Like most SUVs, midsize models have come a long way from their origins as brutish trucks built primarily for utility and off-roading.
Nowadays, most of these vehicles can more accurately be described as crossovers engineered to blend daily driving comfort with a dash of the truck-like capabilities their predecessors boasted – characteristics that have helped them become champions of family transportation with their spacious interiors and, in the case of most of the models you’ll read about here, three rows of seats.
This quintet of SUVs are the finalists in this year’s AutoTrader Awards, in which our 20 jurists voted for the vehicles that best accomplish the mission they were designed for and are most worthy of your money.
Notably, four of this year’s Best Midsize SUV finalists also made the top five last year, leaving space for a new model on the list.
In her review of the Kia Telluride, AutoTrader Editor-in-Chief Jodi Lai called it a “well-rounded … champion for families on the go,” which gives you a good idea of why the Telluride is back not just as a repeat finalist, but a repeat category winner in the Best Midsize SUV category.
The Telluride won last year’s Best 3-Row SUV prize, but this year’s identical result proves that this big Kia is a really impressive vehicle.
In her review, Lai gave the Telluride a 10/10 for practicality, thanks to how well Kia has made use of this crossover’s interior space. She wrote that “on a cottage trip, there was not a single moment where I wasn’t happy with how easily the three-row SUV handled all the … family tasks we threw its way.”
Lai called out the Telluride’s vast array of storage cubbies in which “to stash everything a busy family needs and lots of nooks for all the little rocks and random debris kids seem to collect.”
Like the closely related Hyundai Palisade, Kia has designed the Telluride to appeal in the mid- to high range of the midsize SUV segment in order to attract buyers who might otherwise look at a luxury model. In Lai’s opinion, the Telluride would be a great fit for a family looking to replace a compact upscale SUV but who can’t afford a larger model from a premium brand.
Lai also praised the Telluride’s user-friendliness, writing that its “intuitive operation is one of its strengths. This is not a vehicle that will require drivers to do a deep dive into the owner’s manual to complete even simple tasks. Everything is obvious almost immediately.”
Despite a cabin that easily accommodated Lai’s family and a week’s worth of cottage gear, the Telluride feels smaller than it is from behind the wheel, making it easy to pilot around busy parking lots. It also returns decent fuel economy: Lai’s tester averaged 9.9 L/100 km in a week of country backroad driving, nearly matching its 9.7 L/100 km highway rating.
That economy comes from a 3.8L V6 engine whose 291 hp motivates all Telluride trims, from the $50,195 EX right up to the $62,795 X-Pro (all pricing is before freight and tax). The latter is one of two new configurations for 2023; the X-Pro and a less-expensive X-Line get more ground clearance, while the X-Pro rides on all-terrain tires.
In the end, the opening line of Lai’s review tells you what you need to know: “The standout quality of the … Telluride is just how easy it is to live with.”
Hyundai has tweaked a few items on its Palisade to help make it a repeat finalist in the Best Midsize SUV category. Key among those updates is revised styling inside and out. But if we’re being honest, the point of the Palisade is not toughness; it’s the slick styling that helps make it look more expensive than it is – even though it’s not exactly cheap, with a $48,000 starting price in Preferred trim. By the way, the base price is way up from $41,500 in 2022, thanks to Hyundai’s elimination of last year’s entry-grade Essential.
One of the Palisade’s revisions for this year is a new grille for the range-topping $56,800 Ultimate Calligraphy package, which reviewer Jeff Wilson described as “bold if a bit busy,” while the Palisade’s “accents and oversized lights certainly make a statement.”
Regardless of which trim you choose, you’ll get a comfortable vehicle that impressed our reviewers with its excellent ride quality “despite its massive 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires,” wrote Wilson. Dan Ilika was even more complimentary in his review, suggesting that “the Palisade (outperforms) some high-priced rivals with fancy adaptive suspension systems.”
The Palisade did draw criticism from both Wilson and Ilika for third-row seats that are less spacious than you’d expect given this SUV’s size. Still, there’s plenty of useful cargo space, a class-competitive tow rating of 2,268 kg (5,000 lb), and auto-levelling rear suspension.
All Palisade trims come with heated front and rear seats and steering wheel, and the $53,199 Urban configuration adds front-seat ventilation. Move up to the Ultimate Calligraphy model to get a massaging driver’s seat, among other items.
All versions of the Palisade are powered by a 3.8L V6 (291 hp/262 lb-ft of torque) and use an eight-speed transmission and standard AWD.
The Toyota Highlander is another repeat finalist, effectively due to the inherent goodness of the outgoing 2022 model. As we write this, none of AutoTrader’s jurists have reviewed the 2023 Highlander, which boasts a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine in place of the 2022’s V6.
That was fine with Jil McIntosh, who called the Highlander’s 3.5L 295-hp V6 “a very good engine, with smooth acceleration and lots of passing power.” She actually prefers the lack of turbocharging, which, in her view, makes for a more complicated powertrain that can become finicky as the vehicle ages.
The Highlander’s real comfort is found in its front and second-row seats. McIntosh wrote that the “flat, rock-hard third row is pretty much for short-haul trips.” (For the record, Toyota has addressed that complaint with a new, larger Grand Highlander that you’ll read about in future reviews.)
In a comparison of the Highlander and Nissan Pathfinder, Sami Haj-Assaad gave the Nissan the edge in passenger comfort; however, he noted that the Toyota has more cargo space when the rear seats are folded away.
