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Crossover SUV for Maine Winters

My wife and I are moving from New Jersey to Maine and are looking to purchase a used crossover SUV. We’ll be based in the Portland, ME area, but my wife’s new job will require her to drive distances up to one hour from downtown Portland, so I am guessing the weather could be quite variable in the winter months.

That said, we’re open to just about any brand as long as it’s under $20,000, with the exception being Subaru (this is based on previous personal experience). Things we’d like in this vehicle are:

  • Good in handling in snow
  • Good MPG
  • Decent cargo space
  • Low maintenance costs

Any recommendations would be appreciated. Thanks!

AWD under $20k is tight. I’d try to get a Mazda CX-5, it meets all your other specs.

But whatever you get, I’d get a set of good winter tires on rims.

Snow in Portland is quite variable. There are lots of people who do nicely with fwd and snow tires. Awd will give security on those few days you need it as long as you have snow tires too but it will be an added expense in mileage the rest of the time. It’s too bad you don’t like Subarus because an Impreza is in your price range, is very economical and comfortable. Otherwise, you are buying used…CRVs and RAVs are good used buys. You can get a used RAV off lease for about that 20k. Rethink your bias vs Subarus. It’s the state car for good reason and the closest you will get to reliability, economy, Awd and low initial cost in the Impreza.

Living with my 03 trailblazer, heck of a ride, a few maintenance issues (155k miles), not debilitating, had been transporting a bud on and off, have to tow the boat, but he bought an 09 because he was so impressed, 16 city 22 hwy is expected, damn well built vehicle in my opinion, and 12 k can get a decent one. The on demand 4wd, ie auto is the best thing since sliced bread!

Portland averages about 60"/year. Unless you’re driving into the mountains in Maine…then a AWD/4WD isn’t needed. Any decent fwd with good all season tires…or snow tires are fine.

My daughter is a home physical therapist in the Manchester area where most of the time a fwd car is fine. But, if she has to go into places with unplowed driveways and roads as these people can not get it cleared , she takes the CRV. They have always had one Awd car because her job requires her to be there. Being able to drive right to the doorway is a safety matter for her occupation with the people and locations she deals with and the equipment she must take with her. Last year during the holidays, Manchester had 12" or more storm with heavy wet snow while we were there. By the next day, the snow was clear and gone on all the area roadways. Yet, my daughter had to deal with it in some of her appointments for over a week.

So, it’s about the roads she travels and her occupation. RAVs and CRVs (and Subarus) are very popular with these types of occupations and for good reason and would so in the Portland area as well. In Portland Maine, the conditions are quite similar to Manchester but worse an hour or even less out of town. Roads in Maine are not that well managed in the small towns in the foot hills to the north and snow and hills ( and even spring mud) can be a bigger problem then you realize. Messing around with fwd can easily make you late for or have to cancel appointments. For some of these people in need, it’s the only healthcare person they might see for weeks at a time.

As you can see, less then an hour from Portland, areas get well over 100 inches of snow per year.

Put Michelin X-Ice or another good winter tire on any car you want and you’ll do fine in the winter. AWD isn’t mandatory.

Thanks, everyone, for your comments and suggestions.

@dagosa - My aversion to Subaru is due to the high repair costs. We had a Subaru that had head gasket issues at around 100k miles. Researching on this site as well as others, I’ve found this to be a lingering issue in more recent models, and since we’re looking to buy used, it does not seem like a good fit.

I think you’re onto something with the CRV and RAV. Like your daughter, there is a bit of the unknown factor in where my wife may have to end up driving, so there is a comfort factor in having AWD or 4WD. In either case, winter tires seem necessary.

Right now, I think we have the following in mind:

  • CRV
  • RAV
  • Highlander (good cargo space, though not as good mpg)
  • Equinox (I like the idea of the rolling backseat for expanded cargo)

Going to setup some test drives and then continue debating our decision.

Good choices and good idea to include winter tires. My RAV steel winter rims were easiest to find of all the makes to rotate over to snow tires. You do not need to stud the snow tires. Including snow tires and rotating makes buying tires over the life of the car cheaper ! In my research, I found for my use, Inexpensive and long wearing General Altimax snow tires are an excellent road tire and are as quiet as all season tires. Because you will have to buy all seasons more frequently to deal with the snow as even just a moderate wear of tread will leave them wanting it is less expensive in the long run. I tend to go with Toyota and Honda cars ( as does my family ) because of the reliability and resale issue though you may pay a little more initially.
CRVs and RAVs, if you can afford the newer models are really large and IMHO, much more economical overall then the v6 highlander. All recent RAVs in the last 6 plus years have a rolling back seat. Not sure about CRVs.

I’ll echo the CX-5 texases suggested. Great mpg for a crossover that isn’t a hybrid

A car I am unfamiliar with but Mazdas in general have gotten very good reviews from CR. It should be on the list, I agree. Anyone that makes a Miata, should be taken seriously.

