There’s a new CUV in town. In fact there are at least half a dozen.

As an early adopter of the CUV, I’ve been driving them for nearly a decade. First we had the groundbreaking Lexus RX300, and then we made the leap to last year’s Car and Driver winner – the Acura MDX. I’ve been happy with my CUV’s, happy that I did not have to sacrifice performance for the sake of my growing family. When Child #3 popped up at roughly the same time that the MDX sprouted a third row, our new car purchase was a no brainer.

But at the LA auto show this month, it seemed that third rows were popping up all over. From Hyundai to Volvo, Buick to Mazda, the third row is the modern equivalent of “More Cupholders!”. Perhaps this reflects the rumor that three kids are the new two. Or maybe it’s a case of seat envy. Whatever the reason, it seems like every CUV that could possibly squeeze in a third row, has found a way to do. In some cases in ways that seem to defy the physics of available space. And the logic that more people will have more stuff. No room for stuff when you have loaded up all the people!

What troubles me somewhat is how unusuable some of these third rows are, in real life. On at least a couple of the vehicles I peeked into, they seemed fit only for legless hobbits. Which does not describe any of the kids in my current carpool. In particular the Hyundai Veracruz,  and Subaru Tribeca seemed to lack third row seating that would function for anything other than emergency use. At which point, I have to ask what the point is? Is it likely I am going to have to give some stranded legless hobbits a lift anytime soon? 

Another issue, in several of the crossover vehicles, even the ones with a more generous third row,  is one of access. With a split bench in the second row, and placement for latch anchored carseats on the outer seats of each bench section, it becomes difficult or impossible to access that golden third row, if you are using two carseats for children in the second row.  This is sure to frustrate growing families who didn’t quite think through the fact that their ten yr old would have to master olympic seat vaulting to get themselves settled, each and every trip to the grocery store.

In order to solve this problem, a few manufacturers have rather brilliantly started to offer captains chairs in the second row of their CUVs, an option formerly only available in minivans and truck sized SUVs. GMC is one of the first to make this possible with their Acadia, and Buick with their Enclave. Toyota addresses this issue differently with their Highlander by offering a clever fold down middle seat “escape hatch” guaranteed to cut down on the ceiling dings. The Audi Q-7 has a similar solution. Let’s hope more manufacturers follow suit in the years to come, and make these vehicles that seat more passengers, a little more friendly to growing families.

Sadly none of the CUV’s that I saw at the LA auto show had particularly great mileage. Perhaps this will also be the charge at the next autoshow, third row seating and a greener footprint. A girl can dream.