FEATURE STORIES

Seven ways to seven seats

Seven ways to seven seats image

Anton Andres / Kelvin Christian Go, Jose Altoveros | March 07, 2017 15:31

Seven cars, seven segments, one big test

Us Filipinos are a family-oriented kind. If we're not living with our extended families, we shuttle them around the city (or province) on weekends and vacations. Needless to say, a car that seats more than five is less of a want but more of a need. Thankfully, there are a lot of options to choose from in the buyer's guide.

In our buyer's guide, it lists well over 50 cars that come with seven seats or more, making it over 50 choices to choose from when deciding on your next (extended) family hauler. To see how each segment packages seven people inside, we have gather seven cars, ranging from B-Segment crossovers to full-size SUVs. Here are seven ways to get seven seats.

Seven ways to seven seats

We start with the smallest car of the group. Representing the B-Segment MPV is the Suzuki Ertiga. This small MPV has been a success for Suzuki but how does it cope with seven on board? Up next is the Honda BR-V, which made its debut in the country during the 2016 Philippine International Auto Show. There is a long line for Honda's seven-seat crossover, so naturally, we were curious how it fares in the passenger front.

Moving a size up, there's the evergreen Toyota Innova. Seemingly the only car of its type with a pickup platform, diesel engine and multi-row seating, the Innova has practically been a staple for large families. And then, there's the Honda Odyssey. While what we have here is the 8-seater version, the Odyssey represents a premium alternative to the average MPV and, interestingly, the only one here with sliding doors.

If you want your seven seater with a little more ride height, we gathered three SUVs that can haul seven as well. The Mitsubishi Montero Sport is one of the highly rated cars we've tested but for its ultimate challenge, we will fill up all seats to see its packaging. We also included the Ford Explorer and, judging by the dimensions of this large crossover, it is a promising, viable option. Last but not the least is the Lexus GX. If you want your seven-seater with a large helping of luxury then the GX is one you can consider.

We judged each car in five criterion, passenger accomodations, third row access, cargo capacity, ease of setting up and stowing the seats and, of course, features. Occupying the first row are the taller members of Autoindustriya.com while those seating in the second represent the median height of the average Filipino. As for those in the third row, it would be me and my colleague, standing at 5'5” and, in my case, 5'4”.

Seven ways to seven seats

Third-Row Access

Typically, there are two ways to to get to the third row. One is to slide the second-row forward with the backrest out of the way. The other is for the second-row to tumble forward. There is an advantage to the tumble-forward system as there is a wider point of entry for everyone.

Cars that use a slide forward system are the Suzuki Ertiga, Toyota Innova, Honda Odyssey and Lexus GX. The Innova used for the test was the top of the line 2.8 V which has captain's chairs for the second-row. In lower variants of the Innova, it uses a tumble-forward system.

Using the tumble-forward system are the Honda BR-V, Mitsubishi Montero Sport and the Ford Explorer. We did note that the tumble-forward system in the Explorer requires a bit of muscle.

Seven ways to seven seats

Third-row Stowage

It was interesting to note that all the cars we have gathered come up with different ways to stow their third row seats. Starting with the Suzuki Ertiga, it employs a fold-flat system which is easy to use; simply pull a tab and the seats are in place. However, if the sliding second-row bench is too far back, you won't be able to put them up in the first place. Stowing the seats in the Ertiga is just as easy. Pull the same tab and push down the seat.

Moving to the Honda BR-V, it comes with a tumble-forward third row seat. To set it in place, pull the seat down and adjust each back rest to the preferred position. To stow, pull the levers on each side to fold the back rests, push it forward and hook it into place. While still easy to do, it is not a one-step system like in the Ertiga.

Seven ways to seven seats

Toyota meanwhile sticks to the old side-hinged seating but has made it easier to latch and stow. With the split seats, unlatch each seat from the pillar and lock it into the floor. After that, push down the levers for the backrests to recline. With a spring-loaded mechanism, it's easier to stow the seats back to the pillars. First-generation Innova owners would definitely wish to have this ease of stowage in their cars.

The Honda Odyssey perhaps has the most complex (and interesting) way of seat set up. The third row is hidden under the floor until you push it down and unhook it. It then swivels forward and all you have to do is set the back rests with straps at the back. To stow, pull a series of straps, swing it back to the floor and lock it in place.

Seven ways to seven seats

One of the more difficult to use third row seats would go to the Montero Sport. While there are straps to set the backrests, those with shorter arms will have to go back to the second-row to lock in the seat bases. Fortunately, stowing them is much easier with a pull of two straps.

Moving up in size (and price range) are the Ford Explorer and Lexus GX. With a push of a button, the seats set themselves in place and also stow at a touch of a button. The Explorer's third-row is similar to the Odyssey's with the swivel system while the GX's rise from the cargo floor.

Seven ways to seven seats

Cargo Capacity

To test out cargo capacity, we used two backpacks, a shoulder bag and two trolleys in different sizes. Perhaps it comes as no surprise as each car easily took in out test luggage with ease with the third row stowed. We did notice that some had little space left, making it challenging to load all these items with the third row up.

With very little space behind the third row, we were unable to load up the trolleys in the Suzuki Ertiga and, perhaps surprisingly, the Lexus GX. The polar opposites were at least able to take in the two backpacks and the shoulder bag. The Montero Sport also had very little space behind the third row but was enough for us to squeeze in one trolley, two backpacks and the shoulder bag.

Seven ways to seven seats

Despite the diminutive dimensions, we were amazed at how the Honda BR-V was able to take in one trolley and the hand-carry luggage. Like the BR-V, the Toyota Innova still had a decent amount of space behind the third row seats, putting it on par with the Montero Sport and the BR-V.

