By on February 11, 2016

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Jon writes:

Hello Bark,

It will soon be time to replace my wife’s car: a ’94 Ford Escort wagon. We’re considering spending somewhere between $4,000 and $10,000 on its replacement. We have no kids and, thanks to a little snip-snip, we will continue to have no kids.

Fuel economy isn’t a big issue as we both work from home. However, we live in rural Iowa, so grocery runs are a 40 mile round trip and I have a nearly 100 mile trip when I need to go into the office. I’m sure we’ll miss the consistent 36 mpg combined the Escort has returned over its four years of service.

Even without the need to transport offspring, she loves the wagon and it will continue to be a requirement. Maybe — maybe — I could talk her into a hatchback, but she enjoys being able to haul a lot around. Wagon or hatch, manual is preferred. Models available in weird colors welcome (the Escort is a bright jade green). My wife simply wants something with fewer miles.

We also have a ’96 Ford Super Duty and I have a Sportster.

Thanks,
Jon

Great news, Jon! As you can see in the above photo, I’ve already found your replacement: a 1997 Mercury Tracer wagon, available at the low, low price of $5,300. Shortest Ask Bark ever!

Just kidding.

There are a couple of phrases that make me extremely nervous when recommending a car to somebody:

  1. I think I could talk her into (insert suggestion here).
  2. I’m considering a Volkswagen.

Talking your wife into a car she doesn’t want probably means an incredibly miserable life for you over the next few years. Be prepared to have an argument that starts something like, “Well, if we’d only gotten a wagon — you know, like I wanted to do in the first place … “ every single time she wants to haul something that won’t fit in the hatchback you talked her into buying. Let’s give the lady what she wants.

I don’t know exactly how much mileage is on your Escort, but I’m guessing at least 200,000 miles since it’s wearing 22 years’ worth of patina. So, let’s look at what might be available in rural Iowa (by the way, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in lovely Decorah, Iowa) that’s a little shorter-in-the-tooth.

There’s this green Taurus X (I don’t care if Ford called it a Crossover — it’s a wagon) just over the border in Minnesota. It’s the Limited trim level, so it’s going to have many more creature comforts than what she’s used to. The 3.5-liter Duratec is relatively bulletproof, and the D3 platform is well loved by many of the Best & Brightest. I daily drive the Taurus X/Freestyle’s successor, the Ford Flex, and I’ve put over 80,000 miles on it without a hiccup.

Say, that makes me wonder … could you find a Flex for less than $10,000? In the words of the Supreme Leader, yes, you can! This Jack Baruth-special-edition Flex in Cinnamon meets every requirement you have, except for being a manual. Again, it’s the pimped-out Limited trim, so goodies galore are inside.

From the way-out-in-left-field category, we have this Mini Cooper Clubman S, just reduced to (barely) under $10K — and it’s a manual! And it’s a bright color! And it’s a Mini, so you know it will be relia— … HAHA JUST KIDDING. But, it’s still a very cool, very different option. There aren’t many Minis rolling around Iowa.

Here’s a nice, low mileage example of a Subaru Legacy Wagon. Subie fanatics will tell you that Subaru fixed the whole head gasket thing in ’05 with the 2.5-liter engine, soooo … you can roll your dice and take your chances. It’s not quite as pimped out as the Clubman or the Taurus X, but it will probably hold its value pretty well over the next few years. It sounds like you guys like to hold onto cars for a long time, so that might not be a concern. Plus, Subarus don’t typically come in awesome colors, and this refrigerator white is no exception. Instead, you could get this GT model in blue — and it’s a manual, too.

Lastly, if you’d rather stay closer to the $4,000 end of your budget, why not this Focus Wagon? It has super-low miles for a 10-year-old car, and maybe the most detailed CarFax I’ve ever seen in my entire life. This car was obviously well loved, and it probably has at least another 10 years of life to go.

There’s no shortage of second-generation xBs and HHRs up there, too, but I don’t think either of you would enjoy driving those very much.

The good news is that you have tons of great options in your price range and, depending on your tolerance for working on cars, any of them would be an interesting choice.

So, what’s my recommendation? Man, this is a tough one. My head says to go with the Flex, since I’ve personally owned one for three years and have loved every minute of it — plus, I’d jealous that you’d have a Limited while I’d only have an SE. It’s a good color combination, too, and would look great on the road. Your wife seems quirky and fun, so I think she’d dig its looks.

However, I think, if I were you, I’d have to go take a look at that Mini, too. It’s a bright, fun color. It has a manual transmission. And it would be a very unique choice up in Corn Country. I know they’re not the most reliable of vehicles, but I bet your wife would love driving it, and happy wife = happy life.

And now, we turn it over to the B&B, who will alternately agree with me and call me a Ford shill. Ready, Set … GO!

Not sure what car to buy, what wine pairing is best, or which old school hip-hop song will best set the mood for your Valentine’s Day dinner? (The answer is L.L. Cool J’s “I Need Love“) Send your questions to [email protected] or hit Bark up on Twitter at @barkm302.

