Ask AutoGuide No. 4 - The Winter Games

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

It’s hard to believe but this is the fourth installment of “Ask AutoGuide.” For an entire month now our certified experts have provided the finest motor-vehicle shopping advice available for the price. Our crack team of automotive oracles has been at our readers’ beck and call for 30 straight days, though admittedly it’s been mostly “beck” since they don’t have phones. We’re still trying to sort out the billing situation to get their Jitterbugs connected again.

Customer service is our No. 1 priority, along with getting as many page views as possible. We’re happy to report third-party surveys indicate users are 35 percent more pleased with our car-buying advice compared to asking a snaggletooth vagabond or calling random 1-900 numbers. In fact, consumers are so happy with the results, questions keep pouring in despite the fact that HTML-based e-mails exhibit absolutely zero properties of a liquid.

This week Guylène dispatched a query. She’s looking to replace her 2011 Mitsubishi Lancer SE, and who can blame her; nobody wants to drive a car from a company that could be going the way of Pontiac, Puritans and patent medicine.

Despite the brand’s floundering in the market her main beef with the vehicle is how it performs in winter weather; even with snow tires it doesn’t charge like a bull through slippery conditions, and that’s no bologna. Like an overdone roast, the situation is tough since she lives in a cold-climate area. Guylène described the driving experience as udder-ly unpleasant. Apparently her little Lancer slides around like a tallow-smothered hockey puck. For heaven’s steak! What’s a driver to moo? Thankfully the oracles will not be cowed!

Their first recommendation would be to fit her little-Mitsu-that-couldn’t with appropriate footwear, but since she’s already acquired a set of winter rubber they skipped that suggestion. Perhaps the car’s wheels are too wide, resulting in poor traction. In any event Guylène’s got the winter-driving fever and the only solution is more cow bell… I mean a new vehicle.

Her criteria are fairly simple. She wants a bulletproof car with long-term reliability (or a long warranty) and enough interior space to shuttle three teenagers. Fuel economy is another important consideration, as is an affordable purchase price. She has a budget of $25,000. Sounds like a tall order, but no obstacle is too high for the AutoGuide oracles to overcome. Here’s what they had to say.

SUGGESTION #1: 2013 Hyundai Elantra

Guylène’s previous vehicle was a 2004 Hyundai Elantra. Back in the day those were middling small cars but she appreciated hers, referring to it as “a real tank” in the e-mail she sent. Thankfully the folks in South Korea have drastically improved the vehicle over the intervening nine years; it’s gone from average to all-star in less than a decade, a task Keanu Reeves hasn’t been able to achieve in nearly 40 years of acting.

The 2013 Elantra is offered in three, yes, THREE different body styles – practically as many choices as there are political parties in Canada. Drivers can opt for the traditional sedan, a stylish coupe or a functional hatchback.

Of that trio the five-door is probably the way to go. Hatches tend to offer an amazing amount of cargo room in a petite package, which is why they’re so popular in space-strapped Europe.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT Review

The Elantra GT is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 148 horsepower. That’s plenty for everyday use as long as your vocation doesn’t involve a drag strip. According to Uncle Sam’s Environmental Protection Agency the car returns up to 37 miles per gallon on the highway, 26 in urban conditions (with a manual transmission).

In addition to its efficiency from both fuel and functional standpoints, the Elantra is also a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). It’s loaded with seven airbags along with an armada of other safety and security features, so other than buckling up and keeping it shiny-side up there’s nothing to worry about.

Base price for the front-wheel-drive Elantra GT with a six-speed standard gearbox is about $19,500, including freight charges. For less than 20 grand you get a stylish, well-built vehicle that’s surprising fun to drive – much more so than the Elantra sedan, in fact. Hyundai may not have a reputation for quality like Honda or Toyota but they make up for it with a terrific warranty. The car is backed by 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain coverage. Talk about long-term piece of mind.

Get full Hyundai Elantra GT details here

SUGGESTION #2: 2013 Honda CR-V

Of course with three teenagers in the house space is probably at a premium, especially if they play any full-contact sports; there’s no sense being overcrowded in the car, too. A Hyundai Hatchback is fine and dandy but a little more cargo room might not be a bad thing.

Stepping up from a C-Segment vehicle to a compact crossover delivers a few benefits. First, they generally ride a little higher, giving a nice view of the road ahead. Second, they typically deliver a sizeable chunk of passenger and luggage space. Third, they’re usually offered with all-wheel drive, and that’s key, especially for Guylène who has to repulse Old Man Winter’s unwanted advances. Perhaps a restraining order in the form of a move to Florida would help.

