By on December 7, 2010

Gregory writes:

So… if ”utes” work so well in Australia, why not North America?

In the NorAm market, we have the Subaru BRAT (1978–1987), Volkswagen Caddy (1980-1996?), Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp (1982-1984), Ford Ranchero (1957-1979), Chevrolet El Camino (1959-1987) and then the Subaru Baja (2003-2006).

To be honest, I’m considering buying a Subaru Baja Turbo. I need a 4-wheeled vehicle for two quite specific needs: 1.) household utilitarian trips, to places like Ikea or Home Depot, to carry the lawn mower to grandma’s, to haul garbage to the dump or to carry fire wood; 2.) road trips with the girlfriend, carrying her bags & bicycle around, long country road drives where we can listen to loud music, hear audio books, shift gears through the twisties, and have audible conversation.

I commute & grocery shop by bicycle or motorcycle, so definitely do not need a 4-wheeled vehicle for those chores. I think a Subaru Baja (or perhaps the new Hyundai i30/ Elantra Touring) would fit. Perhaps a four-door pick-up truck? Other station wagon? Old Land Cruiser?

Sajeev Answers:

I still don’t understand why Utes went out of style.  Perhaps they never were “in” style, and the ever-increasing popularity of “real” trucks made producing a car-based truck more challenging.  And since CUVs are here to stay, no amount of Camino/Chero talk on yesteryear’s Jalopnik by the great Davey G. Johnson can bring it back.

Just a guess, now onto your query.

Subaru Baja?  Even if you have complete faith in the previous owner’s oil change regiment, certain years of Subies from that era are unreliable, statistically speaking. They are so hit-or-miss I can’t possibly recommend them, not to mention even the reliable ones “enjoy” high labor rates because of their remarkable engine packaging.  Plus, with AWD (and a premium-swilling Turbo?) they aren’t exactly fuel sippers: a small motor Chevy Avalanche, Ford Sport Trac or Honda Ridgeline do the same but need less attention. Which makes a bit more sense to me.  But not really, it’s all overkill for your needs.

So you are firmly set in CUV territory.  The durable design of the Honda Element seemingly checks all the boxes, but perhaps the blocky styling (and its impact on highway fuel economy) and interior design shall put you off. Then go more car like, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Chevy Equinox, Hyundai Santa Fe and Ford Escape are proven entry-level choices for your needs. Want more decadence?  Go a little bigger: Highlander, Pilot, Edge, etc: I think you see where I am going with this.  And while going mainstream with CUVs is off putting for many, they are the platform of choice for automakers: they get the most R&D dollars for everything from in-car entertainment to powertrain refinements.  So do yourself a solid and get the most up-to-speed vehicle for you need. Enjoy the numerous test drives in your future.

Steve Answers:

Let’s break down what you just mentioned. You need a 4-wheel drive vehicle because…

1) household utilitarian trips, to places like Ikea or Home Depot, to carry the lawn mower to grandma’s, to haul garbage to the dump or to carry fire wood: this can be done with any number of vehicles. Pickups of all sizes. SUV’s and wagons that have rear windows that go down. Even a conventional car with a light trailer would do the trick. Four-wheel drive is not a true need unless you’re climbing Mount Olympus.

2.) road trips with the girlfriend, carrying her bags & bicycle around, long country road drives where we can listen to loud music, hear audio books, shift gears through the twisties, and have audible conversation: and any car can be given a bike rack and 5-speed vehicles come in all shapes and sizes.

You are more or less trying to spend $10k+ on a problem that can be solved for less than $1k. If you like your current drive and it can tow at least 2000 pounds, just buy a $500 utility trailer from Craigslist with a few tie-downs. From there get a bike rack for your vehicle. That’s it. No need to waste more time or money.

But if you must have another vehicle I’d work backwards. Find sellers who have taken great care in maintaining their car, and keep an open mind. I happen to prefer more compact vehicles that provide plenty of fun for the road ahead… and there are a near infinite variety out there with a handshaker. Buy what makes you happy. Or better yet, be like me and invest the money in shipping stocks and Vanguard emerging market funds.

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

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

Recommended

72 Comments on “New or Used?: Bratty About Perceived 4WD Needs...”


  • avatar
    Philip Lane

    With all due respect, Steve, I think you read the question totally wrong. Gregory is not asking about a four wheel drive vehicle but rather a four wheeled vehicle. You know, a car. You may have gotten confused by the fact that the Subaru is AWD, but he said he was also considering the Hyundai Elantra Touring/i30, which to my knowledge isn’t driven by four wheels on either side of the pond. I gather that Gregory is simply looking for a vehicle with cargo capacity above and beyond a traditional sedan. Also I was clued-in by this sentence: “I commute & grocery shop by bicycle or motorcycle, so definitely do not need a 4-wheeled vehicle for those chores.”
    Of course, I could be the one reading it wrong, too.
     

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      I missed it in the original post, until I read your comment.  Now it seems obvious.  Funny how the brain works!  (or doesn’t)

    • 0 avatar
      H. Koppinen

      You are correct and Steve and Sajeev are giving the worst advice ever. What the guy wants is something that is rugged for utility and something that is cool and reliable for fun road trips. Sajeev then suggests vehicles that are decent all-around daily drivers with good mileage and great comfort, neither of which the asker was particularly interested in, as he is not looking for a daily driver. Steve suggests a trailer apparently expecting the asker to pull it with his motorcycle.
      Worst. Answers. Ever.

    • 0 avatar
      PeregrineFalcon

      Glad I’m not the only one that was going “WTF?” to Sajeev and Steve’s responses.

