Cheap 3-row SUV, 8-speed for Big Chryslers, Jeep vs Mercedes and Cheap, Used, AWD? [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:

  • What’s the best cheap 3-row SUV (or CUV)?
  • Is the Chrysler 8-speed now standard?
  • Jeep Wrangler vs Mercedes Benz C300?
  • What’s the best AWD cheap, used hatchback?


This first question is from a frustrated viewer who wants his neighbor to buy the best, cheap, three-row, crossover or SUV on the market.

Q:Hi everyone,

I enjoy reading and watching all of the reviews on the TFLcar and TFLtruck websites and I have a few questions for the team that I’m sure other people are asking themselves as well.

My neighbor is looking to lease a new crossover or SUV and I want to help because, like you guys, I love cars. She has an active family of 6 (4 kids, the youngest being in middle school) and is coming from a 2002 Suburban that has a lot of miles on it: about 175-180,000. She wants at least 6-7 seats, good gas mileage (better than the Suburban), a quiet ride, etc.

We live in the SF Bay Area, so AWD isn’t necessary and she is looking for something that is on the cheaper side. I have come up with a list for her trying to encompass all of the things she wants:

Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Acadia
Dodge Durango
Ford Explorer
Ford Flex
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Santa Fe/Kia Sorento
Mazda CX-9
Nissan Pathfinder
Toyota 4Runner
Toyota Highlander

Personally, I like the Durango and CX-9 the most, but the Explorer and Flex aren’t too bad either (in terms of styling). Unfortunately she wouldn’t be getting the Hemi or Ecoboost (sigh). Just wondering what your thoughts were on them.

Sent from my iPad

A: Howdy and thanks for the email! All of the vehicles you mentioned have merit. The Traverse/Acadia have tons of space and a very comfortable ride. The Toyota Highlnder and Nissan Pathfinder are solid all around choices with good reputations. While the Hyundai Santa Fe and KIA Sorento gives you a lot for the money – along with that excellent warranty.

I agree with you about the Mazda CX-9 and Dodge Durango. They are top choices and are legitimately fun to drive; however, if you’re sticking with front-wheel drive (FWD), I have to give it up to the Ford Explorer WITH the optional 2-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine.

With the parameters you’ve outlined and the great power/performance the FWD EcoBoost provides, the Ford Explorer with that power-plant is a smart buy. It is remarkably efficient for such a big vehicle, costs about $33,000 (un-“loaded”) and it’s pretty commodious.

I know she doesn’t want the “big” EcoBoost V6, but this 4-cylinder EcoBoost is SO much better than the base-model V6.

The others, such as the Ford Flex and Honda Pilot are a bit old and seem pricy given their age.

I hope that helps!



This emails is from a viewer/reader who wants to know about FCA (FIAT Chrysler Automobile) putting 8-speed automatic transmissions in HEMI-powered cars – like the 2015 Chrysler 300 and 2015 Dodge Charger

Q:I was wondering if you knew anything about Chrysler and Dodge putting an 8-speed transmission in the 300s and Chargers that have Hemi’s. My mom has a 2014 Chrysler 300C with the Hemi and I know it desperately needs more than 5 gears. My dad and brother can’t really tell, but I can.

For comparison, I just recently bought a 2004 Mercedes-Benz E500 with a 7-speed and a V8 that has over 60 horsepower less and about the same amount less in lb/ft of torque. My car shares a lot of the same underpinnings with the 300, but seems a lot quicker off the line and gets about 16 mpg in the city, while hers only gets 12.5. I know that cannot just be because it weighs a few hundred pounds less than the Chrysler.

So, long story short, do you know if they are going to be offering a transmission with more gears anytime soon, not only for performance sake, but also for better gas mileage?

A: That’s a good question, and I agree with you – there is a significant difference between the five and eight-speed automatics in FCA products. The eight-speed is much smoother shifting and more efficient across the board.

