Author Topic: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?  (Read 3266 times)

bearman

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Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« on: November 19, 2012, 02:53:06 PM »
Hi all - wondering what your thoughts might be on a car that:

--can tow at least a small travel / camping trailer
--can handle 6-12 inches of snow on the road
--gets as much fuel-efficiency as possible

The best I can come up with (from an MMM perspective) is something like an early 2000s Subaru Outback Sport - the v6 model has AWD, ~2,000lb towing and gets MPGs in the 20s, for $6k-$10k, depending on mileage.

I live in a mountainous area and often drive into trailheads for extended hiking. Maybe 4-5 months a year this involves quite a bit of snow (this part of the equation + a travel trailer is the new scenario I'm trying to solve for). While this car would never truly go off-roading, it would certainly see gravel + snowy roads at fairly significant inclines. Aside from that, this car would be the main shuttle for groceries, pets, vacations and (occasional) building supplies.

Anyone have a good suggestion for a car optimized in these areas? I'm open to pretty much anything, even a more complicated suggestion like "get X model and then get Y modification to it."

Thanks!

Togoshiman

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #1 on: November 19, 2012, 03:37:13 PM »
Some quick thoughts, dependent on what country you are in:

- Subaru Outback Sport: similar capability for your stated purposes as the Outback, but smaller and thus more fuel efficient.  Will have to check towing capability, but likely to suffice.  If you do go Outback, what about the 4-cyl?

- Older smaller 4x4s: For example, Suzuki Tracker (also marketed as Chevy in some places), first gen CR-V, Isuzu Rodeo, etc.

- AWD cars: Not the ground clearance, but an Impreza will go pretty much anywhere with good tires (more through the snow than above it...).  If your trail heads are accessed by dirt roads, this should suffice really.  If you do have boulders which would rip out your exhaust system or truly a foot of snow, then perhaps you need the clearance.

- Offbeat:  VW Vanagon or other camper type vehicle with clearance and mild off road capability.  Some minivans come with AWD as well, though not likely in your price range.

- Two cars:  Old Jeep Cherokee, pickup or any of the above just for camping and a fuel-sipper FWD for day-to-day?  I would consider whether the need for one vehicle to do everything is warranted, carrying that bigger engine, AWD/4WD, etc. to get the groceries.

- Even lifestyle changes: semi-permanent trailer in fixed location accessible by car (even AWD car).

Just some food for thoughts.




bearman

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #2 on: November 19, 2012, 06:35:10 PM »
Thanks, Togoshiman. To add a few details:

--yes, US model cars (I live in the Northwest)
--I have my main commuter car ('02 Honda Civic)
--this is mainly for all the reasons above, plus it would be my wife's car
--you're right: ground clearance is less of a goal (we won't be driving over boulders or logs); ability to go through / over snow is the goal

Again, thanks for the ideas. That gives me a few different starting points.

MountainFlower

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2012, 09:34:00 PM »
I live at 9000 ft in Colorado and commute to work on 7 miles of steep, dirt roads every day each way.  I have an AWD SUV.  In my experience, a suburu will not go through 12 inches of snow, especially if it is at all windblown or wet.

And, for the record, there is very little Mustachian about my life...I'm new!  However, this is an area where I have experience so at I figured I'd chime in.  I don't know first hand, but based on 17 years of living in the mountains, my guess is that an impreza may not suffice and I'm fairly certain that it would not work for my commute with 12 inches of snow, but we get a lot of wind, so perhaps that taints my perspective.  Windblown snow is like cement. 

My MPG sucks.  I get 18.6.    I have had several SUVs and in my experience the Japanese-made vehicles have been far cheaper over the long run than the Jeep Grand Cherokees we've had.  The Jeeps are cheaper to buy, but seem to have regular and costly repairs. 

SUVs are really expensive; I know this more than anyone because we have had two for many, many years, so perhaps it's worth considering something different.  What about a small 4x4 pickup truck?  What about renting an SUV for those times you want one?  Perhaps you have a friend who would rent you theirs for the day.  I'd probably do that!  If your snow depths are more like 6" and you're wiling to forgo the days when the snow is deeper, a Suburu might be the answer. 

Hope that helps. 
 