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151 Comments on “Ask Bark: A Craigslist Escort (Replacement)?...”


  • avatar
    JimZ

    get a previous-gen (2008-2012) Escape. 2WD models with the 4-cylinder can be had for cheap, are pretty durable/reliable, and the 2nd row seats fold flat. Also, it’s one of the last vehicles where the liftgate glass opens separately from the liftgate itself.

    Plus you could get it in two different greens; a pale pearl green (“Light Sage”) or a shocking snot green (“Lime Squeeze”.)

  • avatar
    NeilM

    I owned a 2005 Mini Cooper S, bought new, for 10 years. Although it only accumulated 40K miles in that time, it was quite reliable. Other than the usual consumables the only replacement item was the electrohydraulic power steering pump that died (later the subject of a service action by Mini) which I had rebuilt by Module Masters and installed myself. Never took it to the dealer, changed the oil regularly myself, that was it.

  • avatar
    Quentin

    Head gaskets on the naturally aspirated 2.5L Subarus were still problematic in 2005. An even worse recommendation is the Legacy GT from 2005 due to oil starved turbos.

    http://www.truedelta.com/Subaru-Legacy/problems-255/2005

    CTRL+F and typing “head” shows that frequent headlight burnouts and head gaskets are a common issue on that vintage Legacy.

    • 0 avatar

      OP here. Thanks for the reliability testimony. I’ve run into lots of Subie evangelists, but I think these sorts of issues will probably keep the marque off the shortlist for us.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      To get into a more reliable naturally aspirated Subaru you really want a 2011+ naturally aspirated model, with the FB engine rather than the EJ. The FBs sometimes burn oil but they don’t have head gasket issues. A late-model turbo is also not a bad choice as the turbos never had the head gasket issue and the oil starvation issue was largely resolved in later years.

  • avatar

    OP here, thank for the excellent suggestions, Bark.

    I’ll suggest we look at the Taurus-X. I’d love to have a Flex, I think they’re gorgeous, but my wife disagrees. A Focus wagon might work, too.

    She rented a base Cooper two years ago and didn’t care for the interior.

    Lots of folks have suggested Subaru. I’ll admit to a bias against them for the aforementioned reliability issues, but the vintage of Escort we’re about to replace was known for eating valve seats and we managed to dodge that bullet!

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      while the Taurus X is a lightly-restyled Freestyle, I’d avoid the Freestyle. It had the 3.0 paired with a ZF CVT that is not very well regarded. Plus AFAIK CVTs aren’t really rebuildable outside of the factory, so a bum transaxle means a complete replacement.

      The Taurus X has the much better combo of the 3.5 V6 and 6F automatic.

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      As I mentioned below, it might be worth checking out the Volvo V70, which is also on the Taurus/Flex platform.

      Because of that, it has the ridiculously large turning radius, but is a surprising large vehicle that does not look that large. The 850/prior V70 was the same way.

      • 0 avatar
        Sigivald

        Yeah, if you can find a decent V70/XC70 that might be a good bet.

        (I mean, not on mileage if you get the nice fast engine, but coming from an Escort it’s not like the goal is a race wagon anyway…)

        (Pre-2002/3 ones might have AWD issues with the viscous center diff, though simply pulling the driveshaft and making them FWD seems to work fine, from what I’ve heard.)

        • 0 avatar
          kmars2009

          Actually the 98-00 V70XC’s were the problematic ones. I have a ’02 V70XC that has 205K miles on it, and it runs great.
          Anyone purchasing one needs to know, the transmission fluid is not “lifetime” and must be changed regularly. Also, the rear diff fluid also needs changed regularly…if you have the XC of course. Other than that, regular maintenance should keep you going for many satisfying miles.
          One more thing, look for electrical gremlims when it comes to turn signals. The front sockets need replaced if not working right.
          Those have all been my V70XC issues. Most answers were found on various sites.
          PS. The turbo is quick, and I’m still on the first one.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus_3.0_AX4N

        The biggest difference is the cost to repair. Say a mishap snags a hole in the oil pan, oil drains out = dead engine.

        Which do you think he will be able to find easier and for dirt cheap, the Ford 3.5L V-6 or the Volvo engine? The GM-Ford 6 speed automatic is a good one, especially the Ford version. Again, very easy to find in a salvage yard full of late model insurance totals if it does fail. Lots of these cars on the road, theyre reliable and with decent power/mpg from 2008+ (inc. all Taurus branded cars).

        Some sensor fails in 3-4 years. Could happen to any car. AutoZone or Ford dealership will have it in stock more likely than a similar Volvo part, not to mention for far cheaper.

        Complicated issues could require someone very familiar with Volvos if that waa his choice, but anyone familiar with the many versions of this car sold by Ford, Mercury and Lincoln for quite a while now would be able to handle almost anything that goes wrong. Finding someone who can work on a Ford is far easier than finding one very familiar with Volvos is my point, and labor rates should be significantly lower for the Ford.

