SUV reviews


I drive a car, not a SUV, and always will. I’ve never had any problems with winter driving in the mountains(with winter tires of course) without any issues whatsoever.

Cheryl, however, is interested in buying a small SUV and I have been doing some research on them, and I’m overwhelmed. She’s looking at low-mileage used SUVs around the years 2008-2013. Some of the likely suspects would be Toyota RAV4, Honda CRV, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tuscon, Subaru Forester. She might look at something one step larger.

honda-crv-2007I have some questions for skiers who drive these vehicles:

  • First and foremost, how accommodating are they for carrying skis? Surprisingly, her present vehicle, a Honda Civic, will easily carry my long skis(207 cm) with one back seat folded down

I was surprised to discover these vehicles come in Front-wheel-drive and All-wheel-drive. I thought they were all AWD. I don’t have any experience with AWD, but it makes me wonder why she thinks she needs AWD when all this time she’s had a front-wheel-drive car with no problems in winter conditions.

  • Do you think AWD is worth the extra cost, gas, (possible)expensive repairs over a front-wheel-drive?

toyota-rav4-2008These vehicles are available with a 6-cyl engine, but I see most of the ones on the market are 4-cyl. Do the 4-cyl SUVs have enough power, especially when mated to an automatic tranny? Cheryl’s car is a manual, which I also like, but it’s rare to find these SUVs with a manual transmission, the other thing about this car is that it needs the auto glass replacement services schaumburg il. I hate driving behind a person who slows down while going up the hills in K-Country and I often wonder if it’s because they run out of power.

  • Are you satisfied with the performance of your 4-cyl SUV? Would a 6-cyl be better?

I’ve read lots of reviews but am no wiser for it. How many kilometres have you driven, and have you experienced any major repair problems?

  • How is the reliability of your vehicle?

Any feedback would be appreciated.

P.S. I wasn’t very familiar with Kijiji a month ago, but I sure am now!


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  1. Hi Bob,
    I’m a great fan of your site and the trail reviews. Last winter I upgraded from a 14 year old Mazda Protege sedan (FWD) to a Subaru Crosstrek (AWD). Always used winter tires on both vehicles and drive to PLPP every other weekend in the winter. I usually put the skis in the back seat with tips under the passenger seat and tails between the rear seat headrests with an blanket to keep wax off the seats. Sedans are quieter with the back seats up and the skis/poles don’t rattle around. The Crosstrek is under powered compared to every other SUV, but the CVT and cruise control (yes I know, not to use it on ice) work incredibly well to maintain an exact speed without the typical slow down/gear change/surge to catch up of any traditional automatic. Yes the engine will rev to 4k with a bit of extra noise, but the smooth drive and reasonable gas mileage (7.5l/km actual) is worth it.
    The only time I really notice the AWD is parking on a hilly street in the snow. With FWD I’d always leave room to drive out in the downhill direction, now I can confidently start uphill on a snow street. On flat roads the FWD 195mm wide tires seemed to cut through the snow better than AWD with 225mm wide tires which feels like it is floating over the snow. My recommendation is to wait until it snows and test drive some vehicles to see what you like.

  2. Only ever had one problem with my front wheel drive Civic with snow tires in my Calgary years, tried to get up the Moose Mountain accesses road with 6 “of snow, did not get very far! Only all wheel drive manual transaxle available in the above list would be the Forrester, could get an front wheel drive Escape those years, Rav4 and the Tuscon at one time with a manual transaxle. CRV and Rav4 would have the best retained residual and demand so would be paying more for a used example than say a Tuscon or Escape with a higher depreciation factor.
    Put premium snow tires with studs and have reasonably great traction and grip with a front wheel drive choice.
    Happy shopping Bob and Cherly

  3. The automotive industry has been successful in convincing many people that (the more expensive) AWD is essential in winter conditions. Yes, it provides better ultimate traction in certain conditions, but the most important factor by far for winter safety is tires, i.e., winter tires. You will have better control and safer braking in a FWD or even RWD vehicle with 4 good winter tires, than in an AWD with its standard all-season tires. For many years, drove a rear-wheel drive, little BMW 318iS in all winter conditions, including the Smith-Dorrien road. Only got stuck once, in Calgary, in my ex-wife’s dipping driveway. A CUV/SUV will have an extra inch or two of ground clearance compared to a sedan/wagon, but snow depth is rarely the factor stopping you. In very icy conditions, the CUV/SUV has no advantage at all over a sedan or station wagon. I’ve seen AWD vehicles spin all 4 wheels on ice.

