Specify 8-seat or 8 passenger SUV and you’re up into the full-size category. These are the big, powerful carryalls that can also tow a fairly good load. With new, more fuel-efficient engines, they’re getting better gas mileage than ever, and some are even available in hybrid configurations. But you don’t buy one of these because you’re saving on gas. You buy one because you a) need the size to carry people and stuff or b) you want the flexibility, towing capability. Oh, and it helps that the 8-seat SUVs have all the latest technological goodies and safety features – and a really good price. That means buying a good used full-size SUV.

There are a few 8- and 9-seat full-size SUVs out there, but we’ve narrowed it down to the cream of the crop, all things considered. Looking for the best value for the money, you’ll need to do your homework, checking used car values on Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book. But a review of various automotive expert sources, including U.S. News & World Report Automotive Rankings, Consumer Guide, Edmunds, Car and Driver, Automobile, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), shows that these picks are pretty good ones. See if you agree.

  • Chevrolet Tahoe (2002-2009) – The third-generation Tahoe (and mechanical twin GMC Yukon),  redesigned in 2007, is Chevrolet-Tahoe-Hybrid-DCnumber one in U.S. News & World Report’s Automotive Rankings of full-size SUVs (tied with Chevy Suburban). It’s also the best-selling full-size SUV since 2001. And Consumer Guide gives it a Best Buy nod. Available with a hybrid, Tahoe is also the magazine’s Best Car for the Money, appealing to “buyers who need its outsized seating and towing capacities.” Plusses include seating for up to nine, three powerful V-8 engines, including new-for-2009 395-hp 6.2-liter V-8 and 6-speed automatic transmission, and standard third-row seat, electronic stability control (ESC) and side curtain airbags (2008). Cons include no fold-flat feature for third-row seat and curb weight hampering handling, acceleration and fuel economy. Edmunds says used 2000-2006 second-generation Tahoes are a good buy as well.
  • Toyota Sequoia (2004-2009) – U.S. News & World Report says Sequoia, redesigned in 2008, is “an excellent alternative to domestic full-size SUVs.” Edmunds hails Sequoia as “the best all-around eight-passenger SUV available.” Consumer Guide comments Sequoia “holds its own against rivals…except dashboard convenience and cargo space behind the 3rd-row seat.” CG also likes Sequoia’s “inviting cabin and overall size that makes… maneuvering easier than with most in this class.” Sequoia doesn’t drive like a truck, has brisk acceleration and high towing capacity, but gets pricey with options.
  • Ford Expedition (2007-2009) – Ford’s largest vehicle (along with Expedition EL and mechanical twin Lincoln Navigator), the Expedition is a traditional full-size SUV built on a truck platform that, according to Car and Driver, “delivers quiet operation, a supple ride, and attractive interior décor.” Edmunds calls Expedition “big, tall and heavy” and “every inch a truck,” but, with its 2007 redesign, it’s “the best and most refined yet.” Pros include fold-flat third-row seat, powerful engine and best-in-class towing and passenger capability. Cons include massive curb weight and less-than-stellar handling. Automobile says: “…for those who need to tow and haul eight adults around, there’s no substitute for mass.” Consumer Guide says: “Expedition is an excellent vehicle for those who genuinely need the power and space of a large truck-type SUV.”

Other 8-seat SUVs to look at include Chevrolet Suburban, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL, Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV, Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen (both discontinued in 2009).

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