      Gregory rides bikes (with and without engines) and wants something with a little more cargo capacity, and something a little more comfortable for road trips with his girlfriend; presumably with enough room to stop for some roadside nookie. I’m betting he’s in his 20s and is enjoying life. And you guys suggest cute-utes, minivans, trailers, and mutual funds? You might as well tell him to go buy a nice Remington and gargle with some double-ought.

    • 0 avatar

      After discussing with Steve, I’m gathering the stones to fire back to this thread:
      I would say we screwed the pooch, but come on…Gergory wants a gas hogging, questionably reliable Subaru for no good reason!  Aren’t Sajeev and Steve here to play devil’s advocate with every TTAC letter coming to our (my) inbox when we feel the need for a correcting force is necessary?

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      @Sajeev:

      Aren’t Sajeev and Steve here to play devil’s advocate with every TTAC letter coming to our (my) inbox when we feel the need for a correcting force is necessary?
       
      Maybe a little bit, but you still told a motorcycle/bicycle-riding single guy who was interested in utes, turbo Subarus, and old Land Cruisers that he should check out an Equinox and Highlander.
       
      If you truly think that Gregory should get a crossover, then that’s your call, but why not at least recommend something slightly interesting like the Escape Hybrid or decent-handling new Tucson?  Or, just tell him he is on the right path with the Elantra Touring.
       
      Don’t the two of you respectively own (and enjoy) a MK VIII, Fox body Cougar, Fleetwood 75, 1st-gen Insight, and Civic Hybrid?
       
      With Steve’s advice, it seems like this guy might not even own a vehicle with doors right now, so I don’t know how well the trailer thing would work.  Still, why did he not at least give an opinion on the Baja/Elantra/Land Cruiser ideas?
       

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe a little bit, but you still told a motorcycle/bicycle-riding single guy who was interested in utes, turbo Subarus, and old Land Cruisers that he should check out an Equinox and Highlander.

      @ajla
      If you truly think that Gregory should get a crossover, then that’s your call, but why not at least recommend something slightly interesting like the Escape Hybrid or decent-handling new Tucson?
      I don’t know if those types of “interesting” really gel with what Gregory was going for, sounds like a waste of money.
      Or, just tell him he is on the right path with the Elantra Touring.
      I think we screwed up there, as the AWD vs. four wheeled thing mentioned by the B&B is right.  It’s a good choice, quirky but not too out of the loop when it comes to upkeep/fuel economy.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    First of all, Sajeev has something against Subarus…not sure why, maybe because they aren’t needed in Houston. With that said, I think a Baja non-turbo would do just fine especially with a stick. My Outback (2007, same 2.5l H4 and 5MT) is at only 50k miles but very reliable and yes, older models (with 150k+) miles do tend to have headgasket issues. That is a major repair, but pretty much the only one. http://www.subaruoutback.org is a great source for the Baja, as it is related to the Outback so closely.

    With all that said, the non-turbo with a stick is a bit slow but still fun to drive. With the stick you get 50/50 split and locking (center and rear) diffs. These vehicles are billygoats, stick on some General Grabbers or Yokohama Geolander tires and it does very well off the beaten path (at least here in the west). The Outback does all the stuff you’d like to do as well, I added a Canvasback cargo liner and a Class II hitch…does everything a cute ute cannot. And has a stick. Fuel economy is 24 average around town and limited highway, 28 on the interstate at 75-80 (speed limit is 75).

    So, yes the Baja is a great vehicle and suprisingly they hold their value quite well due to rarity.

    The only other vehicle I had seriously considered, after marking all the others off for various reasons, was a 2004-2006 CRV. Mainly due to it having a manual transmission, good handling, and a flip up rear window (which I’d still like). The Outback had more room for 2 kiddos, way more ground clearance, and was generally a nicer vehicle to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      Here’s my bias: I see too many of them fail before 200k, relative to other makes.  And when the Subaru Impreza forum has a special section titled “Warranty Issues and SOA problems” you know that Subaru owners have a tougher time with getting their cars sorted.
      I admit that a large chunk of the problem is the Turbo+Hoon factor, but all you have to do is scan the internet (and read my Piston Slap Inbox) to get a little grumpy with Subaru.
      That said, I checked on TrueDelta’s Baja page, and saw that some years are signifigantly better/worse than others, hence my statements.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      Sajeev, I have a data point I want to share. Right out of college, I bought a ’98 Subaru Outback from the original owner. 147k on it. I took that car to 214k with literally nothing more than normal maintenance. Brakes, tires, timing belt and other wear items were the only things that car needed over its life with me and it hadn’t nickled and dimed the previous owner, either. The 96-02 Outbacks had some head gasket issues, but the ones made afterwards are bulletproof if not totally abused.
       
      Also, my wife has an ’00 Outback with 130k on it

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for sharing, I do take these comments into consideration.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      Sajeev, there are problems with any manufacture. Especially when high-performance versions are produced and the manufacture does not feel warranted to replace, for free, parts which are broken due to “hoonage”. Yes, vehicles should operate within the limits of which they were designed for, totally agree…but with any manufacture you have to draw the line or else you’ll be operating continously in the red.

      I don’t go on to many forums, mainly due to the level of immaturity or ignorance, but I would venture to guess that several dealing with high-performance models have the same issues of manufacture dealings and people being upset.

      I’d love to see some more Piston Slap articles about Subaru, from my experience and others here in the northwest and mountain west…they’re great vehicles for the everyday man/woman.

      It’s truly amazing to me, that with the introduction of aluminum engines being more widespread in the 1990s, head gaskets were a more common occurance. Failure is a real possibility on my 1998 Acura 3.2TL, nothing yet at 132k (knock on wood).

      At the end of the day, if I was a Ford fan then it would be hard for me to be critical of other manufactures and their reliability…and feel justified. And I was a Ford fan for a long time, their new products are fine…dull, but fine. Slowly shifting back towards GM after a few excellent rentals (CTS, Regal).