        • 0 avatar
          kmars2009

          The P2 platform, and the 2.4/2.5 turbo engines were made for several years. Any S80, S60, V70, or XC70 can donate engine parts. They are very common. Also, dealers charge huge amounts per hour in labor, be it Ford or Volvo. I have found reputable mechanics are both cheaper and readily available. As far as parts go, most can be found on AMAZON cheap.
          Don’t comment on something you know anything about.

        • 0 avatar
          Kevin

          You must never have owned a car with that transmission. I owned two, a 2010 Fusion and a 2011 Escape, and both had trans issues from day 1. The 6F35 is a horrible piece of engineering that should never have been foisted on the public. The only transmission worse is the DCT in the Focus/Fiesta; and ironically, both are made by Ford!

          • 0 avatar
            JimZ

            the 6F in the 2010 or 2011 Fusion (and presumably the Escape) had a bad calibration at launch which allowed excessive clutch slippage and would result in the trans dying by about 10,000 miles.

            http://www.bobistheoilguy.com/forums/ubbthreads.php?ubb=showflat&Number=1873243

            it was a problem for one year only, so your scaremongering is unwarranted. The 6F35 is used in pretty much every FWD Ford vehicle save for the Focus and Fiesta. and the uprated 6F55 goes behind the Ecoboosts. If it was such a piece of junk they’d still be dying left and right.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Let me just chime in here to commend you on your choice in wives. It’s rare to find a woman more interested in function that style. Even my very practical wife refuses to drive a station wagon, although she’s just fine with me driving one (a 2002 Sable that’s been a good performer, so a Sable or Taurus wagon should be on your watch list) so that we can haul stuff when needed.

      • 0 avatar
        TrailerTrash

        I am with you.
        I did mary the same kind of girl…only owns one dress and cares little about glitter.
        BUT SHE REFUSED ME MY FLEX!!!
        And she refuses anything wagon looking.
        I even showed her the XC70 Volvo…with its turbo getting 31 MPG.
        Nope.

        • 0 avatar
          ClutchCarGo

          The crazy thing is that she’s very happy with her Malibu Maxx (stop it, I can hear you), which is nothing but a wagon with a little bit of notch at the back instead of being squared off. And this is a woman with nothing but practical, comfortable shoes, no more than 5-6 purses, and she might even have fewer pieces of clothing than I do. I’m not sure how she’ll react if I tell her that the inevitable replacement for my wagon might be a minivan since I can’t get a mainstream wagon anymore.

    • 0 avatar
      scdjng

      OP,

      My parents have a 2008 Taurus X that they bought new and currently have 175K on the odometer. It’s a great car and they haven’t had any problems with it. I highly recommend you look at it.

  • avatar
    haroldingpatrick

    I have no idea what to buy, but am shocked that your getting enough action to warrant a snip job with such low cost vehicles, women need expensive SUV’s don’t you know . . .

    She is obviously a good one, hang on to her.

  • avatar
    RHD

    The Escape, as suggested by JimZ, is a good idea, but very similar to the Sportage.
    From Bark’s list, the Focus Wagon is probably the best balance of reliability, economy, space and reasonable repair and maintenance costs. You don’t want some expensive part to fail when you’re out in the middle of nowhere. It’s a step up in size from the Escort wagon, and the price at the lower end of your budget seals the deal.

    • 0 avatar

      OP here. I wasn’t clear in my email to Bark, I’ve got a Harley Sportster, not a Kia Sportage. (I called it a Sporty, so the fault is mine for the confusion.) I’m not thrilled with the Escape, but I don’t need to be. If she finds one she likes, and at low cost, it may be a winner.

      • 0 avatar
        EMedPA

        As a former Focus wagon owner, I’d second the Focus. I drove my ’05 for 155,000 miles and sold it to my wife’s uncle, who is still driving it. Parts are still available as far as I know, and they are really really reliable little cars.

        • 0 avatar
          focus-ed

          I concur. Something tells me that if woman asked for MT she actually enjoyed the little driving she had to do. And Focus delivers, at half the price and mileage of competition. Great mpgs, especially with stick. That wagon will take everything (my zx3 is no slouch either, 51″ thick frame plasma in a box – no problem, 29″ bike – no issue at all). And it’s really close to driving characteristics of the Escort – still light, good visibility great steering feel, maybe little noisy. 2006 comes with slightly improved engine (I believe it’s still not-interference so if you fail to maintain it all that’s needed is to haul it back home and replace the belt). The color is not the greatest but it’s next to impossible to come up with anything decent on newer cars.
          I’d not worry about aftermarket parts – too many of them around and parts are really cheap. It’ll hold up fine if not abused (or enjoyed too much;)

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I think one big caveat on the Focus wagon is that they’re coming up on their 10 year anniversary of being discontinued, so OE parts availability might start drying up for certain things.

