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The verdict on reasonably priced fuel-sipping crossovers

Michael and Jeremy: I'm looking for a recommendation that considers both value and mileage. I'm considering: (i) base Subaru Outback PZEV with CVT transmission; (ii) base Toyota Venza four-cylinder AWD (all-wheel drive); and (iii) I also like the VW Passat 2.0 L wagon, but the only way you can get its 4Motion is by jumping up to the (very expensive and more than I want to pay) Highline V6. Are there any others that I should be considering? What's your analysis? Also, what about the huge differential between U.S. and Canadians costs – given that we're almost and likely will be at parity. The identical Outback PZEV lists for $6,000 less in the U.S. Thanks guys, – Keith (BA, LLB)

Vaughan: Ready. Set. Go. Cato, I'm billing this guy by the minute, if not the second, and the clock is running.

Cato: Ah, my friend, Vaughan – Canada's supreme hater of lawyers. Perhaps it's because you are a magnet for litigation? Hmm. I wonder. I don't wonder about the need for lawyers in a civil society. At the very least they keep people like you in line.

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Vaughan: Right. While you blathered on, I Googled "I don't like lawyers." I got 461,000,000 hits in 0.35 seconds.

Cato: The criminals unite! Okay, okay, your prejudices aside, Keith asks good questions.

Vaughan: One Google response I'm looking at now was a news story from Florida. There were three deep-sea fishermen whose boat capsized. The journalist and the TV star were devoured by sharks, but the lawyer was spared out of professional courtesy.

Cato: That's a hoary old crack. Nothing more original? And, as usual, you're leaving it up to me to do the analysis while you rant and rave.

Vaughan: Analysis? You? Probably not, but you may continue.

Cato: The Subaru Outback PZEV – for Partial Zero Emission Vehicle – is the fuel economy king of the Subaru Outback lineup. Both PZEV Outback and the regular four-cylinder 2.5i model have a 170-horsepower four-cylinder boxer engine, but through a few tweaks here and there, the PZEV gets better fuel economy: 9.5 litres/100 km in the city/6.9 highway, versus 10.6/7.4.

Vaughan: And like always, you pay for every little incremental bit of extra fuel economy. The PZEV costs $30,894 and the Outback 2.5i with the Convenience package starts at $28,895.

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There's this, too: Partial? Zero? You can't have a partial zero. That's lawyer talk at its worst.

Cato: Oh, come on now. Subaru's spin doctors didn't come up with the term PZEV all on their own. It's a buzzword in the industry for vehicles with significantly better fuel economy and lower emissions – it means the car is partially on the way to zero emissions.

Vaughan: Well, I like the Outback a lot more than I like ... On, well, never mind. It is a beautifully engineered little workhorse that will never let you down. I only wish it had a little more style.

Cato: The Toyota Venza four-cylinder with AWD ($30,760) is basically a tall station wagon version of the Camry sedan. It's been a real winner for Toyota. Well-priced, reliable, useful and safe.

Vaughan: Cato, you glossed right over the fact that this is a Camry station wagon on steroids. And secondly, it's too expensive. Otherwise, I think it's a very well-done middle-of-the-road hauler that won't arouse passion one way or the other.

Cato: Now to the VW Passat 2.0 L wagon. Keith, you must be shopping the Internet, visiting overseas sites. Because in 2011, there is no Passat 2.0 L wagon. No Passat at all, in fact, other than the CC with its swoopy styling. Keith might find a 2010 V-6 in Canada, but it listed for $52,100 with 4Motion.

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Vaughan: If he thinks that's expensive, wait until he sees my bill.

Cato: Seriously, Keith, I'd throw the Honda Accord Crosstour into your mix. At $36,900, it's not cheap, but worth a test drive. Like the Venza is to the Camry, the Crosstour is to the Accord – a station wagon version of the sedan.

Vaughan: Now, as for delivering a thorough analysis of U.S.-Canada pricing, my bill is approaching six figures and I'd like it settled before going further.

Cato: Or, Keith, you can go to this link: http://tgam.ca/BPSN. You'll find my feature article on the price gap puzzle; you can read it for free.

Vaughan: Yet another long-winded treatise from Cato. Keith, just go for the Subie. And remember what you learned in law school: if the client doesn't wince when you hand them the bill, it wasn't big enough.

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.

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HOW THEY COMPARE



2011 Subaru Outback PZEV AWD

2011 Toyota Venza AWD base

2011 Honda Crosstour EX-L

Wheelbase (mm)

2,740

2,775

2,797

Length (mm)

4780

4,800

4,999

Width (mm)

1,820

1,905

1,898

Height (mm)

1,670

1,610

1,670

Engine

2.5-litre four-cylinder

2.7-litre four-cylinder

3.5-litre V-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

170 hp/170 lb-ft

182 hp/182 lb-ft

271 hp/254 lb-ft

Drive system

all-wheel drive

all-wheel drive

all-wheel drive

Transmission

six-speed CVT automatic

six-speed automatic

five-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)

1,542

1,790

1,845

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

9.5 city/6.9 highway

10.2 city/7.1 highway

12.3 city/8.0 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$30,895

$30,760

$36,900

Source: car manufacturers

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