    • 0 avatar

      As a Ford fan it’s real easy to call out any manufacturer for being worse than average, cuz we know a thing or two about junk! Well, maybe it’s harder, as Blue Oval folk are still wheezing from yelling about 3.8L headgasket and AX-whatever transaxle nightmares.
      texn3: I’d love to see some more Piston Slap articles about Subaru, from my experience and others here in the northwest and mountain west…they’re great vehicles for the everyday man/woman.
      Funny you mention it, there are two more Subaru-angst ridden letters in my inbox right now (one was recently published as a New or Used, IIRC) so maybe next week will be Subie week on Piston Slap.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      Sajeev has something against Subarus…not sure why, maybe because they aren’t needed in Houston.

       
      Let me tell you a little bit about Subarus and Houston…  I have been to Houston in August twice in my life.  Both times Hertz gave me a brand-new Subaru Legacy Wagon (mid-2000s era).  The air conditioning at the max setting could not keep the car comfortable.  Plus, the gas mileage sucked.

    • 0 avatar

      In fairness, many vehicles with smaller engines (and smaller A/C compressors to go with) are inadequate in Houston summers, that’s not Subaru’s fault. The fuel mileage thing is a different story, however.

  • avatar
    ajla

    GMC Syclone or Typhoon.

  • avatar
    ash78

    I love the trailer advice…for people who might “need” a pickup truck maybe 1-2 times per month (I fall into this category), you can get a decent Harbor Freight trailer for under $300 with modest assembly required. Yes, it’s a little bit of a hassle to store, attach, detach, etc, but why carry around all those cubic feet of empty storage capacity behind you? (ie, pickup truck)
     
    Most FWD cars, even the small ones, are rated over 1,000# towing, which is more than enough for your average trip to Lowe’s or the garden store. Buy what you want and check to be sure there’s a hitch made for it (UHaul, Drawtite, Dalan, etc).

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      As the owner of an F150 that I bought cheap and used I now realize that this option would have made more long term sense. In fact if our commenter wasn’t worried about wind noise I’d tell him to pick up a 4cyl, 5-speed Jeep and a trailer used and cheap and call it a day.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Honda Fit.    I’ve taken lawn mowers.  I’ve hauled all sorts of crap, up to and including three 7U servers or an eight-foot christmas tree with ease of loading that would embarass many larger vehicles.  I’ve strapped bikes (four) to a towing hitch.  Heck, I’ve towed a small trailer (very small, mind you).  It’s fun to drive in the twisties, even, and the mileage is pretty good.
     
    About the only bugger is that it’s pretty loud inside.

    It’ll do some 95% of what most people do, and it saves me the money, in operating costs, that I can rent a pickup when I hit a bigger need, which I have yet to do. The only reason I didn’t just get another Fit when we bought our minivan is that it can’t accommodate a rear-facing child-seat with a very tall front passenger, and being able to walk through to the rear is awesome.

  • avatar
    Hank

    “Four-wheel drive is not a true need unless you’re climbing Mount Olympus.”
    Or live on a hill in the snow belt.  D’oh!

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Exactly, with a enough clearance, it makes BLM and Forest Service roads in the Rockies doable, but on dry pavement it is definitely not needed.

    • 0 avatar

      I recently moved from the wet-side of Washington to the snow and icy side of the Cascade Mountains in Central Oregon. I put some aggressive-tread snow tires on some cheapo steel wheels onto my 2002 VW Jetta. Totally transformed the car! Mind you I would not want to drive these tires at high speed on dry pavemnet, but on snow and ice they are awesome. FWD and good tires are just as good as AWD any day. It is all about the footwear.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      @Chuck: Absolutely!
       
      However, for people who live in extremely variable climates, where it’s dry and 70s one day and rainy and 20s/30s the next day (Rockies, Mid-Atlantic, upper South). AWD can be nice if you want to run all-season tires in those places, but there’s no substitute for proper snows when you have long-term ice snowpack on the roads.

    • 0 avatar
      EChid

      @Chuck Sorry dude, FWD with snow tires =/= as good as AWD. I just ditched my Mazda 3 Sport for an 05 Subaru Outback H6, both had blizzaks. My experience thus far is that there is simply a world of difference in terms of traction. Being able to launch with for winters gripping rather than two (not to mention navigate as such) makes a big difference IMO. Of course, AWD owners need to be aware that traction in handling and take off does not change anything while braking or traveling a consistent speed.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      @Echid,
       
      I assume Chuck was addressing the all-too-common decision between “leaving my all-seasons on my AWD car vs. putting snows on my FWD car”
       
      Obviously, nothing beats AWD with snows in the matrix of drivetrain/tire combos.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    What this fellow needs is what has served me (and millions of Europeans) well for as long as I have owned a house. Whatever car floats his boat and a little 4×8 utility trailer. Mine cost $350 from Harbor Freight, and has been towed by variously a Golf TDI, sundry Volvos, a couple Saabs, and soon an old diesel Mercedes as Saab wants extortionate money for a hitch for my 9-3.

    Rated at 1200lbs cargo capacity, it will do all of your household dump and big-box hauling. It folds up to store in the garage, or just leave it out to rot. Even here in fee-happy Maine, it costs $24 every other years to register, and does not need to be inspected or seperately insured. Why on earth would you want to put stuff that is going to the dump IN your vehicle??? You could tow this thing with a Miata and not even know it was behind you.

    The most hilarious thing about owning it? My buddy with the big, bad, shiny black Ford 4×4 F150 borrows it for HIS dump runs so he won’t get his bed dirty and scratched up! WTF!?

