New or Used: The Last Four Letter Word in Automotive Brands

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used the last four letter word in automotive brands

Peter writes:

I have been twice plagued from owning a Saab. My current ride is a 2009 Rav 4 and the Wife’s Corolla S from 2004. Lately I’ve been missing, horribly missing, my old Saabs. It’s something about the change in the weather that has reminded me of how much I adored these cars when they weren’t in the shop. The 2.0 turbo, and the 2.3 Viggen turbo paired with those awesome seats and perfect climate control was just wonderful. I’m looking for a replacement to my wife’s Corolla, and she wants it to be our fun car. I’d like to keep the price under 20K. The car must be reliable. I want it to have some of the same soul as the two 9-3’s I used to have, but probably not a Saab (it must be reliable). Does anything like this exist without becoming an honorary Jersey Shore cast member?

Steve Answers:

No. Nothing else drives like a Saab…

On the other hand there’s a reason why Saab and Yugo are the last four letter words of automotive brands. They are known for being serious beasts of burden. However I also have a soft spot for Saab. Would I throw $20k at it? Nope. Maybe $2k if you got me drunk enough. But seriously… unless your wife is a hardcore Saab enthusiast you may be throwing your money away.

I would sit down with the wife. Look at her intently… and say…”I could either give you 5 trips to Vegas, 5 trips to Disney, 5 trips to New York City, and 3 Cruises. Or I can buy you a 2008 Saab 9-3 Sportcombi wagon.”

Given that she drives a Corolla, I have absolutely no doubt you guys will soon find yourselves loaded with frequent flyer miles. Keep ol’ reliable in her capable hands and remember that if you don’t like Disney, there’s always Honolulu.

Sajeev Answers:

Oh goodness, another displaced Saab junkie. Only difference between you and my friend Hillary is that her Corolla “S” was an insurance rental, a holdover between her first 9-3 droptop and her current 9-3 Vector: a delightful $6500 investment that blew the boombox and threw warning lights aplenty shortly after purchasing. And with the nickname of Vectra (get it?) it’s a lovely car that proves the Saab depreciation schedule exists for a reason. I will grudgingly admit that I adore “Vectra,” even if I fought its owner at every step of the purchase process.

But I digress. My time between Saabs and the Corolla “S” made one thing clear: there’s a happy middle ground. Whose name is the Mazda3, 5-door hatchback, in new or slightly used form. Over 160hp from the bigger motor, 6 speeds, and you can finally ditch the Corolla’s lame-o solid rear axle. I know it lacks Saab’s subtle (yet condescending) combination of excellent fit and finish with crappy component quality, but this Mazda is still a looker with a tight suspension. Plus, the Speed3’s turbo mill is available, with enough proper Swedish turbo torque steer to fill an IKEA shopping cart, and then some.

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

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2 of 62 comments
  • Tedward Tedward on Dec 01, 2010

    I wholeheartedly agree with Sajeev's recomendation. The Mazda3S (bigger engine) fits right between the GTI and all other (frankly inferior) FWD comers in the hatchback segment, and when specced up a bit, provides a very good car for your money. There's also the Golf2.5, which the Mazda was clearly designed to compete against, and which is not, despite rumors from the late 90's, unreliable at all. The Mazda will get you a nicer interior and the Golf 5 cylinder will give you a gruffer, stronger feeling engine and heavier controls, pick your poison. Both have good manual transmissions (and both are available used for far less than $20k). If a turbo is in your future I would recommend the CC with the 2.0T as a CPO purchase, it's the closest thing to a Saab out there, and is really a nice car with all the potential of the GTI drivetrain wise. Six speed manual available. The Mazdaspeed3 I wouldn't recommend, I actually prefer the Mazda3S for some reason, and I shudder at the thought of what a first owner would do to one of these (same with GTI). There are also old 1.8T VW's out there, and yes the problem issues have already been recalled, but you would need to chip one to get the power you'd likely want. Have you considered a Saab project? I know someone with at a 9-5 right now with near 200k on the odometer, mint condition. It's maybe worth $2k, maybe, and is loaded up leather etc... If you go this route do try to get one that's had the ABS module and ECU replaced already. This is one of those cars that current owners just don't know what the hell to do with right now. Costs to much to own, yet worth more to drive than it is to sell. Bargains likely available.

  • Novaload Novaload on Dec 01, 2010

    Just went through this dilemma when the reliable, ABS, good-in-snow Camry imploded. After much searching--and resisting the impulse--with help from members of the household--the decision was made to get something similar, small sedan, new or used, 15,000 max. Took a long time but finally settled on---don't judge me--a one year old Kia Spectra EX, for 13k plus 1,700 for the Carmax maximum warranty. It's 2.0 L, Lotus tuned suspension, light weight, 138 HP and had more features, like sunroof, aux plugs, CD, fold down rear seats accessible via trunk and dash tire inflation display, plus of course cruise control and all that.. It reminds me of my old late 70's Fiesta and my first car, a 69 Renault R10. It's fun to drive, so we got the better mileage, better traction, more fun bits. It's hard to argue with the Carmax warranty when you are buying new or used.

  • Buickman the only fire should be in the board room.they just hired an executive from Whirlpool.that should help them go do the drain.
  • Mike Beranek I don't care about the vehicles. But I'd be on board for inspecting the drivers.
  • Art Vandelay Coming to a rental lot near you. And when it does know there is a good chance EBFlex and Tassos have puffed each other's peters in it!
  • Art Vandelay I doubt there is even room for EBFlex and Tassos to puff each other's peters in that POS
  • Art Vandelay The lack of side windows is a boon for EBFlex and Tassos as nobody can see them puffing each other's peters back there!