Ask AutoGuide No. 3 - Dad's Dilemma

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Like veteran 911 operators AutoGuide’s expertly trained staff is here to help at anytime, day or night… as long as they can respond via e-mail and at their convenience. Ask AutoGuide is our newest weekly feature and it’s off like a prom dress.

Literally tens of people have written in asking for assistance in purchasing a new vehicle. The oracles have been working overtime to provide answers, and they’re none too pleased. As salaried employees they don’t get time and a half for clocking more than 40 hours in a week. Rumor has it the International Union of Psychics and Soothsayers will start an organizing drive soon.

In any event Drew sent in a frantic e-mail asking for help; you could practically hear the desperation in his fingertips as he pounded out the message. Clicking “send,” his trusty Packard Bell delivered the note at 56K-speeds, or beyond.

Now contrary to what you might expect, dear reader, Drew is actually all squared away in the automotive department. He put out the distress call for his father who’s in grave need of a new set of wheels, and we don’t mean chrome-slathered 22s. His 1996 Subaru is giving up the ghost, and with retirement nigh it’s time for some reliable transportation.

What’s dad looking for in a new car? What are his criteria? Well, he’s in the market for something sensible. He’s got around $25,000 to spend and wants a dependable, efficient, no-frills car. A midsize sedan is a good fit for him, or possibly a compact crossover. However, pappy’s not a fan of station wagons, practicality be damned.

Thankfully these are fairly mainstream requirements. There’s literally a bumper crop of sedans and crossovers that meet these conditions, but like previous installments of Ask AutoGuide there’s an important catch, a potentially disastrous caveat that could send the oracles into an automotive tailspin.

Drew’s dad has to have all-wheel drive. Because of this requirement the bountiful carnucopia starts to look a little sparse. Still, the oracles have been given marching orders and here’s their report.

SUGGESTION #1: 2013 Jeep Patriot

The Jeep what? Believe it or not this off-road brand actually makes vehicles other than the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. The Patriot is a compact SUV with handsome styling and a great price. It may be a bit of a forgotten nameplate in the market, but it’s something of a hidden gem and the value choice in this week’s installment of “Ask AutoGuide!”

A 4×4 Sport model starts at just about $19,000, which is a steal by today’s standards. That price gets you a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine with 172 horsepower and a shift-it-yourself five-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy is 23 miles per gallon around town and up to 28 on interstate jaunts.

Want a continuously variable transmission? Trick question, nobody does, but to get an automatic “gearbox” in the Patriot you’ll have to shell out an additional $1,100. If the slipping sensation imparted by the CVT is too much to bear, 2014 model-year Patriots will receive a traditional six-speed automatic transmission and up to 30 MPG. They should arrive at dealers in a few months’ time.

The oracles toyed with all-wheel-drive versions of the Ford Escape and Chevrolet Equinox, among many other vehicles. These two options are more sophisticated and rewarding to drive than the Patriot, but beyond the $25,000 budget cap. Sad trombone with a sprinkle of depressed tambourine.

Chrysler has never had a reputation for quality, but all automakers have made tremendous strides in this area over the past 20 years. Reliability *shouldn’t* be an issue with the Patriot. In addition, this compact Jeep has been in production for a number of years now so any major issues should be ironed out by now.

But enough speculation, the Patriot has a couple rhinestones in its value-priced crown that are worth trumpeting. It’s a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and it drove away with an award from Kelley Blue Book for offering the best “5-Year Cost of Ownership” in the compact SUV segment, topping the lackluster Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and Honda’s vaunted CR-V.

The Patriot may not be the most sophisticated or fun-to-drive vehicle, but it’s decent at what it does and is a tremendous value. Dad will probably feel like he robbed a bank if he buys one.

SUGGESTION #2: 2013 Subaru Legacy

Next up, the Subaru show. Drew’s pop already owns a Legacy, but it’s disintegrating like the RMS Titanic, which has been parked on the bottom of the North Atlantic for more than a century. It makes perfect sense to recommend a vehicle from a manufacturer he already has experience with.

Subies fit the bill perfectly for a number of reasons. They’re generally pretty well built; they have a strong reputation for longevity and with the exception of the BRZ sports car, every single one of them is sold with all-wheel drive. Game, set, match.