  • avatar
    mazder3

    The Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe GT can haul gear and tail. I don’t know if they are rated for towing in the USA but I’ve seen a few Canadian plated ones towing pop-ups. The Mazda 3 also works well but isn’t rated for towing in North America. From personal experience  I can tell you that the 3 can fit a mountain bike, 3 large boxes of books, a snowboard, some camping gear, 20+ days worth of all season clothing, 4 pairs of boots and a house plant inside ALL AT ONCE. Anything bigger than that just strap on a Thule rack. Plus, with a good set of snows, you can go through 7 inches of snow. Uphill.

    • 0 avatar
      Wraith

      Yeah, the Vibe/Matrix has a lot of cargo room for its size, rear seats that fold flat, plastic load floor, easy on gas. Manual available in Base and GT trims. Maybe not as rare on the roads as the Baja or Elantra Touring, but unique enough that you won’t have trouble picking it out in a parking lot.

  • avatar

    My 15 year old Volvo 850 wagon does exactly what Gregory is looking for and it cost all of $2500 and a few repairs.  Living in the snow belt, I have a set of winter tires that get me everywhere I need to go with reasonable dispatch.  No need for AWD.  No need for an SUV or pickup.  And I haul my yard waste to the local composting site at least monthly — all of which fits easily in the back when I drop the seats and throw down a tarp.
     
    My advice would be find a reasonably reliable daily driver that can be repaired easily (or have a trusted mechanic help you)  There are LOTS of reasonably priced wagons out there from the last 20 years that would do the job in reasonable comfort.

  • avatar
    smokescreen

    How often does the writer haul furniture/trash/firewood?   If only once a month or so, why not rent a pickup or van when the capacity is needed?

    • 0 avatar
      Dukeboy01

      Because it’s 1000% easier to just go out to the garage, hop in your vehicle, do what you need to get done, and get on with the rest of your weekend without having to wait for Enterprise to come pick you up. 

      If you only want one four wheeled vehicle that can move multiple people comfortably regardless of their age, height, weight (breadth, really), or physical disability while still being able to haul wood, bicycles, small appliances or equipment like lawn mowers, the occasional sheet of drywall, and DIY furniture like the stuff you get at IKEA, then the only choice that makes sense to me is the humble minivan. If cost is a concern, the lots are full of used Caravans, Siennas, and Odysseys that can be had for less than five figures. If it’s not, then you can load a new one up with enough bells, whistles, and comfort features to make your average Mercedes Benz driver green with envy.  

      It seems that the OP doesn’t really care for cars or spirited driving. Yeah, he mentions wanting a stick for the twisties, but how often in real life is he going to make a fun run down a country road versus make a trip to Lowe’s? Find a 5 year-old minivan and call it done. 

    • 0 avatar
      Dukeboy01

      I thought about it some more. The answer for the OP is the Mazda 5. My brother has one. It will carry up to six adults. With the seats folded flat or removed it will swallow anything most people would take home themselves from IKEA. My brother uses it to haul all kinds of crap to keep the apartment buildings he owns and manages in good repair.  It’s FWD, which should be enough to keep most people out of trouble during the winter.The 4 cylinder engine gets decent mileage, but the vehicle is small enough that it never feels strained. And the automatic tranny has the “manumatic” option where you can “shift” for yourself and pretend to be Jack Baruth on the occasional country road, while leaving it in drive the rest of the time.

    • 0 avatar
      stuart

      I was intrigued by the Mazda 5, and when I found one on the floor of the LA Auto Show, I wanted to test it. Expecting to be impressed, I climbed into the back seat. I was disappointed. After I was seated, I couldn’t get the middle seat (the one I climbed over) restored to a usable position, and I think my knees would have precluded it anyway.

      FWIW, I’m just shy of 6 feet (about 1.82m) tall.

      I’ll note that I had enough headroom, and reasonable visibility, but I had zero thigh support. With my feet on the high floor, my knees were even with my chest, so all my weight landed on my posterior. That’s O.K. for a brief stretch, but on a long drive your butt goes to sleep.

      Also, I found it rather difficult just to reach the back seat. Maybe I’d get better with practice (or maybe I’m just incompetent :-), but it seemed pretty awkward to me.

      Color me disappointed. I really wanted to like this car.

      stuart

  • avatar
    vvk

    I see a Ford Transit Connect in your future.
     

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Sajeev, there are no real reliability problems with that era of Subaru Baja at all. I know somebody wrote in saying they didn’t change their oil in ages and didn’t take care of their Subaru at all, but that doesn’t make them unreliable. Even if you’re referring to the earlier EJ series engines with the head gasket problems (which wouldn’t include this era of Baja) you’d still be way off base. Sometimes your “advise” is really sketchy and I wonder about your qualifications. I think you need to broaden your spectrum of what you are basing your reliability ratings on, especially if you use somebody who neglected their car and bitched about it as a basis of a reliability issue.
    Your anecdotal evidence that you’re talking about from reading kids who do 6k clutch dumps in their WRXs and can’t get warranty work done doesn’t really make a solid case either. I know Michael Karesh writes here and has his own agenda for promoting his website and reliability rating system, but the tried and true Consumer Reports rates the Baja quite highly.
     
    As for the Baja itself, I think a standard Legacy or Outback wagon would be a more versatile and useful vehicle than the Baja. You can actually stow more bulky items in the back of a wagon easier than you can in a Baja.
     
    I have a ’96 Legacy LSi wagon that I bought for 1k and rebuilt the headgaskets and threw some struts on and called it a day and use it for hauling just about anything I can cram in it. What I can’t fit in the back I put in my 4×6 trailer that also tows nicely behind my ’06 Impreza.

