By on July 21, 2011

Mark writes:

Hi Guys,

I read TTAC regularly and am debating what to do about getting a new car. The situation is I had a 2001 Volvo S60 which started experiencing transmission “issues” that the mechanic could not replicate, so I traded it for a 09 Fit to get better mileage. The Fit was an excellent appliance car, but felt a bit tinny after the relative comfort and solidity of the S60. The new Lexus CT200h got me excited and my sister-in-law needed a new car so I sold her the Fit and am awaiting the Lexus. However it appears that actually fitting my kids in the back of Lexus won’t work. What would you suggest as a car? I want good mileage, because I have a city commute, a bit of luxury and reliability with not ridiculous repair costs. I had hoped the Mercedes C300 Estate would come here, but it won’t and BMW has me concerned about repairs costs. Could I be happy with a used Lexus SportCross? Please provide your perspective.

Steve answers:

We can’t read your mind. There is a big part of me that says, “Hey. All this guy wants is a hybrid with a bit more room than the CT200h.”

Then the next little voice says, “My good God! Have we sank to the level of serial numbers when it comes to model names?”

I’m surprised the CT200h won’t fit your kids. I recall test driving last year and thought the rear space was fine. But who knows? Maybe your kids are well over six foot and husky.

The Sportcross also has a small rear seat. Sorry.

As for alternatives… there are dozens to choose from. I happen to like the 2008-2009 Audi A6. It clicks all the buttons of a sporty and comfortable ride and there are plenty of low mileage CPO versions to choose from. You can usually get one of those for a lot less money than a Mercedes C300 or BMW 5-Series and if warranty issues are important to you, the CPO warranty will go a long way.

If you want new only, the Infiniti G25 is a wonderful car that is sitting on dealer’s lots (106 days in inventory). The price will be comparable to the CT200h. It will also give you a lot more real world power than the CT while offering reasonable fuel economy (20/29) and a more spacious interior. Go drive one of those and see if you like it.

Sajeev answers:

Life is full of compromises: the only cars I passionately desire are well out of warranty, making spare parts hard to find at times. So let’s get down to you.

Don’t expect a C300 Estate (if it ever arrives) to be any better than a BMW in total cost of ownership. And forget about pleasing everyone or everything in your next ride, odds are they won’t have the room to play nice with each other. All modern Euro Wagons are for ownership under warranty exclusively, unless you hate your wallet. This isn’t a Caprice-Roadmaster-Panther Love thing: it’s a lament over the USA-centric design of the 1990s Honda Accord Wagon, Toyota Camry Wagon, or Ford Taurus Wagon. I’d love to throw you into an Accord wagon right now: Honda Crosstour FTW?

But if you like the Lexus IS Sportcross, get it! Sure the back seat is smallish, but the real problem is that the latest version is about 6 years old. It will need a host of upkeep to keep it in top shape: tires, hoses, belts, fluids, shocks and who knows what else was worn out by the last owner. Maybe nothing, but I suspect your time value of money is important enough to give you pause on a used SportCross.

Can’t take the heat? Get out of the kitchen and straight to your nearest CUV. Or maybe…the Acura TSX sport wagon: one drive will put your mind at ease and push enough buttons to make you happy for years to come. Or maybe even longer.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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46 Comments on “New or Used: Mind Reading and Wagon Lust...”


  • avatar
    Jellodyne

    Ford Escape Hybrid? Roomy, 30+ MPG city or highway, starts around $30k. It’s gonna feel a lot bigger and more substantial than your fit while returning slightly better mileage.

    • 0 avatar
      Acc azda atch

      Jellodyne:

      He wanted a WAGON, W A G O N.

      The Escape is coming on a 10yr old design.. with its only selling feature that its a CUV = jacked wagon. Its primarily a FWD dirtbox to yahoos who “need” awd, without the concept in what awd does… the correct tires.. or how to drive.

      DON’T BOTHER with the Hybrid.. because you still have to pay the PREMIUM for the weight.. and balances it out with the cost you pay. If ya want to save MONEY.. buy the 4 and be done with it. Don’t take the bath in the hybrid cost.

      If Focus and Fusion wagon were here ya wouldn’t need a jacked COMPACT dirtbox FWD like the Escape.

  • avatar
    deckard

    Wagon Lust, I like it. I too have wagon lust due to my need to haul stuff and my two pitbulls and their kennel. The best one I have encountered so far is the Subaru Legacy or the Japanese Audi Quattro without all the wallet lightening. Available with or without Turbo and available with a true 3rd pedal manual transmission. Don’t forget the Legacy’s little sister, the all conquering Impreza in a variety of flavors!