The only two cars in this test to be able to take in all the cargo with all seats in place are the Honda Odyssey and the Ford Explorer. Because their seats are stored under the floor and swivel forward, these cars also come with the bonus of underseat storage. We were able to load up the bags under the seats with more than enough room for the trolleys.

Seven ways to seven seats

Passenger accommodations

With us arranged by height, we took turns in each car and assessed how well these seven seaters fare with a full load. With this test, we got to see how each car is packaged and there were a few surprises along the way.

The Toyota Innova's accommodations were good, proving to us that it is indeed the established player in the seven-seat market. The top-spec Innova comes with captain's chairs in the second row but Toyota does say you can fit three in the last row. After wiggling our way through, we did fit three but if you plan to carry seven in comfort, we recommend the E variant instead of the V. It is a six-seater at best. And then there's the Suzuki Ertiga, the shortest car in the group. While it can accommodate seven, it comes at the expense of the second-row passengers. The sliding bench frees up some space for the third-row but they will be rather close to those seated in front, especially if the front row occupants are tall.

Seven ways to seven seats

Being the longest, and widest, car in the group, the Ford Explorer saw everyone comfortable in their seats with more than enough leg, hip and shoulder room to spare. However, we were more impressed with the Honda Odyssey. Given that minivans are designed to maximize every inch of space for people and cargo, we shouldn't be surprised. What impressed up was the amount of legroom in the third row even with the second row pushed all the way to the back. It may be a seven seater test but the Odyssey can squeeze in another passenger in the second row but not as well as the commodious Explorer with the Odyssey's narrower body. Still, it is very spacious.

Surprises? There were three. Probably due to the fact that it is an eight year old design, the Lexus GX isn't as accommodating as we were expecting. Even with the second-row moved forward, the bulky slide mechanism ate up foot room for the last two passengers. The first two rows however, are just right. The Montero Sport meanwhile did not have a sliding second row at all, meaning even less space and limited flexibility but front and middle passengers enjoy a lot of legroom, if a bit limited when it comes to hip and shoulder room. As for pleasant surprises, we were amazed how Honda managed to retain a decent amount of cargo space and leave a fair amount of legroom in the BR-V. Granted, it's a bit of squeeze with three adults across in the middle but the third row space is more than that in the Lexus, Suzuki and Mitsubishi. Needless to say, Honda has packaging down to a tee.

Seven ways to seven seats

Features and amenities

With the lowest priced car here just a little under Php 1 million, you'd expect these cars to be well equipped. As this roster shows, these cars deliver on that front. All are equipped with advanced infotainment systems, at least two airbags, air-conditioning to reach all seats and active safety systems. Of course, all these cars are unique in their own way too.

The Ford Explorer is awash with driver aids with roll stability control, parking cameras at the front and rear, blind spot alert, cross traffic alert, and many more. There are loads of USB ports, a 230v socket and an abundance of cupholders from front to back. The Explorer has all the makings of a road trip car. That's not to say the Lexus isn't as well appointed. At over Php 5.5 million, we expected the Lexus to be the plushest of the lot and, apart from tight third row quarters, it met our expectations. The feel of the leather and the feel of the materials are top-notch. Like the Ford, it has healthy servings of cupholders and also comes with a center console that also serves as a cool box to keep drinks chilled. If you dare take it off-road, you can thanks to low-range and an adjustable air suspension system. Also, nearly everything in front is power adjustable from the seats to the steering column adjuster.

Seven ways to seven seats

From plush SUVs, we move to the other scale of the spectrum, the Suzuki Ertiga and Honda BR-V. The range-topping Ertiga GLX comes with an Android OS infotainment system and a push to start button. As for passenger amenities, there are a lot of storage bins and pockets to keep clutter away. We also found the BR-V pretty well equipped. Despite this being the entry-level S variant, it still comes with a highly capable infotainment system and automatic climate control. There are a lot of storage bins too and the big windows mean everyone has a nice view outside. Oddly enough, the BR-V does not come with seat height adjusters at the front.

As for the Innova, it has decent spec but the lack of stability control, or even traction control, is unfortunate at this price point. Even a back-up camera, standard on all except the Ertiga, is a dealer option for this MPV. Still, it it offers flexible practicality, a good-looking interior (with ambient lighting if we may add), robust pickup chassis and even a tray table for the second row occupants.

Seven ways to seven seats

On to our last two, which are also similarly priced, the Honda Odyssey and Mitsubishi Montero Sport. This particular Montero Sport is the mid-level GLS Premium which adds leather, a more capable infotainment system and LED projector headlights. As a whole, it is largely conventional with little in the way of surprise and delight features and there aren't a lot of large storage bins inside. That's not to say its bare. The tire pressure monitoring system is very helpful when you're carrying more people or heavy loads. Plus, it has traction control.

The Odyssey meanwhile fulfills the role of the minivan quite well. Those smart seats, the comprehensive safety equipment list and storage spaces, is similar to the Explorer but wrapped in a smaller, more maneuverable package. This entry-level variant however loses out on the Ottoman seats, leather and a push to start button. Also, only the left hand side sliding door benefits from the power slide function. Granted, this particular variant, the Odyssey EX, seats eight and with a wide third row, the top-spec EX-V Navi can seat seven in comfort.

Seven ways to seven seats

The cars we gathered here are just a small sample of how you can go about with seven seats. We've seen how each car fared and there were surprises, both pleasant and not, in each one. So what have we learned? There will always be inherit design limitations but it's amazing to see how manufacturers get around it. Interior packaging has come a long way but as with some of the cars sampled here, there is still a long way to go for the others. Still, there's always a choice at various price points, making you even more spoiled for choice.