Generally if you want to fit seven passengers into your car, you need one that’s fairly large and expensive. Most midsize or large crossovers with three rows of seats have a base price at or above $30,000, and minivans — despite their name — are even bulkier.
If your situation frequently calls for carrying more than five people, it may prove to be a necessary sacrifice. But if you’d really prefer a smaller, less expensive and more fuel-efficient vehicle, and only need to occasionally carry a couple of extra people, the 2017 Mitsubishi Outlander is a potentially intriguing option.
The Outlander is a compact crossover, a competitor to a Honda CR-V or Ford Escape, that nonetheless fits in a tiny third-row seat. It starts at an affordable base price of $24,435, and it’s rated for an excellent 26 mpg in mixed driving. And if your parking situation is tight, you’ll appreciate its tidy dimensions of less than 185 inches long and barely 71 inches wide.
Note, though, that aside from its third-row seat, the Outlander has some drawbacks against the CR-V and other leading compact crossovers. It doesn’t have the composed ride and handling that the best models do these days — probably because its bones date all the way back to 2006, despite multiple updates since then. Its standard four-cylinder engine can be noisy, and its available V6, another rare feature in this class, requires pricey premium fuel. The middle-row seat is inconvenient to fold down, and important safety features like emergency automatic braking are available only on the fully loaded model.
Also, keep in mind that the Outlander’s third-row seat is really meant for infrequent use. Most adults or even older children can only barely wedge themselves in, and there’s almost no cargo space behind the seat when it’s in place.
But overall, the Outlander lets you drive a relatively small vehicle with the third-row seat folded down most of the time, using it only occasionally for emergency carpool duty, or perhaps to separate unruly siblings. If that sounds appealing, the only other vehicle in that niche is the Nissan Rogue. The Nissan is a popular choice, but its optional third-seat seat isn’t any better than the Mitsubishi’s and the seven-passenger Rogue has a limited selection of available features.