My wife and I are a one car family, that is soon to be growing. It's time to trade the hot-hatch in for something a little bigger. She wants a safe, compact crossover with AWD. I don't want to give up having a quick car that is fun to toss around. Is it possible to have both for under $30,000?
First of all, congratulations on your expanding family. As the father of a two year old and with another on the way, I can understand the change in priorities. The good news is you don't have to drive a rolling snooze box if you want a crossover that is also family friendly. There are several CUVs that share hardware with their hot-hatch stablemates. Here are a few you should consider.
Volkswagen Tiguan SE (MSRP- $29,115)
Kinda Sorta Related Hot-Hatch - Previous generation MK6 GTI/Golf R
The Tiguan is based on the Golf platform and has the most standard horsepower thanks to VW's 2.0T four cylinder turbo previous found in the MK6 GTI. That 200 horsepower is sent to all-four wheels due to a similar Haldex AWD system that used in the Golf R. Of course the downside to the Tiguan is that it was pretty much outdated the moment it was released, and VW has done little to bring the crossover up to speed with the new crop of very competitive vehicles. But it is fairly quick, has solid road feel, and you can have one nicely equipped for about $30,000. Think of it as a bargain Audi Q5.
Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD (MSRP $29,220)
Kinda Sorta Related Hot-Hatch - Mazda3
Put down the pitchforks! I know the Mazda3 is not a hot hatchback. The all new, and quite excellent, Mazda3 shares the same platform with the CX-5. It offers a lot of style, content, and fuel economy for the price. Both the 3 and the CX-5 AWD are powered by an optional 2.5 liter SkyActiv engine that pumps out 184 horsepower. That's not bad and on par with the base power figures in comparison to cars like the CR-V and RAV-4, but you certainly aren't going to win any drag races. What you will get is a crossover that doesn't really feel or handle like your typical CUV. Like its Miata cousin, the CX-5 won't push you into your seat, but it is probably the most fun to rip into an exit ramp.
Ford Escape SE 4WD 2.0 EcoBoost (MSRP - $27,500)
Kinda Sorta Related Hot-Hatch- Focus ST
Ford has been killing it lately with performance oriented cars like the Mustang, ST twins, and the Raptor. Unfortunately, sometimes the hoon has to grow up and get something more adult. Luckily, the Escape 2.0 Ecoboost has the same turbo-charged four cylinder as the Focus ST, and a decent suspension setup that should give you plenty of confidence in the corners. While we think the 1.6 EcoBoost for about $1200 less is probably the better value, either version should provide a nice balance of practicality and fun. Just make sure you opt for the foot-activated tailgate, that is a great gadget for loading strollers and kiddie gear.
Subaru Forester XT Premium (MSRP - $29,345)
Kinda Sorta Related Hot-Hatch- WRX
Subaru decided to ax the hatchback version of the WRX, so if you want a flat-four turbocharged, five-door your only choice is the Forester XT. With a more advanced AWD system than that base Forester and motor shared with the 'Rex mated to a CVT (boo) with paddle-shifters (yay!), this is one quick CUV. Combine all that with top safety rating and spacious interior and you have a family friendly crossover, that can still satisfy the hoon.
So what is the overall winner? That is a tough choice. I would probably pass on the VW, given that it desperately needs a refresh, has the worst MPG, and not the greatest reliability. The Mazda is going to give you the best handling and most amount of features for your money, but you may be let down by the lack of power. The Subie is great and I wouldn't fault you for choosing it, however, I think the value is in the Ford. It is the least expensive while still giving you everything you need and you can probably score some bigger discounts in comparison to the Forester.
If you have a question, a tip, or something you would like to to share about car-buying, drop me a line at AutomatchConsulting@gmail.com and be sure to include your Kinja handle.