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Can Grownups Fit in the Third Row Seat of a Toyota Highlander? How Many People Fit?

A look of Toyota Highlander's third row seat.

A third-row seat in an SUV is not a new concept, and I wonder why automakers still offer this feature, as they are never comfortable unless in a van. A third-row seat is fine if you have children or even pets who need their own space in your vehicle. However, I would never ask an adult to sit in the third row of my Highlander unless they are a tiny person.

The Highlander’s hip, shoulder, and footwell spaces of the third-row seat are too small for adults. My neighbor’s teenagers would have difficulty fitting in the third row. My child is grown and gone, and the area where the third-row seats are would work better for me when I travel as storage space.

Is the Highlanders Third Row seat smaller than other SUVs?

Compared to other SUVs, the third-row seat is smaller than some competitors’ seating arrangements are. However, Toyota touts that the Highlander is a seven to eight-passenger vehicle. They arrive at this variable by calling it an eight-seater when the Highlander has a second-row bench seat.

However, when equipped with optional Captain’s seats, the seating capacity falls to seven.

So, I went to the speciation pages of the Toyota Highlander and several of its competitors to develop a more explicit reason why the third-row seat is not suitable for grownups. By comparing the size of each vehicle’s third seat space, I was able to determine if the seat of the Highlander is comparable in size to the other SUVs.

Can a grownup fit into the third row of a Toyota Highlander?

Toyota Highlander seat interior.

Two of the Toyota Highlander’s closest competitors, the Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder, have third-row seat space almost identical to the Highlander. However, neither Ford nor Nissan are offer seating for seven or eight. Instead, they market them as seven-passenger SUVs, as neither offer captains seats as a second-row option.

All three vehicles have almost the same cubic feet of space behind the front seats. That makes one wonder why Toyota uses the seven or eight seating capacity claim unless they count to seat three children. Even when equipped with a second-row bench seat, calling it an eight-seater is a stretch.

In reality, only three children or two very small adults could find any level of comfort in the third-row seat on an extended trip.

The lack of legroom is the difference between the second and third-row seats in all three vehicles. The footwell in the third-row seat is even smaller than its competitors at a meager 27.7 inches. The legroom in the second seat is 35.5 inches, and the front seat legroom is 44.3 inches.  

From the front seat legroom to that of the third-row seat, you are losing almost a foot and a half of space for your legs and feet. The nine-inch loss of space from the second-row seat to the third also makes a significant difference in seating comfort.

Space for your head, hips, and shoulders is smaller than the other two seats; however, their dimensions are not where the problem lies. Instead, the problem is the shallow footwell that offers very little space for your feet and legs. This limited space makes it difficult for grownups to fit in the third-row seat of a Highlander.

Do you need a third seat in your Toyota Highlander?

I use my pickup truck and my SUV to haul things. I do not have a big family, a half dozen friends to carry about, or a soccer team. Therefore, the space used for third-row seating on any SUV is of no interest to me because I see it as space taken that I can use, transporting stuff, not people.

None of us use our vehicles for the same purpose, and if I needed to carry around six people and myself, I’m not sure an SUV would be my choice of vehicle. But, of course, most SUVs have excellent ground clearance, and you can purchase them with all-wheel drive.

However, many of today’s vehicles are offered with these features, and you don’t need to purchase an SUV to get them. Furthermore, even many sedans and minivans provide all-wheel drive. So, that feature has lost its edge as a selling point when considering an SUV over another car.

Is a Toyota Highlander the best SUV for you?

Toyota Highlander

Aside from the small third-row seats, the Toyota Highlander has as much interior room, power, and features as its competitors. It also has something they don’t have, and that’s Toyota’s reputation for reliability and dependability. However, the Highlander is not the largest SUV sold by Toyota.

Suppose you need a larger SUV to ensure all passengers are comfortable. In that case, the Toyota 4-Runner or Sequoia may be worth a look while shopping for SUVs. However, if the Toyota Highlander is the car you want and can afford, go for it. Rest assured, it is an excellent choice, even though you may not use that third-row seat yourself.