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Volkswagen Golf (Volkswagen)
Volkswagen Golf (Volkswagen)

Buying Used

Battle of the winter beaters Add to ...

With winter just around the corner, it’s time to start thinking about Plan B – the “beater” car. You know, something to get you through the nasty weather and salty roads while your pampered ride is nestled snugly in the garage.

The parameters are straightforward: a vehicle that is easy on gas, reasonably affordable, dependable, and, if possible, good in the snow. In other words, a road appliance, but not a piece of junk; something we won’t get emotionally attached to.

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Here are three from three different model years and three different manufacturers:

<p>2004 Honda Civic</p>
 

2004 Honda Civic

Generally regarded as the epitome of the commuter-mobile, this generation of the Civic was made in Alliston, Ont., and came in several configurations, including a hybrid model.

It has an above-average reputation for toughness, dependability, and economy of operation, but the hybrid could be troublesome. The U.S. National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration also has a boatload of complaints and technical service bulletins, possibly because these cars sold in such huge volumes. Problem areas include the alternator, various electrical gremlins, mysterious steering rack noises and some body and trim issues.

Not the peppiest model in this market segment, nor the best in the snow, the 1.7-litre four cylinder powering it nonetheless is one of the thriftiest and most durable. This extends to the slightly more upscale but nearly identical Acura EL as well.

Consumer Reports has a quibble or two with the engine and paint and trim, but still gives this one its “good bet” designation. Says C.R.: “We expect reliability of new models will be 35 per cent above average.”

Some comments from owners:

  • “Extremely reliable – regular service is inexpensive.”
  • “Have gotten 34-39 mpg (8.5 litres/100 km) while commuting to work.”
  • “Pleased with reliability, fuel economy.”

Expect to pay $5,000-$6,000 for a DX coupe and up to $7,500 for a well-equipped LX sedan.

<p>2008 Subaru Impreza</p>
 

2008 Subaru Impreza

Another “good bet” from Consumer Reports underscores this generation of the Impreza, not to mention a “better than average” used car prediction.

The liquid-cooled 2.5-litre flat four is prone to overheating if it runs low on coolant or oil, and Consumer Reports has issues with the paint and trim quality, brakes, and climate control system.

Transport Canada also reports one safety recall concerning an oil supply line issue with turbocharged models that could lead to an engine fire.

The U.S. National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration also reports “counterfeit” airbags in some models as well as high-speed front end vibration, issues with fuel fill-up, and possible water leaks in the front compartment.

Still, with full-time all-wheel-drive, the 2008 Impreza can handle a beating when it comes to winter driving and was offered as a sedan, hatchback, or wagon. The WRX STi version was an uncompromising hot rod and is sought after by enthusiasts and tuners.

Some comments from owners:

  • “The AWD system has pulled through 12 inches of snow, no problem.”
  • “Like a luxury car at a very reasonable price.”
  • “Wish it got better mileage.”
  • “Doors open wider than most.”

Prices range from $8,000-$10,000 for a base sedan, up to the high teens for a full-zoot WRX STi wagon – if you can find one.

<p>2010 Volkswagen Golf</p>
 

2010 Volkswagen Golf

The VW Golf can be troublesome as it racks up the miles and qualifies as a “when it’s good, it’s very good, but when it’s bad, run for cover” type of car.

Get your hands on a well-maintained and relatively unmolested low-mileage model, however, and it can be as faithful as a hunting dog. It is also one of the better-handling models in this end of the market.

The Golf received a makeover in 2010 and came in a variety of versions, body configurations, and drivetrain choices, including a station wagon and a thrifty turbo-diesel TDI. However, the sold-only-in-Canada City is the most practical – and affordable – choice here.

Transport Canada has two safety recalls; one for possibly flawed fuel lines in the TDI model, and another for a misplaced fuel line with the five-cylinder model, while the U.S. National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration has three ongoing investigations with the TDI version.

Still, this iteration of the Golf gets a “good bet” designation from Consumer Reports. Trouble spots to watch out for include the fuel delivery system, climate control, steering components, and power accessories.

Some comments from owners:

  • “Very tall passengers have commented on the abundance of headroom.”
  • “Averaging about 25 to 26 mpg (11 litres/100 km).”
  • “Top-notch materials used in this car.”

Expect to pay $7,000-$8,000 for a bare-bones City hatchback, up to the high teens for a TDI wagon.

If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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