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Choosing which car is right for your family can be overwhelming with all the choices available. I teamed up with Carsales.com.au to compare nine seven-seater SUVs to find THE BEST seven-seater family SUV and help make the decision easier for you.

I am one of a team of expert judges, who over the week tried, tested and compared each car to come up with an overall winner.

My role was to test which was the most child-friendly seven-seat family SUV. I looked at the family-friendliness including ease of fitment of child seats and ease of use of the rear rows of seats for families; all the things are important to us as parents like getting in and out of the back row, air vents, placement of heated seat controls, how easy it is to get kids in and out of cars, whether there are window blinds, what are the ANCAP safety ratings and if there are airbags for third-row passengers.

Many thanks to Hire For Baby who kindly provided the child seats and strollers for this test!

Below are the nine SUVs, starting with the winner of my segment of judging: ‘Most child-friendly seven-seat family SUV'

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Mazda CX-9 – 13/15

It comes as no surprise to me that the Mazda CX-9 Azami AWD has scored the best for family-friendly seven-seater SUV by BabyDrive testing, a proper, fully functional seven-seater, with great third-row access with the push of a button and with five child seats installed.

  

That's right! The Mazda CX-9 easily holds five child seats, and I could sit between two child seats in the second row. There are ISOFIx points in the two outer second-row seats and top tether anchorages in all five rear seats.

Legroom is also excellent throughout, with all three rows allowing for tall passengers and rear-facing child seats. The CX-9 also has excellent second-row access through from the front passenger seat.

With window blinds in the second-row and seat belt reminders for all three rows of seats, the CX-9 was pretty hard to beat. We only tested the boot space with a double umbrella stroller but it was one of the roomier boots out of all the SUVs tested, allowing the stroller to lay flat rather than on its side and prone to rolling. To see if your stroller will fit have a look at the boot section of the full review here.

Although the Mazda CX-9 has airbags in all three rows of seats and a 5-star ANCAP safety rating, it has not been tested for child occupancy protection. Check out the full review and video here.

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Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander CRDi AWD – 11.5/15

In joint second place is the Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander CRDi AWD. The Santa Fe is spacious and we could sit a 182cm driver in front of a rear-facing child seat with a 180cm passenger in the third row. There are top tether anchorages for all the second-row seatbacks and ISO Fix in the two outer second-row seats too.

Three child seats fit across the second row and I could comfortably fit between two child seats as well. There no top tether anchorages or ISOFix points in the third-row seats of the Hyundai Santa Fe. The Santa Fe has rear window blinds, which are great for shading rear passengers but it has the rear heated seat controls in the rear doors, within reach of your little outboard passengers!

The Santa Fe has some great family-friendly features; there are child lock and window lock controls in the driver's door control panel and ventilation controls for all three rows of seating from the front dash.

The Sant Fe does have the smallest boot of all the seven-seat SUVs we tested, and will just fit the twin umbrella stroller on its side when using all seven seats. You can see if your pram will fit in the boot section of the full Santa Fe review here.

The Hyundai Santa Fe has a 5-star ANCAP safety rating, scoring a great 86% for child occupancy protection and 94% for adult occupancy protection. Check out the full review and video here.

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Holden Acadia LT AWD – 11.5/15

In joint second place is the Holden Acadia LT AWD. This car has earned its place, being one of the most family-friendly seven-seater SUVs I have tested! With Holden's recent announcement to close in Australia, there will also be some seriously affordable Acadias to be found. The Acadia has really large windows, giving fantastic visibility from the second and third-rows which is great for minimising travel sickness.

The third-row access is very good too; you can climb through to the third-row with a child seat installed in the second-row seat (provided you are using ISOFix). With a top tether anchorage in all five rear seats and ISOFix points in the two outer second-row seats, I found FIVE child seats would fit comfortably in the back of the Acadia SUV with a combination of either forward or rear-facing child seats.

A more modern model than a lot of the seven-seat SUVs tested, the Acadia also has a lot of great safety features like the rear-seat reminder and seatbelt reminders in all three rows. The Holden Acadia scored a 5-Star ANCAP safety rating including 87% for child occupancy testing and 94% for adult occupancy testing and has airbags in all three rows of seating.

The boot of the Holden Acadia is a little smaller than some of the seven-seat SUVs we tested and will fit the twin umbrella stroller on its side when using all seven seats. You can see if your pram will fit in the boot section of the full Holden Acadia review here.

