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The Globe and Mail

Family needs a ride that can tackle Ottawa winters

2013 Subaru Outback


Snow, freezing rain, rain with bouncing temperature fluctuations, followed by freezing rain and then more snow. And salty slush. The great car destroyers. It's a picture of Canadian driving.

For nearly 14 years, my wife and I have been driving a Honda Civic sedan. It has been wonderful. For the first 12, it was trouble-free. Only 202,000 km in that time. However, it is now suffering and needs replacing.

We have a toddler and a teen and we need more space. Living in Ottawa, it's irresponsible not to have AWD/4WD, but we are loathe to have a gas-guzzling CUV/SUV. We are ready to step up moderately from the Civic's price point and find ourselves looking at sedans and station wagons by Volvo, Audi and Subaru, but find this segment cluttered with prices ranging anywhere from $27,000-$45,000.

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We want it all: the reliability and fuel economy of a Civic, with a step up in space, comfort, handling and safety. What do you think?

– Michelle and Raahool in Ottawa

Cato: Before I say anything else, Vaughan, I am warning you about wisecracks. Every time you let fly a salvo aimed at our nation's capital, we get buried in angry e-mails from Ottawa. Leave the poor people of Ottawa alone. Just this once. They suffer enough without you grinding salt into the wound.

Vaughan: Oh, you mean Lethargy-by-the-Rideau. Yes, go on.

Cato: Okay, so here's my question for Raahool: What's wrong with the Honda CR-V? Made in Canada, reliable, a design based on their beloved Honda Civic and he and Michelle would be hard-pressed to spend more than $32,000 or so, loaded.

Vaughan: Well it drives like a truck, has an interior that must have come from Walmart, but at least they don't break.

Cato: It does not drive like a truck; it drives like a tall Civic. Because essentially, it is. And not Walmart. Target, which is coming to Canada via that Zellers takeover.

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2013 Volvo XC60 Volvo Volvo  

Vaughan: Look Cato, these people are from Ottawa; they could possibly be swivel servants. They're loaded and want to move up to something more expensive. Don't start channelling Preston Manning at them.

Half of Ottawa drives a Volvo, so let's start there with the Volvo XC60 ($41,750). It's a handsome car with an IKEA interior and with a terrific AWD system and ground clearance to get through the snow drifts which plague Ottawa about 10 months a year.

And since Volvo was sold to the Chinese – what hasn't been? – they have almost disappeared from Canadian roads: through the first 11 months of this year, Volvo Canada sold 5,320 vehicles. Last month, Volvo sold Canadians exactly 326 vehicles; it's a disaster. The cars are a bit dated but they are dependable and the Volvo dealer-principal will rush out of his or her office and kiss your feet if you walk into the empty showroom.

Cato: Now there's a rant. I'm a fan of that XC60 – visually interesting and Volvo has slapped on sales sweeteners worth a G-note, perhaps more. There's enough power from the 240-hp I-6. Great interior and brilliant seats. Sadly, Volvo has all but given up on selling cars in Canada; it's a shame.

Vaughan: Okay, on to Subaru, and because this is recession-proof Ottawa, let's begin with a top-of-the-line 3.6R Limited Subaru Outback starting at $38,495. The 2013 Outback has had some much needed styling changes and it's been loaded with features – including EyeSight driver-assist system, which integrates Adaptive Cruise Control.

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Cato: And Pre-Collision Braking and Vehicle Lane Departure Warning. You can pay a bundle extra for that stuff on some cars.

Vaughan: It's got plenty of power with a 256-hp 3.6-litre six-cylinder boxer engine and five-speed Electronic Direct Control Automatic Transmission. It has a fantastic all-wheel drive system, but I liked them better when that Australian guy – Crocodile Somebody – was flogging them.

2013 Audi Q5 Audi Audi  

Cato: Paul Hogan about 100 years ago. Now to the Q5 ($39,900), which has been updated for 2013. A hot seller for Audi. The starter motor is a 211-hp turbo four with 258 lb-ft of torque, which makes it feel strong –– that and that modern eight-speed automatic. A really great handling vehicle. Stylish and responsive. Audi knows how to do AWD, too.

Vaughan: Quattro, Cato. Audi has spent billions trying to imprint that brand on impressionable minds like yours.

Cato: If these buyers want Civic safety and reliability, then the Outback. Volvo and Audi are not at the top of the reliability list. The Outback is a Top Safety pick, like the other two. Subaru: the most car for the money.

Vaughan: No. Ottawa is a Volvo town – maybe the last one in the western world. Go for the XC60.




2013 Audi Q5 2.0T AWD2013 Subaru Outback 3,6R Limited2013 Volvo XC60 3.2

Wheelbase (mm)


Length (mm)


Width (mm)


Track, front (mm)



2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbo3.6-litre H-63.2-litre I-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

211/258 lb-ft256/247 lb-ft240/236181 lb-ft

Drive system

All-wheel driveAll-wheel driveAll-wheel drive


Eight-speed automaticFive-speed automaticSix-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)


Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

11.8 city/8.4 highway11.8 city/8.2 highway11.6 city/8.2 highway

Base price (MSRP)


Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.


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