    • 0 avatar
      Fordson

      That Focus is a gem – well-kept, top-of-the-line wagon with the premium sound, the manual. Lots more room than the Escort. They are used to getting 36 mpg – might as well keep getting it.

      She didn’t any issue with the Escort or the kind of car it is; just want something with lower miles. That Focus is it. All of the early-2000s teething issues are long gone by 2006, the depreciation is all done, but the vehicle is solid and worth more as a driver than the blue book allows.

      One owner, they had an extended warranty, so things got done when they cropped up. Dealer-recommended service (more than required, in other words) performed regularly and oil & filter changes every 3,000 miles, for god’s sake. They even had it detailed at the dealer regularly. It has snows on it; I bet there is a set of all-seasons that go with it, too. It has splash guards, which on that car go a long way toward keeping rust at bay.

      Grab it.

  • avatar
    MBella

    Mazda 6 wagon or Protégé 5. The 6 will resist rust better

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    Sounds like you are looking for a Ford Focus wagon or that Lancer Wagon thing they sold.

    • 0 avatar
      06V66speed

      Ah. Lancer Wagon.

      Rare as Hell for no GOTDAYUM reason.

      • 0 avatar
        threeer

        I happen to own a 2004 Lancer Sportback Ralliart. They are rare as heck because NOBODY bought them! I bought mine used back in 2010 as I was looking for a small wagon to haul pups around in and didn’t want/need a ponderous SUV. I only wish they would have sold them with a manual. It’s fun, makes a bit of sporty noise (In Ralliart trim, anyway) and has been bone reliable since I bought it. I’m up against 170k with it and nothing other than normal wear/tear and maintenance. I’ll be facing much the same question as the OP in a year or so once I crest 200k with it. I’m no fan of SUVs, but smaller wagons, especially manual trans, are rarer than unicorn farts. I don’t particularly care for Subies, and VWs are, well, VWs (though I’d be tempted to look at a gasser Jetta wagon with a manual…maybe).

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Anything Ford should suffice.

    Literally.

  • avatar
    06V66speed

    Since you put up with that Escort/Tracer for so long, why not just buy a 1st generation Escort or Lynx diesel?

    Blahaha. I jest.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    The gentlemen above is doing his best Richard Rawlings impersonation: What we got here is this little green beauty, 97 Mercury wagon. Shinin’ like a diamond in a goat’s a$$.”

    In all seriousness it sounds like you’d love a Taurus X. Look for a one owner with an elderly driver.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Hell if you can recommend a Mini why not a Jetta wagon, they are cheap now even in gasser form, plenty of sticks , plenty of room and it is a wagon, not sure about funky colors as a better choice than a CUV if she wants a wagon.

  • avatar
    Sammy B

    Matrix/Vibe? These should easily be in your budget

  • avatar
    gtemnykh

    07-12 Versa 1.8 S 5 door 6spd manual. More hatchback than wagon I suppose, but should fit the bill. Worth mentioning however, the seat folding mechanism is rather unrefined and does NOT give a flat load floor. That’s the biggest pitfall IMO. Aside from that I think it hits all the notes. Simple and durable (very common in Mexico as taxis I should add), should be close to your escort in efficiency, a used one should be in your price range, and these are surprisingly comfortable cars to ride in/drive.

    Here is a first year SL (truly impressive interior materials for the class!) with 64k miles and a silly dent in the bumper that will pop out with a bit of hair dryer massaging:

    linkhttp://www.cars.com/vehicledetail/detail/655222747/overview/

    • 0 avatar

      OP. We’ve managed to live with the Escort not having a flat load area, too, with the rear seats down, so we can in fact live with it. Simple and durable are two important boxes to tick.

      Shortlisted.

      • 0 avatar
        davefromcalgary

        Hi Jon,

        In your post to Bark, you mentioned the wagon vs. hatchback conundrum, have you any specs on the relative cargo volume of your Escort wagon? Maybe you would find that a newer hatch might have similar volumes as the older “wagon”, which would make it a simple discussion if you find something you like in hatchback form. “Its not a wagon per se, but it has the same volume”.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        By not flat, I mean VERY not flat, see image:

        Linkhttps://media.ed.edmunds-media.com/nissan/versa/2007/fd/2007_nissan_versa_crg_fd_1_600.jpg

  • avatar
    sfvarholy

    I’d also throw in a P2 Volvo V70 2005 and above.

    It’s the same platform as the Flex/Freestyle/Taurus X.

    It also has a YUGE amount of space in a relatively compact package.

    The 2005’s are past the transmission and throttle body issues. The 2.4/2.5 inline fives are nearly indestructible.

    Depreciation has taken the cars down below 10,000 with reasonable mileage, although with a well-maintained car (buy the prior owner, not the car) 100k+ is not something to shy away from.

    It’s not as sporty as the previous generation V70/850, but with the turbo it is quicker than an E46 325 wagon and with far fewer known issues.