    • 0 avatar

      Well put, and I will put my anecdotal evidence in proper perspective next time. But that’s what I use, and its just as flawed as C/R absolutely ludicrous secret formulas for their filled circles.
      Back to anecdotal stuff, can you please tell me why so many Subie guys mention head gaskets like its not a big deal? You know you can buy a $1000 Toyota and the odds of it needing serious engine work is minimal at worst.  And yet I hear this “all it needs was head gaskets” line like its worth the price of admission to everyone?

    • 0 avatar
      PeregrineFalcon

      Hey, anyone want to buy a nice reliable Chrysler Neon?

      All it needs is a(nother) head gasket.

    • 0 avatar
      grzydj

      @Sajeev. Funny thing, I bought an ’85 4Runner with the venerable and quite reliable 22RE that also needed rebuilt, which I also bought for a cool grand. Both the Legacy I bought, and the 4Runner I bought were solid platforms to build on with good drivetrains and reasonably cheap and easy to fix and or modify. Honestly, after rebuilding both engines, I’d have to say that working on the Subaru engine, despite its freakish boxer layout, was a dream to work on compared to the 22RE in the Toyota.
       
      The Subaru headgasket issue is kind of difficult to put into perspective. Think of it another way, if Ford (just an example here) had only 1 engine to put across their entire lineup of vehicles and they had problems with just the headgaskets, it’d give the brand an overall bad perception. Subaru basically has, or had 1 engine that spanned their entire lineup. Some years had 2.2 and 2.5 liter offerings, with the former being much more reliable and less prone to HG failures, if at all. Now that things are mixed up with the turbo and non-turbo design engines, the non-turbo engines are much more reliable, or are perceived that way. Subaru turbo engines are in fact, quite reliable, but there are also instances of owners of the 2.0 liter that came out in the 2002 to 2005 models having issues with spun rod bearings, while there are also people who have 200k + miles on stock engines with no problems at all. Some people blame it on Mobil1 oil(!!) while others blame it on perpetual abuse.
       
      The difficulty in trying to quantify and correctly identify the issue is the relative small number of WRXs that were sold in the US and how much of it is abuse, or if it is a design flaw in the engine.
       
      I’m sort of getting off track here, but all of this does go back to Subaru’s reputation, deserved or not.

    • 0 avatar

      @grzydj Good points, and the 3.8L Ford V6 fits your description perfectly. Even better, Cadillac’s almost exclusive use of the Northstar V8.   Subaru is getting a bad rap, but its hard for me to NOT mention a four-banger CamCord CUV derivative (even if they are boring, suck, etc) if for no other reason but to make the reader question their choice in terms of long-term monetary value.
      I must add, since you do your own work on your motors, you are kinda exempt from this discussion.  Most people do not, and are at the mercy of a mechanic. That gets expensive and super frustrating.
      Camcords look better every day.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      If Ford had put the 3.8l in every vehicle it made (pretty much did), and all those vehicles ever had was only head gasket issues then it’s probably not a big deal to the owners and wouldn’t have affected Ford’s reputation as much in the 1990s. However, for owners of 3.8l/4.2l Fords the head gaskets were the breaking point after rebuilding transmissions/transaxles, fixing electrical issues, fuel delivery issues, etc…

      Just head gaskets I’d be okay with, after 175k you spend $1200-1500 and the vehicle is good for another 100k+ miles. And Subaru owners feel confident in that.

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      I guess we were typing at the same time, but we get the 3.8l issue(s).

    • 0 avatar

      Nice. Luckily for Ford, they were stupid/smart enough to keep the bulletproof 3.0L Vulcan around. Can’t say the same for that awful transaxle that came with it.

    • 0 avatar
      grzydj

      @Sajeev. Camcords are fine, but don’t offer the same versatility that a Legacy or Outback wagon does, especially if you live in northern climes or need something with decent ground clearance. The new design head gasket really does solve all the problems that the original design suffered from.

    • 0 avatar

      Hate to nitpick, but I cannot resist. The CUV-Camcords have good ground clearance and more than enough AWD prowess for most buyers, including the road trips mentioned in the original post.  Sure they lack character, but who really needs a Subaru if you live in city?
      Here’s my question: if you put the same winter tires on a Honda Pilot and a Subie, will the Subie be even remotely superior for 99% of the roads (paved or not, but they have to be roads) in our country?

    • 0 avatar
      grzydj

      Paved flat roads you probably wouldn’t notice a difference, but if there is any significant elevation change then the Subaru AWD system is going to trump the mostly FWD system in the Honda. I posted some Youtube videos of this the other day in another thread.
       

    • 0 avatar

      Sweet.  Just like the test posted on Monday’s Piston Slap.  I do love seeing tests like this.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      Interesting set of tests in that video. Although I’m not sure I’m buying their “asymetrical drivetrain layout” conclusion for why the 4Motion VW failed to climb with only one wheel. I fail to see how the length of a given half-shaft is relevant to a discussion of how the system vectors torque. Especially since they tried three different wheels. “Absence of a fully locking differential” seems like a much more supportable answer.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Subaru head gaskets are the same as a Porsche rear main seal, and an inherent issue with any boxer engine, simply due to the way the block is made and joined together with vertical seals. It’s a rubber gasket, so eventually, it’s going to leak when the gasket ages.

      The reason it’s not a big deal, is because a *lot* Subie owners keep their Subies to 150+k miles, so they actually reach the point at which that the gaskets need to be replaced. The fact that these cars are generally reliable enough to commonly reach “old age” is a good thing.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      “if you put the same winter tires on a Honda Pilot and a Subie, will the Subie be even remotely superior for 99% of the roads (paved or not, but they have to be roads) in our country?”

      This is quite possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen you ask.

      99% of the our roads see rain, snow, ice, mud, gravel, dirt or sand at least once a year. All of these conditions reduce traction, limiting the ability of the car to convert torque into forward motion.

