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car review

The Mazda CX-30 is peppy, fun to drive, value-packed and comes with all-wheel drive.Handout

I was recently promoted, and my new job will have me on the road three or four days a week, driving smaller highways and through rural areas. My guess is about 700 kilometres of driving per week.

I have a budget of about $35,000 to get a car. I have a 2009 Honda Fit today, which I love for its compact size but still impressive cargo space. I am leaning toward a compact or subcompact SUV for more cargo space and to be higher on the road for more security. Physical comfort is also important because I’ll be sitting for so long. Jacqueline

Mark Richardson: That’s a lot of driving to be comfortable in a smaller car. I’d suggest Jacqueline not look at anything smaller than a compact SUV, which means she’ll have to buy something used, but recent, to come in around $35,000 after paying all the taxes.

Petrina Gentile: Hold on big spender. I disagree – Jacqueline drives a Honda Fit now. There are some good, affordable and value-packed options in the subcompact category, too. Don’t discount them so quickly.

Richardson: She says she wants something more appropriate for longer distances, and subcompacts tend to be tiring for long drives. More leg room and an unstressed engine definitely help. But I’ll indulge you to get this rolling – what are you thinking?

Gentile: One of my favourites is the Mazda CX-30. It’s peppy, fun to drive, value-packed and comes with all-wheel drive. It starts around $26,000 for the base model so even with taxes, predelivery inspection and freight, it’ll still come in at less than $35,000.

Richardson: I like the Mazda as a practical crossover, but the base model is just that – basic. I think Jacqueline will find herself pulled toward the more powerful GS trim that will be more comfortable for longer drives and has a heated steering wheel. It’s $3,000 more, which stretches the budget.

Gentile: I disagree. Again, she drives a Fit, so she’ll be happy with a base-model CX-30. There’s no need to push her budget for the sake of a few extra features like a heated steering wheel.

Richardson: It’s the larger engine she’s paying for, but if she likes the CX-30, she should certainly consider the Toyota Corolla Cross. It’s on budget, a bit more powerful, and a little more nicely equipped in its base edition, at $25,790. That’ll be less than $32,000 out the door. She can even upgrade to the next trim and still come in at less than $35,000.

The Toyota Corolla Cross is nicely equipped in its base edition at $25,790.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Gentile: I love the Corolla Cross – it’s a nice size so it’s easy to park and drive. It also comes with all-wheel drive. With a good set of winter tires, it gives you extra security on the icy or snow-covered roads.

Richardson: Jacqueline does say much of her driving will be on rural roads, so all-wheel drive and appropriate tires will be a smart choice. She should allow another $800-to-$1,000 for the winter tires and steel rims, though she may not have to buy them right away. Her regular tires will last twice as long because they’ll be stored in the winter, so it’s just a capital cost for her.

Gentile: And speaking of all-wheel drive, another brand worth considering is Subaru – all SUVs have full-time all-wheel drive, and the 2023 Subaru Crosstrek starts at less than $25,000. Jacqueline should definitely take it for a spin if she can find one at a dealership.

Richardson: Good point. We sometimes overlook Subaru because its sales are smaller than the big brands, but its all-wheel drive is exceptionally capable and very good value for money. I drove a Crosstrek with the less-powerful 152-horsepower engine to visit my aunt – a 700-kilometre round trip – and it never felt small or underpowered. I didn’t much like the continuously variable transmission, though.

Gentile: I agree on the CVT – I’m not a fan, either. I found the base model to be a little slow to accelerate when pushed, like merging onto a highway, for example. Otherwise, it’s a nice package with plenty of standard safety features that Jacqueline will appreciate.

The Subaru Crosstrek's all-wheel drive is exceptionally capable and very good value for money.Handout

Richardson: She might even be more comfortable with a manual transmission, as it stretches your legs when you use the clutch. It can be a trial in city traffic, but on rural roads, give me a stick any day.

Gentile: And it’ll be cheaper, too, and thieves will leave it alone because they only drive automatics. But earlier, you mentioned you like the idea of a used compact SUV for Jacqueline. I don’t particularly agree, but I’ll entertain your thoughts. What did you have in mind for less than $35,000?

Richardson: I would recommend a Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V – they’re among the best-selling vehicles in Canada because they’re capable, comfortable and reliable. You’ll sit a little taller in them and they’re a little larger than the cars we’ve already suggested, which makes them a bit too costly for Jacqueline to buy new. Used prices are higher than they’ve ever been, but it shouldn’t be hard to find some good vehicles available on dealership lots.

Gentile: Skip the used option, Jacqueline, and go for a new, smaller SUV like the Toyota Corolla Cross, Mazda CX-30 or Subaru Crosstrek.

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at globedrive@globeandmail.com and use ‘What car’ as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.