What's Not Too Big or Small, but Just Right?

  • Web Lackey
  • 7/18/2020

Dear Car Talk:

After 30 years in California, I will soon move back home to Maine to be near my aging parents.

I'm not taking my 2010 VW GTI with me. Nice car, but in snow it would wallow like a beached whale.

Can you recommend a small wagon for the frozen north? It needs to be all-wheel-drive, and big enough to carry groceries, luggage, or a folding wheelchair, while not so big it is inconvenient to park.

I also want a car with good all-around visibility. Backup cameras are great, but they do not make up for the pitiful rear windshield on many recent models. I recently drove a rental that had a good camera, but the back window resembled a smoked-glass port-hole. None of that, please.

My parents have a 2008 Subaru Forester. I wouldn't mind having a car just like it if it was less than 5 years old. But the newer Foresters are gigantic!

Can you recommend a car that would work for me? Thanks! -- Caroline

Gee, you kind of burst my bubble there at the end of your letter, Caroline.

Everything you asked for was pointing me toward a Subaru Forester: all-wheel drive, big enough for a wheelchair, great visibility. But then you described it as huge.

Maybe when you get to Maine, you can go test drive a Chevy Tahoe. And then go right from there to the Subaru dealer. The Forester will seem downright claustrophobic.

Seriously, I would give a little more thought to the Forester, because it meets so many of your criteria. It has great visibility -- which, as you say, is unusual these days -- and Subarus are notoriously good in the New England winter.

The other car that comes right to mind is the VW Golf Alltrack. It's more commonly known as the Jetta Wagon.

It was just discontinued for 2020, but you can probably find a leftover new one, a demo, or a lightly used one if you like it.

It also has all-wheel drive. It's a small station wagon, not an SUV. And it has excellent visibility, with a nice, large, flat back window that made us reminisce about the days when we could see behind us. It's also a little smaller, in every dimension, than the Forester, and more carlike. You might like that.

Those are the two that come to mind first, Caroline. But if you decide they're both too big for you, I'll give you two other ideas.

One is the Subaru CrossTrek, which is smaller than the Forester. But I don't think you'll like the visibility as much.

Another option is a car we just drove and liked, the Kia Seltos. Again, the visibility is not quite as good as in the Forester or the Alltrack, but it's a good 8 inches shorter than even the VW. You'll need to bring the wheelchair with you to test the cargo space, though, since we didn't do a wheelchair test during our review.

But when considering size, bear in mind, you're moving to Maine. Last we checked, lack of parking was not among the top 10 reasons not to move to Maine. Moose-car collisions and eight months of winter each made the top 10, but parking in most parts of Maine is pretty easy, so you might be due for a perspective adjustment.

But good for you for moving to be near your parents. They're lucky to have you, Caroline. Maybe they'll even show their gratitude by giving you your own parking space.

Todays Car-o-Scope

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