  4. I concur that cars are just fine. After decades of back-country winter fun-sports I’ve come to prefer either a manual transmission front-wheel-drive Grocery-Getter, or a winterized Camping-Van. Anything in between seems like a compromise. Curious why Cheryl wants an SUV. Safety? Higher sight-lines, etc?

  5. 15 comments in one day! Thank you everyone for the terrific feedback. Although I’ve posted new updates, you are welcome to keep commenting on this thread. Our eyes have been opened to a few more possibilities after hearing from you. It’s obvious that skiers prefer manual transmissions disproportionately from the general population!

  6. I have 2005 RAV4 and it’s my baby! I love this vehicle! It’s so reliable and great looking. It doesn’t have bells and whistles, but that’s OK. It takes me where I need to go and doesn’t complain at all. I’m considering a Volkswagen Tiguan for 2017, only because I want to try something new and it looks like this vehicle has a lot of good features. I’ll decide between it and another RAV4, once I test drive them both.

  7. Hi Bob,
    We were the same as you a few months ago in the end we settled on a Mazda CX-5 FWD with a manual transmision. I have a 90 lb dog now and we ended up driving it to Ontario last week lots of room for both dog and luggage. As you saw in the picture I sent you we drove through mid winter conditions in Saskatchewan and the front wheel drive was all I needed to feel comfortable driving past the trucks and cars in the ditch. The 2.0 litre engine is the only one we could get with the manual transmision and for the most part it has more than enough power not to mention we averaged 6.4/ 100 for the duration of the trip. We checked lots of reviews and the Mazda comes up on top of the list in the compact SUV market . My skis and dog will fit in this car nicely.

  8. Regarding choice of Winter tires, I’m on my third set of Bridgestone Blizzaks, and they are fantastic. On a full-size truck, I can get 4 -5 Winters out of them (put them on end October, and off end March), and I do close to 40,000km per year of driving.

  9. Not sure if this still holds, but the CRV has the same engine and transmission available in the Civic but is around twice the weight, so you’re better off with the car.

    When I asked a couple mechanic friends this same question, I was told to buy the RAV4 and avoid the CRV.

  10. Listen to Warren! he’s right on. I drive an Audi with studded tires. Great winter traction on black ice. However a small SUV is probable in the future due to easier access in and out and visibility in traffic .

  11. We ended up buying a 2015 RAV4 LE (base model) $28K all in price. The AWD only kicks in when needed which is not often. Fuel economy is tracked by myself and the SUV’s computer. It’s 8L/100 km after 35000 km. Absolutely would rebuy this 2.5L 4 cylinder 6 speed automatic SUV. Just not in black (gets too dirty). Can take up to 4 people and skis (one seat down). 207’s should be fine. Mine are 198’s and fit easily. Only changed the oil and filter and taken a rock out of the brakes so far (at Toyota). You are welcome to come over and see it with your skis.
    Skis re being hot waxed at CNC. can’t wait!!

  12. I drive a 2010 Subaru Forester (manual transmission) and I love it! We drive it into the mountains all the time, and it’s great for skis. The gas mileage is pretty good (around 8.2 l/km in the winter) and the heated seats feel great after a cold ski. AWD is standard in Subaru cars I think. We lose a bit of power going up big hills in fifth gear, so we downshift sometimes…I hear that it’s less of a problem for the automatic transmission.
    Good luck with your choice!

    • I also drive a Subaru Forester 2010, but the automatic version. My favourite features are the traction control and the way AWD works when you’re “stuck” (I came from a Mazda3 where this was a little more difficult). There are a number of videos on YouTube outlining how this works different for the Subaru.

      You can shift into different gears (even in the automatic) and when it’s slippery I usually put it in a lower gear to start going, say at at a traffic light.

      AWD will help you make sure all of your tires have traction – not just the front two – useful if you’re parking on the side of say, the Smith-Dorrien route, in deep snow.

      Finally, I opted for a ski box just for organization purposes and something taking extra gear – plus sweaty ski boots – but prior to that the skis fit fine with one of the back seats down (so you can fit 3 in the car).

