By on October 29, 2015

Capture

Peter writes:

Hi Sajeev,

My mother-in-law in New England drives a fifteen-year-old Mazda Tribute with a manual transmission that is way overdue for replacement. She won’t settle for anything that doesn’t have 1) the ability to power all four wheels equally at the same time (I think her Mazda has a button or lever to engage the 4WD, so it doesn’t have to be a full-time 4WD system), and 2) a manual transmission. She is suspicious of the modern “all-wheel-drive” systems found on Subaru, etc., and swears that nothing works in the snow like 4WD.

Personally, I think she tried my wife’s Subaru Forester and got a bad impression of it because it had the worn-out OEM Bridgestone tires, which were terrible in snow. Anyway, the only new vehicle I can imagine that meets all of her criteria is the Nissan Pathfinder (maybe?), but even that is a dinosaur that’s about to be phased out. (Try 2012! – SM)

Maybe a Jeep would do the trick, but I worry about reliability and safety with those. So my question is twofold: 1) what vehicle, if any, would you recommend that meets her criteria, and 2) do you think she might actually like driving a more modern, fuel efficient, all-wheel-drive SUV like a Forester (with proper tires)? Her price range is probably in the $18k range, so maybe she would consider a 1-3 year old model instead of new.

Sajeev answers:

It’s time for some bitter medicine: but kudos to her for being the car guy’s ideal mother-in-law.

Her price range means she’s getting a used vehicle, and she’ll likely hate driving any available unit with a stick and true four-wheel drive: only trucks (the obligatory Jeep Wrangler, Tacoma, Ranger, etc.) fit the bill. Unless she has to dig herself out of unpaved roads, a normal electro-backed AWD system in a superior CUV platform gives her more.

I will mention (but not assume) that a brand spankin’ new, stick-shifted FWD hatchback with a proper set of winter tires and active handling is the best choice, but that’s not necessarily the point.

What is the point?

Your query relates to the 1989 Lincoln Continental I bought for $900 last year, which I (gently) chastised Steve Lang for swiping the story from my Facebook page. I never planned on discussing my “prized” Essex Continental, but again, not the point…

10157154_10152083762503269_8769762817042979912_n

The Essex Continental’s original owner powered through the head-gasket blowing V-6 (updated gaskets installed, heads decked, new cooling system), AXOD gearbox (knock on wood), leaky air suspension (converted to coils) for twenty-five years for two reasons: the compact luxobarge dimensions and a column shift transmission.

This makes your mother-in-law’s wishes and demands seem beyond reasonable. And since the owner gave up on the Essex Continental far too late to get a new car (Avalon, DTS, Lucerne etc.) with this configuration, the white MDX next to that shifter is her current whip.

We all submit to the lures of a modern car crossover eventually, so give your mother-in-law some tough medicine…with a spoonful of sugar to help it go down.

You’re right about her test drive in your Subie with bad tires, because she won’t get stuck with winter tires on an AWD crossover. She’ll get more comfort, features, far superior NVH control, superior performance/safety/economy: all the good stuff in a late-model CUV, especially compared to an agricultural Jeep Wrangler. It’ll be the sugar needed to get the bitter medicine’s job done.

And for the record, the Essex Continental is an impressive machine (Essex Machine, actually) once the multiple Achilles’ heels are fixed: there’s a damn good reason why they sold like gangbusters from 1988-1989. But that discussion is for another day.

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

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137 Comments on “Piston Slap: A Spoonful of Sugar for Bitter Medicine?...”


  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Can she wait until there’s enough snow to test drive a modern AWD CUV?

    Otherwise nothing will erase the visceral memory of that bad-tired Subie ride.

    45 years of snow driving give me great empathy for her. Though I personally prioritize snow tires over AWD, I’m a flatlander and defer to her own experience for that choice.

  • avatar

    Any car on the planet is going to handle like a turd with bad tires.

    My 2013 Crosstrek with the 5spd and good all season tires is better handling in the snow than:
    my ’92 toyota pickup with 4WD, M+S tires, and a low range,
    my ’08 BMW 328xi Wagon 6spd with all season tires,
    my ’07 Magnum, ’02 Neon, ’98 Neon, ’89 BMW 325e, & ’79 Volvo 242 which ALL had snow tires.

    The Crosstrek is the vehicle that made me realize that in South Eastern PA I don’t NEED to keep a set of snow only tires around anymore.

    ~Mike

    • 0 avatar
      vvk

      Very surprised to hear it is better than the BMW. Having owned five Subies and a 2008 328xi 6-speed wagon myself, I deem them to be in different galaxies as far as snow driving goes, BMW being vastly superior. In fact, back when I owned both a 1998 25RS and a 1998 SAAB 900, my wife would always take the SAAB when it snowed because the Subie was so tail happy in the snow.

      Nothing beat a classic SAAB in snow, though. I owned a 1986 SAAB 900 for almost two decades and that thing was an absolute tank in snow, even on worn out all seasons. Made me feel like a rally driver, slipping and sliding and always going exactly where I intended.

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        “Very surprised to hear it is better than the BMW.”

        You shouldn’t be. It has better tires!

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Even with both on snow tires, I prefer my RWD 328i wagon in the snow than my AWD Range Rover. Until the snow gets too deep of course. The Range Rover will accelerate faster, but it doesn’t stop or turn anything like as well in the snow.

          Nothing will beat that Rover in the deep snow though. Set the air suspension on extra-high, and it had no problem going through 24″ of snow with drifts over the top of the hood last winter.

    • 0 avatar
      Nicholas Weaver

      A big +1 to the XV with good All Season tires.

      We took the GF’s, equipped with a set of shiny new Pilot Sport A/S, through a Utah winter road trip. Able to get out of a long unplowed driveway covered in 8″ of new snow, complete with uphill section (once I kept the momentum up), without an issue.