The legacy is a great choice because of its no-nonsense nature. With a manual transmission the entry-level 2.5i model starts around $20,300. If a soul-sucking CVT is required plan on spending a grand more.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Subaru Legacy 2.5i Limited Review

The car’s 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder delivers a competent 173 horsepower along with 24 miles per gallon city and 32 on the highway. In heavy-footed AutoGuide testing the car averaged of 27 MPG, damn impressive for a generously portioned sedan equipped with all-wheel drive.

The Legacy also has a comfortable and spacious, if not luxurious interior. Additionally it’s earned coveted “Top Safety Pick+” honors from the IIHS. You could probably plow it into a falafel factory at 75 miles an hour and walk away unscathed, but really hungry. This car is definitely worth checking out.

SUGGESTION #3: 2013 Subaru Impreza… and Beyond

Beyond the John Wayne (Le)Gacy, Subaru offers a throng of other suitable vehicles. If dad wants something a little smaller than a midsize he can go with the Impreza, a C-segment car that’s offered as either a traditional sedan or a versatile hatchback. It’s a couple bucks cheaper than the Legacy, starting around $18,000 with a manual transmission. As with its big brother, a CVT automatic is $1,000 extra.

It’s also important to point out that while it may be a compact, that classification is relative. Compared to a 1996 Legacy, it’s only an inch shorter in length.

Interestingly, the hatchback is only 500 bucks more than the sedan. Other companies have big up charges for the luxury of extra interior space. For instance Ford charges a $3,000 premium for the five-door Focus model compared to the sedan. Talk about getting robbed…

Within the confines of the Impreza’s engine bay rests a 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder. The 148 horsepower it serves up is a little weak, in the same way a cup of chicken broth doesn’t cut it as Thanksgiving dinner. Luckily it’s thrifty. In urban conditions this little flat-four is can go up to 27 miles on a gallon of gasoline; on the open road it ups the ante to 36.

SEE ALSO: 2012 Subaru Impreza Hatchback Review

Another Subaru worth mentioning is the Forester, but since dad’s not a fan of station wagons this one is probably off the list. Still, he may want to consider the newly introduced XV Crosstrek; think of it as an Impreza on stilts.

It’s a functional five-door that can milk a gallon of gasoline up to 33 miles on the highway, which supposedly makes it the most efficient all-wheel-drive crossover in America. If that fuel went any further it’d have stretch marks! The XV Crosstrek is also powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.

For a dash of color this vehicle’s available in Tangerine Orange Pearl paint, which really pops. Please note, that’s “pearl,” not “peel,” which would be bad.


And with that the oracles have spoken, well, about as loudly as text on a screen can talk. With any luck their advice is the sound product of sober minds. They compared a number of different reasonably priced all-wheel-drive vehicles from manufacturers as diverse as Jeep and Subaru. Of course there are plusses minuses to each car, and now there’s a verdict.

To recap, Jeep’s squared-off Patriot is the value option in this story. It’s an American Revolution in a veritable ocean of Japanese options. This little SUV is very attractively priced, offers reasonably good fuel economy and strong crash-test performance. The folks at KBB even gave it an award. However, from a quality standpoint Chrysler’s checkered past gave the oracles pause and ultimately resulted in a “nay” vote.

The Subaru Impreza is a solid compact car with an efficient drivetrain, but it’s probably a little underpowered. It’s also on the small side, which earned it no favors with the oracles. They like big cars for small money.

Finally, the winner of this week’s competition, the third installment of Ask AutoGuide, is the Subaru Legacy. With a comfortable interior, reasonable power and efficiency, plus a track record for reliability it drives home with top honors and is, according to the oracles, the perfect vehicle for Drew’s father. The 2013 model promises to be a different kind of familiar to him, and a huge step up from his rapidly decaying ’96 model.

As always, good luck in your quest for a new car 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.

Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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Join the conversation
  • MistyGreen MistyGreen on Mar 15, 2013

    Great advice! If we're gonna slip into the crossover segment, the Mazda CX-5 fits nicely under the $25,000 limit too, and the base trim certainly won't make you feel like you paid for more than you wanted.

  • MistyGreen MistyGreen on Jan 13, 2014

    Hey, he bought a car!! They went used, as I could've expected, and felt like they were saving money. Got a 2009 LL Bean Forester. Great for them, and a lot nicer than I was expecting them to go for!