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AndrewJ 03-02-2009 04:14 AM

Help choose my new car
So, the wife and I decided that a new vehicle is in order. Her Cavalier is past it's prime at 125k, and my Civic is, well, it has 315k, so you do the math...

Due to the fact that we have two medium sized and very energetic dogs, and may sometime in the not too distant future have one or two small (but rapidly growing) infant humans, we've opted to primarily look at station wagons.

Oh, and we'd REALLY like to keep the total bill under $6000

So here are the options I've thought of so far:

VW Jetta TDI wagon -
The first choice. Unfortunately, they're devilishly hard to find. TDI sedans abound for around $6k, but the wagons just aren't out there so far as I've seen (and I've looked on craigslist as far out as Minneapolis)

Late 80's Benz 300D Wagon -
Hard to find, I've tracked down 1 so far. These cars will probably continue running untill the sun goes supernova and swallows the earth. Mileage isn't as good as a TDI, but they supposedly make excellent WVO/SVO/B100 Converts.

Ford Focus Wagon -
Probably second choice due to the generally low mileage and/or lower price. 5-speeds are tough to find, but I've located one or two.

Saturn SW1 or SW2 -
Good mileage, wife isn't too keen on the looks of the mid-ninties versions. Sounds to me like the reliability is questionable. Interior is not well executed. But they are cheap...

Pontiac Vibe / Toyota Matrix -
New/Low miles, but expensive to match. Models with the 6-speed transmission are more expensive still.

Accord Wagon/Camry Wagon -
I think all the Accord/Camry wagon owners must love them, because there aren't any for sale that don't look like they've been driven till the wheels fell off.

Anybody else have any suggestions that I've left off?

Anyone have any particular experience with any of the above models, and have any wisdom they'd care to impart?

Frank Lee 03-02-2009 05:22 AM

INFANTS?!? Obviously you'll need an Excursion or some such!

Helll, those cars are barely broke in! I'd just run 'em.

Oh, and remember: 0, 1, or 2!

Ryland 03-02-2009 10:41 AM

The Passat wagon seems more common, but higher price as well.
My room mate has the Ford Escort wagon and loves it, gets 35-40mpg out of it, as high as 47mpg while holding a steady 55mph.
What do you figure the pay back on the kids is going to be? they tend to cost alot and reliable ones are hard to find.

brucepick 03-02-2009 12:26 PM

Sorry that I don't have one I can recommend without reservation.

A friend at work swears by the late '80's Mercedes 300 diesels. If your brother in law owns a restaurant chain you're set for fuel.

I'm pretty sure the Camry and Accord wagons runs ended in the mid '90's. If that's correct you'll find fewer and fewer of them available in good serviceable condition.

Saturns: probably the longest run of FE wagons, in terms of how recently they were made (well, maybe a tie with the Escort). Not too hard to find, and gently priced. Saturns are known oil burners, readily acknowledged on the Saturn message boards such as SaturnFans Forums - Powered by vBulletin. However an Auto-RX treatment might clean up the oil burning. I have no experience with Auto-RX yet but ordered some today for my Civic. Saturns have another issue in that we're not certain if the dealer network will remain alive etc. etc.

Escort: Probably not quite as roomy as a Saturn wagon but better FE. Dealer network seems more likely to exist into the future, at least from the way things look right now.

IndyIan 03-02-2009 05:38 PM

Have you looked in the trunk on a matrix/vibe, there isn't much space to call them a wagon IMHO.
My friends have a 96 ford escort wagon with 300,000km, its rusting away but runs fine otherwise. The 97-99 escort wagons should be dirt cheap and are decent cars, for $3k you might find a mint one with no miles on it.
Suzuki had a wagon too, the Esteem I think, don't know anything about them but its an option.
We might be reproducing soon too, so I'm considering the small covered trailer option for more luggage space when needed. Then you can get a sedan if you want.

NeilBlanchard 03-02-2009 05:55 PM


I think the tendency is to overestimate what you need to fit in a car. I'm 6'-4" and my wife is 5'-9" and my 11 year old son is 5'-5"+, while my 8 year old daughter is 4'-8" -- and we all fit on a week long vacation into my wife's xD. If we need more space, we can put a Thule on the roof.

The Saturns are the smallest cars on your list, followed by the Jetta, and then the Focus and the Matrix are pretty close to the same. I think the xD is a little bigger than the Jetta wagon (for the seating space), and the Jetta may have a smidge more storage space -- though you can pull out all the foam and the "floor" of the xD hatch to gain a lot of room!

bwilson4web 03-02-2009 07:15 PM

For $6,000, I assume you are looking at used. Have you looked at the space in the 2004-09 Prius?

When the 2010 hits our shores, the 2004-09 are going to go on 'fire sale' and even the used ones will take a hit. If you can find one in your price range, say a 2005, you'll have a pretty solid, hatchback with good performance. Best of all, there is a lot of engineering data around about how to keep them running happy.

I have a 2003, NHW11 and though it is a nice sedan, it is not a 'wagon'. There are things that could be done but I'd hold off on one of those unless you really want a 'project' car.

Bob Wilson

SVOboy 03-02-2009 08:36 PM

Hmm. I would go for the TDI if I were you, but who knows. Mortgage the house and buy an Insight!

trikkonceptz 03-02-2009 09:16 PM

Dam if you were closer I would sell you my Vibe for $6000. I want $7000, but of course I'm a sucker when it comes to helping others ...

My Vibe is still new @ 55K miles compared to what you have ... LOL

cfg83 03-02-2009 09:16 PM

AndrewJ -

I vote Vibe/Matrix. Ask trikkonceptz how much he can carry in his (for sale!!!) Vibe. The rear seats folded-down should be great for doggies with the proper carpet/mat. Without a mat, the hard plastic floor would lead to sliding doggies.

The Focus wagon is definitely intriguing, but I don't know enough about it. It "looks" like it has a lot of interior space.

I would get another 1999+ SW# if I had the space/time/money. From what I have read, 1999 is a "good year" in terms of quality. They are not as efficient as the Vibe when it comes to the rear fold-down seats. The Vibe is designed to become a mini-truck-bed. Some of them, like mine, definitely burn oil. The pistons don't have oil-drain-back holes, so when the oil gets into the chamber, it's more likely to burn off than seep back down. If the previous owner was negligent, they might have let the oil get too low, which can put the timing chain at risk. It's an interference engine, so monitoring the oil to keep the timing chain healthy is a must. If the previous owner was a hot-rodder, they might have loosened the diff-pin in the tranny, which can also lead to very unhappy events. If you find a cheap one with low miles, join saturnfans to learn what to spend to make it run right.

My friend has a Honda Element, which is great for his doggies and landscaping business, but I don't know what the prices are on those right now.

The Element makes me think of a Scion Xb. Too small?

A Honda Fit would be cool, but probably not on the market long enough to find used ones for $6K.


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