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      The Subaru legacy is the Japanese Audi Quattro !!!!

      Only if your name is Tommy and you like to play pinball.

      This guy wants something sporty without the hassle, the TSX sport wagon or previous model Mazda 6 is just the ticket.

      • 0 avatar
        Grahambo

        Yes; one would have to be deprived of all senses to not realize that
        the last gen Legacy GT wagon is faster and more fun to drive than pretty much any Audi WAGON ever available in the US – certainly much more than the A4 Avant. That would change if Audi would sell us an S4 Avant.

    • 0 avatar
      UnclePete

      The Legacy wagon I owned had a worse repair log than any BMW I’ve ever owned. It only made it to 12,000 miles before I sold it. So maybe Subaru is like the early 2000′s Audi ;)

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-Iron

        My personal experience with scoobie has not jibed with Consumer Reports’ claims.

      • 0 avatar
        ExPatBrit

        Their are a lot of cars that are faster than the A4 avant, however the interior and exterior of the A4′s is quite an upgrade over the Subie.

        No way to mix them up and that boxer motor isn’t exactly smooth.

    • 0 avatar
      gessvt

      I’m playing catch up on the prior owner’s neglect/ignorance of her Legacy GT 5-speed wagon.

      But it’s so worth it. The car is an absolute blast to drive, fit and finish is excellent, the climate control can get you to toasty warm or icy cold in about 30 seconds despite the outside temp. Doesn’t burn oil. Airbags everywhere so the family is safe.

  • avatar
    ott

    What about a top-of-the-line 4 cyl Venza? Available in front or all wheel drive, excellent bang for the buck and a gorgeous ride to boot. Beautiful and practical, and I assume it would share quite a few parts with the Lexus brand. The Venza always gets a second glance from me.

    • 0 avatar
      protomech

      Went hiking in the Rockies last year, flew into Eagle CO. Friend was staying over after our hike so he had his lodge agent meet us in her new Venza.

      We couldn’t fit both of our packs in the back. (Mine an ALICE pack, my friend’s a more modern external frame pack). Ended up dumping one in the back row for lack of space.

      Five days later we walked out of the mountains. Were actually a day earlier than we had expected, rented a brand-new Camaro to drive around (put 500 miles on it). Same deal with the packs – threw the ALICE pack in the trunk, put the frame pack in the back seat.

      I’m not a fan of the exterior of the Venza, the interior is fine. I’m afraid of the replacement costs for the 20″ standard tires. But a CUV that size with the same effective cargo space (in our experience) as a Camaro.. F that.

  • avatar
    SecretAznMan

    Great call on the TSX wagon. If you can live with a slushbox and a dash littered with buttons, you’ll enjoy reliable transportation. The Saab 9-3 wagon can be had new for low 20′s with manual transmission, but then you’d be risking no warranty in a few months…

  • avatar
    FromaBuick6

    These suggestions are all over the map. Pick something with low maintenance costs and stick with it.

    If your kids can’t fit in the back of the Lexus, they won’t fit in the back of any of these other wagons. All the entry-lux “sport” wagons are terrible value for money, anyway. At least the CT200h has good mileage and ought to be reliable. Go with your first instinct and move on.

  • avatar
    ajla

    TSX wagon sounds like the best call here.

    A top-trim Prius “V” might also work for you. Maybe even check out the MKZ/Fusion hybrid.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    I was thinking Crosstour, myself, also.

    (If one really really wants “luxury” and all that, you can throw money away on a 535 GT, I suppose.)

  • avatar
    jkross22

    Mark,

    I was in your shoes last year. I wanted a car that could reasonably accomodate those big kid seats, and I’m a wagonphile. I flirted with a 4 door GTI for a bit, but ultimately decided on a 328i wagon/avant/estate/4 door shooting brake. Got it off the CPO program so it came with a warranty and 1 yr left for an oil change.

    It’s a bit tight in the back, but the hatch has the room we need.

    I was insistent on getting a stick, which ruled out all but the A4 Avant, said 3 series, GTI and a 5 series wagon. The 5er wagon was great, but I didn’t like how it looked. After driving the GTI, I nearly pulled the trigger on that, but held off until I found I 3er wagon. For the same price as the GTI new, the 3er was the right call.

  • avatar
    SWComp

    CTS Wagon (or CTS-V wagon)

    low mileage CPO can be a good deal

  • avatar
    PlentyofCars

    This Lexus IS300 wagon will last you until the odometer reaches 250,000 at a bare minimum, with minimal maintenance.

