We're becoming SUV people!
February 7, 2015 10:59 AM   Subscribe

We're just about at the point where it is time to trade in our little 2007 Mazda 3. It's been a fine car for us, but now that we have a car seat in the back, things are feeling a bit tight. We've also found ourselves putting money into it lately--$3000 in the last four or 5 months--and so we're starting to think about buying a new-to-us vehicle.

We're looking for something that's very safe and very reliable, and also something that's good in a Canadian winter. Good mileage would be great, too. We don't need a lot of bells and whistles or anything like that. Bluetooth would be nice but lack of it would hardly be a deal breaker. We don't put a tonne of mileage on the car; mostly, it is for commuting about 10km each way, grocery shopping, that kind of stuff, with a maybe 2 hour trip every couple or 3 months out on the freeway.

So far, we've been thinking about some of mid-sized SUVs. We've been happy with our Mazda, so the CX5 is on our radar; we've also read good things about the Subaru Forester.

So here are my questions:
1) Does anybody have any strong opinions about either of these vehicles, either way? What are their relative strengths and weaknesses?
2) What should we be watching out for assuming we're going to try to find one that's a year or two old?
3) Are there any other vehicles we should add to our list?
4) Is there anything that we don't know we don't know that we should know?

posted by synecdoche to Shopping (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
We drive a 2000 Forester with 130K miles on it, it rules, it has needed very little maintenance and I think it'll last 5 more years at the very least. Handles Wisconsin winter, no problem (to be fair, we live in town and seldom have to deal with unplowed roads or long hilly driveways.) With two carseats in the back you can still fit older kid's friend in the backseat in a booster with a little pushing and squeezing. Trunk is big enough to make packing for family trips easy. I guess technically these cars are now called "crossover SUVs" but I think of it as a station wagon; it's built on a car chassis, not a truck chassis like most of the classic SUVs.

Based on the parking lot at the preschool, something like 5-10% of ALL Madison parents drive various models of this car. I recommend it.
posted by escabeche at 11:12 AM on February 7, 2015

I'm the exact opposite as you - I bought a 2014 Mazda 3 last April after selling my much, much, much beloved 2004 Subaru Forester XT.

I've gone on and on here on the blue and green about how awesome the Forester is (especially the somewhat rare turbo-equipped version I had). I highly recommend them. Great room, unbeatable visibility, bulletproof motor, excellent resale, very capable AWD. The list goes on.

That said, a few caveats: AWD costs you some mileage - it simply adds more drag to the drivetrain. Subaru motors are bulletproof, but they don't get the best MPG out there. Not bad, but not great. If you go with a turbo, you'll have to use premium gas.

If you go used, don't get a pre-2004 Forester. They had head problems with the engines prior to that. Also, from what I've read, you'll probably be best off avoiding a CVT no matter what year you buy. CVTs help with gas mileage, but at the expense of driveability.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:20 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

The new Subaru's with continuously variable transmissions (CVT) get mileage in the low to mid thirties on the highway which is extraordinarily good for a SUV.

CVTs are probably the biggest advance in fuel economy in the last decade. They drive just fine and adjust gearing optimally much better than traditional automatic transmissions. They get better mileage than even manual transmissions.
posted by JackFlash at 11:50 AM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

We have put almost a quarter million miles on our 2005 Forester and would buy another one in a second. Decent gas mileage, a dream on snow, great room in the way-back, can tow a small trailer to take stuff to the dump-we love this car.
posted by purenitrous at 12:51 PM on February 7, 2015

I just bought a new-to-me used Subaru, a 2010, which is pretty much the same car as the Forester, and for what it's worth after three weeks, I love it. Getting good-enough mileage--I never really check it--and have found it perfectly reliable. During a light snow a few days ago, it did fine. Not much data here, but my impression: the Subaru is an excellent vehicle.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 1:48 PM on February 7, 2015

Yeah I think Foresters are very solid if less than 7 or 8 years old and under 100K. Personally, though, I'd go for an Outback unless you have a large dog or move a lot of outdoor gear around, though. It's a much more car-like ride with the same advantages, and nicer interior appointments.

