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We need an upgrade from our sedan. What SUVs should we look at?

What Car Should I Buy?

Is it worth waiting another year for redesigned SUVs?

Young couple looks to upgrade from sedan while striking balance between practicality and fun

We're a young couple looking to upgrade and size up from our existing sedan. On my wife's wish list is safety and fuel economy, while my list of must-haves includes horsepower, style and the latest technology like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Ideally, this vehicle strikes a balance between practicality and fun-to-drive. The Subaru Forester and Mazda CX-5 have piqued my interest, but I'm curious if it would be worthwhile waiting for next year's models. – Matt

Lightstone: If the Mazda and Subaru have already caught your eye, then let's explore those a little further, Matt. Keep in mind, the Forester was just "refreshed" (read: new front end and upgraded interior amenities) and the new Mazda CX-5 also just got a boost in the looks department, along with a new 2.0-litre engine choice and a diesel in the works.

Richardson: Neither of these two will be redesigned for next year, so there's no point waiting on them. However, neither has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – for true hands-free use of your smartphone – but it's in other Subarus and it's a retrofittable feature. Mazda says it will be available "soon."

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Lightstone: And they drive quite differently.

Richardson: Of the two, the Forester is more fun to drive – its engine feels more responsive – but the CX-5 has a remarkable level of refinement and comfort for the price. If Matt's marriage is anything like mine, then he'll like the Subaru and his wife will prefer the Mazda.

Subaru Forester.

Lightstone: Since I'm the wild, rebellious single child and you're the grumpy old guy, I'll throw a wrench in the bickering marriage machine. There's a third possibility that might be the happy medium between the two: the Honda CR-V. It just entered its fifth generation last year with a new front grille and a new 1.5-L, turbocharged engine across the lineup that's good for 190 horsepower. But I don't think it's as sure-footed as the Forester or as refined as the CX-5.

Richardson: Hmmm. The CR-V is an excellent choice, but so it should be – all the auto makers are throwing everything into compact SUVs and crossovers these days, because those are the vehicles that sell now. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but I can't think of the Honda as fun to drive. It hits the all-important balance between utility and low fuel consumption, and it holds its value well, but at the cost of zippiness and response.

Lightstone: Definitely grumpy: I wouldn't call the CR-V a slouch! Truthfully, Mark, you're right for once – the Forester does have the zippiest feel on the road and in terms of safety you can't beat its "symmetrical AWD" system in the winter. It's a system that always feeds individual power to each of the four wheels. However, the CX-5 boasts much better fuel economy (7.6 L versus 10.2 L per 100 kilometres).

Mazda CX-5.

Richardson: Yes, that fuel economy is a Forester killer, I'm afraid. Always driving all four wheels uses extra gas. But something else to consider is the Volkswagen Tiguan. It's just come out in its latest generation and it does everything right – including driving like a European car. Those Germans know about handling.

Lightstone: Not so all the time. I'd agree for any other VW product except the new Tiguan. When I drove it recently, it felt sluggish and underpowered. If Matt is looking for fun-to-drive, I'd stay away from the new Tigger.

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Richardson: Nonsense. You probably just got out of some exotic sports car, so anything would feel slow. The Tiguan has an all-new four-cylinder turbo engine that makes 184 hp but, better than that, it makes 221 lb-ft of torque at just 1,600 rotations a minute. That means it can be pokey and responsive and quick.

Lightstone: That's more power than the base Forester, for sure. I thought you don't like powerful cars? You're always droning on about "sensible choices."

Richardson: There's a time and place for everything. But don't forget, the Subaru's cheaper starting price of around $26,000 is for a manual transmission and it's a very nice shifter if you like a stick. The basic CVT-equipped Forester starts at $29,195, which is more in line with the competition. The 250-hp version of the Forester, which is the most fun of all, costs about $5,000 more.

Lightstone: There's always a time and place for horsepower, but it always comes at a price.

Richardson: The base Tiguan starts at $28,925. It's not so well equipped at that level, but it does have the Apple and Android connectivity.

Lightstone: At the moment, Mazda's teasing the new 2.0-L GX model at just $25,800 (front-wheel drive and with a six-speed manual transmission), but it's so new it's only just starting to be available. If Matt wants to go to the dealer today, he's more likely to see the better-equipped GS 2.5 L with an automatic transmission, starting at $29,400, but still with no Apple/Android connectivity. The similarly powered and Apple/Android-friendly Honda, with a continuously variable transmission, starts at $27,090 with FWD.

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Richardson: These comparisons make your head spin, don't they? Just remember, all the car companies price their "affordable" vehicles against each other, not against what they actually cost to build. The usual deals are found through incentives, when they're trying to clear them from dealer lots, but there aren't often any incentives on vehicles as popular as the CX-5 and CR-V. In the United States, Volkswagen dealers just dropped prices on the Tiguan to give it a jump start, but VW Canada says there are no plans to change the current pricing up here.

Lightstone: So Matt, drive all four and make sure your wife drives all four, too.

Richardson: Yup. None is a poor choice, although these prices are for FWD versions while the Subaru is all-wheel drive. Don't try the Forester's 2.0-L turbo version! You'll be tempted to pay the extra for the more powerful engine.

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

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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