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My current car is a 2011 Mini Countryman AWD six-speed manual, which has been a terrific car for us. I am starting to think about replacing it because we (literally) no longer fit in it. The catch is that, due to the constraints of our driveway, I think the maximum length of a possible replacement is probably about 4.5 metres. The next car will be the one my teenagers learn to drive (only about a year away). Ideally it is AWD, a manual transmission and has a trunk that our 80-pound dog fits in. Am I buying a Subaru? – Aly

Gentile: Aly, you don’t need to buy a Subaru. There are more options nowadays with AWD that are smaller, more affordable vehicles. But getting a manual is a tough proposition; it’s slowly going the way of the dodo bird.

Richardson: Yeah, if it’s not a must-have, let’s just forget the manual transmission for now. Otherwise you’ll be pretty much limiting yourself to Subarus, Mazdas and a few entry-level grocery-getters.

Gentile: So let's focus on all-wheel drive. What’s impressive nowadays is the number of AWD offerings from manufacturers like Nissan and Toyota in smaller, more affordable cars.

Richardson: Let’s start at the basics and work up. One of the least expensive AWD cars in Canada now is the Hyundai Kona. You won’t fit the teenagers in the back seat at the same time as an 80-lb. dog in the trunk – those rear seats will have to fold flat for the dog – but it comes in at 4.15 metres long. It starts at around $23,000 with AWD.

The 2020 Subaru Impreza.Courtesy of manufacturer

Gentile: Actually, I didn’t want to jump into Subaru yet, but the Subaru Impreza is cheaper. The five-door comes with AWD, a five-speed manual, and is 4.475 metres long – just under the maximum length. And it’s about $21,000. But I want to offer up some other options first. Maybe a Mazda3 Sport hatchback. It now comes with AWD.

Richardson: And it also comes with – drum roll – a manual transmission!

Gentile: Yes, but not both together. The AWD is only offered with a six-speed automatic.

Richardson: You’re right. It’s Hobson’s choice. But Aly, if you go for the manual over the AWD, the car is a fair bit cheaper, as well as lighter and simpler to maintain.

The 2019 Mazda3 Sport Hatchback.JAMES HALFACRE/Courtesy of manufacturer

Gentile: But if Aly plans on reselling it down the road, it’ll be worth more money with AWD than with a manual transmission.

Richardson: Very true. The only reason for most people to buy a manual transmission these days that’s not in a performance car is to save money. It will be far easier to sell an automatic.

Gentile: So let’s look at other options. One of my favourites is the new Volkswagen Golf R, which has a six-speed manual transmission and 4Motion AWD, and comes in at 4.276 metres in length. It checks off all the boxes in Aly’s search for a new vehicle.

Richardson: But that’s way more expensive than the other options. The Golf R rings in around $42,000!

Gentile: But think of the fun, driving around town with 288 hp at your fingertips!

Richardson: And think of Aly’s teenagers learning to drive next year in a Golf R. The insurance will be through the roof, and for good reason. Maybe bring it down a notch to the Golf GTI. It’s still fun, with 228 hp, though Aly should check insurance rates now. My own two teenagers are the reason I bought myself a well-used, first-generation Hyundai Tucson as my own car. Very boring, very safe.

Gentile: Good point about insurance, especially with teen drivers.

Richardson: But getting back to reality, an 80 lb dog won’t fit in a Golf GTI. It won’t even fit in a Golf - at least not comfortably. I think Aly should follow my example and forget about fun-to-drive while the kids are around.

The 2020 Hyundai Tucson.Handout

Gentile: Okay, so what would you recommend?

Richardson: I got an old Tucson. I think Aly should get a new Tucson. It’s 4.48 metres long, so as large as they can go to keep everyone comfortable, including the dog. And it’s got all the safety tech to help protect those teenagers. I’d also recommend the Ford Escape, with its “teen driver” mode for limiting speed and radio volume, but it’s just a bit too long at 4.58 metres.

Gentile: I prefer the Impreza over the Tucson; it has everything Aly wants, plus a good price.

Richardson: The Impreza will be more fun, just like the Mazda3 Sport, but they’re both hatchbacks. The Tucson will have a lot more space for that big dog.

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

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