SUV buying opportunity?

As Seattle-dwellers, we’re often mocked as latte-sipping, tree-hugging, Prius-driving, godless environmentalists.

In our case, it’s completely true. But in addition to the Prius, we keep a 2003 Subaru Legacy L-Wagon for the occasional rough drive of getting to a back-country trailhead or climbing the icy roads up to a ski area. However, this only adds up to maybe 1000 miles annually.

It looks like everyone is trying to give SUVs away nowadays. And while the Subaru may get roughly the same mileage as an above-average SUV, it doesn’t have the same negative stigma.

My question is this: Do you think it’s worth the hassle to trade in for a new-ish SUV? If so, which one? We’re pretty happy with the handling and capacity of the Subaru, except for the somewhat low clearance on rocky roads.

Consider a Suburban 1500 4WD. You average about 23 MPG if you don’t have a turbo. The Suburban averages 15 MPG. At 1000 MPY, the extra gas will cost you less than $100 at $4 per gallon.

How about a Mercedes ML350? I suspect it would get more then 1000 miles a year.

I’ll throw out a suggestion for the Mazda CX-7

SUV’s and Subarus are popular for different reasons. For rough roads where clearance and/or a rough surface are the main issues, a Subaru is no better than most front wheel drive cars. The advantage of a Subaru is that they have an extremely good AWD system that makes them hands down the best car for on-the-road winter conditions that you can buy for less than 50 grand. You’re right that you can get an SUV like a CR-V or an Escape that will get similar mileage, and it will have better ground clearance, but they won’t be as good as your Subie on the way up to the ski areas. Also, the Subaru will probably have more room too, since it is one of the few station wagons you can still buy.

I doubt that the whole process of trading in your Subaru for an SUV is really going to wind up coming out in your favor-- keep in mind the real deep discounts are going to be on bigger SUV’s that are going to be considerably worse than your Subie on gas. Also, a bigger truck-based SUV will be better in the mountains but much worse on snowy roadways (see what’s the ditches on Snoqualmie and Stevens on any given winter day). If you are consciously trading down to extract some equity from the Subaru and were going to settle for an older SUV, this might be a good way to do it.

Keep the Subaru and put good tires on it and drive carefully-it’s pretty new as is.

If you MUST get an SUV I strongly recommend a Toyota 4Runner, which has tremendous resale value, can go off-roading in some pretty bad areas unlike many SUV’s, and does OK on gas on the 6 cyl version (relatively-22mpg highway at 65mph). On top of all this it’s pretty much about the most reliable SUV on the face of the planet.

Thanks for the feedback! It hadn’t occurred to me that an SUV might actually be a step down for winter road conditions. We were on the fence before, now it seems pretty clear that there’s not as much upside as I was thinking.

I would second your opinion on the Toyota 4Runner. We have a 2003 4Runner V-6 that my wife drives most of the time. Our mileage runs 24-25 on the highway at 65-70 mph.