What's the right "impractical" car for a sheep-farming woman?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Jan 01, 2009

Dear Tom and Ray:

I am a middle-aged (OK, middle-aged-plus) woman who drives a Mini Cooper S with a manual transmission. I purchased it last year for whatever psychological reasons post-hormonal women do things like that. I love driving it, but it is totally impractical, since I own a sheep farm in Vermont at the top of a hill. I am thinking of trading it in for a Volvo C30 -- yes, I know that is impractical as well, but it is a bit heavier, so perhaps it is safer. What are your thoughts as to the mechanical workings and comparative safety mechanisms of each? Would I be going from the frying pan into the fire? Thank you, in advance, for your response.

-- Ellen

RAY: I'm assuming that by "impractical," you mean that the Mini is about as useful in the snow as a leopard-print bikini.

TOM: Not to mention that you can't fit more than about three sheep in there, even if you fold down the back seats and tell them to squish together.

RAY: I don't get the feeling this is Ellen's sheep-transporting vehicle; I'm assuming this is her everyday transportation. If the problem is Vermont's combination of mud, snow and hills, then the solution for you is all-wheel drive.

TOM: The Volvo C30 doesn't have all-wheel drive either. So scratch that off your list.

RAY: I can see that you're attracted to cute, little European hatchbacks, Ellen. My brother's third wife was a cute, little European hatchback.

TOM: And she was impractical, too.

RAY: I think there are two possible solutions. One is to keep the Mini, if you love it, and get a winter car. Or a winter truck. Get something with all-wheel, or four-wheel, drive that you can use during the months when there's snow on the ground in Vermont. (That would be September through June.)

TOM: Alternatively, you could trade in the Mini for a cute, little European hatchback that has all-wheel drive. The first one that comes to mind is the Audi A3.

RAY: The A3 is a four-door, small wagon that looks like a hatchback. It's a little bigger than the Mini and the Volvo, but it's not a big car by any means. It's got all of the state-of-the-art safety equipment. It's got a high-class interior, with all the creature comforts, including the all-important turbo-charged seat heaters for Vermont winter mornings. It's fun to drive, decent on gas (with the four-cylinder engine option) and you can get it with all-wheel drive.

TOM: There are only two downsides. In really deep snow, no small car is going to be great, because it won't have the ground clearance that a truck has. So when you've got 20 inches of fresh, unplowed snow out there, you'll still have to stay home, cuddle with the sheep and watch "Jeopardy!"

RAY: And there probably are only about two Audi dealers in all of Vermont. So you'll need to either be lucky enough to live close to one of them, or marry an Audi mechanic. Good luck either way, Ellen.

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