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Small, nimble, fun (as in lean in to the curves) car for petite woman with dogs & a desire to drive a stick/manual again

The Right Car for Me: photograph by

This member has purchased a 2014 Ford Escape.

BellaBee

I moved from the California Bay Area to Western Massachusetts a year ago with several dogs and a 2011 Ford Flex Limited. When I lived in the Bay Area, I worked for a wonderful animal shelter and routinely transported dogs (up to 8 including 2 dog crates) between Gilroy and San Francisco. Now that I'm in rural Massachusetts and working from home with plenty of space and fenced-in yard, I don't need to transport dogs. When running errands (at least 20-30 minutes away), I take 1 or 2 dogs with me for fun and "1on1 time."

The Ford Flex is wonderful - visibility, decent gas mileage, room, reliability. And it's different - funky, special - my 12-year-old nephew loves when I pick him up at school and let him hook up his iPod and take over music selection. It's just too big for me and 1 or 2 dogs. When I go on my own to yoga class, it feels wasteful - one small woman, one big car. BTW - The Flex replaced a 2005 BMW X-5, which seemed like a great idea but wasn't as functional & practical (lots of wasted space), wasn't as reliable, and the interior wasn't as nice or as well-appointed as the Flex.

So, help me decide what to buy next. I want a vehicle that's a bit more nimble, definitely smaller but a hatch or wagon or small SUV so I can put the back seats down and throw in dog beds/blankets. It has to have a coolness factor - my nephew loves the Flex. My favorite pre-dog car was an Audi A4 with a 6-speed manual transmission - entering and exiting the California freeways was fun and the interior was lovely and well done. The driver's seat was perfect.

Key qualities for me include AWD, manual transmission (preferred), size (small enough to be nimble but large enough to not feel overwhelmed in a land of Ford F-150s and snow plows). Gently used is fine - I think I can get more car for the money. Thanks for your help!

Preferred Bodystyle(s): Coupe / Sedan

Car Needs: Family transporter

Need minimum of 4 seats

Will consider both new and used cars
Maximum mileage: 30000
Maximum age: 5 years

Maximum price: US $ 25000

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Response from BellaBee

11:10 am June 19, 2014

Sorry - I should have put what I'm drawn to:

Ford Focus, Escape

Mini Countryman (although put off by BMW connection and reliability reports)

Kia Soul (but AWD, not manual)

Audi Avant or A3

I live in the land of silver mini-vans, Hondas, Toyotas, and Subarus. I know they're great and reliable cars but they don't make my heart go pitter-pat. :-)

Thanks again!

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Response from Member6078

1:58 pm June 19, 2014

I think the Ford Escape with 1.6L (auto)Kia Soul,Buick Encore (auto), or VW Tiguan are great options.

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Ford Escape
Buick Encore
Volkswagen Tiguan

Response from willied

2:56 pm June 19, 2014

If you're feeling adventurous you could try out a Focus ST, or if that's too much then just the regular Focus should be good as well.

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Ford Focus

Response from BellaBee

5:58 pm June 19, 2014

Thanks for the quick responses! My yoga teacher just bought a Kia Soul - looks solid inside and out. My only concern is the lack of AWD. Hummm... haven't thought about VWs in a long long time... will have to research. My ex had a GTI many years ago and that was super fun & nimble.

I do need to test drive the Focus & Escape and possibly give in to another automatic.

Have not considered Buick at all. Just doesn't enter into my consciousness. Member in NY - do you have experience with the Encore?

Thanks again!

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Response from willied

9:19 pm June 19, 2014

Response from wcpowell12

10:55 am June 20, 2014

I know you said part of the vehicle landscape of New England includes Subaru's. There is a reason for that. They have one of the best AWD systems made today. I would highly recommend you search for a Leagcy GT sedan with a manual transmission. You get mid-size sedan room, good (not great) fuel economy and AWD security for the wintery roads. BUT, there is a surprise with that. This car is like driving on rails when playing around with the curves if a sporty mood hits you. It is just plain fun!

Do not get the automatic. 5 year old models have a typical automatic transmission but the engine was lacking in power to hit any kind of fun factor. The newer versions have the boring CVT automatic (continuously variable transmission) which for purists is an abomination. It is always searching for a gear that is never quite there and you get dizzy watching the tach. So you are wise to seek out a manual for this vehcile.

They are popular and will be a challenge to find without a lot of miles. Those who buy Subaru's tend to keep them long term. They are reliable as heck! Drive one before you rule it out. And you just might be able to find a shiny red one!