Matte

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2012, 10:13:30 PM »
Similar situation, although snow is less common here but I start work early and end late, and am essential so no snow days for me.  My main commuter is mine and wife uses the truck for getting groceries and her very short commute.  Two things to keep in mind are check the exact model for mpg, engines and gear ratios make or break a car.  My wife's gas bill actually went down going from a 96 Sebring to a newer Chevy pickup. The Sebring was a sport edition and only got a rating of 22mpg, the truck is rated at 24.  Also the newer ratings are geared to reflect average driving so there is way more room to hypermile.  My last two trucks have been 4.8l v8s with 3.42 highway gears and have given me mid 20s driving highway and mid teens in town, sadly better then a lot of smaller lighter SUVs and cars.  Also the towing limits in the owners manual are not law so unlike payload you can exceed them, trailer brakes are needed and tranny cooler is a good idea. A vehicle that can be fit with freewheel hubs also can ease the gas pain of 4x4.  I know lots of toyotas have this option, a side note from personal experience Toyota 4x4s with 4cyl or v6 (not newer rav4) are very very thirsty!

Matt K

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #5 on: November 20, 2012, 06:21:42 AM »
12" of snow is pretty much beyond most stock consumer cars. Hell, most SUVs have less than 9" of ground clearance. I know you don't need to clear all the snow, but the more the better.

Two options I can think of, both can tow a small trailer:

1 - Jeep Patriot with the high end AWD option (they offered it with two 4x4 options, the entry level one sucked, the higher one was "trail rated"). It's no wrangler, but it was supposed to be okay. I drove a rental one for a week and got very good gas mileage in the city (25mpg all city).

2 - Suzuki SX4. Solid car, especially if you do your own work on thecar (lots of room under the hood, things are laid out nicely). There are lift kits available for it, and some people take them places hatchbacks don't often go... With Suzuki closing their US car operations, you can probably find some fearful person selling theirs cheap. Don't worry about parts availability though: if the worst happens and Suzuki US has a hard teim getting parts, Suzuki is still selling cars in Canada, and the SX4 has been fairly popular here, so you can always order parts from across the border.

SMC

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #6 on: November 20, 2012, 08:18:55 AM »
Upon reading your requirements my first thought was an Outback.  I bet you could even get away with the 2.5L 4cyl for towing as long as you get a manual transmission; however the 2.5L is known for headgasket failure so be sure to get one that's already been done (or else just stick with the 6cyl and don't worry about it).  You can get a bolt-on hitch off etrailer for <$200 and I believe Outbacks have a plugin for trailer lights in the trunk so you don't have to worry about getting any fancy wiring done.

Fuel: Expect to get anywhere from 22-29mpg, not great for a car but better than an suv for sure.

Regarding snow, a Subaru WITH PROPER WINTER TIRES will get through well over 12" of powder snow no problem, done it many times.  Last winter I was snowboarding down in Fernie and we got over 70cms in 24hrs, the snow was literally up to my door handle and I had ZERO problems.  I didn't even dig my car (95' Legacy wagon) out of the parking spot, just cleared off the windshield, dug a path to the door and drove right out, I was actually quite surprised.   As has been mentioned before on these forums, the #1 KEY is proper snow tires.  There were TONNES of guys in SUV's with 4LO, lockers, etc who couldn't even budge, the reason was is they were on all-seasons.  For those who are doubtful I have pics.  Now it was powder snow, but if it snows >12" of heavy wet snow and isn't plowed everyone will be stuck, including SUV's etc.

If you can get an Outback with heated seats/mirrors that means it has the winter sport package which also includes a rear limited slip differential, I'd aim to get one of those if possible for added snow traction.  However my legacy had an open diff and it did fine.

If you're dead-set on an SUV one other option not mentioned is a Ford Escape.  I had one before I went to Subaru and it was a great car.  Got decent mileage (for an SUV - 19-22mpg) and they can tow and have decent clearance and also are available very cheap on the used market.  However having owned both a Legacy and a Ford Escape, I would pick the Legacy again.  The Legacy could do everything the Escape could do, got better mpg, actually had MORE interior cargo room, and was funner to drive.  The only two areas the Escape had the Legacy beat were power (V6 vs 4cyl) and ground clearance.  But the V6 Outback addresses both of those issues, thus I think it is the car to get.

