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Used Cars Buying used: In search of an SUV for under $35,000 that can fit kids and dogs

We had a 2015 Honda Pilot that got totalled (everybody was fine). The Pilot wasn’t quite big enough for two kids and two big dogs. We live in the country and it’ll be my wife’s daily driver. She’d like something that’s decent on the road, has all-wheel drive, leather and three rows. I still like the idea of something North American. I’m thinking about a 2015 or 2016 GMC Acadia. Hoping for something in the $30,000-$35,000 range. What do you think? – Chuck, Sherwood Park, Alta.

Mid-sized SUVs are, well, mid-sized. But some are bigger than others.

The Acadia ($28,522 for a used 2015, according to Canadian Black Book), was the biggest in the segment – to get any roomier, you’d need a full-sized SUV, such as the GMC Yukon, or a minivan

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The Acadia’s siblings – the Buick Enclave ($28,763) and Chevy Traverse ($25,141) – were equally roomy.

They’re all okay bets if size matters most. But, Edmunds and Consumer Reports both recommend the Toyota Highlander – it beats the Acadia for ride and reliability.

2015 Toyota Highlander

Consumer Reports liked the 'accommodating interior and simple controls,' standard backup camera and a lot of standard features.

Toyota

Third generation: 2014-present (facelift for 2017)

Average asking price for base (with AWD): $28,740

Original MSRP for base (with AWD): $35,275

Trims: LE, XLE, Limited

Engine: 3.5-litre V6 (270 hp), 3.5-litre V-6 hybrid (280 hp)

Transmission/Drive: Six-speed automatic, CVT (Hybrid)/Front-wheel, all-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13 city, 9.8 highway, regular gas

The Highlander wasn’t the biggest mid-size SUV, but it got plenty just right.

“The Highlander won its class in J.D. Power’s latest “things-gone-right” APEAL study, which suggests that mid-size SUV buyers like what they see here.” Globe Drive said the looks are "modern, ride quality is excellent and the V-6 is a strong engine.”

For leather, you’ll need the XLE ($33,366 – the leather is only in the first two rows) or Limited ($34,738). The Highlander sat eight (or seven with the captain’s chairs).

Consumer Reports liked the “accommodating interior and simple controls,” standard backup camera and a lot of standard features.

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It griped that blind-spot monitoring and forward-collision warning were only available with the top Limited trim. It also said some of the interior trim looked “low rent” – and it wasn’t as quiet as the previous version.

It gave the 2015 Toyota Highlander five out of five for reliability.

There was one recall, for a damaged circuit board that could potentially cause a loss of power steering while driving.

2015 GMC Acadia

Consumer Reports liked that the Acadia handled 'surprisingly well' for its size and sat adults comfortably in all three rows ('a rare feat').

Toyota

First generation: 2007-2016

Average asking price for base (with AWD): $28,522

Original MSRP for base (with AWD): $39,345

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Trims: SLE1, SLE2, SLT1, SLT2 and Denali.

Engine: 281-hp, 3.6-litre V6 (SLE and SLT), 288-hp, 3.6-litre (Denali)

Transmission/Drive: Six-speed automatic /front-wheel, all-wheel

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 14.6 highway, 10.2 city; regular gas

On the road at least, the Acadia was proof that bigger wasn’t always better.

“It's true that the Acadia isn't as cumbersome to drive as a traditional SUV like GMC's own Yukon,” review site Edmunds said. “But compared to some rival three-row crossovers, however, the big and heavy Acadia is harder to maneuver in tight spaces and its acceleration isn't as quick.”

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For 2017, GM actually made the Acadia a little smaller. But until then, it was the same size as its corporate cousin, the Chevy Traverse (which actually got bigger for 2018).

For leather, you’d need SLT1 ($49,460 new, with AWD; $28,522 used) or higher. The top-of-the-line Denali – with collision alert, lane-departure warning, heads-up display and cooled front seats – is $33,180 used ($56,760 when it was new).

Consumer Reports liked that the Acadia handled “surprisingly well” for its size and sat adults comfortably in all three rows (“a rare feat”). It griped about lower-than-average fuel economy and lousy visibility.

Consumer Reports gave the 2015 Acadia one out of five for reliability, listing the climate system and the power equipment as the biggest trouble spots.

There was one recall, for potential cracks in the tires.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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