    You’ll get sick of it before anything breaks.

    Not quite a BMW on the road, but it is the only example of a recent Toyota product that is actually a hell of a lot of fun to drive.

    The last small car built to a standard; not to a price point.

    One of the best straight six engines ever built by anyone. Silky smooth.

    Has the same transmission as the 1998-2000 Lexus LS, and the GS thru 2005.

    Rear wheel drive as well.

    Look in the classifieds like cars.com or autotrader and see all the high mileage ones for sale, even by the Lexus dealers themselves.

    See multiple reviews on Edmunds or Kelly BlueBook of a lot of people who got to 200-250K miles with just routine maintenance, and they still feel it has a lot further to go.

    One of my cars is the IS300 sedan. Plan on keeping it until the wheels fall off, which means I may have it forever.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    If you want space and fuel economy, consider Jetta Sportwagon or Audi A3 with TDI. You didn’t mention AWD, if that’s of value look at A4 Avant.

  • avatar
    pb35

    In addition to having a small backseat, the SportCross gets lousy gas mileage. I saw one exactly like the one in the picture this morning here in Austin. They are well preserved here, I see them on occasion. I wanted one. In 2004.

    • 0 avatar
      PlentyofCars

      I get about 22MPG combined hwy/city which is below average for most small 6cyl cars.

      But when I compare that to what I paid in in repair money and my time to keep older BMWs, MBenz and Audi’s on the road; it is actually quite a bargain. A fun small sports sedan/wagon with better than Camry quality and reliability. You can’t kill it.

      The 2JZ-GE is the same engine as the Supra Turbo. They also used it in the Lexus GS300 all the way from 1993 until 2005. It was in the Lexus SC300 from 1993 to 2000 . The engine was built for quality and refinement, not to get the best MPG. Too bad those days are gone IMHO.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Well if you were willing to go Volvo wagon to Fit…

    Hyundai Elantra Touring – if you can both drive stick.

    Mercedes B class turbo – not quite the wagon. Or Cube if you can handle the looks.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Stick with a wagon made by those who love like this country likes their trucks, Europe. Those hybird Toyotas will get you run over if if your in Eco mode working mpg. Google CT 200 real world mpg to see most get in the mid-upper 30′s which can be had a turbo Volvo or Saab wagon. Get the Saab 9-5 with 100,000 miles or so and you’ll get a turbo, leather and sunroof standard in Saab’s for around $2,000. Safe enough for the kids to drive when they come of age too!

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly my advice. My parents’ 2005 9-5 Arc wagon is fantastic. It’s huge inside, with midsize packaging and a great driving character. The lack of Saabish electronic demons on the post-2006 models would be a plus too.

    • 0 avatar
      Mark_MB750M

      +1 on Volvo V70 – new or used. Our 2000 is still running fine, no major repaires beyond a new AC compressor (but we bought it knowing that). 25 city, 32 hwy. We have the third seat in the back plus the booster seat in the rear center, so it’s kid-friendly.
      Our 2006 likewise has no maintenance beyond the scheduled (oil/filter/etc), gets 24/30 mpg. Both of them carry a lot, we can space with a roof box. We’ve towed up to 1500 lbs, it’s rated for 3300.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      As an ’02 Saab 9-5 wagon owner (since new), let me correct a few things. First off, the actual highway mileage of the 9-5 wagon, with a/c and a moderate load, running at about 70 mph on moderate grades is 30 mpg, not any higher. You might do better, with no a/c in Kansas at 55-60, but I doubt it.

      Secondly, parts are expensive for this car. If Saab goes out of business — which seems likely — parts availability on older cars (and the 4-cylinder in the 9-5 is a Saab motor, not a GM motor) is going to be problematic.

      Thirdly, my car, with 82,000 miles has not been a paragon of reliability, despite my faithful maintenance. Right now, both main seals of the engine are leaking oil, although at a tolerable level. The automatic transmission is a little questionable and if it gets really hot — e.g. in stop and go traffic in the summer for an extended time — it engages first gear very hard. The motor mounts have been replaced, the alternator has failed and the ECM unit failed early on. The power steering system also has had leaks.

      Finally, any turbo’ed engine (with the possible exception of the old Mercedes turbo diesels of the 1980s) should be considered a candidate for turbo replacement at 100K miles. I remember in the 1980s, a head honcho at Volvo saying that he considered a turbo a “wear item” at 80K. Cooling systems for bearings have improved since then, but still . . .