      In what world is 4 wheels putting down torque under reduced traction conditions *not* automatically superior to using only 2 such wheels?

      Somewhere in that worst 9% of roads (i.e. New England, Rockies, upper Midwest, snowbelt, SeaTac), AWD is going to make more sense than FWD. Even with the same tires. And that’s precisely why Subie sells so well in those markets.

    • 0 avatar

      This is quite possibly the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen you ask…in what world is 4 wheels putting down torque under reduced traction conditions *not* automatically superior to using only 2 such wheels?
      Apparently you do not know that Honda Pilots and other Camcord derivatives come in AWD.
      That’s unfortunate.
      More to the point are their systems not just as effective in the vast majority of driving conditions? (an exception shown below)
      http://www.compassdesigns.net/joomla-blog/why-the-honda-pilots-awd-only-works-on-nyc-streets

    • 0 avatar
      Peugeot 504 - the Car for Nigeria

      @Sajeev Mehta:
      “Hate to nitpick, but I cannot resist. The CUV-Camcords have good ground clearance and more than enough AWD prowess for most buyers, including the road trips mentioned in the original post.  Sure they lack character, but who really needs a Subaru if you live in city?”

      If your advice-seeker is coming to this website to ask, I have to question giving them that advice. Buying an appliance CUV is what the person who went straight to Consumer Reports for their car-buying guide would do. I do live in a big city and use my Outback similarly to the described scenario, and I never considered a CRV, RAV4, or standard FWD sedan for a moment, specifically because I wanted a car that I cared about, not just a method of transporting people and goods. (And if I’m honest there’s some vanity – the Subaru is a car I like to be seen in.)
      I don’t really care if it might need a head gasket at 130K+ miles – to me the end goal of vehicle ownership is *not* reliability and minimized financial outlay by sacrificing any aesthetic judgments for maximum resale value and entirely eliminating the possibility of mechanical problems. I think your advice is excellent for the 75% of the car-buying market who just need tools, but it’s equally inappropriate for the sorts of people who would ask for recommendations on this site.
       

       

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    Please stop trying to saddle the poor guy with a minivan or other mommy mobile just because they are so “practical’.  The guy wants something fun and quirky, as well as having some practicality.  It does not appear that he is looking for brand new cost-no-object car ideas either.  He bikes to work, he bikes to buy groceries for pete’s sake!  (How the hell you bring home  a gallon of milk and six 2-liter soda bottles on a bike is beyond me, but damn, props for doing your part for the planet!!)  Also, the biggest thing I noticed he was looking for is a way to take bikes on road trips.  For those of you that bike, you know… strapping on a rack is a bitch to deal with.  Why not look for a vehicle that allows for in-car (or in-bed) transportation options??  Now, with that being said, get yourself a fun car that fits your personality, and enjoy it. 

    I love the BRAT, I have wanted one since I was in high school.  Good luck finding one in even remotely good enough condition for a road trip though.  Next best thing?  The Baja you are considering.  Sure, the turbo will mean more maintenance and potentially crappy mileage.  But you wont see yourself on every corner, and you can tune that bad boy into 4/5ths of an STI.  And they are rare because no one liked them, therefore they are usually pretty cheap used.  If it breaks, well ride the bike til you get around to fixing it!  Downside:  overnight trips with the bikes require you to unload or risk theft.  Unless you camp out, then I guess it doesnt matter.  You sound like you might be a camper type too.

    Like Euro quirkiness?  Any older BMW wagon, 3-series or 5-series are awesome.  Or an Audi Allroad (just become good freinds with a good mechanic). Oh, and the Volvo wagons… awesome car. Find a red V70 R, or an older T5 wagon. Gotta be red, they look awesome in red. Something cheaper?  MK2 or MK3 GTI is a blast, just pay extra for one on perfect condition. 

    One more option:  The Mazda Protege5.  A stellar car, one of the most fun cars I ever owned.  I wish I hadnt sold it.  They are hard to find in decent shape, but when you do, you will love it.  You can tow a trailer, you can fit a bike in the back (or on the roof since they come with factory racks!), they look cool, they handle awesome, they never break, and if they do, they are insanely cheap to fix and easy to work on.  Great mileage, decent power.  They even come in cool colors… mine was yellow.  Man was I stupid for selling it.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      +1.
       
      I’m not wanting weird Jalopnik-y suggestions like “GAZ M-72 FTW!!!”, but I was kind of disappointed with the advice this time around.  It was the equivalent of being told “Meh, the Olive Garden is okay” when you ask about dinner options in a new town.
       
      Gregory opens with his admiration of utes, states that he is interested in buying a Baja turbo, tosses in reference to owning a motorcycle, and brings up “old Land Cruiser” as a possible suggestion.  Then we tell him to get an Equinox or Sienna and invest in a mutual fund.

      Sometimes TTACers are just too practical and rational for their own good.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Oh, well, if that’s the way we’re going to be, then may I suggest the Lada Niva?  Trust me when I say it’s the cargo-hauling anti-Sienna.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      As a defense to him there was a time in my life where I would take a large plastic container, two bungee cords, and ride my scooter to the local supermarket where I could buy a week’s worth of groceries.
      It was a nice thing to do at the time. But my Insight can fit far more than a scooter with comparable fuel economy, and without the risk of life and limb.
       

    • 0 avatar
      TEXN3

      You mention a mechanic for the Audi, better find one for the Volvo as well. Unless it’s a rear-driver, way too many issues (including head gaskets). The I-5 is junk.

    • 0 avatar
      Pinzgauer

      How about a Pinzgauer 710M?  Having owned one for a while now I can say it will fit all requirments.  Just make sure to guy an auxiliary heater for the winter.

