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We’re looking for a two- or three-year-old SUV that seats six. Our budget is in the $35,000 range. I don’t want anything that looks or drives like a big box. I’d also like leather and navigation. We’re looking at the newest Honda Pilot. – Taryn, Calgary.

If you want to carry a crowd, you don’t have to be stuck with something that looks, or drives, like a school bus.

Three-row SUVs are getting less boxy with each new version, but they can become only so sleek and still fit up to eight people.

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One that stands out? Mazda’s CX-9. For just more than $35,000, you should be able to find a 2016 CX-9 GT with all-wheel drive, leather and navigation.

For around the same price, you could get a 2016 Honda Pilot in EX-L trim with leather, without navigation. For that feature, you may need to look for a 2015 Pilot Touring, the previous, boxier version.

Other choices? The 2016 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited ($29,995), 2015 of-the-boring-used-suvs-for-less-than-30000-highlander-vs-pilot/article33400084/">Toyota Highlander XLE ($34,203) and 2017 Nissan Pathfinder Platinum ($33,246).

2016 Mazda CX-9

Mike Ditz/Mazda

  • Second generation: 2016-present
  • Average asking price for base (FWD): $29,200 (Source: Canadian Black Book)
  • Original MSRP for base: $38,420
  • Engine: 227-hp, 2.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (250 hp with premium)
  • Transmission/drive: Six-speed automatic/front and all-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city, 8.4 highway (FWD), 11.5 city, 8.9 highway (AWD); regular or premium gas

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The CX-9 might make you look for reasons to haul a few extra people around.

The new-for-2016 seven-seater didn’t carry as much stuff as bigger competitors, and that third-row seat was snug for two adults. But, especially in top trims, it delivered comfort that rivalled pricier luxury SUVs.

There were five trims – GS, GS-L ($34,425, used), GT ($36,625) and swanky Signature ($39,050) with real wood trim.

The base GS had cloth seats and came in FWD ($29,200) and AWD ($31,825).

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Consumer Reports liked the “effortless” power, quiet cabin and above-average fuel economy.

But it griped about the “cumbersome” wheel-controlled infotainment system and the lack of luxury touches such as ventilated seats.

It gave the 2016 CX-9 one out of five for reliability – with most reader complaints about troubles with the in-vehicle electronics.

There was one recall.

2016 Honda Pilot

Honda

  • Third generation: 2016-present
  • Average asking price for base (FWD): $30,775 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Original MSRP for base: $44,430
  • Engine: 280-hp, 3.5-litre V-6
  • Transmission/drive: Six-speed automatic, nine-speed automatic (Touring)/front and all-wheel
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.4 city, 8.8 highway (FWD, six-speed), 13.0 city, 9.3 highway (AWD, six-speed); regular gas

When it redesigned the Pilot for 2016, Honda thought outside the box, sort of.

It was sleeker than the old one, but it was still square enough to fit plenty of stuff – 510 litres behind the rear seats compared to 407 in the CX-9.

“[It] has all the interior volume and cargo space one could ask for in a mid-size SUV, not to mention reasonable fuel economy for its size,” Globe Drive said.

There were six trims: LX ($30,775 FWD, $33,075 AWD), EX ($35,900), EX-L ($36,348), EX-L with navigation ($39,714), EX-L with rear entertainment ($39,400) and Touring ($41,489), which had both.

Only the base LX came in FWD. For leather, you needed EX-L or higher.

Consumer Reports liked the huge interior, “nifty” one-button access to the third row and the relatively quiet interior.

“The Pilot is quick, comfortable, and refined, but it’s not exactly a joy to drive,” Consumer Reports said. “On open roads, the Pilot maneuvers like an apartment building on wheels.”

It also didn’t like the “frustrating” infotainment system and the Touring version’s “frustrating” push-button nine-speed transmission.

It gave the 2016 Pilot three out of five for reliability.

There were two recalls, including a replacement of fuel tanks in just three vehicles.

Send your used car questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com with the subject: “Buying used.”

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