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I’m a contractor, and I need a vehicle for hauling tools, but it has to do double-duty hauling my family, too. My wife and I have three young children and a labrador-mix dog. I’ve always driven a pickup, but now I’m thinking about either an SUV or even a minivan, to keep everything and everyone dry and secure. It will be a company vehicle, and I want to lease, but don’t want to spend more than $500 a month. What do you suggest? – Neil, Winnipeg

Richardson: I hate to sound suburban, but minivans are great. Three comfortable rows, and if you fold away the seats, they’re hugely spacious.

Gentile: Come on, Mark, minivans are out. Yes, they’re practical, but Neil is used to trucks in Winnipeg. If he wants to get something else, it should be an SUV – much cooler than a boring old minivan.

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Richardson: Neil doesn’t need cool, he needs space, and minivans have way more interior cargo space than any SUV.

Gentile: Nobody needs cool, but it’s nice to have. There are plenty of full-size SUVs with three rows of seats and excellent cargo space for his gear, his growing family and four-legged friend.

Richardson: I can tell you from experience that many dogs and dog owners don’t like full-size SUVs. They’re too high off the ground for most to jump into easily or out of safely.

Gentile: Depends on the dog. Like Neil, my foster puppy is a black lab-retriever mix named Moon – she’s training to be a future dog guide. And she doesn’t have any issues jumping in and out of a full-size SUV.

Richardson: I need a pet ramp for Elvis, my Clumber Spaniel, to get into my RAV4. He just jumps into the low side door of any minivan, though, and then gets hair everywhere.

The 2020 Ford Explorer 4WD.

Handout

Gentile: Some manufacturers such as Volvo and Land Rover offer pet accessories. You can get everything from foldable pet carriers to spill-resistant water bowls to portable rinse systems for washing your pet after a muddy walk. But those are luxury vehicles – way out of Neil’s price range. I’m thinking an SUV with three rows like a Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander or Nissan Pathfinder.

Richardson: Well, the true advantage of an SUV over a minivan, other than just self-esteem, is that they’re better vehicles in bad conditions. Those three all have AWD, and that might be important for Neil in Winnipeg.

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Gentile: I agree. The new Ford Explorer is one of my favorites. It doesn’t feel big and cumbersome to drive, and it feels so spacious inside. And the 2020 Highlander is all-new – it comes in gas or hybrid.

Richardson: I drove the new Highlander recently, and I thought it was a Lexus. In fact, it was better than a Lexus because it didn’t have that difficult-to-use mousepad controller for its display screen. The fuel consumption for me was an average of 10.1 L/100 km, which I thought was amazing.

The 2020 Toyota Highlander.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Gentile: I recently drove the new Highlander, too. I was so impressed with it. It had such a quiet and spacious cabin with very modern touches inside. And even though it had three rows of seats, it didn’t feel like I was driving a big bus!

Richardson: But let’s be realistic now. The very cheapest new Highlander will come in around $500 a month to lease over five years, and that’s with front-wheel drive. I think Neil would be better following my neighbour’s example. He just replaced his 10-year-old Honda Pilot with a two-year-old Pilot, all the bells and whistles and new technology, for about $30,000. It offers the space and versatility of any large SUV for hauling his surveying equipment, and it’s comfortable for the family.

Gentile: A used vehicle might be the way to go, but he may be able to find a better deal for a used Highlander – something that’s two or three years old.

Richardson: That used Highlander would be the previous generation. The two-year-old Pilot is the current, up-to-date tech generation, and it’s night-and-day better than the previous version. My neighbour can’t believe the savings in gas he’s getting. An extra 150 km for the same tank of gas.

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Gentile: Fair point. He is better off getting the latest technology. So we’ll scrap the used Highlander.

Richardson: The Explorer is up-to-date though, and like you said, it doesn’t feel cumbersome to drive.

Gentile: And there’s also the Nissan Pathfinder. But it feels like a bus – big and bulky when you’re behind the wheel. Both the Explorer and Highlander have more pleasant road manners than the Pathfinder.

Richardson: There you go, Neil. If you’re feeling flush, I’d recommend the new Highlander, Explorer and Pilot, and if you’re more tight, then think about a used-but-current-generation Explorer or Pilot. And take a look at the Chrysler Pacifica minivan while you’re at it.

Gentile: Forget about the minivan! I say stick with the Highlander or Explorer.

The Chrysler Pacifica.

Courtesy of manufacturer

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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