I walked into a Subaru dealership this past weekend, the first time in my life I’d ever set foot in one. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe I hadn’t been in one before. As I drove up in my dusty Tacoma with a mountain bike strapped to a hitch rack and surfboards in the bed, I parked next to my doppelgänger, except he was in a late model Subaru, trading up apparently. We gave each other a little nod and I walked into the used cars office to meet the dealer. There I was again, except this time in poster form, blown up to a wall-covering size, loading up a bike on the back of a muddy Outback, heading off down a dirt road in Colorado somewhere. I mean, it wasn’t actually me, but it was me.
During my test drive (Outback, if you’re wondering), the dealer asked me why I was interested in Subarus. Well, I explained, I spend lots of time in the mountains, have lots of outdoor toys, need to drive down nasty dirt roads, and through snow in the winter, so I need AWD. Plus, I’d grown a bit tired of the poor MPG and the size of my truck. I want something smaller, easier to maneuver. Plus, AWD or 4WD. Also, I really, really need a backseat. So, Subaru it is. Thinking back to what I saw in the office, I’m almost literally the poster child for a Subaru owner.
When she asked me what other cars I was comparing to the Subaru, I sort of guffawed in exasperation. I’d love to cross-shop, I explained, but what else is out there? Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Mazda all make crossovers with AWD, but they’re too soft and not really as capable as I think I need. Jeep’s offerings are too thirsty, crude, and unreliable. Sure, there’s the 4Runner, but that doesn’t solve the gas mileage or size dilemma. Volvo makes some gorgeous AWD wagons, but holy hell are they expensive and not something I’d ever want bouncing down a rutted-out fire road.
“Uh huh. Take this next exit,” the dealer said, breaking me from my screed that probably lasted ten minutes. The test drive was over.
It was a screed I’d launched into numerous times over the years, and one I’ve heard countless times from fellow outdoor enthusiasts when it’s time to replace a vehicle. There’s just no perfect, off-road capable vehicle out there, (well, maybe this one) we say to each other, on the phone late at night perusing Cars.com. I wish there were more wagons, we lament in sandy beach parking lots wedging surfboards into hatchbacks too small for the purpose. Why don’t they make smaller compact pickups anymore? we ask each other over burritos after a bike ride.
They seem to make them overseas. So many funky, cool hatchbacks and wagons we don’t get in the States. The Toyota Prado, available in pretty much every country on earth besides ours, would be an awesome option, a sort of stripped-down, much cheaper Land Cruiser (badged as the Lexus GX470 in the US, it’s a beautiful rig, but doesn’t have the inexpensive bare-bones quality). Tons of smaller, diesel-powered trucks overseas too that we just can’t get here.
The Outback was great, by the way. As was the Forester I drove afterward. I’m sure I’ll end up with one of them. But sure would be nice to have something to compare them with. Another option that really scratches the itch for a reliable, inexpensive kid hauler that can handle itself in the backcountry just fine, with an element of coolness too, but that isn’t a full-on truck or SUV. An old-school Volvo wagon that has 4WD maybe. Or a less-finicky and not stratospherically expensive Syncro.
I guess that perfect vehicle doesn’t exist. At least if it does, I haven’t seen it yet.
I’m taking suggestions. What do you drive for your fun outdoors-y family car? What am I missing?