George and his wife have a ten-year-old Honda Element that they love, but it’s time to move on to something newer. They have a healthy budget for a nice AWD/4WD vehicle, but she is adamant that it can’t be the “typical crossover” or have a boring color. What car should they buy?
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Here is the scenario -
My wife has a 2009 Honda Element that she adores. We have both found the Element to be a super practical car. But it’s getting a little long in the tooth and we are starting to think about replacements. This is tricky because she has strong preferences in terms of styling; she hates the look of the typical 2019 crossover and doesn’t want a “boring” color like black, white, silver, or beige. This eliminates a lot of options that might be considered as the usual recommendations, such as the RAV4, CR-V, or CX-5.
The car has to be suitable for year-round commute in snowy Northern New England, and for around 20 mi/week on dirt roads. Want something reasonably reliable. Modern active safety features would be a plus. We have a 65 lb German Shepherd who’s in the car several times a week, so a vehicle well suited for a dog (e.g. easy for her to get in and out of, with plenty of room once inside ) would also be a plus.
Our budget is up to $50,000. We like Land Rovers but are concerned about the reliability and the FJ Cruiser is great but the prices are insane for how old they are.
Budget: up to $50,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: New Hampshire
Wants: AWD/4WD, Not boring, Cool color
Doesn’t want: The same old crossover
Expert 1: Tom McParland - Go With Something Old School, Yet New School
That’s too bad about your Honda Element, but it seems like you got your money’s worth out of that rig. It is also too bad the Honda brand isn’t as creative as it once was. You are correct that most of the usual suspects all fall into basically the same mold with a slight variation in flavor and style. Luckily there is one car that, according to a recent ad campaign, is not a “pretender,” that is the Jeep Wrangler.
The Wrangler is one of the most iconic 4x4s in motoring history, and the most recent version has an excellent balance of off-road capability and on-road manners making it a pretty decent commuter car. Obviously, the Wrangler can handle whatever dirt roads, snow and whatever other conditions New England winters can throw down, but the best part is that Wranglers are fun, and Jeep offers a variety of fun colors across all the trims.
Fifty grand can get you a pretty well equipped Unlimited which would have plenty of room for the dog, and what dog wouldn’t like cruising around in the warmer weather with the top off? Check out this Sahara trim in a fantastic yellow.
Expert 2: David Tracy - Once You Go Boxy Unibody, You Should Never Go Back
Look, I’m the proud owner of multiple [redacted because I’m banned from mentioning this certain brand], and one of the things I love most about the model is its brilliant packaging. Like your Element, it’s a boxy, unibody design that looks reasonably small-ish on the outside, but feels like the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on the inside. I love this setup, and I bet you do, too.
In fact, when AMC redesigned the [redacted] for model year 1984 from a body-on-frame setup to unibody, the new configuration was said to have kept 90 percent of the predecessor’s interior volume while cutting 21 inches of length, six inches of width, four inches of height, and 1,200 pounds of heft.
Anyway, my point is that whatever you replace your Element with has to be boxy and unibody, otherwise you’re taking a step backwards. So allow me to recommend the Ford Flex, a big, seven-passenger, unibody box-on-wheels that you can get with all-wheel drive, and—more importantly—in a two tone paint scheme. It’s also in your price range, with 2019 models selling in the upper $20,000, lower $30,000 range.
Expert 3: Jason Torchinsky - Think Outside the Box to Find the Right Outside Box
First, George, I really admire your wife’s car standards here—she doesn’t want the usual anonymous crap, and I couldn’t agree with her more. While it’s tricky to find something modern and newer than your Element that meets your needs for non-boringness, I think there is a great, perhaps unexpected option: a RAM Promaster City!
Yes, this Americanized version of the trusty Fiat Doblò is a very useful and flexible little van, and in the Promaster City Wagon SLT version, it’s got side windows and a back seat, just like any stupid boring-ass SUV out there.
But, it doesn’t look like every boring-ass SUV, sporting a gleeful riot of curves and contours and a funny but pleasant face that all adds up to something that looks fun and capable and stands out. Even better, you can get it in real colors, like that fantastic yellow up there!
It’s got enough of the modern crap you’ll want—rearview camera, park-assist sensors, center-stack LCD screen, and probably other stuff, certainly more than your Element.
Getting your big dog in and out shouldn’t be a big deal at all, and even if it’s not AWD, a set of winter tires on this thing will make it as capable as any RAV4 out there, I’m sure.
Even better, it’s like half of your budget, coming in at around $28,000. What’s not to like? Useful, practical, non-boring, fun colors—we’re done here, right?
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