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Mazda CX-8 Asaki AWD – 11.5/15

In joint-second place, the Mazda CX-8 Asaki AWD scored well. Similarly to the Mazda CX-9 it has top tether anchorages in all five rear seats and ISOFix points in the two second-row outer seats.

This allowed me to easily fit five child seats and I could sit between two child seats in the second row too. The third-row access is not quite as good as the CX-9 but with just two child seats installed in the second-row, I could access the third-row seats.

Legroom was still generous in the Mazda CX-8 and with a 182cm driver in front of a rear-facing child seat, a 162cm passenger could fit in the third-row seat.

The boot space is slightly smaller than the CX-9's, with the twin umbrella stroller fitting on its side rather than laying flat. See if your pram would fit in the boot section of the full review here. The Mazda CX-8 has a very good five-star ANCAP safety rating, scoring 87% in Child Occupant Protection and 96% for adult occupancy protection and has airbags in all three rows of seats. Check out the full review and video here.

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Nissan Pathfinder ST-L AWD – 11.25/15

In third place, the Nissan Pathfinder is another great contender for best seven-seat family SUV and it's well worth considering if you need to fit four child seats as it has four top tether anchorages with very good third-row access with child seats installed.

With ISOFix points in the two outer second-row seats and top tether anchorages on the back of all three second-row seats plus one in the third-row too, you can comfortably fit four child seats in the Nissan Pathfinder.

Legroom is good in the Pathfinder too and visibility out of those large third-row windows make it a good ride for third-row passengers.

The Nissan Pathfinder is another older design so it gained it's 5-Star ANCAP safety rating in 2013 before child occupancy testing. There are air vents in all three rows of seats and controls in the front for the rear air-con.

The boot of the Pathfinder was the largest of all the seven-seat SUVs we compared, fitting the twin umbrella stroller lying on its side with space for bags. See if your pram will fit in the boot of the Nissan Pathfinder here.

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Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace 162TSI – score: 9.5/15

In fourth, the VW Tiguan Allspace is more of a five-seater SUV with two spare seats for occasional use. This along with the Skoda Kodiaq have the smallest footprints of all the seven-seater family SUVs we tested. So if space to park is a consideration for you and you only have three children in car seats but want that security of knowing when they're older you could pop a couple of their friends in the third-row (or the in-laws when they occasionally come to visit), then the VW Tiguan Allspace is worth a test drive.

The Allspace has ISOFix points in the two outer second-row seats and top tether anchorages across all second-row seats. I could fit three child seats across the second-row. The seat base is narrow so you will need to check your seats fit. This time I tested two Infasecure and a BabyJogger Citi Mini capsule and they fitted much more easily than the Britax child seats I have tested with previously so it pays to test different brands, especially when space is tight.

There are no top tether anchorages or ISOFix in the third-row so I could not install any child seats there. I could sit between two child seats in the second row of the Tiguan Allspace but it was a squidge especially across the shoulders.

With three child seats installed, to access the third-row seats you do need to remove a child seat otherwise it blocks your access. Visibility in the third-row is quite good for passengers, helping prevent travel sickness.

Legroom is quite tight in the Allspace. We found a 180cm driver had just enough room in front of a rear-facing child seat but when I sat in the third row (I'm 162cm) and I had no legroom or kick room under the second-row seats.

The Tiguan Allspace scored a 5 Star ANCAP safety rating with 80% for child occupancy and 96% for adult occupancy. It comes with seven airbags, including curtain head airbags that extend to all three rows of seats. There are intelligent seatbelt reminders in all three rows and seatbelt pre-tensioners in the front and second-row outboard seats.

The Tiguan Allspace has heated seat and aircon buttons in the back of the central console box, within a child’s foot reach. The driver can control the rear aircon from the front dashboard.

There are tray tables on the back of the front seats for the second-row outer seated passengers use. In the driver's door control panel there are child lock buttons as well as a window lock button. The rear windows have an anti-jam feature to prevent little fingers getting trapped in them too.

A twin umbrella stroller fits flat in the boot of the VW Tiguan Allspace when all seven seats are in use. You can see if your pram will fit in the boot of the Allspace in the full review here.

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Toyota Kluger GXL Black Edition – 9.75/15

In fifth, the Toyota Kluger is a full-size seven-seater family SUV that only has top tether anchorages in the back of the three second-row seats, so it will only hold three child seats.

