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A woman clears snow from a car as a storm hits with strong winds and heavy snow in Toronto on Monday, February 2, 2015. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese)

A woman clears snow from a car as a storm hits with strong winds and heavy snow in Toronto on Monday, February 2, 2015.

(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese)

Buying Used

Cars for when the snow flies for less than $10,000 Add to ...

I drive a BMW Z4 but it’s not practical for winter. Plus, I’d like to keep it looking good. So I was thinking of getting a little winter beater. I don’t want an SUV, but I’d like all-wheel-drive and I’d like it to cost $10,000 or less. People keep telling me to get a Subaru. – Eli, Ottawa

If you decide to leave it to beater this winter, keep it simple.

“The best beater is an old Corolla with four snow tires,” said Mark Toljagic, an automotive journalist. “Or a Pontiac Vibe.”

Both the Vibe and the Matrix, its Toyota cousin, came in an all-wheel-drive version.

And Subaru? Toljagic said he has never owned one, but he’s not a fan. Repairs can get pricey.

“The old ones eat their head gaskets and the new ones burn oil like crazy,” he said. “And repairing the flat-four pancake engine is labour-intensive.”

Related: The witner beater: a good idea or bad?

If you don’t want to look at older small SUVs, like the RAV4, then that leaves the Honda Fit, Hyundai Elantra Touring and Kia Rio5 – all around 2010 or before. But you don’t get AWD.

Two other beater bets with AWD? The Suzuki SX4 and, yep, a Subaru.

2010 Suzuki SX4 JX hatchback AWD

  • First generation: 2007-2013, refresh in 2010
  • Average price: $7,863 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 2.0-litre, inline-four-cylinder, DOHC
  • Transmission/Drive: six-speed manual, continuously-variable transmission/ all-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city; 7.9 highway (manual), 10.2 city; 8.2 highway (CVT)

Is the SX4 hatchback a subcompact or a crossover? Well, yes.

“Dimensionally, the 2010 SX4 Hatchback is closest to Honda’s Fit, yet it’s priced closer to the Subaru Impreza and Toyota Matrix,” Globe Drive said in 2010. “These two are the closest competitors in spirit to the SX4 five-door, thanks to their versatile hatchback bodies and available all-wheel drive.”

Suzuki offered the SX4 – sold in Europe as the Fiat Sedici (the official car of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin) – as a hatchback and sedan. For 2010, it got a new, slightly peppier, engine and new transmissions.

Review site Edmunds liked the low-cost AWD system and “airy” cabin. It wasn’t thrilled with the awkward driving position, “so-so cabin materials,” and a small gas tank in the AWD version.

Front-wheel drive is standard. AWD is optional on the middle JX trim and standard on the top-of-the-line JXL.

Consumer Reports liked the visibility, nimble handling, straight forward controls, “excellent” braking and versatility. It complained about a stiff ride, a noisy cabin and “slightly improved but still unimpressive fuel economy.

The magazine didn’t give reliability ratings for the 2010 SX4 – but in its 2010 review, it said reliability has been above average.

It’s a small sample, but there are no complaints about reliability in 15 posts by owners at Edmunds.

There were five recalls for the 2010 SX4, including fixes to a driver’s side door sticker with the wrong tire size.

2010 Subaru Impreza 2.5i wagon

  • Third generation: 2007-2011
  • Average price: $9,791 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/Drive: five-speed manual, four-speed automatic/all-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.6 city; 7.9 highway (manual), 10.2 city; 8.2 highway (CVT)

The base Impreza isn’t as speedy as the WRX and WRX STI, but it impresses when it comes to practicality.

“There’s nothing very exciting about it, but it has a substantial feel, is pleasant and practical inside, has enough equipment to keep you comfortable and entertained, and performance that will satisfy a demanding driver,” Globe Drive said in 2010. “However, I’d opt for the better-looking and practical hatchback, which is pricier.”

Like the SX4, the 2.5i comes as both sedan and hatchback.

“In base 2.5i form, it competes with compact cars like the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf,” Edmunds said. “Though not as fuel-efficient as those models, its standard all-wheel-drive system sets it apart for those who live in areas where rain and snow are a way of life.”

Edmunds liked the AWD and roomy seating. It didn’t like the “outdated” four-speed automatic transmission, “below-average” fuel economy and “notably poor” sound quality from the stereo.

Consumer Reports gives the 2010 Impreza average used car reliability, up from its worst rating in 2009.

At Edmunds, there are owner complaints about burning oil.

There were two recalls to inspect and fix a potential brake line leak caused by corrosion.

Trying to decide on a used car? Send us your questions at globedrive@globeandmail.com.

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