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I need a small SUV with good ground clearance. What are my options?

We compare the 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek and the 2015 Ford Escape SE

Is there a smaller, good-looking crossover (under $25,000) that's not low to the ground? I need something with good ground clearance and all-wheel drive (AWD) to slay on snow – but I really don't want a big, ugly SUV. – Dana, Corner Brook, Nfld.

When the snow gets deep, it's good to be above it all. But you don't need a monster-truck-sized SUV to get extra ground clearance.

The 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek – essentially an Impreza wagon on 76-millimetre stilts – sits 220 mm off the ground, the same as the bigger Forester.

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Where the XV Crosstrek goes high, most rivals go low. For example, the 2015 Honda CR-V ($21,950) sits 170 mm above the ground (this grew to 208 mm in the CR-V's 2017 redesign).

There are exceptions. The 2015 Mazda CX-5 ($22,421) has 215 mm of ground clearance. The 2015 Ford Escape has 200 mm.

If your biggest winter adventure is a trip to Sobeys before the roads get plowed, then you might not need a crossover that can go (moderately) off road.

And any car will fare better on winter roads with a set of winter tires.

2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek Touring

2015 Subaru Crosstrek.

  • First Generation: 2014-2016
  • Average asking price for base: $21,902 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 148-hp, 2.0-litre four-cylinder, 160-hp, 2.0-litre hybrid four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Five-speed manual, CVT/All-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.2 city, 7.7 highway (manual), 9.1 city, 7.0 highway (CVT); regular gas

With 220 mm of ground clearance – higher than some real SUVs – the Subaru XV Crosstrek stands above its rivals, literally.

"The off-road chops of the XV Crosstrek can really only be topped by more dedicated four-wheel-drive off-roaders," Globe Drive said. "Snowed-in roads or icy hills … are dismissed almost as if it were summer again."

But if you're not facing abominable snow or rough muddy roads, the Impreza-based Crosstrek might not impress.

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"For most buyers, we think the regular Impreza Sport hatchback makes more sense," Consumer Reports said. "It rides and handles better, isn't as noisy, and costs less."

The Crosstrek XV came in three trims: touring, sport and limited. There was also a hybrid that got 7.9 litres/km in the city and 6.9 on the highway.

Review site Edmunds liked the XV Crosstrek's roomy seats, good fuel economy and "generous" standard features, including rear-view camera and heated front seats. It griped about lacklustre acceleration, engine noise from the CVT and the chintzy sound system.

Consumer Reports gave it four out of five for reliability.

There were two recalls in Canada, including a fix to warn drivers if crash avoidance systems aren't working.

2015 Ford Escape SE

2015 Ford Escape.

  • Third Generation: 2013 to present
  • Average asking price for base: $20,795 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 173-hp 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, 231-hp 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: Six-speed automatic /Front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city, 8.0 highway (1.6-litre AWD), 11.4 city, 8.4 highway (2.0-litre AWD); regular gas

The competition couldn't escape the Escape – it was Canada's best-selling small SUV in 2015. And for good reason.

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"The Escape is one of the two best-handling, best-riding, most technologically sophisticated small SUVs, right up there with Mazda's CX-5." Globe Drive said. There were three trims: S, SE and Titanium. The S was front-wheel-drive only and had a 169-hp, 2.5-litre four-cylinder. The SE and Titanium both had optional all-wheel drive and a choice of either the 1.6-litre or 2.0-litre engines.

The Escape "manages to not only distinguish itself with its chiselled good looks, but also garner critical praise thanks to its sharp handling, comfortable seating and high-end interior touches," Edmunds said.

But it said the Escape still came in closely behind the roomier, more reliable Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.

Edmunds had just two gripes: the "occasionally frustrating" infotainment system and the lack of storage cubbies.

Consumer Reports gave the Escape three out of five for reliability.

There were four recalls, including one for a glitch that could keep the car running after turning off the ignition.

Send your used-car questions to 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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