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best of the lot

Toyota Highlander

Hi, Michael and Jeremy: I enjoy reading Best of the Lot and thought I would seek out your sage advice. I'm looking for a replacement for my 2002 Odyssey EX-L as it's getting a little long in the tooth. Anyway, I pull a big tent trailer (2,500 pounds empty) plus bikes, canoe, three kids and wife for camping and am pushing the towing capacity. I like the minivan (space, comfort, price, gas mileage) and would get another but for the towing capacity. I was thinking about the Toyota Highlander, but my wife likes the Acura MDX, and I also saw some good incentives on the Volvo XC90. What do you think? Oh, it needs to have a DVD player and heated seats to keep kids and wife happy. – Bruce in Toronto

Vaughan: Cato, because everybody knows that you drag that big gas-guzzling boat of yours behind the car, you have found your audience: tow people. Got a camper? Call Cato. You appeal to these people and they send you mail weekly.

I, on the other hand, am often asked, "Should I get the Maserati GranTurismo or the GranTurismo S?" Frequently it is, "I'm replacing my Aston Martin Vantage S Coupe, should I go V-8 or V-12?" You're more into the campground crowd.

Cato: My father plucked chickens as a young boy; my roots make me an honest man of the sparrows, as George R.R. Martin calls them in Game of Thrones. You, on the other hand, pluck a motley crew of witticisms from your purse and they blind you like gold to the cost of repairing Maseratis and Astons.

Bruce has managed to squeeze terrific service out of the Odyssey. Vaughan, your wealthy followers will know he's done well with the gold standard of minivans. Nicely done, Bruce. But you're right; you are straining that 1,588-kilogram Odyssey tow rating.

If you were to get a loaded Highlander – V-6 Limited at $45,100 – you get a 2,268-kg tow rating, seating for seven, heated leather upholstery – the works. Look, Bruce, the Highlander is an old design, but not a dead one, other than being reliable. Toyota Canada has a $2,000 sales sweetener in play and you can combine it with 0.9 per cent financing for up to five years.

And Bruce, drive a hard bargain. The Canadian market is alive with giveaways. They are an eyeopener, though the Highlander puts me to sleep as a vehicle. That said, it's an easy and solid choice. Anything else, Vaughan?

Vaughan: The Highlander is as exciting as watching paint dry, or driving a Camry, but it is extremely good value. Brucie, you'll need the V-6 for towing and the wife and kids should enjoy the soft, comfortable ride. Like Cato finally said, you need to check out prices at several dealers and then grind them down.

Acura MDX Nissan Nissan  

Cato: Bruce, you singled out the Acura MDX and, let me tell you, it's the steal of the century right now. When last I checked, Acura Canada had slapped on $10,000 in incentives to clear out old 2013s to make room for the reinvented 2014 MDX. That $63,450 2013 MDX Elite should be no more than $52,000 or $53,000 at most for you, Bruce.

Sure, it looks like something designed for the Transformers movies, but we'll call it exotic and move along. The "old" MDX is powerful, driveable, available with a third row and durable. Take the 10 Gs and live with the crazy looks – of the Acura and from your neighbours.

Vaughan: Haven't they fired the entire design department at Acura yet?

I have the feeling that Honda is getting its act together, but the luxury division remains a mystery. I'm not crazy about the MDX apart from the mechanicals, and it doesn't ride as comfortably as the Highlander.

Brucie, if you want to stick with Honda after your 11-year-old Odyssey, check out the Pilot. It's the Honda version of the MDX and Honda Canada is pushing hard to keep this thing moving out the showrooms, and that will be to your advantage.

Volvo XC90. Volvo Volvo  

Cato: To the tune of at least $4,000 in rebates on the loaded $48,650 Pilot Touring you require to keep the peace.

You also mentioned the XC90. Volvo still sells cars in Canada? Yes, that's true. Well, this design is as old as Gordon Lightfoot. And like Lightfoot, when the XC90 was young, it could really sing. Lots of incentive money, though you'll find it cramped for five.

Vaughan: When you go into the Volvo showroom, you may have to sweep the tumbleweeds away from the other models.

But this one keeps selling. It drives beautifully and is safe.

Volvo, believe it or not, was once the top imported premium brand in Canada.

That was decades ago when Cato was still in reform school. The marquee still has some snob appeal.

King of the Campground.

Cato: Wrong, Your Grace. The MDX. Never a doubt.

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.


2013 Toyota Highlander V6 Limited2013 Acura MDX Elite package2013 Volvo XC90 R-Design Platinum

Wheelbase (mm)


Length (mm)


Width (mm)


Height (mm)



3.5-litre V-63.7-litre V-63.2-litre inline six-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

270/248 lb-ft300/270 lb-ft240/236 lb-ft

Drive system

all-wheel driveall-wheel driveall-wheel drive


five-speed automaticsix-speed automaticsix-speed automatic

Curb Weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

12.6 city/8.7 highway13.2 city/9.6 highway13.2 city/8.2 highway

Base price (MSRP)


Source: car manufacturers