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Suzuki SX4 JX (Suzuki)
Suzuki SX4 JX (Suzuki)

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What vehicle is best to tackle winter's worst? Add to ...

Hi, guys: Living in Canada, for the winter I need a good four-wheel-drive car that is affordable, fuel-efficient and easy to maintain. Will be doing bi-monthly trips through the snowbelt. Do not want an SUV. Any ideas where I could start this research?

- Anusha, Toronto

Cato: Ugh. Yes, Anusha, winter is coming.

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You brought up "snowbelt" and away went my memories of hot, dry days in the desert at B.C. Lake Osoyoos. Now it's all about the chill of autumn and then the cold of winter. Ugh.

Vaughan: Stop, Cato, stop. Before you break into another off-key chorus of Mon Pays… C'est L'Hiver, let me just point out that I can read you like a book - a trashy novel. After you subject us to more of your priceless prose, I know exactly what you're going to recommend.

Cato: And I know that you live in the past, in the 1960s. Why else would you drag out a 1965 cultural reference like Mon Pays: My Country is Not a Country, It's Winter. Just so you know, 1965 was 45 years ago. Lots of snow has fallen since then and plenty of Canadian artists have since dug into our collective national angst.

As for my prose, a TV Talking Head like you has nothing to teach me about writing.

Vaughan: The cars, Cato, the cars.

Cato: Anusha has choices, some good ones, too.

Subaru Impreza 2.5i

Vaughan: Subaru Impreza.

Cato: Of course. Base price for the 2.5i four-door hatchback: $21,895. Anusha won't pay that much, though. Subaru Canada has a $2,750 sales sweetener on 2010 models - for cash purchases only. So a sub-$20,000 for a brand new Impreza hatch with an excellent four-wheel-drive system and all the safety bells and whistles.

Vaughan: Right. I think Annie should also check out the Toyota Matrix AWD, the Jeep Compass 4WD North Edition and even the Suzuki SX4 Hatchback.

2010 Toyota Matrix

Cato: Alright, let's go through your list. The Toyota Matrix all-wheel-drive model is tried and true. It was significantly upgraded in 2009 and for 2010. Toyota's added a stability and traction control system as standard equipment.

Anusha, the Matrix is a very solid little hatch - based on the Corolla compact car. If you go for the $23,695 AWD Matrix you get the 2.4-litre four-banger - 158 horsepower - a four-speed automatic transmission and Toyota has a $2,750 cash incentive to lower the price.

Vaughan: Can't argue with a gussied-up Corolla. They've sold more than 30 million of the things. I will say one word about the interior however: cheap, cheap, cheap.

Cato: Three words, but you're not the first economics major who can't count.

Now on to the Jeep Compass. The Vaughanster has chosen the 4WD North Edition; it fits Anusha's needs. It has a Jeep badge, but it's really a Dodge Caliber with four-wheel-drive. Price: $20,995, though Jeep has a $3,000 incentive here to lower the final price.

This one is a bit crude compared to the Matrix and Impreza, but at least the 2.4-litre four-cylinder is powerful enough: 172 horsepower. Stick with the basic five-speed manual transmission. The optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) whines and roars even when being pushed a little to deliver absolutely no power. Come to think of it, that CVT is a lot like you, Vaughan.

Vaughan: Admit it, Cato: You've never been the same since we took a Jeep Wrangler over the Rubicon Trail - with you hanging three wheels over some precipice.

I like the Compass for its looks, its safety rating and its interior. I do not like its CVT. The thing will whine like a chainsaw while it works up to highway speed; however, that helps deliver good fuel economy.

Cato: Vaughan put the Suzuki SX4 Hatchback on the list. Maybe it fits into the price range. The base AWD hatchback JX version starts at $21,595. This one's a tight, well-built little commuter and it has a 150-horsepower, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. Again, stick with the six-speed manual; the $1,100 CVT here is a dog.

Vaughan: It is worse. There, Cato, you're a mind-reader. Yes, this is the little car that I want to like, but don't much. However a friend of mine has one and loves it. Still, this isn't my first choice.

Cato: Anusha, my first recommendation is the Impreza.

Vaughan: My only problem with the Impreza is that noisy boxer engine. When they replace it with a better, smoother one I'll climb aboard the Cato bandwagon. In the meantime, Annie, go for the Matrix AWD.

Cato: And test drive the Compass and SX4, though the Suzuki is the better choice. So those are the top three: Subaru Impreza, Toyota Matrix, Suzuki SX4.

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



2010 Subaru Impreza 2.5i hatchback

2010 Toyota Matrix AWD

2010 Suzuki SX4 JX hatchback

Wheelbase (mm)

2,620

2,600

2,500

Length (mm)

4,415

4,365

4,135

Width (mm)

1,740

1,765

1,755

Height (mm)

1,476

1,560

1,605

Engine

2.5-litre four-cylinder

2.4-litre four-cylinder

2.0-litre four-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

170 hp/170 lb-ft

158 hp/162 lb-ft

150 hp/140 lb-ft

Drive system

All-wheel drive

All-wheel drive

Four-wheel drive/All-wheel drive

Transmission

Five-speed manual

Four-speed automatic

Six-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)

1,390

1,485

1,316

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

10.6 city/7.5 highway

10.3 city/7.7 highway

9.3 city/6.6 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$21,895

$23,695

$21,595

Source: Car manufacturers

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