      I can only imagine how unstoppable in the snow that thing would be with proper winter tires rather than high quality All-Season tires.

      Wait until its snowing, then have the MiL testdrive an XV.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        Unstoppable is right. I have no doubt that an XV with decent all -seasons can plow through snow with aplomb, but its when its time to hit the brakes that I’ll take proper winters tires every time.

        • 0 avatar
          MBella

          This is what most people don’t understand Dave. It’s stopping that is the reason for winter tires, not going. Most modern cars will get you going in almost all conditions. It’s when the light turns red, you hit the brakes, and the abs unit says, “That’s funny, you thought you could stop right now.” And you fly straight through the intersection. I always tell those that say they cost to much, that a set is cheaper than one insurance claim.

          I don’t get why insurance companies don’t give a discount for winter tires as is being suggested in Ontario now. Statistically, your chances of being in a wreck go down tremendously.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            I know Manitoba Public Insurance offers a winter tire program.

            “The Winter Tire Program provides low-interest financing to eligible Manitobans at prime plus two per cent*, on up to $2,000 per vehicle. This financing can be used for the purchase of qualifying winter tires and associated costs from participating retailers.”

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            “It’s when the light turns red, you hit the brakes, and the abs unit says, “That’s funny, you thought you could stop right now.” And you fly straight through the intersection.”

            That happened to my buddy in a company vehicle on new Hakka Rs. They seemed like they had as much traction as his studded Hankooks in every situation up until that point! Fortunately, the intersection was clear.

            He can’t say Nokian didn’t warn him though:

            “If you have non-studded winter tyres, you need to be particularly careful at crossroads etc. where there may be wet ice or hard-packed snow. Studded tyres are superior to non-studded winter tyres on wet ice and hard-packed snow.”

            https://www.nokiantyres.com/innovation/safety/studded-or-non-studded-tyres/

          • 0 avatar
            blppt

            “Most modern cars will get you going in almost all conditions.”

            Disagree. My VW CC is absolutely hapless accelerating up the slight incline of my driveway with even a mere inch on snow on the ground. TC on, the computer cuts almost all of the power, no forward movement. TC off, and the relatively bounteous low-end torque of the 2.0T makes easy, smooth, gentle low speed acceleration extremely tough in the snow, meaning lots of spinning tire and barely moving forward. This is with A/S ContiProContacts that came with the car, with still decent tread on the drive wheel.

            Meanwhile, I borrowed my father’s 2012 Fusion Sport V-6 AWD a couple of times and had exactly zero issues getting up my driveway with its stock A/S tires. It was like the snow wasnt even there—and IIRC, that car has the “least effective” of the psedo 4wd systems.

            Go back a few years when I had a Honda Fit 5MT, and it was almost (not quite) as bad getting up the driveway with any mild snowfall (1-3 inches). Spinning tire with TC off, barely any forward motion and LOTS of (damaging i’m sure) clutch feathering to get it up the hill.

            So yeah, while winter tires obviously help greatly for stopping, they also can aid previously helpless vehicles get moving forward in the snow. I have a set of Nokian WR-G3 all-season/snow rated hybrid tires that all I’m hoping will easy the pain of getting back to my apartment after work in the snow. I dont expect them to be anywheres near the capability of a true snow tire, but a little improvement will go a long way.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            My Verano came with ContiProContacts, freaking useless in winter/any kind of snow. Corroborated by lots of other cars that have them as OEM rubber struggling in winter.

            WR’s are fantastic, and outperform a lot of cheap/offbrand full winter tires, IMO.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Yeah, I would expect a huge improvement going from those Continentals to Nokian WRs.

          • 0 avatar
            blppt

            @dave, that is great to hear—we havent received any snowfall yet in NYS, but that puts my mind at ease.

            It also makes my next car purchase a little more wide open—after yet another winter of pathetic half-hour attempts at ascending my driveway, I had almost entirely ruled out anything without 4wd or AWD for my next car, because I didnt want the hassle of swapping tires twice a year. Thats why stumbling across these Nokians seemed like a godsend. I’ve wanted a RWD car for a while now, but the driveway was always a limiting factor.

            So, if these tires work out, I may have new options!

            I actually ditched the Conti’s this summer because they were cupping (apparently a common problem with the VW CC), and annoying the hell out of me with the noise.

            While they certainly werent as bad as the Potenza RE-92s I had on earlier cars (worst OEM tire ever made—performs the same in any weather: terrible) the early cupping (15k miles or so) could be Continental’s fault as much as VWs.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            blppt,

            Nokian’s summer tires are very resistant to cupping. Those and Pilot Sports are the only tires that work on a buddy’s GTI.

            I’ve been running them so long that I don’t remember what other brands are like.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            I ran WRG2 on my Alero. Got 80k kms out of them. They really got me around the western Canadian prairies over 3 winters with aplomb. That being said, they are not without their compromises, because they are absolutely compromise tires. As I mentioned, in winter, they perform better than some off brand or cheap winter tires. As an example, when I met my GF she had WRG2 on her car, and a set of Goodyear Nordic for winter (Canadian Tire house brand winters). The Nordics are decent snow tires, on account of their super blocky tread, but the WR is just a better tire overall. We sold the Nordics, and it’s worked out well.

            So, the WR performs well in snow, and really good in dry cold conditions because its capable of running in summer. The compromise comes in the summer,as they definitely ride a lot louder than a touring tire. Basically, noise and tire life are the two biggest downfalls. The most I’ve ever gotten is 80k kims. These were on 16″ rims, I think Nokian has no tread warranty on low profile tires, such as your CC, so beware of that.