  • avatar
    PRNDLOL

    If only it didn’t have to be a wagon or hatchback, because a last of the line micro mileage 2000 Contour or Mystique would be ideal. Coming out of a Escort wagon will feel both a familial and substantial upgrade and one could be had for less than half the budget. These cars were well engineered and ironed out by the end of their runs.

    • 0 avatar

      I owned a Contour once, a 96 I think. I can’t recall being overly impressed or disappointed with it, though it did serve me well when a carload of high school students pulled out in front of me. I think I can still see the outline of the brake pedal on the underside of my foot.

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      I always liked the Contour, and even came close to buying a low-milage SVT. But the back seat and trunk was underwhelming. If a Golf or Mazda 3 won’t cut it, the Contour certainly won’t.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      Since there’s no Contour Wagon, consider the similar Jaguar X-Type wagon. You can get the 3.0 V6 with AWD, or even get a stick if needed.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    How about an Elantra Touring? Not a ton of them around, but they seem to have a generally solid reputation, you can find them at your price point without too too many miles on them, they’re true station wagons similar in size to the Escort you’re replacing, and they’ll certainly satisfy you with their fuel economy better than a Taurus X or Flex ever will. I always love the value proposition of a completely overlooked car like this one.

    • 0 avatar

      OP here. This is certainly one I never would’ve considered. I see there is exactly one in our area http://desmoines.craigslist.org/cto/5439041808.html and it does look sharp, though I don’t know if the boring color and slushbox would DQ it. But I’ll put it on the list.

      • 0 avatar
        Darwinian

        +1 on the Elantra Touring if you can find a 5 speed, well worth the search. Very underrated car, just not super sexy. Last of the old time wagon features such as full size hatch and tall greenhouse. Hyundai depreciation means good second hand buy, unlike a Honda Fit, where used sell for more than the new. Disclaimer: may be slight exaggeration. Check out the Michael Karesh review on this site. 100K on my 2012 with no issues other than wear parts.

    • 0 avatar
      TMA1

      That’s a pretty good idea.

    • 0 avatar
      dwford

      Ha. I scanned through all the comments before I posted about the Elantra Touring. Get the SE trim, though, and you get a really nice car.

  • avatar
    ant

    You owe it to yourselves to go and test drive a 2nd gen (2007+) honda fit.

    They come with manual transmissions, are cheap, reliable, and have way more cargo space than their size suggests.

    They are easy to get in and out of as well.

    Gas mileage will be in the 30s somewhere.

    Kinda tall (susceptible to winds), and revs high at interstate speeds, so, not such a great highway car.

    They are kinda cheaply made in some respects, so that can be a downside as well.

    I love mine, and would recommend you test drive one to see if it fits your needs.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Yeah assuming you can find one with reasonable mileage inside of your budget, a Fit is a good fit. Agreed on buzzy highway disposition and overall lack of comfort on long trips for taller drivers. My parents have owned a stick shift “Base” ’07 from new and it has been great. Just oil/filter/MTF/tires, and maybe a set of front rotors(?). 35mpg in mixed driving over hilly terrain in the summer, lowest I’ve seen in the winter with snow tires on is 30mpg. Has crested 41 mpg on a number of trips up to the Adirondacks driving on state roads. With said snow tires, this thing climbs snowy Ithacan hills with aplomb. My dad has it in permanent seats-down mode with a tarp in the back. Hauls bee hives and various fencing, tools, and other farm things like a champ. It actually has okay clearance and scampers around their hilly acreage incredibly easily owing to its low weight. Our old Allsport MPV and my 4Runner need 4wd to make the same climb up their property when the grass is wet.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Here’s an idea: keep the Escort wagon and fix it up. I’m surprised nobody suggested an LS swap!

    • 0 avatar

      OP here. I’ve thought about it. But the motor is getting tired enough that I’d want to rebuild it before trusting it for another 3K cross-country trip. And after having to source a junkyard transmission because the rebuild kits have become difficult to find, I understand that might be difficult. We will keep the Escort, though, regardless of what else we end up with, so I’ll start thinking about the fabrication requirements to drop in some small block power.

  • avatar
    ronhawk62

    There should be plenty of Scion xBs around, they are as reliable as an anvil and sticks are pretty common. I owned a 2008 and had zero problems, it drove well and was comfortable for long trips. Unfortunately my daughter totaled it.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    All I have to say is that the Mini does not have a stellar reputation for reliability; I’d be just as likely to suggest a $4k used Mini as I would a $4k VW wagon.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Maybe a Volvo v40 their smaller wagon or a saab 9-3 wagon, finding a stick would be hard but not impossible for the saab not sure about the volvo. if the vibe past the wife’s wagon test that is a solid choice.

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Viggen! It comes in funky colors and most were manual. It’s a hatch, but it can swallow more stuff than an Escort wagon can.

      • 0 avatar
        gtemnykh

        “It’s a hatch, but it can swallow more stuff than an Escort wagon can.”

