Reader Question: Which to Buy?

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

Evan asks: I’m in need of a new used car again, and am in a place where I can now spend more, so I’m hoping to get something fun while still not breaking the bank.

Cars I’ve owned in the past: late ’80s Buick LeSabre, ’95 Dodge Intrepid, ’04 Mazda 6 manual 6 cylinder (funnest car I’ve owned), ’04 Hyundai Elantra, ’08 Toyota Tacoma.  Currently I just have the truck, its AC compressor seized up, I’m looking at a roughly $1,500 bill, and the frame is rusty enough it’s probably not worth fixing (I live in Hudson valley NY, and rust kills cars).
I find myself driving more these days so instead of a truck I want a good vehicle for commuting and longer trips. My GF is in NH about 3.5 hrs away, and about 1.5 miles off pavement, these dirt roads are good enough that 4wd is nice to have but isn’t a requirement (but enough ground clearance is). I’ve never driven a new car with all the “smart” features like lane departure warnings, etc., but I’m certain I would find them annoying.  I enjoy driving, I’m not as aggressive as in my 20s, but let’s just say I regularly beat Google maps time estimates and appreciate a car that handles well and has the get up and go to quickly and safely pass.  I don’t want a car that’s a cop magnet.
I’m my head these are the cars I think I would enjoy, but I’m hoping you can help narrow this list if any are unsuitable based on what I’ve described above or expand it if there are models I haven’t considered. Also which years should I avoid?
1. Mazda 6 (I greatly enjoyed this one in the past)
2. Kia Stinger
3. Genesis GV70 (or maybe G70/G80 but ground clearance an issue?)
4. Hyundai Veloster (maybe too low for dirt roads?)
My reply: I like all of the above, as a personal/subjective thing. But I’d cross the Veloster off the list because it’s very low to the ground and so not a good vehicle for dirt/unpaved roads, much less snow. The Stinger and Mazda 6 have the same issues, though to a lesser degree.
The GV70 would check the boxes, especially as regards dealing with the unpaved roads/snow. I would get the V6  (3.5T) rather than the four. This is, however, a much more expensive vehicle than either the Mazda or the Kia.
Have you thought about a newer (but not new) Taco with the V6/manual combo? These are excellent (durable, reliable and fun) trucks; hence their popularity. You could probably find a 3-4 year old one in near-new condition for much less than the cost of a new GV70 (about $58k for the 3.5T).
You might want to consider a 2-3-year old Subaru WRX; turbo engine and manual transmission; excellent on less-than-ideal roads (and in snow). If you’re ok with not-so-speedy, a Crosstrek (pre 2024) with the non-turbo engine and manual trans is another excellent option. Good gas mileage, too.
I also really like – and so recommend – the Honda Ridgeline. Totally bulletproof, high resale value and very clever design.
In terms of general things/thoughts: I’d try to avoid anything with a CVT transmission (except Toyotas, which have a different type of CVT) and most things made since about three or so years ago, the point at which “advanced safety technology” (read, driver pre-emption technology) became not just difficult to avoid but also difficult to disable.
Hope this is helpful!

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