            For the Verano, which I originally intended to buy out (but its now going back at lease end) I decided to buy a separate set of tires. Our climate certainly allows for it in Alberta. Though I like the WR, this time around I wanted a high end winter set, and I don’t really think 18″ rims are great in the winter. My winters are skinnier with more sidewall. That said, it actually worked out, since in this case, my OEM conti’s and my winters should both live about the length of the lease, so all I need to do is swap. I got the winter rims for peanuts, so it’s all good at the end of the day.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Cupping is not the tire’s fault, blppt. I hope you adjusted the alignment before installing the new tires or the same thing will happen to them.

          • 0 avatar
            blppt

            Supposedly the cupping is a common problem with the VW CC, something to do with the way the front and rear wheels are angled (camber maybe?) from the factory.

            Some have actually changed from the OEMs and “claim” to no longer have cupping issues. Or at least a longer-life tire will resist the cupping as it doesnt wear as quickly as the OEMs.

            Anyways, I have about 10K on the Nokians now, no issues yet.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            You don’t have to follow the manufacturer’s alignment specs if they’re giving bad wear results. The acceptable range usually allows for a broad amount of adjustment anyway. A knowledgeable tire shop should be able to look at the tire wear and adjust the alignment accordingly.

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    “This makes your mother-in-law’s wishes and demands seem beyond reasonable.”

    Hardly. What’s unreasonable about wanting a new iteration of a Good Thing? Especially for someone who may not have kept abreast of current industry offerings because she was plenty happy with what she already had and possessed a life outside the dank cloister of car nuts?

    Getting everything she wants for 18K, now, *that’s* unlikely but still not “beyond reasonable” until she shops modern stuff.

    • 0 avatar

      The analogy is unreasonable because hanging on to an Essex Continental, loving its size/ride/column shifter while spending thousands on the head gaskets and air suspension is a false economy.

      Not that I’m unhappy with the outcome, but she prolly shoulda got an Avalon years ago.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      I’ve carefully weighed her needs/wants, & concluded that only a MB G63 AMG 6×6 can possibly suit her needs:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrUVMdkb4_k

  • avatar
    RetroGrouch

    I believe Subaru still puts a non-computer controlled viscous limited slip center diff in manual trans base models. Feel free to point out to her that the Crosstrek is essentially a jacked up Impreza hatch. She can avoid the $5k CUV stupidity tax and grab a base Impreza with manual trans for less than $19k.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      You want her to go from a nice, upright SUV into a little, low crampy car? Why you don’t like her?

      • 0 avatar
        RetroGrouch

        According to cars.com and edmunds.com, the 2016 Impreza is within an inch of the front seat headroom and shoulder room of a 2001 Tribute. The Impreza has 2 inches more legroom. By the numbers, they are essentially identical for interior space around the driver.

        The Tribute has more cargo room which might matter if mom-in-law regularly stuffs her SUV with hockey bags or giant crates of ramen from Sam’s Club.

        My $10 says mom does not drive on unplowed roads making ground clearance irrelevant. If she lives in Oswego, NY, driving on accumulated snow is a different conversation.

        For what it is worth, I sent my sister off to Colorado in a manual trans Saturn SC1 with snow tires. She moved from Denver to Pitkin County for a few years and never had a problem. If you or your mother-in-law can’t cope with less snow and flatter ground without an AWD SUV, some Skip Barber training is required.

        • 0 avatar
          RideHeight

          All that Impreza head and shoulder room isn’t very attractive if you have to crouch and fold to get into it. She ain’t gettin’ any younger and appears to keep her cars a goodly while.

          My obsession with ride height is at least as much for happy joints & spine as for ground clearance. And there’s also the slight advantage in driver visibility.

          • 0 avatar
            RetroGrouch

            “All that Impreza head and shoulder room isn’t very attractive if you have to crouch and fold to get into it. ”

            A perfectly valid reason to shop taller

    • 0 avatar
      Nicholas Weaver

      The XV/Impreza is a nice interior, and it is remarkably roomy inside for a compact.

      But its still worth the extra $500 for the XV over the Impreza version (price difference between a “sport Premium” and an “XV”): you get the nice ground clearance, significantly beefed up suspension, higher profile tires (aka smoother ride), and an easier step-in height.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        I agree with you here NW, while I despise the wanna-be macho look of the XV and Outback in general, higher step in height definitely is a compelling feature.

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    Tell your mother she is being very silly. The Tribute’s “4WD” system is nothing but a run of the mill multi-plate viscous coupling system, by default it “reacts” to front wheel slip and sends power rearward, the button most likely locks the coupling, splitting the torque in a fixed fashion (50/50 or otherwise). The 5spd manual forester’s torque is always being split 50/50 front to back in a fluid fashion, a superior system overall IMO.

    From a 2001 era review by autos.ca:

    “Tribute’s unique all-wheel-drive system uses a Mazda-designed ‘Rotary blade coupling’, a multi-plate clutch which transfers up to 50% of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels when the front wheels start to slip. This is a completely automatic system that needs no input from the driver. However, the 4WD system can be locked in a permanent 50/50 torque split by pushing a button on the dash”

    so just as I expected. Not “unique” either, as they claim. My guess is that the 50/50 lock button can only be used at low speeds, like the current Rav4.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      What a marvelous example of arrogant car-guy myopia.

      And it’s his mother-in-law.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Okay instead of telling her she’s being silly, I’d explain in as polite and as simple of a manner that a Forester would actually outperform her previous vehicle’s AWD system. Simple as that. She didn’t have “true 4wd” nor does she need “true 4wd.”

        • 0 avatar
          Scoutdude

          Have a locked center differential does make a huge difference in handling in the snow so no the Forester will not actually out perform the 4wd system used on the Escape.

