What car do I want for forest service roads and around-town?
March 7, 2019 7:31 PM   Subscribe

I bike commute daily, but would like to own a car again for short trips around town a few days a week, that I can also feel pretty good about taking up middling-to-poor forest service roads throughout a lot of the year. I realize this is probably conflicting usage, as anything with good city mileage is probably not going to have the clearance/AWD for the service roads, but I'm pretty open to whatever options are out there.
posted by curious nu to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a Subaru to me.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:36 PM on March 7 [20 favorites]

I would consider a small pickup.
posted by AugustWest at 7:40 PM on March 7

I drive a 2016 Subaru Crosstrek and use it for exactly this. There was a question posted here on the green fairly recently asking about the driving experience of Crosstreks and I would recommend reading the responses to get a feel for how people like them in general, but for your specific use case it's pretty much the perfect car.
posted by DSime at 7:41 PM on March 7 [4 favorites]

I drive my Ford fiesta on forestry roads for work and play. Definitely recommend a vehicle with decent clearance. It's been great for good to moderate roads. I don't take it down roads with tank traps (culverts removed) or large rocks just on case. A Subaru would probably fit what you are looking for. Depending on the weather, you might find AWD handy.
posted by snowysoul at 7:52 PM on March 7

Subaru Outback Wagon. They have great clearance, all-wheel drive, I've seen them go basically anywhere an off-road outfitted Jeep can go. My partner had a Subaru wagon when I met him 25 years ago, he traded that in for a new Subaru Outback Wagon about 5 years after I met him, he had that car for 20 years, he just got a new Outback Wagon and it's probably going to be the last car he ever buys.

Milage has been consistently 30-35mpg across all these vehicles.
posted by hippybear at 8:24 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]

There's a reason why Subarus sell in mountainy places. For "middling-to-good" forest service roads (especially in non-messy seasons) you can get by with, y'know, an old Civic that you're determined to drive to death, but "middling-to-poor" especially in places with extended rainy seasons answers the question.
posted by holgate at 8:55 PM on March 7 [1 favorite]

Subaru outback, Suzuki sx4 (used) or a plethora of trucks and SUVs or crossovers.
posted by fshgrl at 10:31 PM on March 7

Tesla did test drives outside of the gym last week; gotta say; the S100D is a fine machine; it has a 2" range of four different adjustable suspension settings (GPS programmable no less - i.e. it will go up as you near the forest road; and then back down when back to paved), and well. Sadly; the over $120,000 purchase price precludes my consideration and probably yours; but having driven it; I do wholeheartedly recommend it for your applications.

You want the Tesla S100D. For the AWD, and for the ground clearance. Really.
posted by Afghan Stan at 11:48 PM on March 7

I am like you and I have an elderly turbo Subaru Legacy wagon. Surprisingly reliable, handling is awesome, lots of space, fuel economy is rubbish but I don't drive much overall so I feel fine about that. And keeping an old car running seems environmentally sound to me. No new ore dug or smelted for me.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:10 AM on March 8

Depending on what state you live in, Subaru just started offering a plug-in hybrid Crosstrek. Up to 17 miles just on batteries.
posted by postel's law at 4:48 AM on March 8 [1 favorite]

Umpteenthing a Subaru. This is pretty much the exact use case for Subies.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:19 AM on March 8

You want the Tesla S100D. For the AWD, and for the ground clearance. Really.

Max Model S ground clearance is 6.3"; max clearance for a Subaru is 8.7". Gain two inches, save $90,000.

Nthing a Subaru here, as this is also my exact use case for a Subaru.
posted by Special Agent Dale Cooper at 6:28 AM on March 8 [2 favorites]

I love my Subaru Forester for just this sort of thing. I do a short commute to the train station, I throw in a few 2x4s at Home Depot and I take it down dirt roads on the way to hiking trips. It's great in snow as well. It's the perfect car for people who aren't really car people.
posted by bondcliff at 6:58 AM on March 8 [3 favorites]

My Forester is great for this. It spends more time covered in dust than not. Echoing the other comments here.

What I'd ask when looking for a vehicle: is the AWD full time and at all speeds? For some manufacturers AWD/4WD is only on at lower speeds. What's the ground clearance? Do the vehicles have protection for the undercarriage of any kind?

And spend some coin on decent tires.
posted by bonehead at 7:14 AM on March 8

Yes, Subaru. If you're buying used, make sure the brake light issue (a massive recall gets underway next month) is addressed.
posted by Iris Gambol at 8:38 AM on March 8

In case you, like me, have an intellectual respect for the Subaru niche but a personal aversion to the brand (those I’ve driven have had frustratingly puny pickup and unwarranted maintenance issues, which I accept may have improved in newer models), my Mazda CX-5 has served me well on distinctly poor service roads. The 2014-2016 models have a similar ground clearance to the outback (the new generation looses a bit of height) and the same 28 mpg rating with the 2.5 liter engine. If you get a base model CX-5 or any trim on the 2013 version you could get a 2.0 liter engine, which most reviewers complained about but which gets you even better mileage.
posted by exutima at 2:28 PM on March 8

I drive my Toyota Sienna minivan around town and on forest service roads. I hate forest service roads, but the minivan handles them just fine.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:45 PM on March 8

I drive a '17 Crosstrek and live a half mile off the pavement up a rutted and bumpy dirt road in the Great Smoky Mountains. After the last big rain I found a fish on my driveway that had gotten marooned when the creek burst its banks.

You want a Subaru. My 5-speed manual Crosstrek averages 28-31 in combination driving.
posted by workerant at 9:12 PM on March 8 [1 favorite]

Subaru Crosstrek. This had kind of been my thinking but it was good to have the sanity check (and the other recommendations gave me something to research as well). Thanks everybody.
posted by curious nu at 8:27 PM on March 10 [1 favorite]

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