  • avatar
    Jseis

    Sajeev nailed it with the trailer. Unless you have a need to haul ungainly objects or more than 1000 pounds of whatever, the average reader doesn’t need a truck, 4WD, ground clearance and etc.  A trailer is all you need. Yet the average drivers fear trailers because they are the appendage to the vehicle that must be backed up, must be allowed for in traffic, must stay attached to the vehicle. Most mid size vehicles easily will tow in that 1000-2000 pound sweet spot that covers things like pianos, firewood (who burns that?) sofas, plywood, beach toys, whatever. Most trailers are somewhat easily stowed though adding a trailer can make your spread look a little raunchy (if you’ve got a funky rusted out car hauler like mine). Current hybrids won’t tow squat. My ute is a Sport Trac which means I can haul my fuel, chainsaw, etc outside the cab (a plus…believe me) and I won’t mess up the inside so I can haul the misses to shopping for that…object. Of course I splurged and got a V8, AWD…because I wanted it for no particularly good reason (other than driving in rain, ice, sleet, snow) and I can tow my 5000 pound boat as well. Trailers..they are cheap for what they do and have good resale value ’cause smart guys are always looking for a good trailer. Hell, I can borrow my buddies trailer and load it up with a yard or two of gravel and do my one driveway (while ignoring the fact that it is cheaper to have a contractor do it).
     

    • 0 avatar
      Steven Lang

      Jseis, if I’m not mistaken that was me writing that 48 hours ago.

    • 0 avatar
      Jseis

      Steve, consider my point support for you stating the obvious. The not obvious is why people fear trailers. They are so useful, cheap, durable (as long as they don’t live on the coast where I do, then their life span shortens by…years unless you can garage them….). Farm boys grew up with trailers. Urbanites watch them on HDTV.

  • avatar
    Brendon from Canada

    Your options are pretty much unlimited…

    I prefer going for fun or interesting, then availing myself of roof racks/hitch racks and rental services like “Uhaul” for trailering needs – uhaul is $15 per day for a trailer!   While we do now have a dedicated winter/towing vehicle (and definitely not a winter beater!), you’d be surprised what you can tow with a Mini Cooper,!  We also did a 2000 mile round trip windsurfing road trip with kids in a 2 dr BMW – huge size isn’t required!

    @mnm4ever: I use our kids tow-behind bike trailer for larger loads from the grocery store – I don’t do it often, but it can be a great workout (home is only 5k from the grocery store, but two kids & 5 gallons of milk gets heavy fast when you’re moving on an uphill grade!).

  • avatar
    Bunk Moreland

    So… if ”utes” work so well in Australia, why not North America?
    In the NorAm market, we have the Subaru BRAT (1978–1987), Volkswagen Caddy (1980-1996?), Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp (1982-1984), Ford Ranchero (1957-1979), Chevrolet El Camino (1959-1987) and then the Subaru Baja (2003-2006).
    To be honest, I’m considering buying a Subaru Baja Turbo. I need a 4-wheeled vehicle for two quite specific needs: 1.) household utilitarian trips, to places like Ikea or Home Depot, to carry the lawn mower to grandma’s, to haul garbage to the dump or to carry fire wood; 2.) road trips with the girlfriend, carrying her bags & bicycle around, long country road drives where we can listen to loud music, hear audio books, shift gears through the twisties, and have audible conversation.
    Any car can do all of the above, save the lawnmower or massive IKEA take-homes. I’d kick it with a Volvo XC70, man… But you want to have your schnitzel and eat it too. You want stick-shift. Seriously consider a 2005 Legacy GT wagon or any year Mazda6.
    I commute & grocery shop by bicycle or motorcycle, so definitely do not need a 4-wheeled vehicle for those chores. I think a Subaru Baja (or perhaps the new Hyundai i30/ Elantra Touring) would fit. Perhaps a four-door pick-up truck? Other station wagon? Old Land Cruiser?
    Otherwise, my advice would be a Tacoma (pure utility). Won’t be as fun for country drives as the aforementioned, but it will be your best friend.

  • avatar
    LectroByte

     
    I’d think a Ranger or Tacoma would be worthy of consideration, too.

  • avatar
    Steve65

    Faced with almost exactly the same needs about 4 years ago, my Mom bought a Baja without the turbo. Rejected the Ridgeline as “too big” (tall) and wasn’t interested in driving a regular truck all the time just for the occasional need for the open bed. 99% of the time, it’s a perfectly functional and comfortable 4-door sedan. And on those occasions when she needs 1/2 a yard of compost for the garden, it’s a small pickup. Only significant drawback is the relativley poor fuel economy penalty imposed by the AWD.
     
    3 2.5L Subarus in my family (2000 2.5RS Coupe, 2006 Baja, 2007 Legacy Outback) with no head gasket issues.

    • 0 avatar
      Peugeot 504 - the Car for Nigeria

      Similar experience in my family. My stepmother used a ’95 Legacy to haul gardening equipment and soil all the time – unfortunately that car’s lifespan bookended the Baja’s production run so she never got to own one. The Baja is the answer to a hell of a lot of questions as long as you’re willing to forgo better-than-average gas mileage. It’s a shame it wasn’t more popular here, but I suspect for most people the enclosed cargo capacity of the normal Subarus was ultimately more useful than the short truck bed. I’ve always wondered why I’ve never seen a Baja with a shell over the bed, though – having a removeable one gets ever closer to Vehicle Nirvana, to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve65

      I’ve seen a couple with shells, and about half the ones I see have hard tonneaus over the bed. Neither is really a viable option for my mom, as she wouldn’t be able to remove them by herself.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    If I were to be totally agnostic in regards to manufacturer, I’d look at something like the Dodge Caliber, Kia Rondo or the Suzuki SX4 Sportback. Small, good on fuel (the SX4 is available with a 6 speed manual!), modern hatchbacks (no funky 1940’s styling) so good on space utilization. Add a small trailer for truly bulky/messy loads and you’re good to go!

