Here are your best used crossover and SUV bets for reliable wintertime traction for less than $15,000
Hyundai Tucson, 2010-2013
Kia Sportage, 2011-2013
Jeep Compass, 2007-2013
Jeep Patriot, 2007-2013
Mitsubishi RVR, 2011-2014
Nissan Rogue, 2008-2012
Subaru Forester, 2008-2013
Suzuki Grand Vitara, 2007-2013
Toyota Matrix AWD, 2009-2013
Crossovers are all the rage these days, and in Canada it’s not hard to see why. These car-based vehicles usually offer all-wheel drive traction, which is a very attractive proposition given the harsh winter conditions that most parts of the country are subjected to for several months of every year.
But that weather creates a lot of demand for AWD vehicles, which can drive up prices. We’ve done some research to find a selection of the best crossovers with four-wheel traction you can buy for less than $15,000. Note that our focus was reliability, but all of these vehicles will handle themselves admirably in wintry weather, especially when fitted with winter tires, which we recommend wholeheartedly.
You’ll notice a few well-known models are missing from this list — that’s because we’re focusing on a combination of strong value and reliability. Vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 — two very reliable cars — aren’t here because they’re anything but inexpensive on the used market.
In 2010, Hyundai redesigned its compact Tucson crossover into a second generation that gained a lot of style and refinement in the process. It has proven a reasonably robust vehicle at attractive used vehicle prices. Watch for shift quality issues from the automatic transmission (the only one you’ll find in AWD models) and make sure the transmission responds promptly to movements of the shift lever.
Hyundai’s corporate sibling, Kia, redesigned its Sportage into a new generation in 2011. It used the same mechanicals as the Tucson but offered a turbocharged engine as an upgrade that makes good power but also uses a lot more gas. In both the Tucson and Sportage, make sure the backup camera works (if so equipped) and make sure the heater fan works on all speeds. If it doesn’t, you’re in need of a new resistor, a cheap electronic component that’s easy to replace.
Look for Tuscon from the 2010 through 2013 model years, or a 2011 through 2013 Sportage.
The Jeep Compass and its Patriot sibling marked Jeep’s first foray into the car-based SUV arena back in the late 2000s. While they were not particularly well-received as new models thanks to cheap interior finishes (prior to 2009 in particular), they are pretty durable mechanically.
Both the Compass and Patriot are notable for offering low-range 4WD gearing that offers a level of off-road ability a step above what most small crossovers can boast.
In both models, listen for noise from the front suspension that could indicate worn tie rod ends, ball joints and control arm bushings, all of which are common trouble spots. Look for signs of water leaking onto the headliner, especially toward the rear of the car, and have your potential purchase inspected for leaks from where the drive axles attach to the front and rear differential assemblies.
You’ll find Compass and Patriot models as new as 2013 for less than $15,000.
Though Mitsubishi is well-known around the world, it’s a small player in North America and as such not a lot of people realize that this company actually builds pretty good cars. In the RVR, look out for worn front strut mounts that can cause noise and a binding sensation as the steering wheel is turned. Make sure the shocks and other suspension components, like bushings, are in good shape; poor ride quality and knocking or creaking noises heard over bumps are your clues here.
One of Mitsubishi’s calling cards is its generous warranty, which covers the car for 10 years and 160,000 km from new, and is transferable to subsequent owners.
Just to avoid confusion, note that the RVR is called the Outlander Sport in the United States.
The RVR debuted as a 2011 model and versions as new as 2014s can be found for less than $15,000.
It’s easy to overlook the first-generation Nissan Rogue thanks to its forgettable styling. But underneath that is a solid little crossover. Trouble spots are mostly minor here: the gas gauge may be inaccurate and show the fuel level being higher than it is, and the transmission may refuse to shift out of park thanks to a fault in a shift lock feature designed to release when the brake pedal is pressed.
The Rogue uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that has been the subject of reliability concerns, but these mostly affect older models. Nissan addressed those complaints by extending warranty coverage on the transmission to 10 years and 200,000 km, whichever comes first.
Shop for a Rogue from the 2012 model year or older to keep the price under $15,000.
Subaru is among the most recognizable names among makers of all-wheel drive vehicles thanks to its excellent AWD setup, which differs from most by powering all four wheels all the time rather than running in two-wheel drive mode until a wheel slips.
Key among things to watch for here are the engine’s cylinder head gaskets. This is a well-known problem with Subaru’s vehicles, so be sure to have a trusted mechanic take a look before you buy for signs of engine oil or coolant leaking externally; in some cases, both fluids can leak into the combustion chambers. Either way, a low level of either fluid is a worrying sign.
In turbocharged models, watch for signs of oil starvation at the turbo itself, and ask to maintenance records to check that the proper grade of oil was used at every oil change. These turbo engines run well if well-maintained but are sensitive to poor maintenance.
The Forester commands strong resale values, but a careful shoppers can find one as new as 2013 for less than our $15,000 benchmark.
Here’s another brand many people forgot about, which was a major factor in Suzuki’s automotive division pulling out of the North American marketplace (they still sell motorbikes here). The Grand Vitara isn’t much to look at, but this is an underrated vehicle that is both reasonably durable and boasts solid off-road performance.
Key things to look for include evidence of an oil leak at the engine’s valve cover, which could point to a worn timing chain tensioner. It’s essential to proper engine operation and is expensive to replace.
Check that electrical components like power windows and the sunroof (if equipped) work properly. The sunroof switch has generated complaints among owners.
You won’t find a Grand Vitara newer than 2013 — the year Suzuki bailed out of North America — but even those latest ones should be easy enough to find for less than $15,000.
Here’s an outlier in a list of vehicles that otherwise consists of crossovers. Now, Toyota marketed the Matrix as a crossover, but in truth it’s just a small hatchback that could be optioned with AWD.
Toyota’s reputation for reliability is strong, but there are a few things to watch for. Some 2009 models with the 2.4-litre engine (which was mandatory with AWD) had defective piston rings that Toyota replaced under warranty. Make sure the engine in the car you’re looking at has the proper oil level in it for some reassurance all is well.
Power window switches can seize up over time, and don’t be surprised if the car you test drive has some squeaks and rattles: the Matrix’s plasticky interior was not known for fantastic fit and finish.
Toyota discontinued the Matrix in 2014, but cars as new as 2013 should come in under our $15,000 limit.