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Fuel-efficient AWD or 4WD wagon or compact SUV for rural living, with good ground clearance

The Right Car for Me | TrueDelta

A member in Washington, United States

I'm considering a Honda CR-V, because my 2001 CR-V gave me 13 entirely trouble-free years until a recent A/C system failure that is not reparable. Now I have to live without A/C or get a different car. I'm shopping the CR-V again, along with Toyota Highlander and Subaru Outback. I lean toward Toyota and Honda because I have had great experiences reliability-wise from both of those makes (Hubby's 1992 Toyota pickup is still going strong but is not our going-to-town or long-trips vehicle.) Subaru is popular where I live but I don't know about its reliability. I currently drive a manual transmission and am sorry to see that most of the vehicles in the CR-V's class no longer offer this option (it's not a requirement for me, but certainly a preference). AWD or 4WD is a must where I live, and ground clearance is important because I have a long driveway and live in an area that gets a lot of snow. (It seems like the 2014 CR-V has lower clearance than my 2001: only 6.3 inches vs. 8.1 inches, which is a considerable difference.) I have a teardrop trailer that weighs 1,100 pounds with no gear, so I need to be able to tow it (I haven't towed it with my current CR-V but I'm pretty sure that any of these vehicles would be capable of towing this relatively small trailer). Price is not a huge consideration except that I don't want to spend on bells and whistles like sunroofs and fancy electronic systems. Oh, and I want something that either comes with roof rails or can be fitted with them to accommodate my Yakima rack (for occasions when I want to bring my kayaks or bikes along on a trip). I do a lot of backcountry driving, so reliability/durability is #1 concern for me and I want a vehicle that has some off-road-type capability but NOT so that I can use it as a toy for recreational vandalism of public lands. I am a practical-minded person and the CR-V has been a very practical car for me: gets around well on bad roads and in bad weather, carries at least 4 adults quite comfortably, and has room for a big dog in the back.

Preferred Bodystyle(s): Coupe

Car Needs: Family transporter

Need minimum of 4 seats

Will consider both new and used cars
Maximum mileage: 50000
Maximum age: 5 years

Maximum price: US $ 35000

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Response from samuel.bethune

8:41 pm August 10, 2014

My daughter has a Honda Element and if you can find a good low mileage model on the used market that would be my recommendation. The Element is available with a manual transmission and has the same 4WD system as your CR-V. They only went out of production a few years ago so you still may be able to find a good used one. The manual transmission model might be harder to find because it took the dealer a while to locate one for my daughter when she bought it new. The Subaru Forrester and Toyota RAV4 are also good choices with great reliability records. I don't know if the Subaru is available with a manual but I know the Toyota is not. I'd drive both before buying as I've heard that Forresters are underpowered. Hope this helps.


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Honda Element
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4

Response from samuel.bethune

12:06 am August 11, 2014

Thanks, Samuel. Perhaps I overstated my preference for a manual transmission, which would rule out too many otherwise eligible vehicles.

My brother had an Element for a few years, and it was great as a cargo carrier (bikes etc.) but not so great for back-seat passengers or for towing. And his fuel economy wasn't as good as my older CRV.

RAV4 is a possibility for me, although my recollection is that it is somewhat less spacious than the CRV, but at the same price point. I'll definitely check it out again, though. I may take another look at the Forester too (last time around, the front passenger legroom was unacceptable to my tall husband) but I'm not sure what it offers over the Outback except perhaps a higher seating position and a deeper cargo space (which my dog might appreciate more than a wagon back).


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Response from samuel.bethune

12:07 am August 11, 2014

Oh, and did I mention that the Element is ugly? Not that I'm buying for looks. I'm just sayin'.


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Response from mkaresh

2:08 pm August 13, 2014

Subaru's reputation for reliability is largely based on how they hold up for the first 100,000 miles. After that point they can get expensive.

It is still possible to get the Forester with a manual. The Outback could be bought with a manual through 2014. With the 2015 update the manual has been dropped.

Subaru's all-wheel-drive system operates continuously, which can enhance stability on slick roads.

The Highlander is a much larger, heavier vehicle.

The Mazda CX-5 might be worth a look. A manual is available, though only with the smaller of two engines.

Personally, I don't care for the styling or handling of the CR-V, but they are roomy, practical, and extremely reliable.


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Subaru Forester
Mazda CX-5
Honda CR-V
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