The Kluger has ISOFix points in the two outer second-row seats and I found I could sit between two child seats installed in the second-row (I'm 162cm). With three child seats across, there is no third-row access so you do need to remove a child seat for this. Visibility in the third-row is quite good for passengers with large rear windows it will help to reduce travel sickness.

We found that legroom is good in the Toyota Kluger and a 6ft driver could sit in front of a rear-facing capsule with a tall passenger in the third-row too.

The Toyota Kluger scored a 5 Star ANCAP safety rating in 2014 and has not been tested for child occupancy. It comes with six airbags, including curtain head airbags that extend to all three rows of seats. There are intelligent seatbelt reminders only in the first two rows and seatbelt pre-tensioners only in the front seats.

The Toyota Kluger has aircon vents in the second and third-row ceiling…

…and aircon controls in the back of the central console box, within a child’s foot reach. The driver can control the rear aircon from the front dashboard too.

In the driver's door control panel there is a window lock button; the child lock is located in the rear door mechanism. The rear windows have an anti-jam feature to prevent little fingers getting trapped in them too.

The boot of the Toyota Kluger is a good size and when using all seven seats the twin umbrella stroller will fit flat in the boot.

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Skoda Kodiaq 132TSI – 9.5/15

In sixth, the Skoda Kodiaq has the smallest footprint of all the seven-seat SUVs tested. With that in mind, if parking space is a consideration for you then the Kodiaq is well worth a look. It was a favourite among the judges during testing and I was pleasantly surprised by all its features and practicality for the smallest car. However, it is what we really call a 5 +2, a full-time five-seater with two seats in the back for very occasional use. So if you are looking for a full-time seven-seater then this might not be the car for your family. See the full review and video here.

The Kodiaq has top tether anchorages on the back of all three second-row seats and ISOFix points in the two outer second-row seats but none in the third-row seats. I could fit three child seats across the second-row but the seat base is narrow so you will need to check your seats fit. This time I tested two Infasecure and a BabyJogger Citi Mini capsule and they fitted much more easily than the Britax child seats I have tested with previously, so it pays to test different brands of child seat especially when space is tight.

I could just sit between two child seats in the second row but space was especially tight across the shoulders.

With a rear-facing child seat installed, a 182cm driver could JUST sit in the driver's seat. My knees were around my ears in the third row and I'm only 162cm.

Boot space in the Kodiaq is good for the smallest seven-seat SUV. The twin umbrella stroller will fit flat with all seven seats in use.

The Kodiaq has window blinds in the second row and seatbelt reminders for all three rows of seats but it lacks air vents in the third-row and there are heated seat controls within rear passengers' reach in the back of the central console box.

The Kodiaq scored a five-star ANCAP safety rating and 77% for child occupancy protection and 92% for adult occupancy protection.

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Kia Sorento GT-Line CRDi AWD – 8.75/15

In last place, unfortunately, comes the Kia Sorento, in our scoring of best family seven-seater SUV. It is a three child seat SUV, with top tether anchorages in the back of all three second-row seats and ISOFix points in the two outer second-row seats. Three child seats fit comfortably across and I could sit in the central seat between two child seats.

The third-row seats have really good legroom. With a rear-facing child seat in the second-row, we could put a 180cm driver in front and a 180cm passenger in the third-row.

The Kia Sorento does have heated seat controls in the second-row doors which are easily in reach for small rear passengers to cook themselves while driving along! The Sorento also has handy controls on the front passenger seat to move the chair backwards and forwards from the driver's seat, which is a great feature.

There are no top tether anchorages or ISOFix points in the third-row so I could not install any child seats there.

With three child seats installed, you need to remove one in order to access the third-row.

The Kia Sorento scored a 5 Star ANCAP safety rating and has not been tested for child occupancy. With six airbags, this does include curtain head airbags that extend to the third row but do not offer head protection for third-row passengers. There are intelligent seatbelt reminders in all three rows of seats.

In the driver's door control panel there are window lock buttons and the rear windows have an anti-jam feature to prevent little fingers getting trapped in them too.

A twin umbrella stroller fits on its side in the boot of the Kia Sorento when all seven seats are in use. You can see if your pram will fit in the boot of the Sorento in the full review here.

 

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The Carsales team tested the technology, cabin and cargo space, affordability, style and looks and which is the best SUV to drive and all our scores were combined to find ONE ULTIMATE WINNER! You can find out which that was here.

Thanks again to Hire For Baby who kindly provided the child seats and strollers for this test!

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