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2022 Subaru Forester.Handout

My husband and I are in our late 30s and have recently moved to Nova Scotia. After getting by with a carshare in Victoria, we now need a vehicle. We’re leaning toward a small to medium SUV but are overwhelmed with choices.

My husband is 6-foot-4 and needs all the headroom he can get. We want all-wheel drive and decent cargo space to allow for weekend adventures on questionable roads with our (future) dogs and ski road trips. We both work from home and will only run small errands during the week, so fuel efficiency isn’t top of mind. We plan on doing some longer road trips to Ontario a few times a year, so something comfortable for a long drive. We also need to drive parents from time to time, so a decent back seat for taller adults is a must. Something fun to drive would be a nice plus.

Fully electric vehicles likely won’t work for us as we have nowhere to plug it in regularly and the EV infrastructure isn’t great here. Our budget is $45,000 before taxes and fees. Any suggestions? – Kristin

Petrina Gentile: I agree with Kristin, the small and mid-size SUV segment is overwhelming. At least she knows exactly what she wants and has given us a $45,000 budget. And we can skip a full electric or plug-in option, in favour of a gas-powered vehicle.

Mark Richardson: Kristin says she has a budget of $45,000 and she wants AWD and a larger vehicle — how about a Subaru Forester or Outback?

Gentile: Those are good options, but I think the Forester is all she needs. It’s a compact crossover with a boxier shape. It’s also about five centimetres taller than an Outback so her husband and rear-seat passengers should have sufficient headroom inside.

Richardson: The Forester’s cabin actually has 28 millimetres of extra front headroom over the Outback, which is just over an inch, and 13 millimetres more in the back. If it’s still an issue for Kristin’s husband, then avoid the sunroof to create more overhead space. The Forester is $2,000 less than the Outback, too.

Gentile: That’s an extra bonus. A minor drawback is the engine, which is slightly underpowered in the Forester. But it’s not a deal breaker – it’s well equipped with lots of technology, too.

Richardson: Kristin does say “fun to drive” would be nice, so maybe that does go against the Forester. The more powerful Outback Wilderness might do the trick, but now we’re $5,000 over budget. So – Mazda?

Gentile: A Mazda CX-50 could work. It’s quick and fun to drive. It’s also very well appointed inside the cabin.

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2023 Mazda CX-50.Emily Atkins/The Globe and Mail

Richardson: Mazda doesn’t have a separate premium brand, so it makes extra effort with the higher-end trim levels. The seats will be comfortable for everyone, but it’s a fair bit shorter inside for taller drivers – 66 millimetres less headroom than the Forester. Even the larger CX-5 is shorter inside. So go sit in the car and try it, but it may not be quite enough for the taller hubby.

Gentile: Good idea. But let’s give Kristin a few other options. What about a Jeep Compass? It’s fun to drive with a tall, boxy design and good headroom. It fits within her budget, starting at around $38,000.

Richardson: The Compass is okay, but it still doesn’t have the headroom of the Forester – it’s about the same as the CX-50. It’s also not a car I’d look forward to taking on those long drives to Ontario, watching the fuel needle drop on the highway. I think the Chevrolet Equinox would be a much better choice.

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2024 Chevrolet Equinox.Courtesy of manufacturer

Gentile: The Equinox wouldn’t be at the top of my list for Kristin. While the drive is smooth and comfortable, the quality of materials in the cabin is disappointing – it’s plasticky and cheap inside.

Richardson: It depends on the trim level. The base Equinox starts at around $34,000 with all-wheel drive, but the fully loaded model is still below $40,000, which is nicely inside her budget. She should go to a showroom and look at it, anyway. General Motors has plenty of dealers in Nova Scotia, and the Equinox has been around for a while.

Gentile: And what about Nissan? A Rogue might work too?

Richardson: I forgot about the Rogue, though it’s been refreshed for 2024 with a new Google Built-in feature. I don’t think Kristin will care too much about that, but her hubby might appreciate the headroom, which is comfortably more than the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V and just four millimetres less than the Forester. Not sure you’d call it fun to drive, but that depends on the driver.

Gentile: You’re right, but it does have pleasant and smooth road manners and good headroom, as you mentioned.

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2024 Nissan Rogue.Courtesy of manufacturer

Richardson: So between the Forester, Equinox and Rogue, which would you recommend?

Gentile: My pick is the Subaru Forester for the excellent headroom, great all-wheel-drive system, and off-road capabilities and weekend adventures. And you?

Richardson: The Forester is also my first choice, and Kristin’s got some leeway in there for a nicer trim level, too. But there are more GM dealerships than Subaru dealerships in Nova Scotia, and that might be more convenient for her with the Equinox. Ultimately, her husband should sit in all three and make the decision from that.

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

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