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            From C&D’s 2001 Review:

            “Contrary to what you’ll be told by the dashboard markings, your Ford Outfitter salesperson, and even Ford’s press materials, the Escape’s Control Trac II system does not offer fully locked four-wheel drive. Rather, this on-demand all-wheel-drive setup only sends power to the rear axle when the front wheels slip. Here’s how it works:

            In the “4×4 Auto” mode, 100 percent of the torque is sent to the front wheels until a wheel slips. When that happens, a rotary blade coupling (RBC) generates enough pressure to activate a multiplate clutch, like that found in an automatic transmission, which sends torque (as much as 100 percent of it) to the rear. At the heart of the RBC is a “fan” with three blades in a chamber filled with a silicone fluid like that used in viscous couplings. The fan is shaped kind of like the warning symbol for radiation. When the front wheels slip, this fan spins through the fluid, heating and expanding it, which generates the pressure to activate the clutch. Then the clutch–not the viscous fluid — bears the burden of transmitting the torque.

            When set to “4×4 On,” an electromagnet energizes a small clutch pack, locking a ball ramp to the input shaft. Now when the front wheels spin, they turn the ball ramp, which overrides the RBC and pressurizes the same multiplate clutch pack. In the “4×4 On” mode, the rear axle is engaged quicker and more securely. The front and rear axles are, however, never locked together, except during front-wheel slippage. That way, there is never any crabbing or binding in tight turns, and there’s no need for a center differential.

            With no limited-slip differentials, it is possible–with opposite corners in full droop and airborne, for example–for an Escape to get totally stuck. And that’s why this ain’t a true four-ba-four.”

            So no, I don’t think this is any better than the Subaru system, and in most real world circumstances, likely worse. A modern Subaru’s ABS-linked individual wheel traction control will do a better job when combined with its inherent 50/50 split (IMO).

        • 0 avatar
          wrxtasy

          i thoroughly enjoy reading you drop the hammer on people. keep on keepin on

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      What do we call “low speeds”? I’ve engaged it as fast as 35 mph and left it on up to 50 mph. The book didn’t say I couldn’t.

      But did the MIL in question have any illusions that the Tribute was some big 4×4 machine? I looked over the letter again and couldn’t find any implications of that.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      Hey gtemnykh,

      I think you’re right, pretty much anything she is looking for will be a transverse slip’n’grip type of setup, but the low speed 50/50 lock DOES work really well in snow.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      Any AWD system that allows the user to come as close to locking as that one does at the push of the button is not “run of the mill”. There’s no noticeable lag in engagement in that setting. Even the current Ram 1500 has a weaker AWD system than that!

      But I’d still much rather have a Subaru AWD system.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        Ram has a traditional part time system, in both 4H and 4L the transfer case splits power in a hard 50/50 split, the kind that causes crab walking on dry pavement when taking hard corners. It may also have a 4wd auto/awd mode where wheel speed sensors detect slip and quickly connect the front driveshaft to shuttle power forward. Also a reactive system, but a hard lock when it does engage.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          Nope, beginning in 2013 it became an on-demand AWD system that clunks into action significantly after wheel slip occurs, even in “4LOCK”, and releases when you let off the throttle. The Tradesman and Outdoorsman remained a true part-time 4WD system for a couple more years, but even those got the BW 44-44 in 2015 and operate only as on-demand AWD now. This includes the Rebel. You need the 2500 to get 4WD.

          My buddy is very disappointed in his 2014 Sport and hoping for the aftermarket to come through by the time he finishes wearing out his first transfer case. Hopefully this winter, as it is getting progressively worse and was very clunky by the end of last winter. Dodge says it’s normal.

          Here’s the big thread on the subject:

          http://www.ramforum.com/f38/4x4_problem_ram_2013_8-speed-40753/

          It’s this sort of thing that makes older systems that seemed unimpressive at the time seem pretty good now. If he could push a button on that Ram and make the AWD system work as seamlessly as that of the Tribute our other buddy once had, he’d be much happier!

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Holy cow I had no idea! My best guess is that this is to protect idiots against themselves in terms of people running part time systems on dry pavement. Man that’s just sad.

          • 0 avatar
            cak446

            “The Tradesman and Outdoorsman remained a true part-time 4WD system for a couple more years, but even those got the BW 44-44 in 2015 and operate only as on-demand AWD now. This includes the Rebel”

            This is incorrect, you can still get the Ram with the BW 44-45 transfercase, which is a true part time 4wd. It is available on the Tradesman, and starting in 2015 it became the only t-case available for the Outdoorsman. It is also the only t-case they use on the Rebel. I guess Ram realized that people who buy their truck with a option package marketed towards off road use, might actually want a real t-case that locks!

            It’s just too bad that anyone who buys any other trim packages is screwed over in believing that their transfercase locks in 4wd Lock and 4wd Low.

            I hope Ram eventually gets sued by a class action lawsuit, to prevent this practice from continuing.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Are you sure about that, cak446? As I recall, there was at least one person in that thread who ordered an Outdoorsman specifically to avoid the on-demand system and Chrysler built the trucks with the on-demand transfer case anyway, contrary to the specifications in their literature, giving responses like this to people who complained:

            “We regret to read of your dissatisfaction that your 2014 Ram 1500
            Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4×4 has been factory ordered with the Electric
            Shift On-Demand Transfer Case (DH8). We took the liberty of escalating
            this issue to our Ram Program Management Team for further information.
            We have been advised that when the order for your 2014 Ram 1500
            Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4×4 with 6’4″ box was placed, the Electric Shift
            On-Demand Transfer Case (DH8) was standard and the Electric Shift-On-The
            Fly Part-Time Transfer Case (DH9) was not even an option for this model.
            The Electric Shift-On-The Fly Part-Time Transfer Case (DH9) for the 2014
            Ram 1500 Outdoorsman Crew Cab 4×4 with 6’4″ box, such as your truck, was
            not an available factory option until early-June 2014.

            We are sorry that our 2014 Ram 1500 product brochure may be providing
            conflicting information, however, all information contained in the
            product brochures are as accurate as known at the time the publication
            was approved for printing . . .”