I don’t know much about the SUV or crossovers but have just started to look as a possible replacement for my G6. One thing I noticed is that most just have a 4 cyl. and a very limited towing capacity of 1000-1500#. Also the warranty is pretty low at 3/36. I’d feel a whole lot better with a 50K warranty in case a $6K transmission goes at 40K. I’ve been used to V6s and not sure I’d want a 4 with a turbo and all their issues.

@bscar2 @dagosa - Would think about the CX-5, save for the fact it is at the upper end of my price range and potentially too new to get a good deal on (first model year was 2013, I believe).

The CX-5 has been well reviewed by many magazines, most seem to prefer the 2.5 liter engine over the base 2.0 it was originally offered with but a test drive will decide which one you can live with.

Yes, the CX5 has been popular so I don’t think you’re going to get any great deals on year-old models. Plus, the first year they only offered it with the 2.0 liter engine, which many felt was a bit short of performance. Now they also offer it with a peppier 2.5l that gets almost the same gas mileage.

So for used the Mazda model the CX5 replaced is the CX7. It’s handsome, but most were turbocharged and their bad turbo lag made them unpopular. In later years they sold them also without a turbo, but those lacked much in the way of performance. Anyways, it isn’t nearly as desirable as the CX5, though if you see one at a really good price you could do worse.

It’s in that lower tier of models with stuff like the uninspiring Nissan Rogue and Hyundai Tucson. Various Mitsubishis, too. I’d put the Kia Sportage of recent years a step ahead, but that’s mostly just because it looks cool. It’s not that special otherwise and has a reputation for a stiff ride. Still, all of these will cost less than Toyotas and Hondas and some are decently made. Check the Consumer Reports guide for reliability. There are also a ton of Ford Escapes/Mazda Tributes (basically identical) out there. Not much loved, but common and cheap. They made the older one for about a decade and certainly had the opportunity to work out the bugs before coming out with the more stylish current one last year. Not sure if they did get all the bugs squashed, but the older model is a simple vehicle without as much to go wrong.

I am not a big fan of turbo charging. IMO, it’s another add on system with too many additional moving parts. When you are offered the same motor, one with and one without, that’s when I start to worry if used and see 100 k miles sooner, you won’t look at higher maintenance. CRVs and RAVs each have very smooth and capable and longlasting 4 cylinders…without turbos. My Son has a Rogue. It’s one of the better looking compact SUVs. That’s about all I can say positive about it. Very plain Jane and pedestrian both inside and with features and performance. The CVT is smooth but adds nothing to the economy.

“Also the warranty is pretty low at 3/36. I’d feel a whole lot better with a 50K warranty in case a $6K transmission goes at 40K.”

Typically, the “basic” warranty (also called Bumper-to-Bumper coverage) is for a term of 3/36, but every vehicle nowadays comes with several types of warranties, including a Powertrain Warranty, and the Powertrain Warranty typically has a term of 5 yrs or 60k miles (whichever comes first). Some, like Hyundai & Kia have even longer powertrain coverage, although only the first owner gets the full term of coverage, with a reduced term for subsequent owners.

The other warranties include a Rust Perforation Warranty, a warranty on emissions components, and (possibly) additional warranties. The Monroney Sticker on the window of the car should have the details on warranty coverage.

@MarkM - You bring up an interesting point about the Tribute/Escape. Hadn’t really considered one of those before. Like that I could possibly get a good deal on a previous generation Escape. Know anything about their reliability?

Also, in the midst of my research, I came across the Freestyle AWD. Like the cargo space factor. Anyone have an opinion about those?


You could get a good deal on previous gen Escape. And as long as you’re the one not driving it, it might work. Son in law had one as a company car. He is fruggle and appreciated how little the company paid for them the first year he drove it. After living with it for a while as a daily driver, the only thing he had good to say about it was, he didn’t have to put gas in it. Basic and pedestrian…but cheap. The newer ones are much improved but more expensive.

The Freestyle is bigger then an Explorer, weighs over 4100 lbs and is power by a small 3L v6. According to tests, it likes gas and is underpowered. Other then that, it has a roomy interior.

Be sure and check CR used car guides and recommendations for compact SUVs used. Warranties are fine. But in my opinion, the over all reputation of the reliability i more important used. The car will be off warranty soon after you buy one used. CR reliability reports have been trustworthy and consistent with cars I have owned.

@dagosa - I’m going to test drive a bunch of different SUVs and see what we like best – I’ll report back with my findings. Thanks for the input.

It’s funny, the more research I do, there seems to be no “perfect” vehicle for my situation. Depending on what you read, every car brand/model is unreliable, has problems, etc. Foreign or domestic. I guess ultimately I am looking for value and safety. In the used car realm, it’s a crapshoot. If I can find something that has good maintenance documentation, and not a lot of miles, then I’m set. It’s when I start applying a brand bias that I become fraught with indecision. Probably something best avoided altogether. The key, I reckon, is to be as objective as possible and keep the emotions at bay.