Used College Snow, Replacing the SAAB 9-3, VW Golf vs Mazda3 and all conquering best in snow [Ask Nathan]

2014 buick verano nathan adlen
Nathan and The Fast Lane Car team are here to answer your (reasonable) questions. Interesting and/or entertaining emails will be posted to this column. If it’s relevant in the automotive universe, there’s a chance we may know something about it. The author’s email address and name will be omitted – leaving your initials or nickname, your preference.

From day one, The Fast Lane Car has made it our policy to answer as many questions and comments as we can. We get thousands of emails and comments and feel that, as part of a tight-knit automotive community, having an open dialogue with you keeps things fresh and exciting.


In this edition of Ask Nathan:

  • Best Used College in Snow?
  • Replacing my SAAB 9-3?
  • Mazda3 GT vs Volkswagen Golf SEL
  • Very best new car for snow?

2014 bmw x5 xc60 volvo

This first question comes from two brothers looking for a good, used ride for college that’s good in snow.

Q:Dear Nathan,
My brother and I are trying to shop for a more fuel efficient vehicle (used) for college. We’ve seen a few nice Volvos (s60 and XC90), but were advised that their turbo-chargers meant that we had to let them idle for a bit before shutting them off, and they need a $1300 timing belt replaced at certain intervals. Do you know if any of this is true? If so, do you have any recommendations as to a good used car, preferably one that’s good in snow?

A: Great questions! First of all, yes – some turbocharged vehicles, including Volvos, recommend a moment of idling at the lowest rpm before shutting down. This lets the turbine cool a bit before you stop the flow of oil bathing the journal-bearing. Some vehicles have an electric pump the continues the flow of oil for a moment to help cool it too. Letting a vehicle cool for a moment or two, especially after hard driving, is (usually) a good idea anyway.

Yes, like many premium brands, Volvo’s components are pricy. Still, they build great snow vehicles.

There are lots of great used vehicles for snow. Most cars from Subaru, Acura, Infiniti and Volkswagen compete with Volvo and are worth looking in to. I highly recommend proper snow tires for any vehicle you choose. That’s one of the most important parts of a good snow vehicle.

Best of luck!


62476saa-Saab 9-3 TTiD

Here’s a great email from a Rocky Mountain local who wants to replace her SAAB 9-3 Turbo (cool car BTW) with something quick and capable with a nice interior.

Q:Hi Ramon and Nathan, et al,

I discovered your your tube videos this wkend while researching vehicles under consideration for purchase to replace my 2001 9-3 Saab turbo 5 sp manual hatchback (which I LOVE!!! for its pickup power on I-70 west thru the “Mother Cabrini” power vacuum that afflictd other and hatchback hauling capability) as it goes beyond 168K miles and starts to give off blue smoke in the exhaust upon start up (due to oil leak developing in the valve seals – a $1400-1800 fix and then what – right?)

I’d like a compact crossover suv for the road clearance and your web videos are PERFECT on this point as they go over Colorado terrain such as I’ve encountered en route to hiking trailheads here.

However, I’ve road tested the Subaru Crosstrek and did not like its cheap interior (as I subsequently see you’ve also noted in your video) nor its inability to accelerate thru the Mother Cabrini air vacuum on I-70 uphill west. So I started comparing other vehicles and ran into your youtube reviews of selected models and it looks like I’m going to have to trade torque for ground clearance! QUESTION: Is there ANY vehicle that has both so I can accelerate on paved road (I consider this a safety feature as it greatly contributes to collision avoidance in some circumstances!) and go hiking w confidence that I’ll not bottom out?

Huge Thanks for your consideration and help!!!


A: Great question and I admire your taste in cars (I’m a SAAB fan too). You were on the right track with the Subaru Crosstrek XV, but you needed to go slightly larger to the Subaru Forester XT. The Forester XT is turbocharged, has excellent ride height and the interior is much better than the Crosstrek XV.

The new Volvo XC60 is fast and has great off highway clearance too. My (newest) favorite is the Jeep Cherokee. The V6 has great power, it’s good (even in base 4X4 form) off highway and the ground clearance is pretty good. I like the interior too.

Hope that helps!



This question cuts across two of the best vehicles in their segment, the Mazda3 GT and VW Golf SEL

Q: Hi there — like the show, keep at it. Good stuff.

What’s the best format for viewers to ask Nathan a question? I’m in the market for a fuel efficient hatch that’s fun to drive. I’ve narrowed the field to the 2015 Mazda 3s GT, and the 2015 Golf TSI SE or SEL — both in manual. I believe Nathan’s driven — and is a fan — of both cars, so I was curious on his opinion.



A: Man, what a great question! Seriously, it is a great question because these two vehicles, the Mazda3 Grand Touring and Volkswagen Golf SEL are the best hatchbacks in their class when it comes to driver satisfaction. Funny thing is: the Mazda3 will win just about every comparison by just a hair, yet the Volkswagen is a damn good choice too. In the end, I would end up with the Mazda3 Grand Touring as the winner.

With that being said, I would say forgetaboutit and pony up the extra dough and buy a Volkswagen Golf GTI. It is the best hatchback (with a real backseat) on the market and it’s a blast to drive. The-best-hatch-period.

Look, either choice is a good one. I think the Mazda3 GT is a better all-around choice amongst the choices you presented.

By the way, the best way to have your automotive questions answered is to drop us an email at:

Hope that helps!


2015 volvo xc90 crossover new

The last question for today comes from a return viewer/subscriber who wants to know, what is THE best vehicle for snow.

Q:What is the best ever made 4×4, now in the market, good for snow driving?

Skickat från min iPad J.K.

A: Hi J.K. It dawned on me that you’re located in Sweden. This adds to the seriousness of having the very best vehicle in the snow. I truly understand as we are known to get a good deal of snow in the Rocky Mountains.

Before you choose, remember: tires before AWD/4X4.

As for the best in the snow… that’s a difficult question. Every-single successful automaker has at least one vehicle that is either a 4X4 or has AWD. The choices are many, but you already know part of the answer as you live in snow country. Volvo builds great snow cars. Their newest car, the Volvo XC90 is supposed to be pretty good in all conditions. Hopefully, we’ll test one soon and confirm that.

Check out Subaru and Audi too. Between the two, you have decades worth of AWD research and development. Both companies build great snow cars – albeit on different ends of the financial spectrum.

I hope that helps!


Got a question for Nathan? Drop him a line at:

Nathan Adlen Bio Picture Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. His words, good humor and videos are enjoyed worldwide.