            “Chrysler Group LLC reserves the right to make changes at any time, without notice or obligation, in prices, offers, specifications, equipment, colors and materials, and to change or discontinue models.”

            I haven’t kept up with the thread though so maybe things have changed.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    Am confused. Her Tribute doesn’t power all 4 wheels equally. Is she trying to replicate the Tribute’s 4wd ability or did driving the Tribute for 15 years make her realize that she needs “real” 4wd?

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Her Escape does have “real” 4wd twist the knob on the dash to 4×4 and the front and rear differentials are locked together. Way better in snow and ice than the slip then grip systems that can revert to 2wd at the most inopportune times.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        See my response to you above. Even with the “manual override” the Escape will only lock the front and rear end once the front slips. It is therefore a reactive system, never a permanent pre-selected lock.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    Although I think a Subaru’s probably the right choice for Peter’s mother-in-law, a Nissan Xterra should fit the bill if she still isn’t interested in the products of Fuji Heavy Industries. Of course, that’s provided she could find a later manual transmissioned Xterra, but they do theoretically exist right up to 2015.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Having recently test driven a 2015 6spd manual Xterra, while they are awesome trucks for the right kind of buyer, my guess is that Peter’s mother in law is not one of them. The Xterra’s brutish on road manners would probably be a most unwelcome surprise for someone used to a fairly refined, Mazda-developed unibody CUV with independent suspension all around. Mileage will also take a hit, although with careful driving not as bad as one may think. A traditional part time 4wd system is also probably not what Peter’s mom is looking for. I think a 6spd Forester is truly her only good option.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        I absolutely agree. Just, if there’s no selling her on a Subaru, I can’t see any other crossover going any better when plenty of them are FWD until after something goes wrong, unlike the Subie’s regular 50-50 power split.

        Once we rule out crossovers, the Xterra at least seems like it’d be better for someone coming out of a Tribute compared to a Wrangler or a Tacoma.

  • avatar
    1981.911.SC

    My son has a Crosstrek. Base model w/ 5spd. He loves it. And the modern safety stuff like rearview camera is nice.
    No doubts about the AWD abilities, these really go anywhere.
    But she might find the 4cyl engine is a little anemic.
    But the gas mileage is good, he gets 28/30 mpg
    I also 2nd the Impreza as a possibility. But it does sit pretty low, so less clearance for deeper snow and maybe not as easy to get in and out of.

    • 0 avatar
      stevelovescars

      IIRC, the Tribute only could be had with the manual transmission in base 4-cylinder guise. So, The Crosstrek will likely feel as fast if not faster than the Tribute.

      By the way, I do appreciate your MIL’s style. Anyone who demands a manual transmission wins some points in my book.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        I wasn’t even aware the 4-cyl. Tribute was offered with AWD. That engine was a dog even when it came out–saddling it with AWD must have really made it suffer. It did get good gas mileage though–but I must have driven like a grandpa in the perfect driving conditions because once I got 27 MPG highway in my AWD V6. I don’t think that’ll ever happen again, though. Personally, I’m happy getting 22-23 hwy when it’s rated for 20. That’s still loads better than all the other vehicles I drive regularly (full-size trucks).

        • 0 avatar
          gtemnykh

          “I wasn’t even aware the 4-cyl. Tribute was offered with AWD”

          Agreed, the 5spd/4cyl combination was reserved for the basic FWD DX base model, as best as I can remember or Google.

          So re-reading the original submission, perhaps the mother in law just has a FWD tribute now and WANTS what in her mind is a super-capable 4wd vehicle (defined by a user-selectable setting, or even being a part-time system).

          So now things make more sense to me. I’d have to ask, what sort of conditions does she drive in where a real-deal part time 4wd system is justified? Prolonged use in deep snow is one of them, where a true mechanical lock with meshed gears is the only 100% durable solution vs a viscous coupling that can overheat after about 15 minutes of continuous loss of traction. Very uneven terrain where wheel articulation and ground clearance makes a difference is another scenario where ‘traditional’ SUVs with solid front/rear axles excel, and part time 4wd systems, oftentimes with limited slip or locking diffs come in to play.

          I’m definitely a guy who appreciates the solid and reliable traditional part time systems, but for mostly slick-driveway use, or even deeper snow on unplowed roads, I’d say Subaru is top dog.

          Jeep Patriot is a good budget minded option as well.

          • 0 avatar
            davefromcalgary

            Great call on the Patriot. It has the same low speed 50/50 lock the buyer wants. and the 2.4L world engine, while uninspiring, is a durable engine.

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            Looking at an Escape brochure, the manual/4-cyl. was only available on basic FWD models. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to assume the Tribute would be similar.

            This picture, though, got me a little more confused:

            http://images.gtcarlot.com/pictures/51907210.jpg

            (2005+ interior)

            It’s obviously a 5-speed, and that third button between the HVAC and the radio (to the right of the cubbyhole) is the AWD button. It’s not indented like the others, so it’s a dummy button. But wait! Why does it saw “4WD” in that little crevice under the vent?!

          • 0 avatar
            watermeloncup

            cars.com shows a DX 4×4 model that cames with the 4 cylinder and manual transmission, at least for 2001: http://www.cars.com/mazda/tribute/2001/specifications/?acode=USB10MAS022A0

          • 0 avatar
            gtemnykh

            Hmm DrZhivago can you confirm if this has the button on the dash?

            http://www.cars.com/vehicledetail/detail/648165100/overview/

            We may have found our unicorn!

          • 0 avatar
            Drzhivago138

            ….Yyyyes, almost definitely. That button looks the same as mine. Okay, so you could get a 5-speed/4-banger Escape/Tribute with AWD.

            That DX is missing its fender flares, though.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Crew cab GMC Canyon 4×4?

