Ask the Best and Brightest: Pick a Car for My Mom

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
ask the best and brightest pick a car for my mom

From TTAC reader Dan: “My mom has owned two cars over the past twenty years: a 1988 Volvo 760 Turbo and a more recent late ’90’s Volvo 960 (I don’t know the exact year). Now she’s looking for a replacement. Apparently her top choice is a Lexus ES350, and she’s also considering getting yet another Volvo.

Pre-history: Mom’s first car was a Karman Ghia, which my dad made her toss when, whilst repairing it, he observed that he could see through the rusting-out floor. Next, she had a Buick Opel (GM briefly imported the Opel Kadett), followed by a craptastic 1981 Buick Skylark (“Limited”), on which I learned to drive. Thankfully, it died before my sixteenth birthday would have allowed it to be handed down to me.

According to my father, Mom is emphatically not interested in Mercedes or BMW (being concerned about reliability and operating expense), nor is she interested in Acura (despite having ridden in and driven my ’05 Acura TL). Mom’s the opposite of a speed demon, although she has occasionally expressed remorse over how the Volvo 960 isn’t as zippy as the earlier 760 Turbo. And she once surprised me by reeling off the relative performance characteristics of manual vs. automatic transmissions in a drag race. Where’d you learn that, Mom? Anyway, Mom needs a big trunk to move art projects around. She puts maybe 3000 miles a year on the car. She could care less about nav systems and the like, although she could well be sold on air-conditioned seats or other gadgets that compensate for living in a hot climate (Dallas).

So, dearest TTAC Best & Brightest, what do you recommend for my mom? Let’s assume, for the sake of discussion, that her budget is unlimited, but her tolerance for taking the car to the shop is nil. Whatever she buys had better last another ten years with little more than regularly scheduled maintenance.”

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  • Dasko Dasko on Sep 22, 2008

    Based on your mom's comments Dan I would say that she has three excellent choices. I looked up the size of a trunk on the 1997 960 sedan on (since the 1996 model is not listed) and it shows that it is 16.6 cubic feet. Sadly Volvo no longer makes a sedan that is this big without folding down the back seat. While the V70 would be overkill sizewise for her, a V50 may be ideal. It is over 13 inches shorter then her current Volvo but has front and rear legroom within an inch of her 960 and offers 11 more cubic feet of trunk space with the backseat in place. As I stated in a previous posting, a 2008 Mazda6 hatchback with the V6 would also satisfy her needs. It offers 22 cubic feet of trunk space with the backseats in place and it is 5 inches shorter then her 960. Although it is out of production I found several brand new Mazda6 hatchbacks listed on at Texas dealerships. In 2006 and 2007 Chevrolet made the Malibu Maxx SS. This car is as reliable and as plush as an Avalon but offers way more driving enjoyment. It is also is 4 inches shorter then her current Volvo. Sadly they are hard to find new and although I did see a few new ones on none were at Texas dealerships. So your mom would likely have to settle for a certified car or bring one in from an out of state dealership. To sum up: 2008/2009 Volvo V50 2008 Mazda6 V6 hatchback 2006/2007 Chevy Malibu Maxx SS

  • Dan Dan on Sep 24, 2008

    After Mom read this thread, her main take-away was "gee, maybe I should go have another look at the Volvo dealer." In the end, she ended up driving away in a S80 T6 (3.0 liter turbo, AWD). Mileage sucks, but she doesn't care too much. It's apparently got a bunch of options, but I don't have the list yet. Apparently she also got a great deal. Not so many people buying big, high-powered Volvos these days. So, dear Best & Brightest, thank you for saving my Mom from buying something fantastically bland and boring. Now we just have to see whether this car holds together or not.

  • Johnster Another quibble, this time about the contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark. (I know. It's confusing.) The Thunderbird/Mark IV platform introduced for the 1971 model year was apparently derived from the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform (also introduced for the 1971 model year), but should probably be considered different from it.As we all know, the Cougar shared its platform with the Ford Mustang up through the 1973 model year, moving to the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform for the 1974 model year. This platform was also shared with the failed Ford Gran Torino Elite, (introduced in February of 1974, the "Gran Torino" part of the name was dropped for the 1975 and 1976 model years).The Thunderbird/Mark series duo's separation occurred with the 1977 model year when the Thunderbird was downsized to share a platform with the LTD II/Cougar. The 1977 model year saw Mercury drop the "Montego" name and adopt the "Cougar" name for all of their mid-sized cars, including plain 2-doors, 4-doors and and 4-door station wagons. Meanwhile, the Cougar PLC was sold as the "Cougar XR-7." The Cougar wagon was dropped for the 1978 model year (arguably replaced by the new Zephyr wagon) while the (plain) 2-door and 4-door models remained in production for the 1978 and 1979 model years. It was a major prestige blow for the Thunderbird. Underneath, the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976), while the Mark V was a warmed-over version of the previous Mark IV.
  • Stuart de Baker This is depressing, and I don't own one of these.
  • Stuart de Baker Chris! When asked for car advice, I just ask 'em what they want out of a car. And I have my prompts: fun to drive, safety, economy, longevity (I have Consumer Reports annual auto issues going back so I can help people with used cars, too), road trips vs in town, etc, and what sort of body style do they want and why. (If they want an SUV because they think it's safer, I'll suggest they consider large sedans, but if they put major emphasis on safety, I'll check the latest safety stats for whatever cars might satisfy their other desires.
  • Stuart de Baker I don't speak to Jeeps and I don't approve of driving off road, especially in places like Utah where the vegetation won't come back for years.
  • Kanu Actually, I think this makes a certain amount of sense.The average age of light vehicles in operation in the US is now 12.2 years. This means that the typical useful life of a light vehicle is around 25 years.The big virtue of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is that the infotainment system in your car uses the relatively up-to-date technology of your smartphone rather than the vintage technology that existed when your car was built.But the useful life of EVs is nowhere near 25 years. It’s more like 8 years. That’s when the battery needs to be replaced, and that’s when you discover that the price of the new battery is more than the market value of your eight-year-old car with a new battery.So if your EV has built-in infotainment technology, that technology will still be relatively up-to-date when your EV goes to the scrap yard.