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I have a 2007 Pontiac Vibe with 80,000 km. I like the size and amount of interior space but I’m not crazy about the drive. I am considering purchasing either a Subaru Crosstrek, Nissan Qashqai or Hyundai Kona. I would like an AWD option and Hyundai offers the most standard options and is the most affordable, but I also want safety and reliability. – Nicole

Lightstone: Well, first off, anything will be an upgrade from the Vibe, really.

Richardson: What’s wrong with the Vibe? I liked the Vibe, and the Toyota Matrix too.

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Lightstone: Both the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix were missing a huge amount of character. Nicole could see that. Her top three choices have at least one with some oomph – the Kona.

The Subaru Crosstrek, left, and the Nissan Qashqai.

Dave Miller/The Globe and Mail

Richardson: The Kona is a very good little car, and we recommended it recently to somebody who wanted AWD and a low price. I think it’s the least expensive AWD vehicle in Canada. But Nicole’s search isn’t just about the lowest cost.

Lightstone: She also wants safety and reliability, something the Kona has, as well. And she’ll get the fun factor and all-wheel drive in one of the cheaper Kona models. It starts at $22,999 MSRP with AWD, but the “Trend” trim level starts at $26,899 and has the peppier 1.6L turbo. My personal fave in the lineup.

Richardson: I get it already. You like the Kona. Actually, so do I. And my wife drove it last month and loved it, but my wife has questionable taste.

Lightstone: I’d say her taste in cars is perfectly fine. But Nicole also mentioned the Crosstrek, which is essentially a jacked-up Subaru Impreza. It’s a great winter vehicle with one of the better AWD systems currently on the market, and it can be fun to drive if ordered with three pedals.

Richardson: Not everyone likes a stick-shift, you know.

Lightstone: But if Nicole likes to drive, she’ll like the Crosstrek better with a manual over a slushbox. The 2.0L Subaru engine tends to feel slow and heavy with the automatic transmission. I’m just keeping her driving pleasure in mind here.

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Richardson: Fair enough. The manual is $1,300 cheaper than the automatic, too, though it can be more difficult to sell when the time comes. If money’s an issue, you’re usually better to lease a manual-shift car, for the guaranteed sale.

Lightstone: It’s the only one of these three available with a manual transmission and AWD. If Nicole really wants driving “feel”, it makes it her only choice.

Richardson: If she commutes, she’ll curse the manual every time she’s stuck in traffic. But she’ll enjoy the little Qashqai.

Lightstone: What’s with that name, though?

Richardson: I know. Easy to say, tough to spell. It’s named after a mountain tribe in Iran, for reasons Nissan can’t really explain. Kinda like Volkswagen has the Touareg, a wandering tribe in the Sahara, also tough to spell.

Lightstone: Crazy name, but a decent little car, though.

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Richardson: The Qashqai? It’s sometimes called the Cash Cow because it’s so popular, because it does everything so well. It’s a bit smaller than the Rogue, bit bigger than the new Nissan Kicks. It starts at two bucks under $20,000 MSRP, but the all-wheel drive version will be $4,300 more.

Lightstone: It has more bells and whistles at that price though, like heated rear seats, a CVT with manual shift mode (if she wants to spice up her automatic driving habits), and of course the AWD, and all for $24,298. The Qashqai also features a more than adequate 2.0L engine, just like the Crosstrek and funnily enough the Kona, too. Except the Kona has that optional 1.6L turbo, also with AWD, that the others don’t offer.

Richardson: So I guess we’re recommending the 1.6L Kona again, for being fun to drive and giving value for money. If she wants a manual transmission, go for the Crosstrek. And if she’s not so bothered about the peppy Hyundai engine, I think she’ll get more for her buck with the Qashqai.

Lightstone: It’s hard to not recommend the Kona, and you know I’m right (I usually am). I say the Kona will win her over for looks, equipment and drive. But, as always, she should try and drive all three – Crosstrek, Qashqai, Kona – on the same day, and see which one speaks to her the most. They are all good options for Nicole in the end.

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Miranda at globedrive@globeandmail.comWhat car should you buy? Write to Mark and Miranda at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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