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Don’t want a minivan? Here are three alternatives

We have four children and are currently driving a Toyota Sienna. I was hoping to switch to a car that seats all six of us, but has better gas mileage than a typical minivan. Do you have any suggestions, or have you already written a blog about six-passenger vehicles? – Meyer in Calgary

Vaughan: No, not me. I haven't written, blogged, composed or penned a thing on this particular subject in months. However, fortunately for us both, Meyer, my very distinguished colleague, Mr. J. Cato, recently authored a wordy eye-glazer on this very subject. Over to you, Cato. I'm out.

Cato: As we all can see here, the Vaughan-ster is astonishingly skilled in time management – an attribute exceeded only by his endlessly creative choices in hats. When I search for sartorial insights, he's the first on my list, in fact. Starting with hats. Here, the always self-effacing Vaughan knows that his time is best spent napping, given, well, given he has very little to add, Meyer.

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Vaughan: Zzzzzzzz

Cato: Look, Meyer, I am going to waste a few breaths and tell you that your best possible solution is to stick with another minivan.

A lost cause, I know. Like so many others, you have become a disaffected minivan owner. Sales in Canada so far this year are down 9 per cent, in fact.

But Meyer, you cannot buy a more cost-effective family rig, especially with six of you. Heck, if you must have four-wheel-drive, Toyota makes a such version of the Sienna.

Now, Meyer, why is it you must have an SUV with three rows? Really, it's an image thing, right? You feel like you're running around in a mom-mobile, correct? No little milk trucks for you, agreed? So get ready to spend at least $10,000 more for a vehicle that does what a minivan accomplishes, only not as well.

Vaughan: One sheep. Two sheep. Three sheep. Zzzzzzzzz.

Hyundai Santa Fe Hyundai Hyundai  

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Cato: Some sort of "breathe-right" clothes pin would help with that snoring, I think. Or a sock in the mouth.

Meyer, we'll have to keep this down because we don't want to disturb Vaughan. He might then be tempted to make a contribution and we wouldn't want that.

Okay, Meyer, you have all sorts of options. One would be the new Hyundai Santa Fe XL, the long-wheel base one with the three rows of seating. It starts at less than $30,000 and yes, that third row folds flat. If your kids are older, they'll be squeezed and therefore hate it back there; if they're younger, they might be nervous about riding so far away from mum and dad. Now in your minivan …

Hyundai's V-6 engine here, all 290 horses, is powerful and reasonably fuel-efficient. In fact, it out-muscles the Toyota Highlander V-6 (270 hp), Honda's V-6 Pilot (250 hp), Mazda's V-6 CX-9 (260 hp) and the V-6 Nissan Pathfinder (260 hp). Another option is the V-6 Ford Explorer (290 hp), though, again, the Santa Fe XL gets better fuel economy. Best fuel economy of them all: the Pathfinder and by quite a margin.

Vaughan: Hmmmmm…

Nissan Pathfinder Nissan 

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Cato: If you have a kid in a child seat, the Pathfinder has what Nissan calls its EZ Flex Seating System – 14 cm of second-row seat travel to make it easy to climb way back there, and without removing the child seat.

With four kids, I imagine money might be an issue, Meyer; the grocery bills alone must be astounding, if they eat like Vaughan. So to pricing:

You can get versions of the Pathfinder and Explorer for less than $30,000, but they're front-drivers. The Highlander starts at nearly $32,000, the Pilot at nearly $34,000 and the CX-9 lands in about the middle of them. The simple truth is you get the most for your money in the Hyundai.

Vaughan: Zzzzzzzz.

Cato: And you'll want to know about safety. Yes, the Santa Fe is a Top Safety Pick, but so are these others. Hyundai is making generally quite reliable vehicles, too – but again, so are these others.

Here's what I'd say, though. The Highlander and Pilot are getting pretty aged and they're a bit overpriced. Mazda just did an update to the CX-9, but it's pricey, too.

The Hyundai comes standard with an awesome tow rating – 2,268 kg – and the rear window sunshades are fun. The pricier XL also has heated rear seats, a huge panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel and even hill descent control for those off-roading trips you'll never take.

So the Hyundai would be my first choice, followed by the Pathfinder and the Explorer.

Remember, the Nissan wins on fuel economy here, hands down, so it may be your first choice, Meyer.

Vaughan: Huh? Oh … Yeah, exactly, Cato.

Brilliant. Couldn't have done better myself.

Cato: Agreed.


2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Premium2013 Nissan Pathfinder SV2013 Ford Explorer XLT

Wheelbase (mm)


Length (mm)


Width (mm)


Track, front (mm)



3.3-litre V-63.5-litre V-63.5-litre V-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

290/252 lb-ft260/240 lb-ft290/255 lb-ft

Drive system

All-wheel driveAll-wheel driveAll-wheel drive


Six-speed automaticCVTSix-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

11.7 city/8.0 highway10,8 city/7.9 highway12.5 city/8.8 highway

Base price (MSRP)


Source: car manufacturers

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.

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More


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