        I don’t think so. The Escort wagon has 67 cu ft with seats folded down in its unapologetically wagon shaped body, a Saab 9-3 Hatchback of that generation has 46 cu. ft with seats folded down, so not even close. Now, I will say that I adore the 5 door liftback body style and I prefer it to more traditional hatchback shapes, but a true wagon is still king in terms of utility.

  • avatar
    e30gator

    For $4,000 you could get a near-perfect Volvo wagon with low miles. Safe, cheap, reliable…what else do you need? Most of the engine/electrical components are pretty serviceable and the junkyards are full of old tinworm-special Volvos.

    Several years ago, I found a ’97 850 with just 68k on the odo for all of $3500. That car didn’t give me a single problem in over 6 years, and I sold it for almost as much as I paid for it. Just stay away from anything from ’01-’04 with the weird transmission software gremlins.

    • 0 avatar
      sfvarholy

      The 850s were extraordinarily well built and engineered cars. I miss mine terribly.

      In the South, the biggest downfall of the 850 Volvos was that the extended periods of hot weather would destroy the plastics forming the dashboard. If you ever had to take the dash apart, there was no guarantee that you would be able to do it without the plastic shattering and rendering it unable to be put back in place.

      I don’t think the Swedes ever needed to worry about 100+ degree weather…

  • avatar
    RideHeight

    Honda Element!

  • avatar
    hubcap

    Here’s what I can come up with.

    1. Mazda Protege wagon- should be durable enough but not sure if it’ll be able to fight off the rust monster.

    2. Honda Element- Lotsa space in a smaller package. Don’t know if your wife has a preference for the lower seating position of a wagon/hatch or the higher one of a CUV but if it doesn’t matter this might be a good choice.

    3. Scion XB- similar to Honda Element

    If a hatch is OK, there are plenty to choose from.

    Oh… and think about replacing that Sporty with a V-Rod. Just a thought.

  • avatar
    madman2k

    If the wife likes hauling stuff around, can’t beat the combination of cargo space and miles per gallon yielded by a minivan.

    If she’s not too image-conscious to be daily driving a station wagon (never a pillar of form-over-function style), and a 22-year-old one at that, a minivan is just a little more thirsty and holds massively more stuff with all the seats down or removed.

    Mine is too image-conscious to drive one, no matter how many times I tell her it’s a practical choice (we already have two kids, and she’s talking about a Charger to replace her Kia Soul in a few years but she’s also talking about wanting more kids).

    But it’s a crapshoot really. I think minivans are as uncool now as station wagons used to be.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    A 2012 Focus SE hatchback with the 5-speed manual and no options is at the top of your price range. We have a 2013, bought new in November, 2012. The car is quiet and comfortable on long trips, has good acceleration if you don’t lug it, averages 34 mpg in mixed driving, and hasn’t required any repairs. About all I would change on it is to spend more for the better interior and, maybe, the sport suspension.

    Second choice was a 2013 Mazda3 hatchback. Its failing was that it wasn’t quite as refined as the Focus. Since the Mazda3 has been revised since then, I expect it would beat out the Focus if we were shopping today. Unfortunately, the revised model is new enough to be above your price range.

  • avatar

    Stay the hell away from a Mini. Reliability is terrible, according to Consumer Reports. I’d be wary of Fords for the same reason, although some are more reliable than others. If you don’t get Consumer Reports, you can check reliability on Truedelta.com, which is an excellent source of reliability info.

    I’d suggest a Mazda3 wagon or a Jetta (TDI or gasoline). You seem to like smaller cars, and they are smaller, and reasonably reliable, and fun. I wish there were a Honda wagon. You might look at a CRV, which for practical purposes is a wagon, even though I think it’s billed as an SUV. Also an Element.

  • avatar
    sproc

    I’m surprised no one has suggested a Mazda 5 yet. Fantastic space in a small footprint and even available with a manual. Even if the 3rd gen (2010-) is out reach, 2nd gen ones are still very good cars.

  • avatar
    319583076

    Hmmm…if only the OP were monitoring this thread – I know one weird trick that could resolve his dilemma!

  • avatar
    TMA1

    I’d suggest a 1st-generation Mazda3 hatchback. I don’t think it’s much shorter than the Escort (Wikipedia actually says it’s longer, but I doubt that).

    I’ve been able to haul a lot of stuff in mine, including large televisions still in the box, a pretty large recliner, Christmas trees, and plenty from Ikea (including 80″ bookcases). It should be reliable enough to last you a long time, and prices on older ones shouldn’t stretch your budget too much. Manuals should be plentiful.

    They aren’t the most fuel efficient, but 30+mpg should be no problem in Iowa. Some of the first years may have had rust issues (or so people will tell you). Mine is an ’09 and has no rust on it, with 87K miles.

  • avatar

    Tears! The Focus is listed as a manual, but when I contacted the dealership to send some interior photos it turns out it’s a slushbox. Consulting with Management now.

