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Whats Best Small, Efficient, AWD Raised Axle Car

Need to be able to get up and down very rough rutted mountain roads for local errands, personal trips, but 14 mpg in Sequoia won’t cut it now. CR can’t seem to decide: Matrix or Element? Element is lower rated but rec’d; Matrix is much higher rated, but not recommneded.

Ideas? Suggestions? New or used ok, but prefer less than $20K

Have you checked the ground clearance specs? I’d be surprised if the Matrix was close to the Element.

I agree. Although the Matrix can once again be ordered with AWD, I don’t believe that it has much more ground clearance than most conventional sedans.

If this rough rutted road is somewhere that gets snow, you need a Subaru. All AWD systems are not created equal-- the Toyota and Honda ones are okay for driving on slippery highways, but they will not get you through a lot of snow or up a very slippery hill. If you’re not dealing with snow, however, you should be fine with front-wheel drive, which opens up your options considerably. For regular cars, they may not publish ground clearances, so you may need to go size them up yourself.

The Subaru Forester, basic edition, would be my choice. Second, the Suzuki SX4 is also very competent. Both are easy on gs and not too expensive to buy.

Avoid the Ford products is the small size; their rear suspension components are very close to the ground.

How much money do you think you can save by buying a 20k vehicle?? It’ll take you years to to recover the cost of a new car.

I’d second the vote for the Forester. Of course, we’re assuming you’ve decided you’re buying something, rather than saving new car payments and paying for gas at 14 mpgs…

I suppose the RAV4 is too big? I have an '05 manual and '07 auto and gas mileage is about 28 in summer/22 winter and with AWD great traction…get a used 05 with manual …less than 20K

If you already own the Sequoia, I’m with Mike. You need to run the numbers to see if this makes economic sense. If you don’t owe anything on the Sequoia, you’ll be better off keeping it. It will also stand up better to rough terrain than a car-based SUV like the Forester, Matrix, and Element.

Consumer Reports will not recommend a newly designed vehicle until it has at least a year’s worth of reliability reports. The 2008 Matrix was recommended; the 2009 is different enough that they are withholding their blessing. This goes back to 1986 when they raved about the new Taurus and called it the best American car they had ever tested. The Taurus was a highly flawed vehicle, until the bugs were worked out.

I have enough faith in Toyota and Honda (but no one else) to buy a first year vehicle from them.

I had an older Suzuki Sidekick which was outstanding on rough and off roads. A surdy vehicle but still required more maintenance then Toy/Honda. As a third vehicle, used, for local travel, they would do the trick. The older Vitaras in 4 cyl that are still exc. off road and more efficient than the big stuff. I also liked my older 4 cyl Tacomas in 4 wd. 25 mpg highway is max you can expect.