SUV driving across salt flats
The House

The Safest Third-Row SUVs For Under $10,000

I spent months agonizing over which vehicle to pick when we decided it was time to size-up from our little sedan.

The requirements:

  • Third row seats
  • The reliability of a Toyota
  • Top safety ratings
  • Great gas mileage
  • High clearance
  • AWD or 4 wheel drive for the mountains
  • Nothing huge

Oh, and we had a $10,000 maximum budget. Easy right?

The Research

Phew, that search took me forever, but luckily there are many great resources out there.

I compiled safety and pricing information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Then I narrowed it down to all of the mid-size SUVs with 3rd row seats, and finally gathered fuel info from FuelEconomy.

I know I’m not the only one who wanted this specific type of car, so I turned my research into this handy chart for those of you who are on the same quest.

Spoiler alert: we decided on a 2008 Volvo XC 90 and love it.

Safest Mid-Size SUVs with Third Row Seats on a Budget!

Vehicle Years Drivetrain Fuel Economy Price
Volvo XC90 2005+ FWD/AWD/4WD 17 $4,500
Toyota Highlander 2008+ AWD/4WD 19 hybrid: 26 $8,100
Ford Taurus X 2008-2009 AWD 18 $3.700
Honda Pilot 2006+ AWD/4WD 17 $7,000
Hyundai Santa Fe 2007-2016 AWD 23 $4,300
Subaru B9 Tribeca 2006-2014 AWD 22 $4,700
Hyundai Veracruz 2008-2012 4WD 18 $5,700
Ford Flex  2011+ AWD 17 $7,200
Acura MDX late 2007+  AWD/4WD 17 $8,300
Kia Sorento 2011-2015 FWD/AWD/4WD 23 $8,400
BMW X5 2008-2013 AWD 17 $10,000


As I mentioned, I started with the list of vehicles recommended for teens by IIHS. According to them: “Vehicles on this list earn good ratings in the IIHS moderate overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint tests.”

I highly recommend inputting the exact car you’re looking at into the IIHS ratings database for safety. Sometimes, a car manufactured early in the year is less safe than one made later on. This kind of information plus recalls would be listed on the site.

gas mileage comparisons on third row SUVs

Fuel Economy

Fuel ratings come from FuelEconomy and you can use their handy comparison feature, as shown. My chart is based on the: oldest vehicle listed, AWD/4WD and the lowest cylinder. Fuel economy may change based on the cylinders so be sure to input the exact vehicle you’re considering.

We decided on the Volvo XC90 and took a bit of a hit on the fuel economy, but love everything else about it, especially safety. If we had been able to find a hybrid Highlander in our price range we probably would have jumped on it.


  • The vehicles listed are all third row vehicles, but be aware that some models do not have them since they’re an add-on package. Most seat 7, some seat 8 (like the Pilot).
  • Some of the 3rd row seats fold down independently (like the Volvo XC 90) and some of them are stuck together so it’s all or nothing (Toyota Highlander).
  • If only certain years are included on the chart it may mean that newer vehicles exceed the $10,000 budget or were discontinued, not that they became unsafe after the last year listed. In fact, cars are constantly getting stronger and safer, and being tested for more features.
  • I’ve mostly listed the prices given by the IIHS site, but prices were quite a bit higher for us locally. We’re in Colorado, so this will vary.
  • Be sure to do your own research and verify latest safety and fuel ratings. I always recommend a Carfax report. We got their package of three and it was helpful once we were really serious about buying.
  • Take your time when searching for the perfect, safest third row vehicle for your family. Test drive a few to get a feel for them. Have your kids test out the third row seats for comfort, heat and A/C. Do all three rows have airbags?
  • Scour sites like Craigslist, Carfax, Edmunds, etc. We found a great deal on our Volvo XC90 on Craigslist from a private party after looking for months.

Please comment if you know of any other vehicles I should include or to leave a review of your own car!

More Resources

Article about safe vehicles for teens

Fuel Economy

Detailed vehicle information & sales

I hope this helps you on your search for a safe, third row vehicle for your family. Be sure to download your cute car shopping organizer below!

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