By on January 21, 2010

Anonymous writes:

I’m in my early twenties, and I’m looking for a car that I can efficiently commute in (about 20 miles round trip) but also take to skiing and camping on the weekend. Efficiency is more important than price, but AWD is a must because I hate messing with chains. Also, I only need room for two people and gear, so no need for a big SUV.

Steve Lang: Most vehicles in the Northern country are not All-Wheel-Drive. In fact, today’s front wheel drive models come with a long list of safety and ‘grip’ features that make them just about as safe as the all wheel drive models of the prior decade. Traction Control, Electronic Stability Control….
We’re going to assume that you can’t buy new being in your early 20’s. If you’re looking for something that’s about five years old, all wheel drive, and affordable, my top choice would be the Mitsubishi Outlander. I regularly see these vehicles with 150k+ at the auctions and I’ve yet to find one with an engine or tranny issue. The powertrains are excellent and owners have routinely rated them as just as good or better than the Subaru Forester at owner review sites (Edmunds, Carsurvey, MSN). You can also buy them about three grand cheaper than the overhyped Subie and parts cost should be far lower over the long run as well.

Sajeev Mehta: Stick with small CUVs in your price range, that’s the best way to have your cake and eat it too.  Finding a low-mile RAV4/CRV/Escape/Equinox with four-corner, four cylinder motivation is the best for your lifestyle.  Drive them all and see which ones fit in your budget. I’d avoid a used Outlander because reselling an old Mitsubishi (versus a Honda, Toyota or even a Ford) as an individual is like pawning a set of WalMart’s finest silverware.  You might as well set it on fire instead. That wasn’t an endorsement of insurance fraud, even if it sounded so.

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58 Comments on “New Or Used: The Weekend Warrior Edition...”

  • avatar

    Honda Element, you can spill your beer on the camping trips and easily clean it. Cops never see them, it’s a Honda and very handy. Might not be a big hit on the club scene with the ladies.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t know about that…all the post menopausal women in my neighborhood drive them.

    • 0 avatar

      An element is a great choice for a ski trip and camping vehicle. It’s a bit homely, but that interior is so comfortable and spacious and everything can be hosed down. I was pretty impressed with a friend’s element when he took me around in it.

    • 0 avatar

      2nd the Element. As long as two is all you need to worry about, it’s great. Everything, like bikes, skis and dead, bloody game, goes inside the car. No need for roof racks and boxes. For roadside camping, fold down the seats and sleep in the car.

  • avatar

    Is AWD a personal choice for you, or a requirement? I know there are some places out West with places where you MUST have AWD or chains in order to legally enter.

    If that’s not the case, then I’ll echo the FWD preference. It’ll get you most places without issue. With the gas you’ll save (vs. parasitic AWD systems), you can add a winch!

    If you must have AWD, then I like the RAV-4 comment. If you go back to the late 90s, you can even find some of the 2-door versions (pretty rare in the US).

    • 0 avatar

      If you think you need awd, you probably need it or will regret not having it. The number of times having awd has saved me is too many to name.

      Just a few weeks ago I had to drive a friend to her beach house to get her car. The roads were covered in snow and the road down to the house was virtually unplowed and steep. Getting in was not problem, I even used hill descent control for fun, however getting her FWD Passat out was hell. Fortunately there was a crew of construction workers looking for an afternoon distraction to help push the car up. It took all 6 of us half an hour to get the car moving. In contrast, in my awd car, I sped up the hill with no problems.

      I would look for a subaru. Probably a Legacy or Outback wagon.

  • avatar

    The Element isn’t a bad little vehicle, and definitely pretty easy to clean up on the inside.

    I’d also recommend the Ford Escape. Escapes are very reliable, have an excellent amount of cargo space for the size, have great visibility, and are reasonably peppy and pretty efficient if you get a newer model. I’d go with a ’09 or newer, so that you get the 6 speed transmission and the upgraded 2.5 liter 4 cylinder. 4×4 and AWD vehicles aren’t super popular down here due to no snow ever, but a quick search shows a 4wd 2009 Escape XLS with only 13K on the odometer for an asking price of 17,990 way up in south Georgia, I’d be willing to bet you could get something for that price or lower with a little negotiation and have a very nice nearly new ride.