    That’s about all I can think of that isn’t either Jeep Wrangler Tractor or gargantuan truck.

    FWIW Sajeev, I always thought that the Essex Continental was a very good copy of a Buick LeSabre.

  • avatar
    Drzhivago138

    I know you wanted a pic of one with a stick, but shame on you for using a picture of the wrong model Tribute’s interior.

    More on topic: As others have stated here, she has completely the wrong impression of the true capabilities of her AWD CUV. The Mazda Tribute is by no metric a truck, SUV, or 4×4.

  • avatar
    WhiskeyRiver

    Step up a notch or two and a used Hummer H3 fits her base criteria nicely. Except for the size of course.

    A neighbor has an H3 with a stick and it’s pretty badass in snow. I live in a very hilly neighborhood and we’ve gotten our share of snow the last several years. I’ve both driven it and been a passenger and I’m surprised every time I get in his H3 just how quiet it is and how supple the ride is. Very comfortable seats and the leather is Cadillac nice. He can drive right over broken Tributes.

    He’s had very little trouble with it and it’s got 175k or so on the odometer. It was stolen last year and driven 150 miles by some joyriders who didn’t manage to break it so I’m a fan.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Wait for a snowy day. Have her test-drive a base Renegade with AWD. She may hate it, or she may love it, but it’s the closest match to her budget and requirements.

    I agree with others here. I’ve owned a Subaru and a Saab. The Saab is way better in the snow. It’s also way better when it’s not snowing. And it’s faster, and it gets better mileage, and it holds more (even though the Subaru was a wagon and was just as long), and the heater works better, and the seats are in a different league, and it’s cheaper to maintain, and it’s less prone to rust. The only thing the Impreza had going for it was getting off the line in heavy snow, but only the first 10 feet or so.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Forester, Crosstrek, Outback w/ the 5MT/6MT are really the only answer if she wants a stick. gtemnykh is right. The Tribute 4WD was nothing special. The newer CVT Subarus are more like the CR-V, Rav4, Escape where the power tends to go to the front until the sensors suggest otherwise, but the 5MT/6MT models continue with a 50:50 split.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      She loves her Mazda, so why not CX-5?

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        Unfortunately, the CX-5 only offers a stick on FWD models.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        When I was waiting for a salesman to get the new MX-5 ready for a test drive, I was checking out the CX-5. To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t impressed with it from a pure utility perspective. The back seats didn’t seem to have a recline feature (or one that I could find), and the load floor in the cargo area was unusually high. It might be fun to drive for the segment, but really, who gives a crap about fun to drive in a tall station wagon?

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          who gives a crap about fun to drive in a tall station wagon?

          Mazda a pretty much Mazda only. Go read Jack Baruth’s review of a CX-3.

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          Back seats in compact CUVs have never reclined more than about 3″. Most of their motion is forward. It’s possible they were already reclined by the last people (read: kids) who sat in them.

          No rear passengers in my Tribute have ever complained about discomfort, but we all knew they would have been more comfortable in a three-row vehicle with captain’s chairs in the middle.

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            Our Rav has a huge range of motion (very straight up for cargo, very reclined for napping). Like I said, maybe I couldn’t find the lever. The seats seemed to be in the “normal” position and I couldn’t find a way to recline them any more.

            My mom’s 2010 Rav has sliding and reclining rear seats. Makes it really handy when you need just a bit more space in the rear cargo area but don’t want to or can’t lay the seat down flat.

        • 0 avatar
          hubcap

          @Quentin

          How was the Miata?

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            Good:
            – feels as light as the specs indicate
            – top down driving is great
            – roof is one hand motion from inside the car
            – looks great in the off-white color
            – handles very well
            – mid range is strong
            – chassis feels very rigid
            – interior materials are very good on IP and doors

            Bad
            – shifter felt imprecise, no good “in gear” feedback (would probably get used to it)
            – steering wheel material is rubbery
            – steering is very, very light
            – gas pedal is floor hinged which made rev matching very difficult
            – torque curve tapers off heavily after 5000RPM
            – wind noise with top up is extremely loud

            If you can keep the top down 80% of the time, it will be an amazing car.

        • 0 avatar
          rpn453

          “. . . who gives a crap about fun to drive in a tall station wagon?”

          All three of my friends who bought CX-5s last year do. I don’t see why anyone wouldn’t want their vehicles to be fun to drive. Even 3/4-ton trucks can be fun. It takes nothing away from the capabilities to be fun, unless a driver actually wants excessive nannying and isolation from the driving experience.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            Most folks I know aren’t into “fun” driving vehicles when at least 50% of their time is spent rolling along at 10mph or less in traffic.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            Those poor souls! Fortunately the CX-5 is perfectly comfortable in that situation as well.

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            Except with the CX-5, they did sacrifice some of the utility. Whether they spend that development or manufacturing money on suspension/chassis tuning or higher dollar struts and springs is debatable. Is the high load floor in the back due to rear suspension design? Maybe, maybe not. There were some pretty clear compromises on the utility side of the CX-5, IMO. My whole point is that these things sell on utility, not a sporty ride, and the CX-5 seems to prioritize sporty ride.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            It’s good that different manufacturers are catering to different consumer tastes. It sure seems popular here in Canada, where dealers still stock plenty of manuals and the Mazda3 was once the best-selling car. Last I saw, the CX-5 was outselling the Camry, Fusion, and Accord here!

            But a well-controlled ride and utility are not mutually exclusive. The early/mid-2000s Odyssey managed to combine both quite well.

  • avatar
    RetroGrouch

    If she got by with that Tribute for so long, she really needs an appliance Cruze/Civic/Corolla with snow tires.

