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what car should i buy?

About 10 years ago, I splurged on a fully loaded VW Tiguan. I love driving it, but it has been a very expensive car. I live in Ottawa, and we had a truly horrible winter last year and the city did a very poor job of clearing the roads. I am thinking about getting a small SUV, but getting it fully loaded. What would you recommend among these choices: Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Kona? I’m thinking about $35,000 max, all in.Caroline

Gentile: First off, since you live in Ottawa, it should be an all-wheel-drive vehicle and be sure to invest in a good set of winter tires, too. All-seasons won’t cut it. It really gives you better traction on the road, especially on snow- and wet-covered roads.

Richardson: I have good friends in Ottawa who own a three-year-old VW Tiguan and they love it – but only once they put winter tires on it.

Gentile: Whatever she chooses this time around, winter tires will definitely improve the drive. So, she should invest in them. Mark, did you know only about 65 per cent of Ontario drivers use winter tires?

Richardson: I’m not surprised. More than a third of Ontario residents live in the GTA, and Toronto drivers figure they’ll just stay home on the few days there’s real snow on the ground.

Gentile: Winter tires are expensive, starting at a minimum of $600 for four (and you must buy four – two won’t cut it!) But they’re worth it. And she’ll get a slight break on her insurance, which is an extra bonus.

Richardson: In the long run, they don’t cost any more because you’re not using your other set of tires during the winter. Storage can be an issue if you don’t want to pay for it, but the fact is, you don’t just need them on snow or ice – you want them on frigid asphalt, too.

Gentile: Anyway, back to the cars. Caroline is cross-shopping four small crossover SUVs; all of them, except the Toyota C-HR, offer AWD as an option. So let’s cross the C-HR off the list, right off the bat, because it only comes in FWD. That leaves the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Hyundai Kona in the running. Any favourites?

2019 Hyundai Kona.David Dewhurst Photography/The Associated Press

Richardson: I’ve recommended the Kona so many times I’ve lost count. It’s the least expensive AWD vehicle in Canada, and it’s got a terrific little engine.

Gentile: I agree. I also like the Mazda CX-3 for its ride and handling. I’m a bit disappointed in the Honda HR-V, though. It doesn’t feel as nimble as the Mazda. What do you think?

Richardson: The HR-V has never done it for me. It just seems too – blah. It will be reliable and dependable and will hold its value, but I think Caroline wants a bit more than that. I think she wants some bling.

2020 Honda HR-V.Courtesy of manufacturer

Gentile: Bling? I don’t think she necessarily needs bling bling. I think something reliable, compact and stylish like a Mazda CX-3 would do the trick.

Richardson: Yeah – just something that feels a bit more special. And Mazda’s been going out of its way in the last year or so to have a “premium” trim level for its models. They feel more refined than they used to. The top-end CX-3 GT, with Bose sound and leather seats and everything else, costs $37,600 after taxes and the stupid freight charges.

Gentile: But that’s over her budget – Caroline wants $35,000 all in. I’d go for a mid-level CX-3 GS with AWD and forgo the extras. It’ll come in under her budget and she’ll have a few extra thousand to spare.

Richardson: She’ll have $6,000 to spare if she goes for the GS, and she’ll get heated seats and a heated steering wheel. But the Kona is still the better deal. She can get the one-from-the-top Kona Luxury, with leather on the seats, for $31,500 out the door.

Gentile: She can test drive both, but I’d go for the Mazda CX-3 GS trim – it’s a smoother drive than the Kona.

2020 Mazda CX-3.Courtesy of manufacturer

Richardson: I think the CX-3 has a nicer feel than the better value Kona, but there’s no harm in Caroline trying out the Honda HR-V as well. It’ll probably assure her the other two are a better buy.

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

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