  • avatar

    I would look at a Subaru (overhyped or not). Forester, Outback

    CRVs and Rav4 hold value too well I think. I wouldn’t buy them used

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Just to irk the usual suspects: old BOF Kia Sportage.

  • avatar

    I might also suggest a BMW 325xi wagon. Depending on where you camp, this might be all you need, and it would be far more fun to drive on the daily commute. Not as much space as a RAV4, either, but again, if it fulfills your needs, it would be more fun. If you do not need the all-wheel drive component, you might also think about a Mazda 6 wagon.

    • 0 avatar

      This is an excellent car, I have one. Although mine has been bomb-proof for 80k I don’t generally recommend BMW’s to younger drivers due to insurance cost ,etc. The other thing with this car is it really has very little space in the rear, I think the trunk on a 325 sedan probably hold as much if not more. getting to the fire road leading to the camp site will be great also good on the cub scene

  • avatar

    I’m with Lang on the FWD endorsement. Re-think why you “need” AWD. We camp and all we’ve ever owned are 2WD vehicles. It sure gets snowy here, too.

    If you’re thinking of getting AWD to increase the range of conditions under which you think you can safely drive, reconsider. It doesn’t stop you any better. Skiing is an activity that can wait until driving conditions are good. Getting to work isn’t. But if you only encounter snow AND steep terrain getting to the slopes and your work commute involves normal roads and no extreme terrain, then do you really need AWD?

    Put the money saved into really good snow tires. They’ll shorten your stopping distance and improve your cornering on snow.


    If I thought I needed AWD, I’d be seriously considering Steve’s advice on the Outlander (Mitsubishi is not generally on my radar). You’re right that the price I could get for it later would be low but the price I pay up front is going to be advantaged, I’ll have less into the vehicle. Lower taxes, insurance… it’s a win. If I determined to buy new, then, yes, I’d be thinking Rav4 or CR-V or even taking a sniff at the Equinox (God help me), if Chevy’s dealin’ aggressively (but I don’t think they are, yet).

  • avatar

    2 options:

    Hyundai Tucson – AWD, lots of space, can lock the center differential, plastic floor in the way back.

    Ford Fusion AWD – good looks, decent mileage, reliable and cheap to buy. Get the SEL trim, and make sure it has the side curtain airbags and ABS, though.

  • avatar

    FWD and snow tires if you need traction that badly. If you insist on AWD for me the list would be only cars that I can get a manual transmission and AWD. I would LOVE a gently used AWD Vibe from the previous generation with the manual transmission, too bad I’m as likely to find Atlantis, The Seven Cities of Cibola, or El Dorado (the city not the car.) If you can afford new I know the SX4 “crossover” is very inexpensive although the mileage isn’t great.

    • 0 avatar

      I also suggest having a look at the first gen Vibe (or Matrix), although I don’t think they ever came in an AWD/manual combo(?). Also the Saabaru.

    • 0 avatar

      The first Gen Vibe/Matrix (2003-2008? model years) was available with an AWD manual trans combo, at least according to the catalog. How many were actually built? Does the plant manager at NUMMI even know? Now there would be a “collectible” Pontiac, lol.

  • avatar

    Forget all the comments you’ve just read. Just buy a 5 year old Mitsu Outlander w/ the AWD. You’ll be a happy camper. Trust me.

  • avatar

    In California and Nevada, it’s AWD or 4×4 _ON SNOW TIRES_ vs the chains. Legal snow tires are the ones that have the little triangle with snowflake. So, for the price of avoiding the chains you pay for 2 sets of rubber, or you drive on snow tires off-season. Of course you have an option of driving on aggressively looking tires and argue with the roadblock people to let you through anyway.

