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2020 Ford EscapeHandout

I currently drive a 2013 Subaru Impreza. I switched to Subaru because of their all-wheel drive after spinning out on black ice. I prefer to drive a smaller vehicle but need a hatchback because I’m often transporting a fair amount of stuff. I move year-round between a city and country property, located on a dirt road. I’m also driving Highway 401 in all weather, up to 250 or more kilometres at a stretch. I have two dogs who take up the back seat. I’m wondering what hybrid or EV (electric vehicle) options there might be that remain smaller yet have AWD, which is essential for me. – Cate

Mark Richardson: I think what Cate wants is a smaller Subaru that’s a hybrid or EV, but that just doesn’t exist yet.

Petrina Gentile: Not yet. But coming down the pipeline is the 2023 Solterra SUV, Subaru’s first zero-emissions all-electric vehicle. It’ll come with Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system and 350 kilometres of range.

2023 Subaru SolterraHandout

Richardson: I saw it at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. It was designed in a partnership with Toyota, which is building its new bZ4X crossover on the same platform.

Gentile: It makes sense – both Subaru and Toyota are late to the game when it comes to pure electric vehicles. So working together to pool their resources, time and money helps both companies bring new EVs to market faster.

Richardson: I’m sure it will be very capable and reliable, and will cost just under the magic number of $45,000 to receive the government rebate, but we can’t recommend it because we’ve not driven it. It won’t even be available until at least this summer.

Gentile: True. Cate wants an all-wheel-drive hybrid or all-electric vehicle – AWD helps narrow down the list.

Richardson: She shouldn’t be so hung up on AWD for preventing skids. A two-wheel-drive vehicle with good winter tires and effective traction control that brakes individual wheels, and some appropriate driver training for winter conditions, will make all the difference. AWD is only really good for not getting stuck, not for slowing down when you’re in a skid.

Gentile: It will give her peace of mind, though.

Richardson: I’d also advise her to forget about buying a hybrid. They save fuel in city driving, where the hybrid battery takes over from the gas engine more frequently, but with mostly highway driving, a hybrid will be wasted. It won’t get much better fuel consumption than the equivalent gasoline car, and it will be more expensive. An electric car, though, is a very real alternative.

Gentile: Provided it has a long range, at least 400 kilometres. She drives a lot, and at highway speeds, in winter, with the heat on, it depletes the battery fast. Trust me, I found out the hard way driving the new Imperium SEV, a Chinese all-electric SUV coming to Canada this year. I wouldn’t recommend an all-electric vehicle for Cate unless it was a Tesla Model 3 with the bigger battery pack and longer range.

Richardson: I have a friend who has a Model 3. He was stranded outside of Huntsville, Ont., in sub-zero temperatures before Christmas when its 450-kilometre estimated range turned out to be half that, and the charging station he was headed for was out of service. Winter does a number on electric vehicles in this country. It’s something you can work around, though, if you’re prepared to do so.

Gentile: That can happen to anyone in any EV. Range anxiety is real. So, what would you recommend instead for Cate?

Richardson: I would recommend that she not give up on an electric vehicle yet, but that she consider if she’s prepared for the different thinking they need. My buddy would have had a lot more range in his Tesla in that cold weather if he’d not been flying up the highway at 130 kilometres an hour, and if he’d stopped earlier at Barrie to top up, even though he still had more than half a charge left in his battery.

Gentile: Planning is key to having an EV, as well as having time and patience to charge at stations on the road.

Richardson: Yup. And if that’s okay for Cate, then maybe she should consider something more affordable like a Hyundai Kona EV. If not, then she can still assuage her environmental conscience with a hybrid, like a Ford Escape Hybrid, but don’t expect it to actually make much of a difference for those long runs.

2019 Hyundai Kona ElectricHandout

Gentile: Hybrids are generally larger vehicles, though. Smaller vehicles are already very fuel-efficient.

Richardson: True. The Escape is about the same size as her Impreza.

Gentile: Well, Hyundai Kona EV ticks all the boxes for Cate: AWD is available, it’s spacious for her two dogs and the stuff she’s transporting between the city and country, and it has a range of 415 kilometres. But again, that drops fast in cold temperatures. I like the Ford Escape plug-in hybrid, but unfortunately it only comes with front-wheel drive. The conventional Escape hybrid, which you mentioned, is available with all-wheel drive.

Richardson: I wouldn’t suggest the plug-in for her and those long runs. It only has a range of 61 kilometres, at best, on electricity before turning back into a regular hybrid, and it costs $5,000 more.

Gentile: With no AWD, it’s not an option for Cate.

Richardson: On the highway, the Escape Hybrid AWD is officially rated at 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres, while the regular Escape is rated at 7.5 litres. Like I said before, it’s not that much of a fuel-consumption advantage to drive the hybrid outside of the city, and it costs $2,600 more to buy than the non-hybrid.

Gentile: You’re right, the fuel savings aren’t worth the price premium. But there’s another vehicle I think Cate should consider – it’s the Toyota RAV4 Prime plug-in hybrid.

2021 Toyota RAV4 PrimeHandout

Richardson: That’s a terrific vehicle, and it’s on my shortlist for our next family car if we can actually find one. But she wants to come down in size from her Impreza, and the RAV4 is no smaller.

Gentile: Sure, the RAV4 and the Escape are four inches longer than the Impreza, but she does need the space in the cabin and cargo area. I prefer the ride and handling of the RAV4 Prime over the Escape. The RAV4 Prime also has AWD, about 60 kilometres of electric range and returns 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres on the highway.

Richardson: So there are three suggestions for Cate: a Hyundai Kona EV if she wants to go smaller and all-electric, a Toyota RAV4 Prime if she wants a plug-in hybrid, and a Ford Escape Hybrid if she just wants a standard hybrid.

Gentile: If she sticks with a regular gasoline engine, there’s the regular Kona as well. It starts at less than $25,000 with AWD.

Richardson: That’s thousands of dollars below those alternatively powered vehicles. When it comes to having an environmental conscience, money often limits intent, but it’s good to have the choices.

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.

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