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Subaru Legacy

Response from BellaBee

11:04 am June 20, 2014

Thanks, wcpowell12! For some reason, when I entered my initial post, it registered as sedan. I'm actually looking for a wagon or hatch so I can get the dogs in easily. Do you have a favorite Subaru wagon?

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Response from Member6078

1:56 pm June 20, 2014

How about the VW Sportwagen?

It doesn't have AWD, the elevated seating of an SUV, nor does the 5 cylinder have the torque of a turbo as in the Ford escape. Conversly, ingress/egress may be easier if your not too tall, it has a more compliant ride, and VW/Audi has one of the best rust corrosion warranties in industry (12 years?). Critics and consumers seem to love the car.

Good luck.

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Response from wcpowell12

5:32 pm June 20, 2014

The VW Sportwagen is a great alternative. But do avoid the 2.5L 5 cylinder. 2014 is the last year of production for this outdated engine. It was the workhorse for many years, but iron block engines are old school. Heavy, and this engine was not that good on fuel economy. That said, the TDi Sportwagen can be had in a manual and the 4 cyl diesel engine gets 40-50 mph. Diesels are not what they used to be with the clean engine technology of today. you cannot smell any exhaust, and your garage does not have the diesel fuel aroma of the old Mercedes era. Long gone.

Only FWD is available, but the Germans have a lot more snow than New England. Getting around should not be a problem.

Great alternative!

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Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen

Response from willied

10:56 am June 21, 2014

I definitely wouldn't let FWD be a limiting factor unless you're driving in heavy snow storms off road quite often. With some proper snow tires and FWD it's pretty hard to get stuck.

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Response from BellaBee

7:53 pm June 23, 2014

Thanks so much for the suggestions & comments! The VW diesel is a great idea. And yes, I can't get too caught up in AWD. I noticed there is a Golf TDI too. Will definitely check out Volkswagens when I get a break in my schedule.

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Response from mkaresh

10:56 am June 29, 2014

This is a tough one. Funky cars are in increasingly short supply. Aside from the Mini and the Soul few have sold well, so most manufacturers are again playing it safe. On top of this, manual transmissions are increasingly restricted to lower trim levels and the smallest engine, when they are offered at all. In some cases you can get a manual transmission and AWD, but not together (e.g. the first generation Audi A3, the Mazda CX-5, and the VW Tiguan).

The Buick Encore is quiet and luxurious, but no manual transmission is available.

The 2014 Soul is far better than the first generation. But as you note, no manual except on the base model (increasingly common) and no AWD at all.

The vehicle that best checks off all your boxes is the Mini Countryman. Some people do have bad experiences with Minis, but many others don't. If it really does suit your needs much better than anything else, it's probably worth the risk.

Next closest is probably the Subaru Impreza WRX hatchback. The 2008s and 2009s have had some engine issues, but newer than that should be okay. If the WRX is much more powerful than you need, then check out the regular Impreza.

With both the Countryman and the WRX, check that they have enough cargo space.



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Mini Countryman
Subaru Impreza / Outback Sport

Response from BellaBee

10:58 am July 12, 2014

Thanks everyone for the great suggestions! My searching is slow because I have a new work project and I live at a distance from dealers. It will take another month or so before I make a purchase.

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Response from BellaBee

5:38 pm December 3, 2014

Well, it took awhile but I ended up leasing a 2014 Ford Focus Escape Titanium. I did like the stick on the Fiesta ST and the Focus (no ST available for test driving) very much but as fun as they were, I needed the space of the Escape. Driving, steering on the Escape is nice and tight - enjoyable. Plus I was about to go thru major surgery and needed "easy peasy" automatic. Also, leasing seemed to be the way to go - I can go to something smaller and more fun in a couple of years.

Thanks for all the suggestions and advice!

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Ford Escape

Response from willied

6:18 pm December 3, 2014

Congrats on the Escape! I'm sure you'll enjoy it quite a bit! I got to test out an Escape and it seemed quite responsive. Which engine did you get?

And if only they still offered a Focus wagon over here...they even have an ST wagon in Europe! Maybe in a few years...

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Response from BellaBee

5:57 pm December 4, 2014

Thanks! The Escape is responsive - just the right sense of tightness and space. The engine is the 2.0 - plenty of pep. It also has already been through a snow storm and getting up my sister's mile-long, ascending dirt driveway with ease.

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Response from wcpowell12

7:55 pm December 5, 2014

Congrats on the choice, BellaBee. And a pat on the back to Mr. Karesh and his team for this web site, and those of us who add our $.02. Having owned 40 vehicles in the same number of years of driving, I have become an auto enthusiast by default. It is great to share "real street" knowledge.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

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