« Last Edit: November 20, 2012, 08:21:31 AM by SMC »

SMC

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #7 on: November 20, 2012, 08:25:50 AM »
Ok just for fun, here's the pic from Fernie I was talking about.  Literally drove right out of this, just cleared off the windows and that's it.


MountainFlower

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #8 on: November 20, 2012, 09:47:09 AM »
Great picture and good information about the Subaru.  My DH doesn't fit in the Legacy, but we'll have to check out an outback as it sounds like it's got some a bit more room.  I have a 2002 Acura MDX.  It too, is a joy to drive and to maintain because it NEVER breaks down.  I'm probably not supposed to admit that on this forum...but it's true.  :-)  Even though it has AWD, it also has 4 Low, which has gotten me through more than once. 

Togoshiman

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #9 on: November 20, 2012, 09:53:24 AM »
I realized after I posted that I meant to say the Impreza Sport - I mean the Impreza which is raised up about 8 inches.  It's gone by a couple of different names (same idea as the new XV Crosstek).  The Impreza offers most of the same engine choices as the Outback (2.5 or 2.5 turbo for most years), the same AWD system and with the Sport version, the same ground clearance.  I'd look hard at the two vehicles if you're considering the Outback.

As for 12 inches of snow, I have a Legacy wagon that will blast through that no problem whatsoever.  I see SUVs, Jeeps, etc. in the ditches as a I roll past every winter.  However, I do not live up in the mountains in Colorado, so I do defer to those that do about local conditions.

I would gently suggest that if the Impreza, SX4 or similar gets you where you need to go 90% of the time, perhaps the truly dire snow weekends you stay warm and cozy at home?  Sometimes choosing not to go out is better than trying to buy a tank for every conceivable eventuality. 

Just food for thought - decisions are easiest to live with when you've considered everything up front and still reach your conclusion.

Matt K

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #10 on: November 20, 2012, 12:17:43 PM »
I realized after I posted that I meant to say the Impreza Sport - I mean the Impreza which is raised up about 8 inches.

I believe it was called the "Outback Sport", which confused a number of people since the "Outback" was a raised Legacy.

MountainFlower, I'm surprised your husband doesn't fit in an Imprezza, I have a 2010, and it has the most headroom of any car I've been in. Guys who are 6'4" have headroom in the back seat. But I don't know about the older ones. I didn't recommend the Subaru simply because it had already been stated.

Another option is one of the older Forresters. My buddy has a 2005 and it is good car. Pretty much just a taller boxier Legacy.

Lots of choices :)

Cooper

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #11 on: November 27, 2012, 09:48:28 AM »
Wife and I own a '03 Outback wagon, 4 cyl, automatic. We have averaged 24.6 mpg in mixed city/highway driving over the last year. It's nearly unstoppable with snow tires, as I drive it to snowboard frequently each winter. We haul bikes, dogs, camping gear, friends, etc. We have not towed anything with it, but I am sure it's capable for small things, especially if you add on a transmission cooler (search subie forums for info). The car has been really reliable for us and we love it for our active lifestyle.


FYI, the Outback Sport is based on the Impreza chassis. It has less ground clearance and is a bit smaller, but should get slightly better mpg. Another good option is the Forester.

happy

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Re: Ultimate car for MPG and towing and snow?
« Reply #12 on: November 28, 2012, 05:04:59 AM »
 I agree whats on the wheels is most important. My humble 4 cyl 2.2l Camry with chains on (This might be just an Aussie thing...we don't have so much snow) readily went through a good 12 inches of  new snow on a dirt road (in Australia its mostly heavy and wet). You could see a depression imprinted in between the wheel marks where the sump went through. Another family members Toyota Rav 4 (4WD), no chains, was inoperable with an experienced snow driver.

Outbacks are really popular here in the snow country. (not that we have much). A close friend has one, tows heavy trailers no worries, but its the 6 cylinder 3.0 L, mid 2000s model. They are heavy vehicles and for a car of their size with the bigger engine, they don't get great MPG: this one does 17-20MPG according to the owner.