    P.S. Not trying to force you to reconsider, but just for the record, my personal choice was a good set of chains (make the vendor demonstrate how easy they are to mount and dismount) and include working gloves. Why? Because this is far easier to drive with chains on ice. Also, in California the hard snow is only 7% of the time if that. It’s insane to pay for snow tires, and the car will wear out before tires. Naturally this may not apply to PacNW and frozen liberal wasteland out East.

  • avatar

    What about a Ford Taurus X, or Freestyle. They have plenty of room, good power, decent mpg, and you can get them with AWD as well as being safe vehicles. Plus they are cheap for what you get since they were so unloved as being too close to a station wagon as my wife put it.

  • avatar

    I’d also recommend really any Subaru, a CR-V, or an AWD Outlander. If you can find an AMC Eagle out there somewhere, that would be cool, too. 23″ of snow got dumped on Philly this year. I saw a lot of stuck and abandoned vehicles of every shape and size, but no Subarus. My roommate’s ’98 Legacy never lost grip, though a couple extra inches of ground clearance would have been ideal.

  • avatar

    I have to respectfully disagree with those posters who think AWD and modern FWD with traction control are equally valid solutions. My own experience here in the mountains of Oregon, having owned and operated both types of cars over the last few years, is that nothing beats AWD with snow tires. While it’s true AWD doesn’t get you stopped any faster, it will get you up hills from a stop better, and deals better with the loss of traction on one axle much better.

    As for the remark that snow tires are expensive, have you priced collision repair recently? If you live in a place with hills and deal with snow and ice on a routine basis, it’s darn well worth it to have AWD and the best snow tires you can buy.

    One other issue for small AWD vehicles is crash ratings – all are not created equal. Part of the reason for the popularity of Subaru is the high scores they get in crash testing – be sure to check that out before putting your money down. In that regard, older Outlanders (2006 and before) do not do as well as newer ones. It’s also the main reason we bought a Forester rather than an Escape – better crash ratings at the time.

  • avatar

    I’ll throw Outback in the hat as well. Why? Because I’m really enjoying mine…I always wondered, when I moved from TX to ID, why they were so popular. In November, I purchased a CPO 2007 Outback 2.5 MT (winter package, sat radio) with 36k miles (lease return from sale dealer).

    Prior to the Outback, I test drove used and new models of the Escape (cheap, harsh, not enough cargo room), CRV (nothing wrong, but I wanted to sit lower), CX7 (not adapted for Idaho roads), and the Forester (see Escape comments). I really liked the idea of a full-time system, interesting engineering (boxer, safety cage, AWD setup-longitudinal engine), and a manual transmission. The 04-06 CRV was second on my list, would have not been much cheaper than the Outback with higher mileage.

    It’s the perfect vehicle for the northwest and mountain west, not just hippy-liberals. Reasons: full-time AWD, ground clearance, cheap to run, reasonable fuel mileage (23 city/29 highway), enjoyable to drive, all the features you need/none you don’t (heated cloth vs heated leather), save headgaskets (00-02) and wheel bearings (recalled 05-06) reliability is on par with Honda or Toyota. A FWD car is a PITA when you’re going camping…not so much the driven wheels but the clearance on BLM and USFS roads. Everyone says, get a truck as a second vehicle, I don’t see the need.

    Enjoyable to commute around town, enjoyable on the highway (H4/MT Outback doesn’t feel anymore strained than I4/MT Integra I had previously), and on the unpaved backroads.

    I put Yokohama Geolander tires on mine, did rather well in a Montana snow/ice storm recently…at least for an all-terrain/all-weather tire.

    Oh yeah, on the 05-09 2.5 MT models there is no traction or stability control. Just AWD and 2 locking differentials (center, rear). This makes the car very stable but also can be quite enjoyable as there are no nannies to shut down the fun, which means that you can get the car in a 4-wheel drift if you want and no buttons to press prior to doing so. I prefer mechanical traction to electronic reactive traction.

    Yes, we also have an old Volvo 760…no I’m not a hippy liberal (my wife is).

  • avatar

    I like the Subaru suggestions, but I’m no fan of the usual flat-4 engines. Hence I make the only viable suggestion to this dilemma:


    Seriously. 35mpg commuter, plenty of room for 2 + gear.

