Reader Question: Mazda vs. Toyota and Honda… and Maybe Soobie?

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Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!

James asks: Hello Eric, Enjoy your site very much. Lots of great info & a refreshing & honest political view. Anyway, I would like your opinion… My youngest son is in the market for a used car, he needs AWD for the winters in NJ and has about 10K to spend. I’m leaning toward a Mazda CX-3 or CX-5, maybe a Honda or Toyota. Any help would be appreciated.

My reply: Any of these would be a good choice – assuming the particular car being considered is a sound one, in good shape mechanically, etc. The main thing with used cars – any make or model – is condition. Which depends on how it was cared for – and driven. The best (when new) Honda or Toyota can be turned into a veritable Yugo by abuse and neglect. Ergo – as those old Romans used to say – you want to focus at least as much on things like overall condition, a track record of regular maintenance – and so on – as on the price of the vehicle.

That said – and all else being equal – there are some differences between the models you mentioned. The Mazdas are much sportier in terms of looks as well as how they drive; they are also a bit less practical, being slightly less space-efficient. On the other hand, the Toyota (RAV4, I’m assuming) and the Honda CR-V/HR-V (the latter is basically the same thing on a smaller scale) are as blue chip as its gets and while stodgy, they have top-notch reps for reliability and very high resale value.

You might also have a look at the Subaru Crosstrek, which is a similar vehicle but unlike the others it comes standard with AWD, is available with a manual transmission and has the most ground clearance of the bunch.

Hope this is helpful!

. . .

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Also on Soobies, some years have head gasket coolant leakage issues to watch out for. A little Google-fu on the year in question if you’re looking at one should turn up some leads to investigate or not.

    Had a ’99 Legacy wagon for a couple years, great car, wish I still had it. Slow with the AT and the EJ22 engine, but reliable, smooth, and handled very nicely. Even had a spin-on AT filter and a dipstick for the front diff!

  2. No one needs AWD in NJ. Even here in the mountains of far-northern New Hampshire, FWD is sufficient with proper snow tires.

    Tires are the key: “all season” tires are not for all seasons in snow country. Get the FWD car of your choosing, and order a set of painted steel wheels mounted with Bridgestone Blizzaks (those are my favorites, but choose what you wish), and swap between winter and summer sets as the season changes.

    AWD with crap tires will do you absolutely no good in the snow.

    • Hi Kevin,

      Absolutely; I agree completely. AWD is oversold – because it’s profitable to sell it and so it’s important (from the seller’s point of view) to convince people they need it.

  3. Also Subarus have a timing belt change at 100k miles, which is a major service. ($1200 typical). So, look to see if that has been done or not.

  4. I have experience with mazdas going back to 80s and it can be summed up as follows: 17 years or 200K miles which ever comes first and then everything starts going at once. Until then they are more or less just fine. Of course I am in a road salt/winter state and that may have a lot to do with it.

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