The Coast News Group

Consumer Reports

The new Ford Flex and the upgraded Mazda CX-9 now rank among the best three-row SUVs tested by Consumer Reports, or CR. The Flex and CX-9 trail behind only the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, the conventional Highlander and the Acura MDX in CR’s ratings of 17 midsized models.
But the redesigned Honda Pilot has slipped from being one of CR’s top-rated three-row SUVs to midpack. The Pilot, although still a very competitive SUV, now ranks 11th out of 17 midsized, three-row SUVs that have been tested by CR.
The Pilot’s overall score of 74 was just three points lower than the Flex (77) and two points lower than the CX-9 (76). That was enough to place it behind five other competitors — all of which have a 75-point overall score. Those vehicles are the GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook, Hyundai Veracruz, Buick Enclave and Ford Taurus X.
In addition to testing the three midsized SUVs, CR also tested two large SUVs, the Toyota Sequoia and Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid. The Sequoia posted a “Very Good” overall score; it ranks second in the category, just behind the considerably more expensive Mercedes-Benz GL450. The large Tahoe Hybrid returned an impressive 19 mpg overall in CR’s fuel economy tests, but still ranks just midpack among the 14 large SUVs that CR has tested.
Prices of the midsized SUVs range from $35,830 for the Pilot to $38,615 for the CX-9. The large SUVs are priced at $54,005 for the Sequoia and $55,585 for the Tahoe Hybrid.
Ford’s new Flex wraps a versatile, cavernous interior in a distinctly boxy styling. It is also lower and more wagonlike than others in this class. The CX-9 has improved considerably since the one tested by CR last year, helped by a larger engine and improved braking. It is one of the sportiest SUVs that CR’s engineers have ever driven, and it has a roomy, quiet, well-crafted interior.
The Pilot remains a very practical vehicle with seating for up to eight, slightly improved fuel economy and a reasonable price. But pronounced road noise, so-so acceleration and braking, and interior controls and quality that’s not as good as the previous-generation Pilot cost it points in CR’s testing.
The CX-9, Pilot and Sequoia are the only vehicles in this test group that are recommended by CR. CR doesn’t have reliability data yet on the Flex and Tahoe Hybrid.
CR’s findings include:
— Ford Flex (17 mpg overall). Ford’s seven-passenger Flex blurs the lines between a wagon, SUV and minivan, combining utility with carlike driving dynamics. It makes road trips relaxing, with vast rear-seat room; a quiet, well-finished interior; and a plush ride. But the driving position is compromised, the turning circle is wide, and the engine is not as smooth as others.
— Mazda CX-9 (16 mpg overall). The seven-passenger CX-9 combines sportiness and practicality. It is one of the most agile three-row SUVs available, yet it’s also comfortable, quiet and user-friendly.
— Honda Pilot (18 mpg overall). Although the previous Honda Pilot was a top pick in this category at one time, CR’s engineers were disappointed with the redesign. The new one loses ground on interior fit and finish and braking. That said, the Pilot is still a very functional vehicle.
— Toyota Sequoia (15 mpg overall). Based on Toyota’s Tundra pickup, the redesigned Sequoia is a big brute of a truck-based SUV, but a good one. Its main attributes are an impressively smooth, punchy powertrain; a vast, comfortable interior; and impressive towing and off-road capability.
— Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid (19 mpg overall). The hybrid system in this Tahoe improves fuel economy by 35 percent and can save about $900 a year in gas over the conventional Tahoe. Handling is clumsy, braking distances are very long, and the third-row seat is small. But for those who need a large SUV, it’s hard to beat the Hybrid’s mileage.