    She doesn’t yet know she really wants an E30 or Miata with snows.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Aside from what has been mentioned, the Patriot, SX4, and last-gen Sportage all offer(ed) a manual transmission with a selectable “Lock” AWD/4WD system.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      …And none of those had interiors much nicer than a 2001 Tribute. Okay, the previous Sportage had better fit and finish, but it was still hard plastics (not that that’s always an issue) and about the same wind noise. My sister doesn’t notice and/or care.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      Patriot is an excellent suggestion and closer to her desired price range. She sounds like a good vehicle maintainer and could get decent reliability from one.

    • 0 avatar
      davefromcalgary

      Ha, nice one ajla, the SX4 was in my mind this whole time I was reading the post and comments.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Unless she has to dig herself out of unpaved roads, a normal electro-backed AWD system in a superior CUV platform gives her more.”

    I can’t believe what I’m hearing…although isn’t the Tribute/Escape/Mariner already a CUV the only difference being a real 4×4? The only other small similar 4×4 I can think of is the Jeep Liberty which doesn’t come in stick AFAIK or another choice IMO is Ranger/4WD/5spd.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I always wanted an D186 Conti but always stayed away due to all of its inherent problems. I truly was not aware they could mostly be “fixed”.

    • 0 avatar

      They can pretty much be 100% fixed, but it’s 100% not worth the effort. Hence why I’m keeping this one.

      • 0 avatar
        28-Cars-Later

        Good, because they are nice when they work. I’ll have you know I had to take a quick craigslist scan and only one D186 popped up and it looked somewhat rough. If you have a clean one for cheap, it was worth keeping since you had the “privilege” to fix it.

        http://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/cto/5269163602.html

        • 0 avatar

          They are beyond nice. The earlier models had larger swaybars (I think) and a rear strut tower brace(!!!) and are an amazing drive. If only this one still had the air suspension and the two-mode shocks.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            I always thought these were underrated. They had some issues, but could be bought dirt cheap. My dad bought a ’93 in ’97 for $6000. That’s the type of depreciation I miss in today’s car market. The car was like new too. It had all the usual problems during its lifetime, but looking back on it, it was a very worthwhile car. Eventually body rot caught up with it, and it was scrapped.

        • 0 avatar
          Syke

          Think twice about buying that one. It’s located in the Moxham/Lorain Boro area of Johnstown, where everything (houses, cars, inhabitants) are well worn beaters. Better off buying your crack and meth down there, rather than cars.

          • 0 avatar
            28-Cars-Later

            The car looks like its on its last legs, anything like that if I buy it will be near free in running condition or old lady owned.

  • avatar
    darex

    Here’s an unusual, but very good suggestion:

    Suzuki SX4 with manual (I think they were sold that way). It’s a very reliable car, and a near-new one could surely be found.

  • avatar
    frozenman

    You are actually getting involved in what vehicle your mother-in-law chooses to drive? Good luck with that.

    • 0 avatar
      AK

      The most logical response here

    • 0 avatar
      formula m

      Exactly… If she is annoying may I suggest a 2dr Chevrolet Blazer/jimmy circa 2005 with the 4.3L and 5spd. I drove one home from work a few times in stop&go traffic. After about 20min the heavy clutch becomes tiresome. Manual shift + heavy vehicle + traffic = crap.

      Just bring her to test drive something like a year old Mitsubishi Outlander that should fit that price range. She doesn’t need a manual transmission. She will get use to an automatic in her awd cuv just like 97% of the population has.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    The right answer is to find the newest, lowest mile version of the old Escape she can find in her preferred flavor.

  • avatar
    mikedt

    The right answer is to feign ignorance of anything having to do with 4 wheel drive and to stay as far away from any decision she makes as possible. If by some chance she follows your recommendation and the new vehicle does not live up to the pedestal her current Tribute parks on, you’re life will become hell.

  • avatar
    NMGOM

    Peter,

    Your mother-in-law in New England is essentially correct. (And what makes you think her car needs replacement? If she loves her car but it needs repairs, fix it for her!)

    Modern so-called AWD systems vary all over the map in how they work and how effectively they work. From the disaster on the early Honda CR-V’s to the new Subaru’s with “symmetrical” (whatever that means) all-wheels drive, to the esteemed Audi Quattro, you more-or-less get what you pay for with this mechanism.

    Yet, my experience in 50-years of driving in snow-belt states has revealed a couple of surprising things:

    1) Even in the deepest snow and most treacherous ice, you rarely need four-or all-wheel drive IF, and I say again, IF, you have the following five (5) things, and are considering start-up traction; braking efficiency; and highway driving stability:
    …a) A rear-wheel drive vehicle (surprise!);
    …b) A Manual Transmission (more surprise);
    …c) A slightly (I say, SLIGHTLY) rear-biased weight distribution (by added load);
    …d) Fresh, new Winter (not “all-season”) tires;
    …e) Decent ground clearance.
    Even an open differential** is not a huge deficit under with these items. I have driven my vehicles this way for years, and NEVER had an issue when I wasn’t intentionally being goofy or irresponsible.

    “AWD” systems can be a bit “squirrely”, and not sure-footed as advertised, since you don’t exactly know which wheels are doing what, and how that effects the vehicle. Your mother-in-law is certainly correct about 4WD systems behaving in a less ambiguous, more sure-footed fashion than any AWD system.

    But for those almost unbelievable snow-storm/ice-storm situations, in which you absolutely must go out, then my fallback has been a 4WD Jeep Wrangler with lockers on both differentials, 33-inch aggressive tires, and 2.5-inch lit kit. Virtually unstoppable, but 99+% of winter drivers in New England will hardly need that!