      So, the point is,a person buying a Saab wagon that’s ten years old and has 100,000 miles on it should understand that the purchase price is likely to be just a down payment on the cost of owning the car.

      And yes, it is a nice car, carries 4 people quite comfortably and a pretty good amount of stuff . . . much more than a BMW 3-series or an Audi. Almost as much as a Volvo V70; only the Benz E-class wagon is substantially bigger.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        My 2000 9-5 had Nordic Stage lll and without AC would see low 32-33 MPG with 60/40 highway/city commute. And I wasn’t pussy footing it either. So I know with good alignment, tire pressures up, and a gent right foot the car would see at least mid-30′s on the highway.

        There is no shortage of parts for the 9-5 when the remanufactured parts makers are providing endless supply. Besides turbo rebuild kit is under $80 and you can do it in your garage.

        With a little know how they are easy to maintain and parts for Saab’s are aplenty.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    If you’re concerned about BMW repair costs get the TSX wagon. If not, find an E46 or E91 Touring with a clutch pedal.

  • avatar
    CBRS2K

    Similar… will be looking to get rid of an XTerra for something small that will hold two large dogs. I’m considering an Audi A3 TDI or Subaru Legacy/Outback. Wish we had some more small luxo options like the Europeans get!

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    New Volvo XC70, is good.

    Otherwise the Subaru Outback 2.5, gets 29 mpg hwy.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    I just bought a TSX wagon. The handling is superb, just big enough for me, the missus and the child along with our stuff.

    The engine doesn’t have the torque of a V6 but the mileage is great, it’s quiet, the paddle shifters and transmission work wonderfully, and it’s solidly built.

  • avatar
    RandomDudeUSA

    Thought this question had Jetta Sportwagen TDI written all over it, but not one mention. I think the first 3 years maintenance is gratis and you get 30-40 mpg in a safe solid wagon with more air bags than cupholders…

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    If you’re shooting for a wagon or hatch, definitely look at the TSX wagon or Jetta Sportwagen TDI, as others have said. Both are roomier than the CT200h or SportCross. The Acura should be dead reliable. The Jetta is a bit more of a crapshoot, but it gets great mileage, feels like an entry level luxury car & tops out at only $29K. That’s a lot less than a Bimmer or Audi wagon, if price is an issue.

    Just save some of that cash for potential repair bills down the road. Of course, you’d better be doing the same for the BMW or Audi as well…

  • avatar
    BMWnut

    It’s kinda sad to see the German marques slagged off for long term ownership issues, but you can’t argue with the facts. My E39 has just developed a semi-weird electrical gremlin – speedo inoperative, ABS and traction control lights on, no econo gauge or trip computer. Probably something to do with a speed sensor, haven’t looked into it yet. Sigh….

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    It’s too bad that the G25 is such a slug, and Infiniti only offers it as a stripper with not even the option for much equipment. The G25 and IS250 may have the edge over the 3 series and A4 in terms of long term ownership cost and maintenance, but they are hopeless in terms of performance compared to the 328i and A4 2.0T.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      It has 0-60 in the mid-7′s which is more than 2 seconds faster than the CT200h. It’s also faster than the Volvo S60 he had back in the day.

      In real world driving the G25 would be an exceptional choice. It handles just like the Sport version of the G37 and the maintenance costs as you mentioned are far less over the long run.

      This guy isn’t looking for performance above all else. He wants luxury, reliability, and preferably a car that would be agreeable for a city commute.

      “I want good mileage, because I have a city commute, a bit of luxury and reliability with not ridiculous repair costs.”

      The real competitors to the G25 and CT200h would be vehicles like the Audi A3 and Acura TSX. Both of those would also be good considerations.

  • avatar
    Sundowner

    The Jetta TDI wagon is, in my humble opinion, a garbage vehicle; The engine is Rube Goldberg quality engineering and the assembly in the Puebla plant is terrible, and I’m basing all this on my own ownership of a 2010 model. You will not save a penny with this car. The first 36 months of service is free, but the $2000 DPF which, per the owner’s manual, may require replacement at 100k-120k miles eats all your fuel savings, as does the $400 service intervals on the DSG transmission and the TDI-specific engine oil. Keep in mind I am saying all this and I am a HUGE VW/Audi fan, but I think the Jetta and it’s TDI abomination motor are trash and should be avoided.

