Can you recommend a small AWD vehicle for my petite wife?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Mar 01, 1998

Dear Tom and Ray:

I'm about to purchase a new vehicle, primarily for my wife's use. She has no
interest in being involved in the purchase decision, but will be the first to
let me know if I've made a mistake after the fact! She'll be using the vehicle
for basic commuting, but the route she takes is hilly and gets very icy during
the winter. My primary concern is getting her a car that will get her safely to
work and back.

Also, my wife is short, and is a somewhat insecure driver. She's the type of
driver who travels below the speed limit, makes turns very slowly, and generally
annoys the hell out of everyone else on the road. I've narrowed the choices down
to a Suburu Impreza Wagon since it's small and has "all wheel drive," and a
Toyota RAV4, which is also "all wheel drive" and is higher off the ground and
might give her better visibility. I have to decide if the extra $2,000 is worth
it for the Toyota. What do you think? -- Tim

RAY: Well, I think either one will do the job, Tim. And we can suggest two other
cars in the same class and price range; the Suburu Forrester (which is based on
the Impreza) and the Honda CRV, which is similar to the RAV4.

TOM: All of those vehicles are considered "all wheel drive." That means that
they have center differentials, which allows their four-wheel-drive systems to
be engaged all the time. That's safer and more effective than a "part time" or
"on demand" four-wheel-drive system, which you have to decide when to turn on
and off.

RAY: They're all relatively small, so your wife, who's small, should feel
comfortable maneuvering and parking any of them.

TOM: And they're all probably above average in reliability, although a
significant edge in that area would have to go to the Toyota, which makes
perhaps the world's most reliable cars, and Honda, which is right up there as

RAY: But at this point, your wife really has to get involved in the purchase
decision. You've narrowed it down as far as you can without her. Now you have to
ask her to drive a couple of these cars and see which one she feels most
comfortable in.

TOM: She may find the height of the RAV4 intimidating, and may prefer the more
"car-like" feel of the Impreza. On the other hand, she may instantly fall in
love with the RAV4, because she's sitting higher up and can see right over the
Honda Civics in front of her. Or she may like the Forrester, which is right
about in the middle.

RAY: Personally, I'd get the RAV4. We've been testing one for almost a year now,
and it's been absolutely perfect. We haven't had a single problem with it, and
it's been fun and practical in all kinds of situations.

TOM: I'd like to agree, but my brother decided to demonstrate its practicality
about six months ago by hauling a load of manure -- and I haven't been able to
test drive it without gagging ever since.

* * *

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