    ———-
    ** I should note that a cheap LSD (limited-slip differential) is no panacea. The benefits it gives you in start-up, “get-unstuck” traction become a negative in giving poor stability on patch-ice at highway speeds. Think of it this way: at 50 mph, say your left driven wheel hits an ice patch while the right driven wheel is on partially cleared pavement. Great. Most Power is transferred to the right wheel, as it should. But milliseconds later, the situation is reversed, and the ice patch is on the right, and better-traction pavement is on the left. But WHOA! Most power was being delivered to the right, and before the differential clutches can compensate, you get a SIDEWAYS thrust that can (and for me, has) put the vehicle into a serious spin. (There is an exception to this: a Torsen-style, gear-driven, limited-slip differential, whose engagement is continual; and whose torque-shifting in gentle and itself limited.)
    ———–

    =======================

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      A clutch type LSD does not transfer power back and forth between the wheels. It tries to keep them both spinning at the same speed regardless of the traction available. When it can’t do that it sends more power to the wheel with less traction. So much of the time the power is equally split between the two wheels but when it isn’t more torque is sent to the wheel with less traction.

      A Torsen style LSD on the other hand is one that does send the power to the wheel with the better traction and takes time to fully respond. The best ones can send near 100% of the torque to the wheel with traction.

      • 0 avatar
        NMGOM

        Scoutdude – –

        Thanks for the response.

        Regardless of the theory involved in how clutch-LSD’s are supposed to operate in dynamic, transient situations such as the one I described above, my 1972 Oldsmobile with a clutch-LSD fishtailed continually and severely in a snow-blown trip on a highway in Western PA. It was awful, and would do that even at 30-40 mph. There literally was no speed at which I could drive that would not cause that LSD to want to thrown the vehicle sideways. On the other hand, my old (at that time) 1954 Chevy with open differential never did that, because the low-friction wheel just spun freely and the car “automatically” slowed down because less torque was transmitted tot eh road, but it kept going straight.

        Your comment about the torsen -type, like the Detroit Trutrac, is quite accurate.
        Here is a nice little video by Eaton showing exactly how this Torsen-type differential works and what its effects are:
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqDf5DxOnAI

        ======================

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    I suggest you tell your mother-in-law that tires matter at least as much as all wheel drive.

    We bought our 1998 Subaru Legacy GT wagon brand new nearly 18 years ago. With its all wheel drive, new all season tires were good on ice and ok on snow. (Nothing works when you are high centered.) Well worn ones are still not bad on ice but are worthless in more than an inch or two of snow. On a hill, you don’t have enough traction to push the snow out of the way.

    I finally broke down and bought off brand winter tires on steel wheels. The difference between them and worn all seasons is amazing. Traction on ice or snow is nearly as good as on dry gravel.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    What about an Xterra?

  • avatar
    DJB1

    I can’t believe no one has suggested the 2002-2006 Honda CR-V, available with 4wd AND a 5 speed manual. I bought one new in 2005 because it addressed everything I HATED about my Subaru Outback, which was a terrible car.

    1. The CR-V has part-time 4wd which only goes to work when a front tire slips. The result: tires last as long as on a 2wd car, UNLIKE a Subaru with full-time AWD.

    2. If one tire gets damaged you only have to replace one tire, UNLIKE a Subaru with full-time AWD.

    3. The 2.4L I4 engine is quiet and has a timing chain, UNLIKE a Subaru H4. It is also known to last well beyond 200,000 miles without requiring a valve job or new head gasket, UNLIKE the Subaru H4.

    4. At 140,000 miles, my CR-V still has its original clutch and CV axles, VERY UNLIKE my Subaru.

    I’m well aware Subaru’s all-wheel drive system is better for performance vehicles. However, Honda’s part-time 4wd is like, crazy more durable bro, for a daily commuter you wish to drive for as many trouble-free miles as possible. I’m not a mere internet expert, the CR-V has performed flawlessly in 11 years of commuting from snowy Salt Lake City to snowy-er Park City.

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      She’s already got an old car.

      • 0 avatar
        DJB1

        It’s so old the side-curtain airbags are made of burlap, the stability control is powered by steam, and I have to stick an adapter in the cassette deck to listen to my iPod, just like a phucking neaderthal. I can’t let anyone think I’m poor, because saving a lot of money doesn’t show off to the neighbors like getting a new depreciation-mobile every other year. I’ll just finance something new for 84 months and in 2 years I’ll roll that loan into a new loan so I can avoid being seen in a stone-age death trap from way back in 2005. That’s what most people do so that’s what I should do too, right?

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          Geez. I wasn’t aware that we were supposed to crucify people for wanting to drive something newer than what they already have.

          • 0 avatar
            Dave W

            Oops, I replaced my rust bucket 2005 Focus wagon with a 2001 Taurus from VA.

            With studded snows I’ve been unable to get either of them stuck in VT. Actually I use them as my work cars. This summer the Taurus has kept the studs on, I even pulled a 1.5 yard load (roughly a ton) of mulch up a clients lawn, no wheel spin, no grass damage, so I guess studs even make good turf tires.

        • 0 avatar
          RideHeight

          Hey! I’m an investments GEEE-nius!

          I give the guy 6 words, I get 114 words back!

          But I ain’t gonna hang out a shingle yet till I get more proof. He could just be a little dopey from all them old car fumes.

  • avatar
    olddavid

    The only reason that smoking turd of a car (worst Lincoln ever) sold so well was because of the backside discounts every dealer who expressed interest received. Even non franchised Ford dealerships got $2500-3000 back end money with a Red Carpet lease being calculated at near zero in a 10-12% climate. I was ecstatic when the Mark VIII came out, as they were immediately inserted into our fleet, with no one having to suffer the FWD V6 “Continental” again. The 1995 was a Rolls in comparison.

  • avatar
    Lurker_n

    If she want a dial for 4wd, doesn’t some of the Mitsubishi have that? As for the need for real 4wd, the only time I needed it was when I had a Jeep Grand Cherokee that got stuck in the snow bank after watching Tokyo Drift… :P


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