Ask AutoGuide No. 5 – In the Family Way

Ask AutoGuide No. 5 – In the Family Way

Last week was a lot like the British ocean liner Lusitania; it got sunk, but this time around it wasn’t the Kaiser’s fault. Instead of falling prey to a German U-Boat it was torpedoed by the New York Auto Show.

New-York-Auto-ShowTwo days in the Big Apple, plus travel time to and from Manhattan ended up devouring the work week faster than competitive eater Oleg Zhornitskiy engulfed 128 ounces of mayonnaise (8 minutes if you’re curious, and we know you are).

Being the laboraholics they are, the Oracles (patent pending) were not happy about this situation. Skipping an installment of Ask AutoGuide is tantamount to unplugging a beeping carbon-monoxide detector instead of fixing the faulty water heater that’s poisoning the air. It’s dangerous and irresponsible. At the risk of sounding like a cheesy phone company TV commercial, they’re working overtime to make things right; sure, the service will still suck and internet speeds will be spottier than a white tablecloth after a wine tasting, but acknowledging a problem is the first step in fixing it, right?

2013 New York Auto Show Complete Coverage

The victim client this week is Sheldon, a family man that’s not pleased with his 2011 Volkswagen Jetta. It may be a people’s car but it’s not for this person. He bemoaned the compact sedan’s inadequate trunk space in an e-mail dispatched to AutoGuide. He’s not a fan of its cut-rate interior, either, which has more cheap plastic on display than a Tupperware tradeshow.


Sheldon is in the family way, which explains why a Jetta isn’t commodious enough. He and his wife have acquired a 4-month-old baby, presumably via birth, but abduction isn’t off the table. By the time the kid’s stroller is loaded in the VW’s cargo hold there isn’t much room for other stuff, like their Louis Vuitton tote bag and dishwasher-safe diaper pail. The couple also has a Scottish terrier puppy. Is this a car-related question or the back-story to a romantic comedy?

No matter, the AutoGuide Oracles® are here to help. Sheldon is after a new vehicle that’s more spacious than his Jetta but also stylish and fun to drive; he has about $30,000 to spend. He’s amenable to crossovers and not really interested in a lot of features. For him driving dynamics trump frivolities. Additionally he wrote “absolutely no domestics,” unless of course the experts have some really compelling reasons. We’ll see what they have to say. Grab your sweetheart (in the NORTHERN hemisphere, please), get some popcorn and hold hands because this rom-com is about to begin.

SUGGESTION #1: 2013 MINI Cooper S Countryman

Information Card -- MINI CountrymanIf driver involvement is a priority then MINI is an easy recommendation. These small cars are like a fun-fair on four wheels but without carnies, their small hands and the aroma of cabbage. They’re the automotive equivalent of a packet of Pop Rocks – sweet, effervescent and somewhat lacking in the substance department.

Dynamics are important to Sheldon but so is practicality, which is why the Oracles have suggested the Countryman. It’s a small crossover vehicle that should check all of his boxes, plus it’s cuter than a litter of Labradors pups; his wife will surely love it.

Besides, whether you call it British or German (MINI is owned by BMW), it’s from the ‘Old World’ and Sheldon has already shown an affinity for cars from the Continent.

The base Countryman starts around $23,000, but who wants to slum it in an entry-level vehicle? (Especially one that’s lower than a Prius). That’s why the Oracles are pushing for the Cooper S version. It’s a couple grand more expensive but well worth the extra outlay.

The up-level S gets a turbocharged four-cylinder and puts down 181 ponies. The time required to reach a mile a minute is cut to just 7.7 seconds from a sluggish 11. A six-speed manual or automatic transmission is available.

SEE ALSO: 2011 MINI Countryman S ALL4 Review

There are a lot of advantages to the foot-loose-and-fancy-free Countryman, but there are downsides as well, one of which is cargo volume. The car offers a maximum of just 42.2 cubic feet, which isn’t that much, especially if another kidnapping child is in the works. And that’s with the rear seats folded. With a kid and a dog in the back you’re left with just 16.5 cu-ft – a singular cubic foot more than the Jetta’s boot. Additionally, service can be an issue because there aren’t terribly many MINI stores in North America. Your chances of living near a Suzuki dealer are probably greater.

Something else worth mentioning are the toggle switches that control the power windows, they’re just terrible. Ask AutoGuide Editor-in-Chieftain Colum Wood how much he loves them. Next!

Get full MINI Cooper S Countryman details here

SUGGESTION #2: 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring

Information Card -- Mazda CX-5Mazda is the “zoom-zoom” brand. Just like MINI their reputation centers on building vehicles with lively dynamics and selling them at reasonable prices. Think of them as budget BMWs from Hiroshima.

Offering an entertaining drive is the company’s CX-5 crossover. The entry-level price for this elevated station wagon is about $22,000 out the door. It comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers an anemic 155 horsepower; it can be matched to an easy-shifting six-speed manual transmission or for a little extra wampum an automatic with the same gear count.

But again, who wants to suffer by living with a base-model vehicle? Sheldon has 30 big ones to play with and the CX-5 is happy to oblige.

A top-of-the-line Grand Touring all-wheel-drive model neatly dovetails with his budget, squeaking in by the film on the Oracles’ incisors. They’ve got more tarter than a Long John Silver’s. If AWD is unnecessary he can shave about a grand off that price and purchase his child a second-hand ATV, a pet ostrich or even a week at Space Camp.

Up-level CX-5s are powered by a more muscular 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Like they say, there’s no replacement for a bigger engine. It delivers a 184 horsepower wallop. Fuel economy isn’t too shabby, either. With the standard six-speed auto-box, front-wheel-drive models should be able to return 25 miles per gallon around town and up to 32 on the highway.

