Congratulations! A new birth is always a joy. How are you feeling? Stressed? You also just bought a little semi-detached, and now you've got a screaming offspring to add to the new baby room inside.
So let me add to your stress: are you sure your car is big enough for the new progeny? That 10-year-old Golf may be getting a little tired; and think of all the bending down to strap your kid in the seat. How about an SUV? Oh, of course, you're strapped for cash, what with diapers and the mortgage and your upcoming trip to Europe that you had planned years ago and are darned if you'll cancel now. So, how about a small crossover? There are several to choose from, even if we keep it to around $10,000; plus, their smaller size will save you at the gas pump.
You'll find a plethora of Chevrolet's Equinox for model years 2006 to 2011. Go newer; older versions were a bit rough around the edges, plus traction and stability control were made standard in 2007. A V-6 was available for all years since its inception in 2005, but a better V-6 and inline four-cylinder came with the redesign in 2010. In fact, try to save your pennies for that one, as its fit, finish, ride and performance are far better than its predecessors. It has fairly good reliability (better with newer models) and just a few recalls, including for a fuel leak, safety belts that may fail and potentially faulty defrosters.
A good bet is to go with the one that started the compact crossover segment, the Toyota RAV4 – which first hit showrooms in North America in 1995. Luckily, you can find them a bit newer than that in your price range, most easily between 2006-2008. These years offered a fun-to-drive vehicle with an available third-row of seating and a 265-hp V-6, a whopper in this class. Get the inline four-cylinder for better fuel economy. One drawback: the automatic transmission only has four gears, forcing the engine to whine at highway speeds. And though it's proven reliable, it has a lengthy list of recalls, including that famous one for unwanted acceleration (solved with the floor mat solution).
When shopping for any used car, one make you can often rely on is Honda, and in this case, it doesn't disappoint. There are plenty of CR-Vs for sale in this price range, but you'll also be lucky to find anything past 2007 or 2008, and so you'll have a decision to make: the body style changed in 2007 to a more swoopy, stylish look, but at the cost of less cargo room and visibility. Form or function? It's up to you. But the newer style also had the rear liftgate instead of a swinging door and a beefier four-cylinder engine with better fuel economy. Handling is spirited and the ride is composed, and reliability for all model years was exemplary. In fact, Consumer Reports called it a "good bet," though there were recalls that dealt with door locks, air bags and the suspension.
A Nissan Rogue will get you a newer ride, with the 2008-2009 models available in our price range. This compact SUV is good, with a nice ride, decent handling and a unique look. It's on the large side in the compact segment, but that gives you and your cargo more room inside. So why is this a questionable purchase? Because the 2008 model – the Rogue's first year in production – has a history of major problems with its continuously variable transmission. It has improved since, so if you fall in love with the Rogue, spend a little more for a newer model. Maybe Europe will just have to wait.
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