    • 0 avatar

      NOOOOOOOO

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      A manual tranny 2WD station wagon. It sounds like such a reasonable and practical choice, but manages to be one of the rarest automotive classes.

      The Jetta Sportwagen with 5 cylinder is probably the most common example of this breed, and there are only 2 within 300 miles of the ZIP in that Focus wagon listing. Even as a satisfied owner of one, I wouldn’t attempt it living in a rural area who-knows-how-far from a mechanic you’d trust. Especially since you seem to run your cars for a long long time.

      I’d keep a look out for a Hyundai Elantra Touring wagon, it’s the same size as the Focus. Is a Matrix/Vibe large enough to qualify?

    • 0 avatar
      focus-ed

      no deal than.
      the color was bad anyway;)

  • avatar
    jeoff

    Ford C-Max–wagon–yep (though you do lose some space due to battery), great gas milage–yep, see 2013’s advertised for less than 11K in Atlanta with 60 to 80K miles. Some are even top trim with leather. I imagine that Iowa prices can’t be too different. And, with the milage corrections, low gas prices, I think these things take a while to sell–so 10K seems doable. Maybe when tax season is over and if there is a switch to 2017s soon–maybe they will dip further.

  • avatar
    drewhopps

    I live in Iowa and only buy vehicles manual transmissions, which are mostly wagons, in this price range, so I’m tracking with the OP. Are you willing to travel hundreds of miles to go buy the ‘right’ vehicle? Since I won’t compromise and buy something with an automatic, I’ve traveled a bit to buy what I want once I locate it. I went to Chicago (97 Legacy GT wagon), central Michigan (02 Saturn LW200), Fargo (2004 Mazda6 wagon), and Minneapolis (09 Outback).

    To throw out some possibilities other than the very good ones already offered for a wagon, hatch, or crossover available with a manual trans, I would add the Kia Forte5 (in addition to the Hyundai Elantra Touring), previous gen. Mazda Tribue or Mercury Mariner (if you decided to consider an Escape), Toyota Matrix (Vibe twin), Nissan Juke, Kia Soul, Chevy HHR SS (ugly but very entertaining), 05-06 Mitsubishi Outlander, 04-07 Saturn Vue, & Jeep Patriot.

    • 0 avatar
      drewhopps

      A few other outliers would be a Suzuki Forenza wagon or a Suzuki Aerio SX if you’re not scared of orphans, or a Kia Spectra5.

      • 0 avatar

        At one point I was considering flying to Atlanta to buy a car from Steve Lang, so traveling for the right car is certainly within the realm of possibility. I hadn’t considered Suzukis, most of the rest you mentioned had come up. HHR SS might be fun but I doubt the Boss would go for it.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    You might be able to find a Jetta SportWagen TDI in that price range, but it will have high mileage. The C-Max is a good alternative.

  • avatar
    MWolf

    As mentioned above, an Escape model years 08-12 is a great choice, and can be had at a great price. Either the four banger or the V6 are great engines. There are two of these in my family. My mom’s 2011 with the four banger, and mine (2010) with the V6. Both are AWD, neither has given either of us any issues. I’m in Iowa as well. She’s in SD. They are fabulous in snow.

    The Flex is also an excellent choice, as is the Taurus X, but I have no personal experience with either (including test drives). Volvo wagons are usually a good choice, and reliable, and venture easily into 6 digits on the odometer, but when something DOES go wrong, it can be slightly more expensive.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    I cannot resist the urge to recommend a Pinzgauer.

  • avatar
    iNeon

    Find the lowest mileage 2009 PT Cruiser you can get.

    They’re cheap, stout, hold an amazing amount of stuff– and the only trouble spot is front suspension bushings and maybe the ball joints.

    I never had any problems out of mine in 7 years and 90k miles of driving. Had a speaker and door lock actuator replaced under warranty in 2009. Put some booger bushings on the shifter to stiffen it up last year around the 100k mark.

    Gave it to my Nephew for his 16th and fully expect it to be wrecked in 6 months– but the thing was as-new when replaced by the Dart last month.

  • avatar
    theonewhogotaway

    Don’t underestimate a Gen 4 (2000-2006) Taurus or Sable wagon. About 25+ mpg highway, great safety features, and excellent reliability if it is maintained well. And huge cargo space. The 2 of you can sleep in it. Should be about the same price as a Focus wagon, even when loaded, but will make those 40 mile trips to the grocery store much more comfortable.

  • avatar
    tubacity

    Used Kia Soul already noted, has been available with MT below $10k. Carmax in Des Moines has one.
    http://www.carmax.com/search?ASc=14&D=90&zip=50301&N=4294963097+4294962928+4294962343&Q=d2a5c462-dec2-4629-bd1e-17d6c77e6c43&Ep=search:results:results page
    Kia Rondo is surely forgotten. Discontinued in USA. Rare, usually AT. Good seat height, room, visibility, headroom. Wagon style body.
    Rare. New version maybe sold in Canada, much less roomy and boxy.