    Why don’t they make cars like this anymore?

    • 0 avatar

      They do still make them, but they’re better. Go drive a Honda Fit. I took one to Yellowstone with a friend for a week of backpacking. Two of us up front with the rear loaded down with gear, and averaged 40 mpg for the trip. I wouldn’t take a Fit off road, but it’s fine for getting to the park. BTW, unless you get high centered, Bridgestone Blizzak WS-60 tires make a Fit nearly unstoppable in snow.

  • avatar

    Steve – I didn’t see the full email, but since he said “AWD because he hates messing around with chains” it sounds like he lives in an area where the state police require one or the other when there is a lot of snow. This happened three or four times a year in Flagstaff when I lived in Arizona.

    No one has mentioned the first generation Saturn Vue yet. Pretty decent fuel economy, Honda power if you get the V6 (2004 on), good reliability and depressed resale values for what you get.

  • avatar

    I just saw the article about towing…brings me to another reason for the Outback. Any H4 Outback can tow 3000 lbs with a Class II hitch, that is per the manual. That is more than enough for a small boat, camper, or other trailer. I have a hitch for mine, nothing to tow yet! But the other vehicles, in the US, do not allow that much towing…maybe in other countries (CRV).

  • avatar

    AWD with or without a lockable transfer case will also allow engine braking to descend steep slippery hills more safely because all four wheels are slowed. With FWD, engine braking can stop the front wheels from turning, and therefore lose both steering and slowing.

    If you choose to slow an FWD by braking rather than engine braking, a slippery surface can result in the brake bias locking up the front brakes before the back ones, resulting in loss of steering. This is the same for an AWD, but the AWD has more useful engine braking before using the brakes. So in this sense, AWD IS better for “braking”.

    A low range (Grand Vitara and Patriot only) has even more capable engine braking for even more severe circumstances.

    It’s just one example, but the only time I saw an AWD Outlander try to get down a slippery steep road, the driver immediately lost control. As he spun the wheels trying to get back on the road, he kept saying: “But it’s all-wheel drive”. Others, with Subarus, Grand Vitaras etc, had no problem.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    I’m in the Element camp too. It’s the same mechanicals as the CRV, but resale doesn’t seem to be quite as good. I bought mine specifically for commuting from Mt. Hood into Portland and going skiing. The AWD is really good on ice and snow (paired with some decent studless winter tires) and the rugged interior is something you’ll be more and more thankful for as time goes by. It’s another bulletproof engine/tranny combo, and there’s not a lot of fancy electronics to break. The plastic body panels have held up where I would have otherwise made dents, too. I’m not gentle with this car.

    I averaged about 25MPG on my commute when I was doing it – not exactly Prius territory, but decent for the class.

    There may be cheaper alternatives, but maybe not over the long run…my ’04 Element has had nothing go wrong in 111k miles, and shows no sign of running out of steam.

    The downside? It’s not attractive in the conventional sense, and the suicide doors are a pain when trying to get a kid into/out of a car seat in a parking lot. If neither of these is a concern, I’d take one for a drive. If mine were totalled, I wouldn’t hesitate to go get another one.

  • avatar

    Use: Suzuki SX-4.
    New: Hyundai is just out with a new Tucson. Lots of bells and whistles and the new Direct Injection gas Theta I4. at about $20,000. Plus a 100,000 mile warranty, I believe.

  • avatar

    Base model impreza or forester new.

    Used – find an old audi allroad :)

  • avatar

    Impreza. 02-05 is a bad patch, the old 2.2s from the 93-01 were totally bulletproof. Possibly one of the most reliable cars made, however the early 2.5s had problems, and not that much more power. Subaru fixed it for 05 and they’ve been fine since.

    Get a hatchback, maybe an OBS, but make sure it’s a manual.

  • avatar

    I believe you can find Suzuki Aerios with warranty still in effect for a pretty decent price. A friend of mine had one that was pretty decent and did very well in the snow. It was a wagon and AWD. It was much roomier than it looked, but it looked a little goofy because of small wheels for the huge wheel openings!