A prime option in this vehicular segment is the Toyota RAV4. This trucklette just got redesigned for 2013 and it’s more stylish than ever. Starting price for a base model with all-wheel drive is a skosh more than $25,000, including destination and delivery.

SEE ALSO: 2012 Honda CR-V Review

Arguably an even better choice than Toyota’s offering is the Honda CR-V. It’s also a compact SUV/crossover and it too offers a car-like driving experience with a spacious interior and great fuel economy.

The CR-V is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 185 horsepower, nine more than the RAV4. It’s matched exclusively to an outdated five-speed automatic transmission – it’s outdated because more gears = more better. The Toyota has a more advanced six-speed unit. But it doesn’t really matter; the CR-V actually delivers better fuel economy than its archenemy, albeit by just one solitary mile per gallon on the highway. It stickers at 22 MPG city, 30 on the open road.

In typical Honda fashion the interior is well built and the controls are as simple to use as a light switch. Moving rearward, the back seat is surprisingly comfortable and spacious, even for lanky teens; cargo space is generous, too. Throw in Honda’s legendary reputation for quality and longevity and you have a tough vehicle to beat. Top Safety Pick-status from the IIHS makes a good deal a great steal.

At $24,875 (including destination and delivery) the entry-level LX version of the car with all-wheel drive is a scintilla cheaper than the RAV4. What starts with an “H” and rhymes with “Uganda”? CR-V, that’s what.

Get full Honda CR-V details here

SUGGESTION #3: 2013 Subaru Impreza Five-Door

When it comes to performance in all weather conditions all-wheel drive is the only way to go. Today’s advanced systems can shuffle torque from axle to axle and wheel to wheel faster than a Vegas hold ‘em dealer can jumble a deck of cards. Slowly but surely these systems are proliferating throughout the automotive industry as more brands offer the technology on more models, but two companies are synonymous with all-wheel drive: Audi and Subaru.

Naturally the German firm is out of the question in this week’s scenario since their luxury vehicles are far beyond the $25,000 price cap, but Subi is an intriguing option.

The company’s Impreza small car is probably the perfect vehicle for Guylène. It’s safe, efficient, reliable, and with standard all-wheel drive has the traction of an M1 Abrams tank.

SEE ALSO: 2012 Subaru Impreza Five-Door Review

It’s offered in two different body styles: a sedan and a hatchback. With a five-speed manual transmission the four-door car starts at about $18,000. A CVT automatic is a $1,000 option. The more functional hatchback model costs about $500 more, which is the body style our oracles recommend.

The Impreza Five-Door neatly splits the difference between Hyundai’s Elantra GT and the Honda CR-V. It’s cheaper than the latter option but more functional than the former. If this car were in the sweet spot anymore you’d have diabetes. Pass the insulin!

The Impreza is powered by a 2.0-liter boxer four-cylinder engine that delivers a workaday 148 horsepower. Fuel economy is 25 MPG around town, 33 on the freeway. There’s not a lot of excitement under the hood, nor is there when it comes to crashworthiness. Just like the other two vehicles in this week’s comparison the Subaru has also earned Top Safety Pick accolades from the protection fanatics at the IIHS. Peace of mind, it’s what makes a Subaru a safe choice.

Get full Subaru Impreza details here


And with that suggestion the AutoGuide oracles have said their peace. They’ve recommended three sensible vehicles that should provide years of thrifty, trouble-free service. The Hyundai Elantra GT is a classic small car. It’s a front-wheel-drive hatchback with lots of versatility and a striking design. But this week’s customer is not after a styling statement; she wants practicality, traction in winter weather and longevity. Sorry Hyundai, even with a decade-long warranty you’re out. Stepping up from the compact-car segment, Honda’s CR-V is a small crossover with oodles of space and all-wheel drive. It offers a spacious second-row seat and surprising fuel economy. But with a price tag of 25 grand it’s right at the limit of Guylèn’s single-parent budget. And trust us, the only way to get out of a Honda dealer with a CR-V for less than $30,000 is to take it for a test drive and just never come back.

As such, she might be better served by something a little more affordable, which is why the Subaru Impreza Five-Door earns the oracle’s recommendation this week. It offers much of the CR-V’s practicality with the Elantra’s affordability. It’s efficient, comes standard with all-wheel drive and is priced to sell. What more could you ask for?

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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