  • avatar
    manu06

    What about a used Fore Transit ?

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    Too many recommending a hatch when she wants a wagon.

    If you can find someone to service it, an 06 9-3 wagon is a left field option. EATS miles, will do 30+ mpg on the hwy, tons of power, lazy cruising, built like a tank and hey,some creature comforts! Body is very well protected from rust.

    Despite the poor reputation, by 06 they really ironed out the bugs.

    Just no idea if you could find a shop for service so its likely out.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    Buy a new car with the money you saved by not having children. It’s what we did and we’re very happy no longer driving high mileage, busted hoopties.

  • avatar

    My 2 cents:
    Avoid the Contour/Mystique. I had a v6 manual, and eventually upgraded the suspension to SVT. The problem here is that the car was designed in Europe (good handling !!!) but made in America (Honey, that Taurus is much bigger and the same price). Ford decontented the car without mercy to try to compete with the Taurus-the first ones are mini 3 series but by the end, strippers.-I burned one out in 4 years @ 30k/year….properly optioned, decent drivers, but no longevity.

    I’m going to go out on limb here and suggest a VW. Now, I know I’m still reeling from my TDi poisoning, but a base Golf, with the 2.5 engine, is very reliable, there is a massive aftermarket for parts, and you aren’t in the penalty box of an Escort…it still plays like a real car, and you can easily suspension tune it to your preference. Ignore the fanboi scoffing at the 5 cyl tractor motor.

    I love SAAB, and had two of them. I’d not recommend in this price range as they get cranky around 80k, and unless you DIY or have a good SAAB guy nearby, repairs can be BMW-ish in price.

    If I didn’t support a College (that kid thing), I would have a Z06 in the Garage, sitting next to my fantasy e90 M3 manual, next to my SUV to pull the Jetski. Oh, and I’ve have a Garage….

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      My girlfriend and I rented a Contour back in the day for a West Coast vacation. My impression after two weeks: “if I’d purchased this car, I would be p*d-off at myself now.”

      It didn’t handle (unless your benchmark was a Fairmont, I guess), the V6 didn’t move at all, the interior was rental-car cheap (appropriately), it was way smaller on the inside than the outside, and it looked to the whole world like a mangled Taurus.

      A Ford tech told me that a steering rack job out of warranty would write-off the car. He was doing a bunch of them under warranty.

      I can’t imagine any reason to own one now, unless it’s essentially free.

      The SVT may be an exception. I’ve only ever seen a few of those, none in the past 10 years.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        In 1995, my friend wrecked his Integra and we did some rapid car shopping in order to find him something before he left for grad school in Atlanta the next week. One of the cars we tried was a new 5-speed Contour. The review were so glowing that we expected it to handle, but it teetered around like a barge compared to his Integra or my Bilstein-equipped 325. It was really disappointing, as was the Neon twin-cam coupe we tried next. He wound up spending $900 on a clean Omni or Horizon that I saw for sale in someone’s driveway. It had better steering and less roll than the new options.

        I rented a Contour in 2001. Or maybe it was a Mystique. I drove it from Manhattan to a party in Winchester, VA and then down to visit my folks in Charlottesville before returning to NYC. I got it from some off-brand rental company in the city, which I think saved me enough money at the time to be worthwhile until I saw the car. The inside of the back window was covered in some sort of schmutz. It looked like the Nova from Pulp Fiction back there. The other thing I remember about that car was that it had the smoothest 4-cylinder engine I have ever experienced in a UAW-3 car right up until this moment. That Zetec was nice. It figures that Ford killed it in short order and replaced it with the indifferent Duratec-Mazda.

        My other Contour memory was about a car that belonged to a regular on an F1 forum. It as an SVT that he was soliciting help in committing insurance fraud to be rid of, such was his urgency to get it behind him and inability to find anyone that would pay close to book value for it as it ran. That’s not so remarkable, but a few years later he was defending the SVT Contour online as being some great misunderstood car that he was one of the chosen who had the privilege of owning.

  • avatar
    Alfisti

    I own an X1 and a 9-3, the x1 is far more expensive for parts. My2c.

  • avatar
    suspekt

    The answer is: Gen 2 Toyota Matrix / Pontiac Vibe…… 2.4 Camry engine model is a torquey fun little thing…. got my mother in law into a 2009 Vibe with the 2.4 and 5 spd auto.

    – tons of storage room
    – ingress and egress very comfortable
    – fun to drive with great mid range grunt
    – good looking car with the 17 inch alloys
    – Toyota quality

    Miles: 35,000
    Price: $7,500 cdn

    Perfect car for many people in terms of price, reliability, and utility.

  • avatar
    ericb91

    AutoTrader
    Put in your ZIP
    Search Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute with manual transmission
    Done. Almost all of them that I found are under $10,000.


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