Like bennyandajetz above, I just bought a new Mazda3 this year and can't say enough good things about the appeal of a Mazda for pure joyful internal combustion/manual input/no CVT/no turbo driving pleasure, but that doesn't sound like it's high on your list and with a baby in the car you're probably not looking for that, plus Mazdas from before the current round of (post-Ford) redesign are decidedly less appealing, and I think the CX7 got redesigned in 2012, so anything older than that, meh.

There is no substitute for mass and solid center of gravity. All other things being equal I'd be looking at the safety stats for whatever models you're comparing. My own gut tells me the Outback is safer than the Forester by a notch (having spent a some time in various model years of each over the last few years), but in general Subies are very, very well made cars from a safety point of view and the AWD can't be beat as a safety feature.

Subaru went through a big redesign thing themselves in the last few years so the model year you buy matters in terms of things like mileage, safety, technology, etc.

And relatively speaking, an '07 Mazda3 is a tiny tin can as a baby-holder, albeit a heck of a fun sledding experience! You're making a smart move, I think, with the little one.
posted by spitbull at 2:55 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a 2001 and a 2014 Forester. 200K on the old one and about 40K on the new. We live in Michigan, have taken both in pretty challenging back country as well as Michigan winters. I love them - have never been able to get stuck in deep snow or mud despite quite a few opportunities. The CVT is a good thing I think - it's given us decent mileage. Very reliable solid vehicles. I would also agree - don't buy one older than a 2004 because of the known head gasket issues. We found the Forester more comfortable than the Outback (and about $10K cheaper) but you may prefer the Outback. The 2014 Forester was a new model - CVT and a lot of other changes - it's a substantially different vehicle than older versions. CU was very positive about those changes. We looked at both 2013 and 2014s and preferred the current one for those changes - largely the CVT.
posted by leslies at 5:57 PM on February 7, 2015

I'd caution against an SUV. They feel safer but due to their higher center of gravity and thus their increased likelihood of tipping over, they're actually less safe than an equivalently sized car. They're often heavier and so swerve and stop more slowly, too, and are thus more prone to get in an accident in the first place. And sedans and station wagons are cheaper to buy, insure, gas up, and repair if they're in a body-damaging accident. Crossovers are a decent option too.

Makes to consider: Subaru, Volvo, Audi, and also Kia, Toyota, Honda.

I love Mazdas, but the lack of an AWD sedan kills them for me.
posted by Capri at 11:21 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

The safest vehicles on the road are actuallly SUVs made in the last five years, according to the IIHS:
A decade ago, SUVs had some of the highest rates, due to their propensity to roll over … However, the spread of electronic stability control (ESC) through the fleet has dramatically lessened the risk of rollover crashes in these and all vehicles. The rollover death rate of 5 per million registered vehicle years for 2011 models is less than a quarter of what it was for 2004 models.

Today's SUVs have the lowest driver death rate of any vehicle type.
The 3rd generation Subaru Forester (model years 2009–2013) is a crossover SUV with a very low center of gravity, plus standard AWD and ESC. It has a better-than-average safety record for its class (also better than average for any class of four-door car). It has zero rollover deaths recorded in the IIHS data. And it's cheaper than Subaru's Outback station wagon. Subarus in general are cheap to insure. So I wouldn't worry about it being a bad choice for safety or insurance reasons.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:28 AM on February 8, 2015

We've been very happy with a 2009 Honda CR-V, and I see from places like Edmunds that newer models are still very highly rated in the mid-size crossover area. It's definitely not the most exciting drive out there, but it's hard to beat for reliability. If you're looking at used, you might also consider the Lexus RX series, also regarded as bulletproof.
posted by sapere aude at 9:12 AM on February 9, 2015

« Older Replacing Lost Car Keys   |   What to drink? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.