Evan Williams tested a Highlander Hybrid that impressed him with all the small-item storage built into the dashboard, noting that in models fitted with wireless charging, “your phone gets a special shelf that’s out of sight in the centre console.” Williams’s hybrid tester averaged 7.1 L/100 km in his week behind the wheel, which he called impressive given the freezing temps during his spring 2022 drive.
Value for money has not always been a Toyota strength (unless you count the way the brand’s vehicles hold onto resale value), but both McIntosh and Williams called out the level of kit you get for the price you’ll pay. And in the hybrid, some of that value comes from its extra efficiency, with a combined fuel consumption estimate that’s just two-thirds of the V6 model’s.
In 2023, Highlander pricing starts at $46,650 in LE trim, with the top Hybrid Limited model coming in at $56,390. The new turbo four-cylinder engine is a 2.4L with 264 hp/310 lb-ft of torque, while the 2022 V6’s 295 hp came with 263 lb-ft. Hybrid models get a 2.5L four-cylinder and electric motors that team up for 243 hp.
The Nissan Pathfinder was redesigned for 2022, and that was good enough to get it onto this list of finalists. Nissan is so confident in its biggest crossover model that the Pathfinder’s sole change this year is a new Rock Creek trim level that joins the off-road trend with grippier tires, special off-road surround view camera angles, and a tubular roof rack.
The Rock Creek treatment suits the latest Pathfinder’s more angular look, which even in base form could be mistaken at a glance for the larger, truck-based Armada. Peter Bleakney wrote in his Pathfinder review that a neighbour mistook the vehicle for a posh Land Rover, which is a nice endorsement for Nissan.
Bleakney’s neighbour isn’t the only one who gets an upscale vibe from the Pathfinder. Sami Haj-Assaad, in a head-to-head comparison between this Nissan and the Toyota Highlander, opined that the Pathfinder’s interior leans “more toward a luxurious aura” and “seems inspired by the … Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride, or maybe even something straight from the premium end of the market.”
The latest Pathfinder is wider than its processor, which allowed Nissan to add a third seat to the third row for a total of eight places. While it’s still not huge back there, Bleakney found it good enough for average-sized adults, and the extra width also means the Pathfinder can fit a full 4’x8’ sheet of plywood inside with all the rear seats folded down.
Bleakney noted a ride that’s firmer than many of the Pathfinder’s competitors, but he called it a “refined firmness that avoids any crashing, and it delivers decent body control.”
Pathfinder pricing starts at $45,998 in S trim and reaches $56,998 in Platinum configuration. All trims are powered by a 3.5L V6 engine, a nine-speed transmission, and AWD.
The sole new finalist in this year’s Best Midsize SUV category is the Jeep Grand Cherokee, which missed last year’s finals despite having been redesigned for the 2022 model year. That could have been because it wasn’t available soon enough to qualify for the 2022 AutoTrader Awards voting process, or because changes to this year’s categories placed the Jeep in a different group where it was a better fit.
It’s difficult to overstate how far upscale the new Grand Cherokee has moved compared to its processor. Where the old model desperately wanted to be considered alongside offerings like the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5, this new design actually has the chops to make it a legitimate luxury utility.
Jeff Wilson wrote of the Grand Cherokee that its exterior does a good job of “looking both posh yet [more] macho than most SUVs” and “works as well with fancy-pants range-topping (Summit Reserve) trim as it does the rugged Trailhawk rendition.” Wilson praised his tester’s interior, whose quilted Palermo leather, satin chrome, and genuine oak trim were a “visual treat.”
Modern technology is as important to today’s luxury vehicles as anything, and the Grand Cherokee offers lots of it. You can option in a passenger-side touchscreen, a sweet-sounding sound system, night vision, and active driving assist.
If the Grand Cherokee gives up anything to its European competitors, it’s handling and ride quality. Wilson described the Jeep’s ride as “somewhat more truck-like” thanks to a suspension designed for off-road capability. The Grand Cherokee’s real nod to its upscale aspirations is the top-end Summit Reserve trim’s sound deadening, which minimizes wind and road noise and “makes it easier to enjoy the … 19-speaker audio system.”
Wilson’s tester was equipped with the Grand Cherokee’s optional 5.7L V8 engine that provides “abundant” passing power, along with a “burly” soundtrack that is “part of the joy of opting for this engine.” However, he noted a lack of immediacy compared to the turbocharged engines that power competitors like the BMW X5.
The Grand Cherokee is the only Best Midsize SUV finalist without a third row of seats. To get that, you have to move up to the Grand Cherokee L or Jeep’s posher Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer. Wilson noted that the Grand Cherokee has less maximum cargo space than the other finalists here, but it bests the rest with its 3,300 kg (7,000 lb) of towing capacity.
The Summit Reserve trim Wilson tested is priced to start at $76,545, but the Grand Cherokee entry point is the $54,545 Altitude package. Performance begins with a 3.6L V6 engine (293 hp) that options to a 5.7L V8 with 357 hp. You can also make your Grand Cherokee a plug-in hybrid. An eight-speed transmission and four-wheel drive are standard in all configurations.
For a full overview of the finalists and winners, as well as a jury overview and full breakdown of what we’re looking for in an award-winning vehicle, check out the 2023 AutoTrader Awards section of the site.