    I heartily reccomend looking at the Audi A3 or A4 wagons. I like the A6 wagons, but the 08′s have the dog 3.2L and the 09′s with the incredibly sweet 3.0T motor from the S4 sedan are priced accordingly. Living in and around the NY metro area, the A3 is the perfect city car, in my opinion. If you need the size, nothing plays in the same cost/value field as a VW Passat wagon, which were built up though last year. You get the GTI’s turbo motor and all the same bones, it’s *almost* as fast as the GTI and it’s got more interior room than the A6 wagon. you could pack the world in that thing and still get 30 mpg cruising the interstate at 80 mpg. You will have to tolerate the DSG transmission costs, though.

    • 0 avatar
      jpolicke

      Sundowner, what specific problems have you had with your engine? As the owner of an ’09 with no issues so far(41k) I’d like to be prepared. Didn’t see any mention about replacing the DPF, maybe they added that in the ’10 documentation. Your quote for the DSG service beat my dealer’s by $200, but I still would have done it myself. It’s a weird procedure but not that hard. I’ve been getting my admittedly hard to find VW507 spec oil at Pep Boys for more than I’d like to pay but I’m following the service spec for 10k changes and it works out.

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        DSG service kit: http://idparts.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=941. You just need to provide a VAS6262. You can either buy one, or make one yourself. (http://deviantspeed.com/diy-dsg-fill-tool-vw-vas6262)

        I agree that the Jetta TDI wagon would be a good choice. But if you’re going to own a VW, you need to have money or mechanical ability. Otherwise buy a Subaru wagon assuming you can stomach the horrible fuel economy numbers. But with the Jetta wagon you could also run into high pressure fuel pump failure. DPF replacement isn’t really a big problem yet, but it could happen in the future once the cars get higher mileage on them. If you can find a decent Jetta wagon with an ALH TDI, you’d be better off because those engines are well known to be the better TDIs at the present time. Plus they’re highly tunable. But unfortunately the last ALH Jetta wagon would be from the 2004 model year.

    • 0 avatar
      azinck

      Agreed. And don’t forget about the HPFP failures that destroy the entire fuel system and cost upwords of $8k to fix:
      http://forums.tdiclub.com/showthread.php?t=286380
      http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-02-11/volkswagens-under-u-s-review-for-fuel-pump-flaws.html

      And the intercooler-icing problems resulting in hydrolocking the engine:
      http://forums.tdiclub.com/showthread.php?t=302863

      I was very tempted to buy one of these, but am so glad I didn’t. There are scads of enormously-expensive issues with these cars (not to mention the normal VW reliability bugaboos that surely exist).

  • avatar
    william442

    The last decent station wagon made was the Ford Country Squire, fake wood and all;more than enough room and all the horsepower one wanted.

  • avatar
    dcdriver

    Fun to drive, wagon-ish, good MPG, somewhat roomy, reliable, reasonable repair costs? Not sure such a vehicle exists.

    What about a Mazda CX-7?

    Pontiac Vibe?

    Protege5?

  • avatar
    redav

    “I’m surprised the CT200h won’t fit your kids. I recall test driving last year and thought the rear space was fine. But who knows? Maybe your kids are well over six foot and husky.”
    __________________________

    I’m not suprised. When I test drove a CT200h, it did not appear that a gallon of milk would fit in the rear footwells. The other compact wagons I’ve tested (Ford, Mazda), though not great, are much better.

  • avatar
    wstansfi

    Mmmm. I had heard that the CT200h gave up some backseat room that’s present in the prius…
    To understand cost of early ownership, all you have to do is price the lease options and you’ll quickly see that BMW is less than Mercedes is less than Audi.
    Little lux, wagon, backseat? I have heard that the TSX wagon is nice but that the backseat is actually a little smaller than in the TSX sedan. Probably ok if you yourself are not over 6′.
    Good luck!

  • avatar
    A D H

    I have a 2002 Sportcross in MN. Will turn 100k when I go grab a cup of coffee in a few minutes. Bought as a more exciting option than a Subaru GT wagon (had 9 months) and before that a 88 E30 M3. Enjoyable car, smooth, great power, RWD and enough personality to keep me happy. Understeers too much but that can be fixed. In my 6 years of ownership I have done standard maintenance but no repairs. These are reliable cars! I have an independent BMW mechanic work on it.
    Good: Reliable, fits two kids in car seats, snow tires make it great in snow, super economical, BMW like feel.
    Bad: Mileage 25 hwy, 19 city, road noise, understeer.
    Our other car is a Sabb 9-3 which gets better mileage and we got for a steal new. Previous post mentions the issues with that.
    If you don’t by the Sportcross go with a new TSX wagon. Backseat is about the same. Drove and considered but the Lexus has more personality. You can pick up used, pay off quickly, and enjoy as long as you are entertained.


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