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Best of the Lot: What's the best seven-seater for my family?

2011 Hyundai Veracruz

David Dewhurst/Hyundai

Michael and Jeremy: I am considering the purchase of an SUV with seating for seven. My final choices are: Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz and Mazda CX-9. We have three children: one is nine, the twins are three years old. We like to travel and luggage space is semi-important. Which of the three would be the best considering I keep my vehicules (sic) about 10 years? Reliability is important as well as getting the most for the least. Thank you for the help. I am an avid follower. -S.S. in Île-Perrot, Quebec

Vaughan: Cato, this is a breakthrough. Quebec is utterly saturated with automotive journos with their guidebooks, magazines, cable TV shows, newspaper sections and basement websites by the hundreds. Yet "an avid follower" in La Belle Province is not relying on the local multitude but seeking our advice about "vehicules" – that's the French spelling if you didn't notice. Cato, we have cracked the Two Solitudes.

Cato: I'll sleep better knowing this, believe me. In the province where I was born there is a devoted following.

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Okay, S.S. has a short list and they are all perfectly adequate and well supported by sales incentives here in the Dog Days of Summer when deals abound – $4,500 in dealer cash on the Veracruz with its $39,999 list for the GLS with all-wheel-drive; at least $2,000 and 0.0 per cent financing on the CX-9, which in GS trim with AWD goes for $38,395; and $4,000 on the Honda Pilot EX AWD, listing at $40,720.

Now into this mix I want you, S.S., to think about a new entry and one unlikely to have crossed your mind: the 2011 Dodge Durango. Let's say the SXT with AWD ($37,995). If you happen to be leasing a Chrysler "vehicule" already, the company has a $3,000 bonus. If not, take the 0.0 per cent financing for four years.

Vaughan: The Honda Pilot is that boxy one that was last redesigned in 2009. Front-wheel-drive is standard, but of course Cato wants you in the all-wheel version. Not a bad idea. It will get you through the snow drifts of Île-Perrot in May.

I've never been overly impressed by this big Honda. It has a V-6 engine and a five-speed automatic, yet still feels sluggish. I'm always going on about the need for comfortable seats and the Pilot doesn't have them. And of course we'll hear from Cato that the thing has more buttons and switches on the centre stack than a Boeing Triple Seven.

Cato: Frankly, the Pilot is something of a dud. The Hummer-inspired design is about as interesting as your wardrobe, Vaughan. Quality and safety are both fine, but you're right about the lumpy feel of the thing. Not my first pick.

I like the Durango because underneath that sheet metal are the underpinnings of the next-generation Mercedes-Benz ML sport-ute. Chrysler didn't get much out of its years of being owned by Daimler, but the ML platform is the exception. This Chrysler product is a sleeper, but don't doze on this one, S.S.

Vaughan: The Veracruz is Hyundai's top-of-the-line SUV and, as soon as you climb in, you see the luxury bits. The interior is outstanding, with power everything. It stays comfy and quiet on the highway with a 260-horsepower V-6 and a six-speed automatic.

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Again front-wheel-drive is standard but AWD is the answer. Like a lot of the new Hyundai stuff you're getting something that looks like it should cost a lot more.

Cato: The Veracruz is a pretty good value, especially with that incentive money in the glovebox. But this is an aging design and it's due for an update.

The Durango is anything but aged. Look, in the most recent J.D. Power and Associates APEAL study – APEAL standing for Automotive Performance Execution and Layout – the Durango won the mid-size crossover class. The Pilot, Veracruz and CX-9 were not in the top three of this so-called "things gone right" study.

As for early quality indicators, the Durango finished tied for second with the Subaru Outback in Power's latest Initial Quality Study. Honda's Accord Crosstour won. Think about this, S.S.

Vaughan: Well, you know, Cato, they all drive like fiends in Quebec and of the three choices the Mazda CX-9 has the best driving dynamics. I'm so sick of Zoom Zoom but Mazda does build "vehicules" for people who want a little driving fun. This big boat drives like a much smaller car.

Cato: Sure, the CX-9 is fine. But the Durango drives pretty well, too. And it has outstanding interior space and, if you need to tow, the Durango will yank around a big trailer, too.

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Vaughan: I'd say no to the Pilot, but then it's a tough choice. If our friend wants luxury, then go Veracruz. If sportier driving is more important, then go CX-9.

Cato: We're agreed on taking the Pilot off S.S.'s list and replacing it with a test drive of the 2011 Durango. If it's a pure deal, you want, S.S., the Veracruz should come first. The CX-9 is fun, but the most interesting rig in this collection, and my choice, is this new Durango.



2011 Dodge Durango SXT AWD

2011 Hyundai Veracruz GLS AWD

2011 Mazda CX-9 GS AWD

Wheelbase (mm)




Length (mm)




Width (mm)




Height (mm)





3.7-litre V-6

3.8-litre V-6

3.7-litre V-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

290/260 lb-ft

260/257 lb-ft

273/270 lb-ft

Drive system

all-wheel drive

all-wheel drive

all-wheel drive


five-speed automatic

six-speed automatic

six-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)




Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

13.0 city/8.9 highway

13.2 city/8.9 highway

12.8 city/9.0 highway

Base price (MSRP)




Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 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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