  • avatar

    You can get a 10-year old Subaru Legacy Outback with the manual for $5K here.

  • avatar

    If you’re looking at new or slightly used I would check out a Suzuki SX4. I haven’t driven one myself, but they are really well reviewed.

    Everything else I would recommend has already been mentioned, but an interesting choice for a used vehicle would be an audi quattro station wagon.

  • avatar

    The Suzuki sx4 aprings to mind if you don’t mind a little ugly in your day to day. I wouldn’t, however, go for a CRV/Element or RAV4, the all wheel drive is poorly executed, it is noticable, and they still pay the milage price. If you must the original RAV4 in manual are the best of that class, and suprisingly small. If you need massive interior dimensions, then you get an Element, not before.

    A used A4 or 3 series wagon is the obvious upscale choice, and if you plan on spending more than $20k for a new car (the SUVs above specifically), are really hard to ignore as a CPO alternative. If you like that idea, but would prefer to spend $15k, look at used Subaru Legacy GTs (mt only).

  • avatar

    You may not like chains, but even with a 4WD vehicle, you ought to use them in the snow. They help you not only get the car moving, but also with stopping and keeping the car pointed in the right direction. 4Wd doesn’t increase your traction, it just increases the chances that at least one of your wheels will have traction at any given time.

  • avatar

    Here’s something new: Nissan 1995 hardbody XE with four-wheel drive. Inexpensive to purchase and operate. I get 22 mpg on a regular basis. And, I’ve got 4lo and 4hi.

  • avatar

    Jeep Liberty diesel.

    If you can afford about $25K, check out a used Grand Cherokee diesel.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    A 4-year old, AWD, Santa Fe, Tuscon, Sorrento or Mitsu would float my boat in your circumstances. They have what I like best in used cars; decent quality, good warranty and steep depreciation. Resale value in your hands doesn’t matter. You will have already won that sweepstakes!

    Put some of the saved money into winter tires and rims. They will take you just about anywhere.

  • avatar

    Yeah, Suzuki SX4. Suzuki really needs to make more of a marketing effort in this country.

    Anyways, I’ve had an SX4 crossover for a while. You can put it in 2wd, AWD, or AWD lock. I leave it in AWD. It handles incredibly well in bad conditions, the stability control works great (and can be turned off). Also heated seats, mirrors, nav, decent stereo are nice.

    I removed the back seats and can fold the front seats forward and sleep in the back (I’m 5’8)


    Get a one or two year old one for very cheap.

  • avatar

    To our Weekend Warrior:

    I just made a similar decision. My ’06 Civic Si was a very nice car that perfectly balanced everything I could want in a road going vehicle, but it couldn’t get me to the trailhead. I traded it for a low mileage, manual transmission, ’06 Subaru Baja. It’s all silver, which definitely helps mitigate the general ugliness, and the utility of an open bed works for me. The rear seat folds flat for a fair amount of interior cargo space, too. It’s impressive in snow on the OEM all-season tires, but I’m upgrading to General Grabber AT2 tires next week so some light off-roading will be possible. On the street, the Baja is no Si, but it’s much more fun to drive than you might think. If you shop for an Outback/Baja, be aware of the differences between the MT and AT AWD systems.

    If you’re interested in a Subaru but want something a little different, take a look at the Baja.

  • avatar

    A few days ago I test-drove a new Suzuki SX4 AWD with CVT; my friend was shopping for a less-expensive automatic AWD car (she doesn’t want me to teach her how to shift). Leaving aside the CVT’s unpleasantness, the SX4 didn’t feel like a “real car” – it’s rather short from front to back but tall-roofed; when my friend gestured while she was talking, the whole car shook.