      Would buy this car again if I could go back! Let us know what Cheryl decides on…

    • That’s because the automatic has 4 speeds vs. your manual’s 5. Engine power of automatic and manual models is identical. You are not losing power, you just need to change the gear ratio when going uphill, just like on a road bike. Driven properly, you should get slightly better mileage with a manual 5 speed than a (conventional) 4-speed automatic. Newer 6-speed automatics can get mileage equal to manuals.

  13. I’ve driven a rear wheel drive sedan with snow tires for years! Oh well, fun to read this stuff. I certainly can’t do any back roading with it but I have done Smith Dorrien as my most worst case scenario.

  14. Hi Bob,

    My job moved us to the mountains almost twenty years ago and I have spent too many hours attending highway collisions. Vehicle safety and reliability were my priority for driving the kids to ski competitions and heading into the backcountry. I had gone the route of the 4Runner, Volvo XC70 but my fav and best handing vehicle is our 2004 A4 Quattro wagon 6 Spd manual 1.8T. The Quattro AWD system far exceeds Volvo’s. It’s never left me stranded and just usual servicing. Good luck.

  15. Winter Driving
    The main advantage of an SUV or any raised vehicle such as the Outback, or Volvo XC series is the higher ground clearance, which allows the vehicle to drive through deeper snow without bottoming out – although admitedly my only experience of this was in parking lots at trailheads rather than actual road use.
    The extra weight and friction of the AWD is insignificant with little effect on gas mileage, and the reliability is equal to the other components of the car. Many manufacturers use the same AWD system – made by Haldex and the systems work very well, whether part-time or full time AWD. If you are very concerned about mileage, choose the part-time.
    After buy my first AWD sedan, a Volvo V70 in 1998 – far superior to a truck based four wheel drive – I have never looked back. I prefer a car type vehicle, due to the lower centre of gravity which improves stability, and being closer to the ground, has less wind turbulence and therefore better gas mileage. With folding rear seats, the skis always fit in the rear which makes loading much easier than a roof rack or box (which creates drag and uses more gas and creates more wind noise). If the roof box is not centred on the vehicle, the off centre drag will create an extra turning motion, which will require you to over correct the steering and increase tire wear – it may also complicate stability on icy surfaces. If you have a high SUV, loading and unloading a centred roof box is difficult.
    AWD provides better handling and stability in the corners on any type of surface – Nissan produced a aerial film showing two of their vehicles identical in every way except one had AWD and one was FWD, through a salom course on ice the AWD was faster and more stable than the FWD – and therefore safer. Some systems now incorporate stability control for even better handling on slippery corners and could be a life saver if you start to skid.
    After the Volvo, I have had a Outback, and now an Infiniti AWD coupe; all excellent vehicles. (The best source for reliability of various makes in Consumer Reports) For added safety, I have always bought snow tires and extra rims; if you keep the car for a long time you will have to buy the extra rubber anyway, and the tires have to only “work” once to cover the extra cost of the rims.
    The advantage an SUV has over a car type vehicle is easier access due to the upright seating, and more storage in the rear, and is probably necessary if you drive with more than two people. But for long trips, I prefer the seating and handling of a car (and most vehicles are only ever carrying one or two people).
    Due to federal mileage regulations, there is a move to using smaller engines with turbo-charging. Their performance is close to naturally aspirated larger engines, however I deliberately seek out the non-turbo six cylinder, it is simpler and should be more reliable, there is no “turbo lag” under acceleration, and the mileage difference in actual driving is minimal.
    If you do drive a turbo engine, you should be using synthetic oil as the turbo spin at very high rpm and get very hot – conventional oil may “coke” the bearings if the engine is shut off while hot. Synthetic oil will also lubricate better in a cold start and if you accelerate hard while the engine is cold conventional oil may not yet be flowing freely (you shouldn’t accelerate hard when cold). Since I keep my cars for a long time, I use synthetic oil even in a non-turbo engine.
    In summary, if you drive on winter roads, an AWD with traction and stability control and true winter tires (not all season) should be mandatory. When Quebec mandated snow tires a few years ago, traffic accidents dropped; B.C. now requires at least all season tires through the mountains in winter. Don’t bother listening to the rationalizations of those who claim they get by with summer tires and front or rear wheel drive – they are safety hazards.
    (FYI – I have spent much of my life driving in the winter between Edmonton, Calgary, Banff, Jasper, Fernie, Salt Lake City …).

