Hi, guys: My husband and I would like to consolidate two of our vehicles into one. We're currently driving an awesome 2005 Toyota Echo and a 2003 Jeep TJ. We live in Timmins where winters are real, and when snow isn't on the ground we drive gravel and dirt logging roads into the woods to find remote lakes to kayak on.
Occasionally these roads require four-wheel-drive. It should be fuel-efficient enough not to bankrupt us on our drives south to Toronto. The Kia Sportage, Ford Escape or Nissan Rogue may fit the bill, but we're in need of options in the $26,000-range. Reliability, safety and dependability are important as the Echo has set a precedent here. We do not have a Subaru or Hyundai dealership in town so these brands are out of the equation. Is there something out there for us? What do your combined brains think?
– Laurie in Timmins, Ont.
Cato: Like Vaughan, it looks like Subaru and Hyundai are completely out of touch with the modern world. Subaru should be selling truckloads of its all-wheel-drive cars in snowy Timmins. Hyundai wants to be bigger than Toyota and already is bigger in Canada than Honda. Where's your Hyundai store? Subaru? Completely lost, like Vaughan.
Vaughan: I have a suggestion. Forget that kayak and spend your time panning for gold, Laurie. You're on the "Golden Staircase" up there, so get rich. And work on your hockey. Timmins must have produced more NHLers than anyplace.
Cato: See what I mean. Lost and out of touch. Panning for gold? It's like Vaughan lives in 1859. Laurie, buy shares in a great gold producer and go kayaking.
Look, Laurie, you want quality in your little 4WD rig, so put the Honda CR-V LX ($28,290, AWD) and Toyota RAV4 ($27,230 base AWD) at the top of your list. Then test drive a Ford Escape XLT ($27,999, AWD) because it's so cheap. Have a look at the Nissan Rogue because – well, because you mentioned it and because we need to humour Vaughan, our lost soul.
Vaughan: Kia Sportage?
Cato: No. Unproven quality.
Vaughan: Yes, but it's the best-looking of the bunch. I admit that Laurie doesn't need the turbocharged engine. It'll crank out 260 horsepower and take you through the woods faster than a fleeing moose. It'll also burn more gas and get you more speeding tickets on your way down the 400.
If you go Sportage, go for the base model.
Cato: Laurie, imagine me patting Vaughan on the head and sending him to a corner to adjust his hat.
Now ignore him and listen up: Run down to the Honda store, drive the 2011 CR-V and if you like it, ask for the best possible deal.
Honda has an all-new 2012 CR-V coming in January, so it's out with the 2011s, as you can imagine. You should get all of the $3,500 factory money in play, plus squeeze another G-note out of the dealer in a discount.
The CR-V has the space and AWD you want, plus outstanding reliability and crash test scores. Still, if you don't get a killer deal, walk down to the Toyota store, and then shop Ford.
Vaughan: For the Ford Escape. Like Cato, the Escape has its best days behind it. But what a deal! They're taking thousands off these things because they're so old.
Cato: Like Vaughan.
Vaughan: And ask your local Ford dealer for the Cato Special. Get the base-edition Escape with an economical four-cylinder engine.
The all-wheel-drive system shifts power between front and rear wheels as the conditions of your dirt logging roads require. A penny saved is a penny earned until you strike your gold bonanza.
Cato: Vaughan has a thing for the Rogue, but I like the RAV.
Vaughan: The Rogue is excellent. I don't have to tell you to get the four-banger here because that's all that's offered. But it's fine at 170 hp. So is the handling and comfort.
I'm impressed with this little buggy. The AWD is another of those that distributes power from zero to 100 per cent front to rear wheels if required. But you can also lock it in to 50/50 for serious mud and snow.
Cato will go on and on about the horrors of the Rogue's continuously variable transmission and that it whines as much as him when you hit the gas. I think it's perfectly acceptable – the CVT, not Cato – especially when it gives you a nice boost in fuel economy.
Cato: Laurie, the RAV is as reliable and safe as the CR-V and like Honda, Toyota Canada is throwing money at it – at least $2,000 in factory money. You should be able to squeeze out $1,000-$2,000 from the dealer, depending on the model. It'd be my first choice for you.
Vaughan: I like the Ford most of all for its price, but if you want something else, go for the Rogue for its comfort and style.
HOW THEY COMPARE
2011 Honda CR-V LX AWD
2011 Toyota RAV4 4x4
2011 Ford Escape LXT 4x4
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
10.1 city/7.5 highway
9.2 city/7.2 highway
10.4 city/7.6 highway
Base price (MSRP)
Source: car manufacturers
Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.