SEE ALSO: 2015 Mazda CX-5 Review

When it comes to practicality the CX-5’s maximum cargo volume handily trumps the Countryman, which really lives up to its “MINI” name. The Mazda has about 65 cubic feet of storage space with the second-row folded flat, or about 34 when all the seats are locked in their upright positions. A Sprinter van it is not, but it still offers enough room for a small family.

Get full Mazda CX-5 details here

SUGGESTION #3: 2013 Ford Escape

Information Card -- Ford Escape TitaniumNow of course Sheldon doesn’t want an American car (he’s unpatriotic) but the Oracles just had to suggest one. They can act like defiant teenagers sometimes. After flying into a Doritos and Monster Energy fueled temper tantrum they insisted on recommending the red-white-and-blue Ford Escape.

Base price for this Kentucky-built crossover is comparable to the other two suggestions, right around $23,000. That gets you a front-wheel-drive model and a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated engine. But a measly 168 horsepower isn’t going to cut it for a driving aficionado.

The enthusiast’s choice is powered by Ford’s nearly ubiquitous 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. It delivers a V6-like 240 horsepower with 270 lb-ft or twist. It’s smooth running and has lots of low-end punch. A six-speed automatic transmission is the only cog-crate offered. Sorry if you’re dying for a manual; nobody buys them so nobody sells them, and vice versa.

Fuel economy with that fire-breathing four-cylinder is 22 city, 30 highway. Of course all-wheel drive cuts into those numbers by a little bit.

With front-wheel drive the range-topping Titanium model stickers for a little less than $31,000 out the door. It’s interesting why Ford chose the 22nd element on the Periodic Table as it top-of-the-line trim since titanium is not a precious metal. At least they didn’t go with something toxic like cadmium.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Ford Escape Review

But no matter which model of Escape you go with they’re all fun to toss around, perhaps not as entertaining as the MINI or Mazda but they are solid-driving little crossovers that feel like a slightly taller Ford Focus. Cargo volume is all over the CX-5 like glaze on a doughnut. With the rear seats folded it offers 68 cubic feet of volume, with them up (because there’s a baby and a dog back there) there are a little more than 34 cubes to play with. For a little perspective imagine one cubic foot 34 times. In spite its domesticity the 2013 Ford Escape is a good choice for families.

The enlightened minds at AutoGuide also insisted on pointing out that the Escape is perhaps more European than American, and both turbo engines are actually made in Europe, the 2.0-liter in Spain and the 1.6-liter in the UK.

Get full Ford Escape Titanium details here

SUGGESTION #BONUS ROUND: 2013 Mazda5 Grand Touring

Information Card -- Mazda5The Oracles are going above and beyond the call of duty this week by recommending an unprecedented fourth vehicle to Sheldon. The Mazda5 is seriously worth his consideration.

It’s a minivan in the truest sense of the word. Family haulers like the Chrysler Town & Country and Honda Odyssey have gotten so huge over the years there’s nothing mini about them, except perhaps their masculinity.

The Mazda5 is comparable in size to the original Chrysler vans from 1984. Remember how tiny those K-Car-based vehicles were?

When it comes to hauling the Mazda5 seats up to six people… as long as at least two of them are younger than 7 years old. The third-row is inhospitable for adults. Still, cargo room is more than generous for a car of this size. It offers a choice of individual rows for the baby and the dog, or two full rows plus 44.4 cu-ft of trunk space – far more than the others.

The car is powered by a 2.5-liter four-banger that delivers an unimpressive 157 horsepower and slightly more torque. It can be matched to a manual six-shooter (on the base model only) or an archaic five-speed automatic transmission. Likewise, fuel economy is nothing special.

SEE ALSO: 2012 Mazda5 Review

As you’d expect by looking at its lackluster spec sheet this vehicle isn’t’ overly fun to drive. Thankfully it makes up for that with practicality and affordability.

Starting price for the 2013 Mazda5 is just about $20,000. It comes standard with all the features you’d expect including power windows, alloy wheels and a USB port. When you’re at your local Mazda dealer test driving the CX-5, check out this mini minivan.

Get full Mazda5 Grand Touring details here


The AutoGuide Oracles have presented a veritable smörgåsbord of vehicular options for Sheldon to peruse. All he has to do now is use the tongs and keep his head above the sneeze guard.

The MINI Countryman is probably the most fun-driving vehicle listed here, but it’s not perfect. Cargo room is a little lacking and it may be too sporty for a family. Also, MINI has a less-than-stellar track record when it comes to quality. In the most-recent J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) the brand finished in the bottom quarter of all automakers with 150 problems reported per 100 vehicles.

The Mazda CX-5 is a blend of practicality, efficiency and fun, which makes it a jack of all trades. Just avoid the overmatched 2.0-liter base engine. In typical Japanese fashion Mazda has a strong history of building solid, long-lasting vehicles and the CX-5 should withstand the test of time.

With EcoBoost power the Ford Escape is speedy and sophisticated. It’s a fine all-around choice except for one issue, it’s American. Also, there been some quality issues… many in fact. The vehicle has faced a significant number of recalls ranging from defective rear child locks to potentially faulty fuel lines. The majority of issues pertain to models powered by the 1.6-liter engine but still, call-backs are always troubling.

Lastly, the Mazda5 is a mini minivan, offering generous interior space and room for six. Unfortunately it’s let down by an outdated drivetrain, and compared to these others has unimpressive driving dynamics.

After carefully weighing all of their options and studying the finalists AutoGuide’s illustrious Oracles have decided to recommend the Mazda CX-5 as the best option for Sheldon. It’s got the driving dynamics, interior space and track record that make it a solid choice.

As always, good luck in your quest for a new vehicle and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.

If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.

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