    She ended up buying a new Impreza 5-door with traditional 4-speed automatic. The two cars have much standard equipment in common (16-inch wheels, airbags and disc brakes all around, ABS/ESC), and the Subaru automatic’s AWD works like the “AWD” position of Suzuki’s FWD-AWD-locked 3-position setup; that is, the car usually operates in FWD but sends power to the rear wheels when accelerating or when the rear wheels slip. But the extra money for the Subaru gets you a clearly more substantial car, plus a dealer network that isn’t about to undergo sudden shrinkage as Suzuki’s did in 2009, plus (as noted earlier) better crash-test results.

    You won’t often find a used Subaru cheap, however, unlike the Suzuki. If you’re in the northeast, you might try, about 20 miles south of the Poconos; they are primarily a Subaru repair shop but also offer a good used-car selection.

  • avatar

    I’ve owned 2 Foresters, an Element, a Fit, and an SX4. All have been great vehicles.

    I picked up the pristine 2007 SX4 with 28k on the clock for $10,800…a steal. Chances of getting a Honda or Subaru for that price is slim. Used SX4 or the old Aerio (w/ warranty) are probably the best bang for the buck right now.

    Honestly, if I bought Hyundai or Kia…I’d buy new. The stuff that rolls off the assembly line today is much better than the car that rolled off yesterday.

  • avatar

    Having bought an AWD Santa Fe after 25 years of FWD Japanese cars, I can’t say enough good about all-wheel-drive or modern Korean cars. I love blasting down snow-covered roads and unserviced forest trails. So far, after 3 Canadian winters, my Alabama-built ride has been as solid as a tank and 100% reliable.

    My personal preference would be a brand-new Tucson or Santa Fe, but the used ones are probably the greatest bargain since 90% of used-car buyers haven’t caught on yet.

  • avatar

    At the risk of angering the “it’s not a Jeep” crowd, you should be able to get a lightly used Patriot, with a stick, for a good deal, no?

    • 0 avatar

      Sadly, Jeep finds itself in the same straits as Mitsubishi and Suzuki when it comes to brand viability in the U.S, but I’d feel much better relying on one of the imports over anything Chrysler has touched lately. A similarly priced Outlander or SX4 makes more sense to me than a Jeep, and I just passed on all three for a brand with some staying power – Subaru.

      OT: I’m rooting for Fiatsler to quickly get Jeep back on track or sell the brand to someone who will; the Mountain & Islander “models” aren’t what I (or anyone else) have in mind. I see Jeep as a proud, historical brand that can still be successful, but it needs a strong leader to save it.

  • avatar

    Things have to get insanely nasty to justify chains on a paved road, and nasty for a looong time. I’ve driven Alaska to the lower 48 in constant snowfall & breaking tracks in fresh powder for 800+ miles and didn’t even use the 4wd on my old trooper II. More recently I drove over Vail pass in a full on rocky mountain blizzard with a 325iT RWD with Blizzaks and had absolutely no problem, technically the pass was closed.

    • 0 avatar

      As a Bridgestone Blizzak WS-52 & WS-60 owner, I agree, but if The Man stops you at the pass and says you need chains to continue, you don’t have much choice. That said, I’ve been in a few Colorado mountain blizzards and never saw anyone but truckers chaining up. Maybe chain laws are different where the Weekend Warrior wants to play.

      I considered a second set of winter tires for my Baja, as that’s how all of my cars have rolled ever since I could afford it. I decided against that for the same reason as the WW might. If you’re really going off paved roads, you need at least an All Terrain tire for whatever you find, and dedicated snow tires aren’t the best for that use.

  • avatar

    My girlfriend was given an Outlander by her uncle, with 98,000 miles, and $3000 in recent repairs.

    This is a miserable terd of a car.

    I prefer my 298,500-mile Mercury to her slow-as-hell, loud-engine, rattly, mini-SUV that can only manage 22-23 MPG.

    Go for the Escape instead. You’ll be much better off.

  • avatar

    Since you like to go camping, you can get of of GM’s ‘deadly sins’ – an AWD Aztec. It even has a tent for the back.

  • avatar


    How bout any decent front driver… any wagon.. going back 5yrs.. would be fine

    **SCREAMS —With a SET of SNOWS!**

    Ya not going to get TRACTION with a set of all seasons!

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