Snow Driver: Subaru Impreza WRX $25,000

Mountain Life
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Mountain Life
Snow Driver 0104

The WRX is the auto equivalent of Mighty Mouse: guts and bravura in a small, zany package. The bravura is supplied by a turbocharged 227-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. With a five-speed manual, it gets down the road from zero-to-cop's-attention in 5.7 seconds. More importantly, it clings to asphalt with gecko-like footing. I tested it in the spectacular country off of Highway 1 in Central California, and I was confident enough to take my mother, who lives nearby. Even she was amazed by the low-to-the-ground stickiness of the car, how it never chattered on the sharpest corners.

The WRX is also practical, offered as a four-door sedan or a wagon, with ample space for ski gear. It looks a bit quirky, but this is a car for independent thinkers. Especially when you realize that you get almost unlimited power and superior handling with a tiny sticker price. My mom declared that she wanted one.