Over the past year, a number of family-friendly three-row SUVs have received major revisions, reviving a hotly contested segment and offering more versatility and creature comforts than ever before. The Honda Pilot, Mazda CX-90, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Grand Highlander all bring something important to the table, so let’s break these SUVs down into a few categories and see how they stack up against each other.
A bit of housekeeping before we begin: We’ll be skipping off-road-oriented models for this comparison, which means we won’t be looking at the Honda Pilot TrailSport, or the Nissan Pathfinder Rock Creek, since there are no Mazda or Toyota analogs (yet ) to compare them with. The Toyota Grand Highlander is also the most recent reveal of the group and therefore has the fewest raw numbers.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and we’re not here to judge your aesthetic, so we’ll focus on the facts. The Grand Highlander is the longest SUV of the group, at 201.4 inches, just ahead of the CX-90 at 200.8, and the Pathfinder plays leprechaun at 197.7. The Mazda is the wheelbase champion at 122.8 inches, about six inches longer than the Grand Highlander. The Pilot is the tallest of the four at 71.0 inches, while the Mazda keeps it compact at 68.2. Ground clearance fanatics will dig the CX-90’s 8.0-inch figure, beating the Honda and Nissan by about an inch.
Unfortunately, the Mazda CX-90’s overall dimensions don’t translate into an abundance of cargo space. In fact, the Mazda is the smallest of this collective, offering just 14.9 cubic feet behind the third row, 40.0 behind the second and 74.2 with the second and third rows folded down. Its 30.4 inches of third-row legroom is more than the Pathfinder can muster, but the Pilot offers more. However, the Grand Highlander is the undisputed legroom and cargo king, with a whopping 33.5 inches of third-row legroom, 20.6 cubic feet of storage behind the third row, and 97.5 cubes with two rows folded. Seven- and eight-passenger configurations are available on all four models.
Engine and Transmission
Honda and Nissan keep it simple here, with the Pilot and Pathfinder only offering a single engine. Both use a 3.5-liter V6, though the Honda’s is slightly more powerful, making 285 horsepower versus the Nissan’s 284. The Pilot has a standard 10-speed automatic transmission, and the Pathfinder makes do with a nine- speed.
Things are a bit more complex in the CX-90. Mazda’s lineup offers three powertrain flavors. A 3.3-liter inline-six produces 280 horsepower and 332 pound-feet in Turbo guise, while Turbo S models push those numbers to 340 and 369, respectively. There’s also a plug-in hybrid setup that uses a 2.4-liter inline-four pairs with a pair of electric motors to produce 323 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. All three levels bolt on to an eight-speed automatic.
Toyota hasn’t revealed all of the Grand Highlander’s powertrain specs yet, but there’s still plenty to talk about. The only gas option pairs a 265-hp turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-four to an eight-speed automatic. The 243-hp hybrid uses a 2.5-liter inline-four and a continuously variable automatic transmission. At the top of the lineup is the Hybrid Max, which we believe is the same setup as the Crown’s Hybrid Max trim, pairing a turbocharged 2.4-liter inline-4 with electric motors to produce 362 horsepower and 400 lb.-ft. to produce, which is sent. through a six-speed automatic.
Honda offers front- and all-wheel drive on all but the top two trims, which are exclusively AWD. Nissan offers FWD and AWD across its entire Pathfinder lineup. FWD and AWD are offered on the Grand Highlander’s gas and hybrid offerings, while the Hybrid Max is AWD by default. AWD is standard on every CX-90.
MPG and towing
Based on all currently available information, the Honda Pilot appears to be the least fuel-efficient SUV of this group, achieving an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city, 27 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined with front-wheel drive (AWD models lose 2 mpg highway and 1 mpg combined). In its most frugal form, the Pathfinder sneaks ahead of the Honda with 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. Both 3.3-liter Mazdas top out at an EPA-estimated 23 or 24 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined. CX-90 PHEV variants have not yet received official EPA figures. The only Grand Highlander figure we have is Toyota’s own 34 mpg combined estimate for the hybrid; gas and Hybrid Max models have a big, bold “TBA” next to them.
For maximum towing rating, the Pathfinder stands ahead of the crowd at 6,000 pounds. The other three SUVs reach 5,000.
Throw enough money at most SUVs, and you’ll end up with pretty much the same equipment, whether it’s ventilated second-row seats, third-row USB ports, panoramic sunroofs, or auto-dimming mirrors. Base trim standard equipment is probably more important because it shows what the skinfire buyers can get their hands on. And with new car prices on the rise, it’s important for budget-conscious buyers not to feel like they’re just allowed to drive rolling penalty boxes.
The Grand Highlander has the highest level of standard equipment of this group, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since its base model is technically a mid-level trim in the Toyotaverse. Standard equipment includes a 12.3-inch infotainment screen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, seven USB ports, heated front seats, blind spot monitoring, and a range of active and passive safety systems that include full-speed adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition, and ‘ a trick active remote control that can gently brake the car as needed.
The CX-90 has the second-largest standard screen at 10.3 inches, with the Pathfinder behind it at 8.0 inches; the Pilot plays leprechaun with its paltry 7.0-inch. All three vehicles include four USB ports, with one Type-C port on the Pilot and two on the Pathfinder. This trio includes heated seats, but they are not standard. The CX-90 and Pathfinder have blind spot monitoring as standard, and the Pathfinder kicks it up an extra notch with standard rear parking sensors. While all the cars on this list have suite of driver aids, the Pathfinder is the only model that doesn’t offer adaptive cruise control on its base trim.
In terms of base price, the $36,295 Pathfinder is the value king; the Pilot’s base LX model is $1000 more expensive, and the CX-90 starts at a hair over $40,000. We expect the Grand Highlander to start around $43,000, as its base XLE trim is a mid-level setup on other Toyota SUVs. The Pathfinder tops out at $51,165, while the Pilot tops out at $53,375, and we expect a top-trim Grand Highlander to land somewhere around $56,000. Opting for the most expensive CX-90 can cause some wallet shock, with a 3.3 Turbo S Premium Plus topping out at $61,325.