Cargo Capacity (behind 1st row/behind 2nd row/behind 3rd row):
137.4 cu.-ft. / 90.0 cu.-ft. / 45.8 cu.-ft.

MSRP: $61,400

Suburban is coming up for a makeover in 2015, but for 2014 the big people hauler chugs along with a surprising level of comfort and ease. It has more room behind the third row than many SUVs have behind the second row.

2014 Ford Explorer Sport EcoBoost V6 4WD
2014 Ford Explorer Sport EcoBoost V6 4WD

2014 Ford Explorer Sport EcoBoost V6 4WD

Engine: 3.5-Liter EcoBoost V6
Transmission: 6-speed Automatic Transmission
Horsepower: 365 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 350 lb.-ft. of torque @ 3,500 rpm
Fuel Economy: 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway
Max Towing (as equipped): 5,000 lbs
Max Payload (as equipped): N/A
Cargo Capacity (behind 1st row/behind 2nd row/behind 3rd row):
80.7 cu.-ft./ 43.8 cu.-ft./ 21.0 cu.-ft.

MSRP: $40,780

The turbocharged Explorer Sport is the sleeper in this group, and with standard trailer sway control, it is a safe and capable towing option. Plus, this one is fun to drive without a trailer, too.

2014 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD
2014 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD

2014 GMC Yukon Denali 4WD

Engine: 6.2-Liter V8
Transmission: 6-speed Automatic Transmission
Horsepower: 403 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 417 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,300 rpm
Fuel Economy: 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway
Max Towing (as equipped): 8,100 lbs
Max Payload (as equipped): 1,612 lbs
Cargo Capacity (behind 1st row/behind 2nd row/behind 3rd row):
108.9 cu.-ft. / 60.3 cu.-ft. / 16.9 cu.-ft.

MSRP: $62,310

“Bling” may not be a word that is still in your vocabulary, but that doesn’t stop the Yukon Denali from sporting its share. With a great big V8 under the hood, the Denali can back up that swagger, too.

2014 Honda Pilot Touring 4WD
2014 Honda Pilot Touring 4WD

2014 Honda Pilot Touring 4WD

Engine: 3.5-Liter V6
Transmission: 5-speed Automatic Transmission
Horsepower: 250 @ 5,700 rpm
Torque: 253 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,800 rpm
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway
Max Towing (as equipped): 4,500 lbs
Max Payload (as equipped): N/A
Cargo Capacity (behind 1st row/behind 2nd row/behind 3rd row):
87.0 cu.-ft. / 47.7 cu.-ft. / 18.0 cu.-ft.

MSRP: $41,420

Pilot is the surprise vehicle in this group, mostly because it is surprisingly refined, capable and good-looking for a vehicle that never seems to get any attention – even in Honda’s advertising. Don’t overlook it.

2014 Toyota Highlander V6 Limited Platinum AWD
2014 Toyota Highlander V6 Limited Platinum AWD

2014 Toyota Highlander V6 Limited Platinum AWD

Engine: 3.5-Liter V6
Transmission: 6-speed Automatic Transmission
Horsepower: 270 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 248 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,700 rpm
Fuel Economy: 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway
Max Towing (as equipped): 5,000 lbs
Max Payload (as equipped): 1,492
Cargo Capacity (behind 1st row/behind 2nd row/behind 3rd row):
83.2 cu.-ft./ 42.3 cu.-ft. / 13.8 cu.-ft.

MSRP: $43,590

Highlander is all-new for 2014, and the third-gen vehicle is much better-looking inside and out than the outgoing, bulbous hulk. Third row access and comfort is better than before – and it is actually usable for adults under 6′ tall.

What is your pick for best 2014 seven-passenger tow vehicle?

  • Aaron Baumann

    No love for mini-vans? I’ve got 4 (read “like 1,000″) children and this year I gave up a little bit of pride, sold our beastly Nissan Armada and replaced it with a Honda Odyssey. It’s far easier to actually use the 3rd row on a mini van, and they hold far more gear with 6+ people in them than any SUV. Plus, they meet the 3500 lb towing mark. They’re also cheaper and more fuel-efficient than everything else on the list.

    • Jason Fogelson

      Aaron — I have great fondness for the minivan, but none made the list because of the “driveability” part of the equation. Minivans do a great job carrying people, but they’re not much fun to drive, especially without the passengers.

      • Stuki

        A Suburban more fun to drive than an Odyssey??????

        • Ryan Kiefer

          As a man who owns an Odyssey and has gotten it sideways intentionally, I can confirm that Fogelson is off his meds if he thinks an Ody is less hoonable than a ‘Burb. Trucks grow bigger with speed, but the Odyssey shrinks.

          The “VSA” switch disables all aids save ABS, and enables all kinds of stupid shenanigans that remind you just how good Honda’s FWD chassis tuning is.

        • Ken Lindsay

          As a former Sub owner, hells yes they are fun to drive. Parking, well, that’s another story!

  • Stuki

    What about the Sequoia? Aside from the worst mileage this side of an imaginary 7 person Bugatti SUV, it’s a nice piece with enough oomph, clearance, weight and traction to allow it to tow properly offroad worthy trailers to trailheads minivans simply cannot reach.

    • Jason Fogelson

      Sequoia came close — it sits between Suburban and Yukon Denali in terms of luggage space. Yukon Denali won out with its great big engine and clean exterior.

  • Nate Terrill

    61k and change for a 270hp V6? ROFL

    • Ryan Kiefer

      Yes, because the engine is all that matters when it comes to towing.

      • Nate Terrill

        Enjoy that 248 ft pounds of torque in your 61 thousand dollar “tow” vehicle. BTW I wasn’t knocking the towing ability of the vehicle, I was knocking the fact that 61k gets one so little in the engine room.

        • Nate Terrill

          Case in point: those specs look alot like my wife’s Buick Enclave (awd, unit body, 288 bhp, 270 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm, 3 row, cuv) which would tow somewhere in the 4500 to 5000 pound range or so. Yet , it will do it for about half the price. Does that make it a “best tow vehicle”?. It’s platform mates, the Traverse and Acadia are cheaper still.

          Many of the best of lists on Ride Apart are fun because they always include something one agrees with and then a couple wtf? items.

          • Ryan Kiefer

            I see what you’re saying, now. At $61k, one must wonder why the potential buyer wouldn’t spring for an Lexus LX. I imagine that the subset of folks who *need* at a 7-passenger CUV (more than three kids, I guess) and have that much cheddar to spend on a new vehicle is a very small subset.

            However, a quick look at toyota.com tells me that an AWD V6 Highlander is available as cheap (HA!) as $35k.

            • Nate Terrill

              Perhaps the price quoted in thist article is a typo. I did a quick search and see the Highlander topping out at 43k and change for the top of the line. That price is a bit more competitive than 61k.

              IMO the real answer to all automotive questions that do not involve MPG is used CTS-V station wagon.

              • Jason Fogelson

                It is a typo! Should be $43,590. Sorry ’bout that. Too much eggnog.

          • Piglet2010

            But “Enclave” is such a stupid name that I could never own one.

            • Nate Terrill

              All the names of trees, national parks and mountains were taken.

  • Piglet2010

    Why no pick-em-up trucks? Six passengers will fit easily in back of a short-bed, and eight in a long-bed. And with a topper, you should arrive with as many as you started with.

  • Ken Lindsay

    Honestly, to bad they don’t run this article as best SUV/Crossover at X dollars. RideApart knows we are a mixed group of haves and have nots. Why not say best ride for 35K, best at 40K, … best at 65K, etc. This felt like they tossed out a few vehicles with a few specs and left it as that.