New or Used: To Play In the Mountains?
I’ve got a tough set of requirements for you. I’ve been driving a 1996 Honda Civic Si for many years and it’s time to retire the old girl.
I live in Denver and I love to play in the mountains. I ski, backpack and rock climb, so I need a vehicle that can handle icy I-70 and rough forest service roads (need some ground clearance). I don’t need a large vehicle and I’d like to get at least 25 mpg highway. But I also really enjoy going quickly through the twisty bits, so handling is important too!
I’ve been considering the Kia Sportage SX, although the fuel economy in the AWD model isn’t great and I’ve read the Sportage steering leaves a lot to be desired. Still, the new 2 liter engine sounds fun. I’m mostly looking in the $25-30k range. For something really nice I could probably go up to $35k.
I feel like there must be some other options out there, but I haven’t had much luck finding anything!
On the new side the Subaru Forester is a definite consideration. The current RAV4, CR-V and Tucson have always struck me as a bit too ‘family’ focused and I’m still not a fan of the Kia Sportage.
I’m glad that you’re willing to invest $25k to $30k on your next ride. But you may want to take a look at some unique packages that were available in older models. Specifically those that offered a 5-speed with a well-matched 4-cylinder engine.
Back in 2005 I managed to get a four year old Ford Escape for my brother in law that had that rare 5-speed and 4 cylinder combination. He found a pristine leather interior on Craigslist for a couple hundred bucks and has since driven it over 100k with nary a hiccup. The older Foresters and RAV-4’s also have far better sporting pretensions than their current bloated ilk.
Most folks will get the new, the automatic, and the bloat. My advice is to go off the beaten path and find a ride that will truly endure. One that you never will want to sell.
From the information given–especially the ground clearance and active lifestyle part–I see you liking a simple, easy to use and cheap to maintain CUV with a V6 and their (basic) AWD systems. Or maybe a Subie Forester, does that actually qualify as a CUV? It should in this case.
There are a few CUVs that I enjoy driving in the twisties, but I haven’t driven ’em all. I’d take a run in the Subie, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, Hyundai Tucson and (yes, really) the perennial big box Ford Escape. The Nissan Juke is an interesting candidate, but I have reservations to its utility. Everything from the B-pillar back is just a swoopy, sleek joke.
Oh, definitely sell the Si on Craigslist. You’ll easily find a sport compact enthusiast who would love to keep the flame and pay top dollar for it, if you have the service records to go with it.
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I, too, am jumping on the Subaru band(station?)wagon. They're everywhere in your area of the country precisely because they do a great job of filling that very specific need that you and so many others there seem to have in common. I used to a drive a used 98 Outback that I loved (even though a lot of its features were useless here in Dallas). It handled very well with a lower center of gravity and was surprisingly fun to drive on pavement (with a stick, which I'm willing to bet is your preference), rain or shine (we don't get much snow here). High enough ground clearance and very capable 4 wheel drive for off-roading and inclement weather. Generally good quality cars, Subaru has been up there in reliability as far as I'm aware. I believe there has also been an Outback version of the Impreza, which could be worth looking in to. If I was you, though, I'd keep the Si and find myself a gently used older Subaru. I'm sure in your neck of the woods you can find some examples out there if you keep an eye open. Good luck!
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