    • Agree with you re benefits of true winter tires. Strongly disagree that FWD or RWD are safety hazards. AWD vehicles do not stop any better, on the contrary, their extra weight will slightly increase stopping distances. Its true that RWD vehicles are more prone to spin than FWD, but modern stability control systems will check this tendency. Agree with you in preferring sedan/wagon over the “tall” vehicles. The tall ones may not even have any more storage capacity in the rear. Rear cargo compartment may be slightly higher, but shorter. I’ll take length. Happy winter driving!

  16. Hi there:
    SUV or not it all depends on many factors, but crossovers are the best choice in this part of the country, 8″ clearance on average is well sufficient to go thru any snow accumulation avoiding to sink the car on its belly because if that happens you are in trouble. Engine choice is turbo, why? It is not the power that count but the torque at low RPM, there is no point in having a powerful engine when everything is delivered at high RPM, on slippery roads you will lose control even with winter tires, turbo also is more efficient, generally a 4 cylinder delivers any where from 170 lbs of torque to 250 lbs at 1700 to 1900 RPM when a V6 will have to rev at 3000 RPM .
    I have a 2012 Volvo Xc 70 and it is wonderful but Subaru are very well made, reliable, comfortable and are AWD, in the snow you have much better traction, breaking is safer and standard transmission is ideal.
    In total honesty I would avoid Ford, GM and the Germans, there is always something wrong but if you have some extra cash really consider Volvo even 2 nd hand, once you get into that car you won’t drive anything else: Think long term. About winter tires, absolutely, they are made for the temperatures that you find in the winter and with AWD will keep the vehicle much straighter when braking; my tires of choice are TOYO geo 2 Observe and Gislaved Nortfrost, Michelin are overrated and too expensive, Bridgestone only last one season.
    Good luck

  17. vehicle decisions: Hi Bob – firstly love your ski postings have been rec’g them for years and it helps us make decisions on where we’ll ski in the winter. So thanks for all your work on your site. I’m a born/raised true Calgarian and have been driving in Calgary for the last 35yrs. I’ve had a verity of vehicles over the years but once I married and started having children I must omit, having an SUV with 4X4 opt has saved me many times. My current vehicle is a Suzuki Grand Vitara had it for the last 10 years. Every spring and winter my husband changes out the tires for me, he owns a hyundai veracruz 4X4 (yes both are 4X4’s). For a large part of the winter my vehicle is always in 4X4 mode, especially when we have lots of snow. We love them. Granted you can’t stop any better if you are on ice but you can tell the difference in the winter, it just grips better in the snow. You do still have to drive carefully, but the gripping power is there especially in slushy snow. My mom drives an AWD vehicle with winter tires we switch them to spring tires. We just got her the winter tires last year and she noticed a huge difference in her winter driving last year. So that said, not sure if there is any difference, but I feel safer on the road with my SUV in the winter on Calgary and area streets. I have had to use my vehicle for our Xcountry skis my are 160s with both back seats down I was able to get my skis in cross ways very easily. maybe when test driving the vechile, have your skis with you just to see if they fit. Good luck and look forward to hearing what you decided upon. – All the best – Lydia

  18. Not an SUV, but we have a 2008 Subaru Outback, manual transmission, AWD and use snow tires. I think manual is the way to go in the snow. Gearing down makes climbing easy. Going on 250,000K now and no major issues, other than normal wear and tear, We can fit 210cm skis in the back with seats down. I plan on driving this Baby into the ground and then getting another. There’s a reason why you see so many Outbacks in the lots at Mt Bachelor and in the Methow Valley.

    Thanks. My friend Chip has a 2014 Outback with manual transmission. I ride with him occasionally and love the vehicle. It’s one of the few which is readily available with a standard trans.-Bob

  19. stephen vermeulen

    Both the RAV4 and the Forester are excellent. My Mom’s on her second RAV4 (the first is still in service, being driven by a grandson now). Reliability is very good, she’s only ever had regular service items and brake work done. The AWD is worth it for a bit better stability in bad conditions. We’ve put studded winter tires on too. She’s been running the V6 models as the V4 was somewhat gutless.

    I have the ancient (1996) Toyota Previa AWD minivan. 370K kms on it now, great vehicle in the winter.

    My brother in laws been driving the Forester for about 5 years and is very happy with it.

    I drove the Subaru 4WD station wagons for many years and really liked them too – only the back seats are a bit crowded for tall people.

    Thanks for the comment. Your ’96 Previa reminds me of the best car I ever had, a ’97 Toyota Camry that was still going at 370,000 km and no major repairs. -Bob

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