Yes, the 845RE eight-speed automatic will be standard in all FCA vehicles with the 5.7-liter HEMI. This is according to our friends at Allpar and a few Mopar junkies agreed. I have no idea as to what FCA has in mind for the SRT HEMI’s transmission, if it even exists in future models.

Hope that helps!


Jeep Wrangler Maximum Performance

This question comes from a viewer with an unusual “vs” request: Jeep Wrangler or Mercedes-Benz C300.

Q: Hello TFL Car,

I’ve recently discovered your YouTube channel and have enjoyed watching several of your videos. I’ve found them to be both informative and enjoyable. Many of your videos talk about the pros and cons of different cars and how some cars are not for everyone. Based on this i am hoping that you could provide me with some advise.

I am currently car shopping (first time car buyer) and i am stuck between two cars, both used. The first one is a 2008 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sahara and the second a 2008 Mercedes-Benz C300 Sport.

This car will be used for driving back and forth from home and work Monday through Friday but i’d also like to use it for vacations and weekend trips. I don’t do a lot of outdoor activities at the moment but i am interested in getting into more outdoor activities (off-roading, mountain climbing, paintball, etc.)

I’ve been a fan of the Jeep Wrangler for a long time but i’m also like the style and elegance that the Mercedes has.

Do you have any suggestions or advise for me? Anything would be appreciated.



A: Wow, talk about two very different choices. Then again, “Variety is the spice of life” – right? Remember: I am a boot of a Jeep fan, so I immediately lean in that direction.

With that being said; the 2008 Mercedes-Benz C300 is a beautiful car. It is, in many ways, a car that you own that is a fashion accessory. You make a statement about your taste and sophistication when you drive a C300. It’s a solid, great handling machine too.

Issues with the C300:

  • Expensive to maintain
  • Doesn’t drive well off road
  • Resale value is so-so
  • Has a high snoot vibe (which is good for some people)

The Jeep Wrangler is many things to many people: it’s an off-road master, even in its base “X” trim. It’s a convertible and a vehicle that you can bash a bit without feeling too guilty. It’s a vehicle that you wear on your sleeve, telling people that you are (or think you are) an outdoorsy type.

Issues with the Jeep Wrangler:

  • Doesn’t drive that great on road (poor gas mileage too)
  • Not very comfortable, especially when compared with a Mercedes-Benz
  • You won’t see that many Wranglers parked in front of a top-end restaurant
  • Its image may be hard for the owner to live up to

The bottom line is: what do you think will truly make you happy? One vehicle is about comfort, image and driving excellence. The other vehicle is about conquering dirt, utility and fun. Both are good choices.

At the end of it, I would choose the vehicle that makes me happiest. Being that I love tooling around off road, I would go for the Jeep. Then again, my significant other (or “She-who-must-be-obeyed”) would be happier in the Benz – so I would (try to) get both.

Hope that helps!



The last question comes from a viewer who wants a super cheap, all-wheel drive (AWD) used hatchback.

Q:Hi Nathan! How’s it going? I wanted to know if you had any suggestions for a good, used car that’s good in snow and still gets good mileage. I need a hatchback (I play double base) and I need it to be something that doesn’t attract too much attention.

I need it to be fairly new but under ten grand. I know, that’s asking a lot.

Do you have any suggestions?!

D.E Spokane

A: Funny you mentioned a cheap AWD that’s used. I have an old acquaintance that needed something similar and she was delighted with the outcome. She had slightly different needs, but was happy with the 2011 Suzuki Grand Vitara she purchased with less than 30,000 miles on the clock.

Suzuki no longer sells cars in the United States, but they always built solid, cheaper-than-average vehicles. Parts are pretty easy to come by and there are plenty of mechanics who have had recent experience servicing Suzuki vehicles.

I happen to like the Suzuki SX4 with AWD and a six-speed manual. I know you can get one for well under $10K and it’s an easy, no-fuss car to live with. If you need more capacity, the Suzuki Grand Vitara is a smart bet too.

Hope that helps!


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