  • avatar
    mnm4ever

    I love the piston slap articles, but sometimes I get tired of every article advising people to buy either a panther, a minivan, or some version of camcord offspring.  We get it, those cars are reliable, cheap to fix, insure, fuel up, etc etc.  But they are BORING.  Rolling refridgerators.  They have no soul (Well, some panthers have soul, I kinda like those Interceptors)  But they arent the answer to every car need.  People who drive minivans??  We get it, you are beyond those of us who care about looks and image.  Your practicality is outstanding.  But stop trying to shove them down our throats.  Yea, they are practical, of course.  The are also dorky.  Admit it.  And no one is writing in asking if a Camry/Accord/Corolla/Civic is a good car.  We know they are good cars.  They are also boring suck-mobiles.  If someone asks you whats the most reliable fuel efficient car I can buy and never have to even think about, feel free to recommend one.  The rest of the people writing in want something different and interesting.  They are “car guys” and want car guy answers.

  • avatar
    Peugeot 504 - the Car for Nigeria

    This divide between the contributors and the commentariat on Subarus is surprising. I’m going to side with the commentariat, though – I’m on my second Subaru (a 2008 Outback NA, the first was a ’95 Legacy Outback with the 2.2) and they’ve been extraordinarily reliable. The ’95 finally went away this year after 130K miles, mostly hard-driven city driving, with a dying fuel pump and a valve tick, both totally acceptable faults on a 16-year-old car. No head gasket issues. Collectively my family has owned 5 Subarus over the years and they’ve been uniformly the best vehicles we’ve had – the interiors wear hard, they’re mechanically bulletproof if maintained, they’re an absolute pleasure to drive (particularly in comparison to CUVs), and the winter-weather capability is magnificent. I’ve never needed to put snow tires on through winters in Idaho, Montana and Chicago.
    Just after buying the 2008 Outback this summer I had the experience of driving a 2010 RAV4 in Alaska, which I think everyone would agree is a pretty comparable vehicle – a 2.4L inline-4, lockable diff, capacious. It was dead obvious to me which was the better car, though – the RAV4 had no additional ground clearance and yet managed to feel like a top-heavy SUV despite Toyota’s best efforts. (I also put no stock in the whole “commanding driving position” argument; the Subaru is already taller than it needs to be.)
     
    So for all that, the Subaru is the ideal vehicle as an all-rounder, with one main caveat, which is the fuel economy penalty for the weight and friction loss of the AWD system. The gas mileage does, in fact, suck for a car its size. However, given that the poster motorcycles or bikes for lots of his mileage, that drawback is quickly offset, and even more so if most of the car’s mileage would be highway. The Honda, Toyota, Hyundai, and Ford CUVs are all comparable in terms of space and AWD capability, but they are just blander, lamer vehicles – undistinguishable engines, poor driving dynamics compared to real cars, and the same cultural implications that station wagons used to have. What’s really sad is that Subaru has given in to the same stupid CUV thinking and turned the Outback into just another contender in that market. All I can do is hope that they’ll see the error of their ways by the time I need a new wagon.

  • avatar

     
    Thank you Sajeev & Steve for your advice. Also, thank you to all the wonderful commentators who had significant advice and comments.
    It truly _is_ the commentators that make this site what it is. Reading their posts, I always feel like I’m in a bar having an intensely important, hand-waving conversation about… well, about cars.
    I like the idea of utes. A mid-2000s Baja Turbo will probably do, or a V70 R in a stretch. The Mazda 5 is very, very interesting. It’s a Hyundai Elantra Touring/ i30, but with character.
    Death to all Cam-ccords!
    I would also go for the Pinzgauer. Nice suggestion! That’s my inner-Boy Scout speaking. But I don’t think Girlfriend would be willing to ride around in it. Something about being girly. Geesh.
     
    -gregory
     
    ps. For what it’s worth, my first car, in Vancouver, BC, in the early 1990s, was a beige Citroen 2CV. Two cylinders rock! Then I owned an Asia Rocsta (diesel, of course), in Korea, in the late-1990s/ early-2000s. Now I own a Kawasaki KLR 650 in Portland, OR. So… -GCE

    • 0 avatar
      Peugeot 504 - the Car for Nigeria

      We looked fairly hard at a Mazda5 before buying the Outback. The six-seat interior is pretty awesome, and it’s got a tremendous amount of cargo capacity for its size. Plus, you can have all the minivan utility without having to actually drive or be seen driving a minivan! And there are manual transmissions! It’s one of those few tastes of Europe that’s taken hold with a niche crowd in the US. Ultimately the killer for us was the lack of AWD. I’ve gone through several winters with FWD-only cars and it can be done, but it’s just a lot more of a hassle, considering the Subaru alternative, and the upgrade to six seats didn’t mean much to us. Very cool car, though.
       
      If I were shopping again for just myself the V70R would be very high on my list. Harder to find and maintain but seriously awesome.
       
      If you own a KLR650 then you’re definitely not the average car buyer. +1 million if it’s got a milk crate strapped to the back.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • RHD: High real estate costs are driving residents from California. Meanwhile, the fantastic climate, varied geography...
  • EBFlex: “ While the official explanation from the manufacturer was that an authorized third-party shop may have...
  • RHD: It was going to be called the McLaren Arturo, but once the first prototype was finished, it was clearly female.
  • stuki: “ICE vehicles causing permafrost to melt could potentially release ancient viruses that might make COVID...
  • stuki: Station wagons are being eaten alive, sales wise, by compact CUVs (and mpvs) in Europe. More cramped cities,...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Matthew Guy
  • Timothy Cain
  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Chris Tonn
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber