By on August 30, 2011

Steven writes:

Sajeev and Steve,

I have a 2001 Volvo XC wagon, that has about 175 k on it, the car is in pretty good shape, had the tranny replaced before I got it, I have put about 4k in since Jan, the real problem is it gets about 22 MPG with 90% highway, all wheel drive and Turbo=bad gas mileage, I drive about 40,000 miles a year and betwen the gas and the upkeep I am getting killed, hence time for a new car.

This is what I want, good to great on gas,auto, 4dr or wagon  safe and comfy on the road, no suv, no RWD,( drive from NY to Boston year round, I am in sales so it needs to be somewhat presentable.  No americian cars, sorry no faith that they will hold up in the long run, and need some soul (hence no Camry) since I live in the car, budget anywhere from 15k to 30 k, I would perfer used but with prices this high not sure if it makes sense, I like Saabs, Audi,Acura, had a bunch of Accords but not since 2006. Lately have been very tempted by a 2011 VW Jetta TDI, great MPG but VW does not have a great rep. It seems VW TDI hold their value very well so that is why I am considering a 2011, love Saabs bc they do not hold their value so a great used buy ( had 2 in the past) I need some quick help from you and the board, before the volvo needs another $1500 in repairs/ maintance. thanks

Sajeev answers:

I’d definitely gravitate to a new vehicle, given your budget, career and high prices of lightly used vehicles. Which pushes me (you) to the mainstream sedans that you might hate. You need to test drive a bunch of them to see what really speaks to you: important for someone in your line of work.

Okay, so no Camry, but you should at least drive the SE model. Ditto any Ford Fusion, Chevy Malibu: I know, I know! The Accord is also worth a look, but I am gonna recommend two sweethearts in this class: the Hyundai Sonata (SE or Limited) and the Mazda 6. Both are rather cool for their class, and the Hyundai has a great warranty (with roadside assistance) for a road warrior.

Steve answers:

I wouldn’t throw out the Camry with the bathwater just yet. Last Tuesday I test drove all the new Camrys and found the Hybrid model to be the absolute embodiment of everything you likely want. Plenty of power and comfort. Exceptional fuel economy (43 city, 39 highway). Surprisingly tight handling and ‘healthy’ road feel in what is supposedly a traditional conservative car.

I would put that model near the top regardless of the bulbous marshmallow nature of the outgoing generation.

The rest of the results are pretty much in line with what Sajeev suggests. On the new side there is the Fusion, Sonata, 6, and Altima. On the used side it depends on whether you’re willing to consider any unpopular cars. Yes, SAABs are cheap now. So is the Infiniti G25 which is one of many near luxury sedans that fall through the cracks due mostly to ‘spec junkies’ wanting the more powerful model.

If you’re willing to consider a 1 to 2 year old CPO car that offers a fantastic warranty, I would opt for a step up. The C-Class, Audi A4, and Infiniti G25 would be on my list as well. Although to be frank, I would likely just go with the new Camry Hybrid if I had to drive all those miles in the pothole marred northeast. Good luck!


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44 Comments on “New or Used: Wants, Needs and Bathwater...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    The guys are right. If FWD is a must at least drive the Fusion V6 most reviewers have liked it, including our own tame race driver – Jack Baruth. Of course his fave was the Sport AWD and you don’t want AWD…

    The Altima’s handling has been favorably reviewed for most of the places I’ve seen it driven. If you WON’T consider buying “American” then test drive the Altima and the Mazda 6. (Although the great irony is that those two cars are built stateside.)

    • 0 avatar

      Since when is Baruth “tame”? Somehow I doubt VMcBB has had THAT much influence on our favorite cad.

      As to the question at hand, late model ’07-09 last generation Saab 9-5 Wagon. They are cheap, reliable, and very nice road trip cars that will get 30+ mpg. And at this point probably cheaper than a same year mainstream boredom-mobile. Saab built them forever so they were VERY well sorted by the end. And as the OP is in the North East there are scads of independent Saab mechs just looking to service it for you. Don’t bother with CPO, waste of money.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Jack liked the Ford Fusion SE which has hydraulic power steering. Lesser Fusions get electric power steering offering considerably less feedback from the road. The Mazda6 offers more interior room than it’s Fusion cousin plus the combination of 4 cylinder gas mileage and hydraulic power steering. The SE version of the outgoing 2011 Camry is worth at least taking out for a test drive. It’s more a Toyota pretending to be a Honda than actually sporty, but it’s roomy and economical.

  • avatar

    I’m thinking new.

    Used car prices are fairly stiff at present. If you can get a 0% rate from a manufacturer, new looks even better (a loan on a used car is something like 5% at my bank).

    An $18K used car at 5% is the same payment as a $20,380 new car at 0%. Taxes and insurance would be a little higher on the new car, of course.

    Now, you’re in sales; you will be relying on this car, right? So, why are you thinking VW and used Saab?

    If I were you, I’d be looking at the attractive Hyundai Sonata (non-turbo) or the Camry (soul is overrated).

    • 0 avatar

      +1 except soul is not overrated. I drive a Sienna and really am looking for soul in the near future!

      • 0 avatar

        None of my “soulless” cars have left me stranded along the road. More importantly, they haven’t left my wife stranded along the road.

        I am perfectly willing to drive “soulless” if it’s the price of “dead-bang reliable.”

        And the Sienna’s not that bad… My ’01 had more giddy-up than the competition, anyway, which is what initially attracted me to it.

  • avatar

    It cracks me up when people say they have no faith in new American cars but have total faith in new or used Swedish and German cars.

    Anyways, I’d quite honestly suggest a new Outback Limited. Nice presentation in the right color with a roomy interior. Hold up well to the mileage and the travel conditions. Perfect replacement for the XC. Yeah, it’s made in America…same line as the Camry. And if you want a stick, you can get that too. If you go used, I’d keep any eye out for a 3.0R or LL Bean, in some ways I wish I would have (I like having that extra torque of my TL).

  • avatar

    You should consider renting cars for a lot of those business trips out of town. The rental agency will hate you, but your own cars will last longer and require less maintenance.

  • avatar

    Easy choice – go brand-new with whatever lot leftover Saab 9-3 you can find. Yes, they have horrible depreciation – but you can probably work your way into the mid-twenties on a $40K 9-3 sedan. Or, better yet, if you can find a last-gen 9-5 wagon still brand-new on the lot, snag it. New car warranty (for whatever that might be worth for the next three weeks), and used-car price. You’ll just have to trust the aftermarket, and junkyards, to keep it going. I have a 100 mile round-trip commute and find my ’99 9-5 wagon a very comfortable and capable cruiser, although I do drive a Subaru in the winter. Of course, working for a school district and a public library, I’m more inclined to drive cars that make me look poor – presumably the reverse of the image you’ll be trying to project as a salesman.

  • avatar

    Come on. Live a little. You know that what you really want is a Mustang V6!

  • avatar

    For the record, the Camry pictured at the top is the most “American” design a Japanese OEM has ever accomplished!

    I wasn’t pleased with the Sonata and the Altima rentals I had over the past year. I recommend a Fusion or Malibu, FWD only.

  • avatar

    With that many annual miles as part of the criteria, I’d say skip the hybrid power trains. They’ve been reliable, but it’s not worn the gamble to replace the battery pack out of warranty. Also, resale value should be less of a consideration because of the high mileage, so a Kia Optima could be added into the consideration list. I’m a fan of the Jetta interiors from the last generation, so a 2011 Jetta Sportwagon TDI would be my vote. Your budget would allow for purchase and have leftover for any repairs. The diesel engine will last a good long time, probably outlast the car, and the mileage is solid. One other downside is I find the cabin a bit snug, so depending on how big a guy you are, it might not be roomy enough.

    • 0 avatar

      Donno about the Fusion, but Prius battery packs run about $1500 used/rebuilt and $3500 from Toyota. They typically as long as a decent transmissions (>200k-miles), and cost about the same to rebuild/replace.

      Yes, it is an extra part in the car… But I would personally be very comfortable with the tradeoff that you are recommending against. But, then again, my wife’s Prius has 136k problem-free miles on it.

      The Prius is a great little car, but it’s a small hatchback — so it cannot be everything to everyone. It clearly doesn’t match what the original questioner has in mind, and the steering is a little touchy on the highway. So it’s probably not the right recommendation for the traveling salesman who posed the question. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to put my wife’s very-used Prius through the duty-cycle that he described — it will hold up under that kind of duty, and get great gas mileage while doing it.

      • 0 avatar

        Wow, I’m surprised by the cost of replacement. I expected it to be much higher than that. Thanks for clearing that up!

        I’ve driven the 2nd generation Prius while helping a friend move. All the complaints about it’s dynamics are true, but it was perfectly suited for city traffic and was super practical for hauling stuff around too. The wind noise was a bit annoying on the freeway, but completely manageable.

        Too bad the Op’s wants something non-milquetoast. Otherwise the Prius might get in on the short list.

    • 0 avatar

      Costs for common rail diesel componentry out of warranty is nothing to be sneezed at either

    • 0 avatar

      You are out of your mind if you think a turbo Volkswagen powertrain will be cheaper to keep going than a Toyota hybrid powertrain. Priuses aren’t rare cars and neither will the new Camry hybrid be rare, so there are a ton of cheap used battery packs from totaled cars with front end damage, you can get pretty low mileage packs for under a grand! And this isn’t something you have to replace more often than every 150k or so in the worst case scenario, the packs have 7 year warranties to begin with.

  • avatar

    I don’t hate the Jetta TDI idea in your situation. However, 40K/year seems like a tons of miles to be putting on a DSG-equipped German car. That means you’ll be doing annual $450+ transmission services, not to mention all the other scheduled maintenance and repair things you’ll have to deal with in a short amount of time. You will get the first scheduled 36K miles for free from VW, but I’ve read some bad things about the VW service departments when it comes to TDIs.

    If you’re really leaning heavy towards the Jetta, I’d hit up the TDI club or Vortex forum and see what they think about the feasibility of those annual mileage numbers and the reputation your local VW dealers.

  • avatar

    2012 Impreza Hatchback. Good economy & utility, all with AWD. Not exactly sure when it comes out….sometime this fall.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Jeez . . . no one’s mentioned the new Focus? Admittedly, my only experience was a weekend rental . . . but I did drive it roundtrip from Phoenix to Tucson. IIRC, I was getting 38 mpg at 83 mph (according to the GPS). The car was everything that the reviews, including those here, said it was: quiet, composed on the highway. It was the SE model, sedan. I’m 6’3″ 220 lbs. and I was quite comfortable in the car. I wasn’t wild about the DCT, but didn’t play with the “sport mode.” JB said he would prefer this car to a Fusion, and I now can understand why.

    As an aside, I’m skeptical of everyone’s assumption that VW’s diesels are going to “run forever,” “outlast the car,” etc. There’s simply not yet an experience base that can prove (or disprove) those assumptions. The VW diesel is light-years away from the Mercedes diesels of the 1980s (which established that durability reputation for automotive diesels), not to mention from big truck diesels which also run for 100s of thousands of miles.

    • 0 avatar

      Considering the mileage, I would not bet on Focus’s durability or a long-term reliability.

      • 0 avatar

        What does gas mileage have to do with reliability?

        While I’d rather let someone else be the guinea pig on the dual-clutch transmission in the Focus, there are plenty of ways to increase fuel economy without damaging reliability.

  • avatar

    I do not know about US, but here in Canada, Hyundai is running a 0% for 84 months deals on Sonata, Elantra wagon and Santa Fe.
    If the bulk of the mileage is from out-of-town driving, I’d go with Santa Fe or Sonata (they are pretty parsimonious on highway, if it is mostly urban runs – Elantra wagon.

    Considering the annual mileage, I’d stick with AWD and all-season tires – whatever you may lose on gas you’ll recoup in skipping winter tires. So – Subaru Outback 3.0R or a 2.5i with a manual. They do last a very long time and are cheap to run.

  • avatar

    How about a base TSX or TSX wagon? Total price after tax etc may be a bit more than 30k but not much.

  • avatar

    I second the Outback idea. They are great cars, a new 2011 is great.

  • avatar

    New Saab 9-3’s are going for pretty cheap if you look around (around $25k); the wagons have a lot of space, and they’re a good combo of fun and frugal.

    The one question (and I don’t have an answer for this), is if Saab goes belly-up, is GM still on the hook for warranty issues, or does the warranty disappear with Saab itself? – I’d really like to know this since I’m considering getting a new wagon to replace the 2006 sedan I have now.

    The 9-3 is an old enough car that they’ve got all the kinks worked out, but just in case

    • 0 avatar

      As far as I know, GM is not responsible for warranty on any Saabs sold after GM sold off the brand. Those are warrantied through Swedish Automobile AB, which is scheduled to go bankrupt next week. I’d suggest waiting until then, as the prices will probably drop further.

  • avatar

    No americian [sic – American] cars, sorry no faith that they will hold up in the long run, and need some soul…I like Saabs, Audi…

    Wait, no faith an American car will hold up but then holds up Saab and Audi as the champions of long term reliability?


    *cough* *cough* *cough*


    You’re killing me, just killing me.

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks for the replies, as for the love of Saabs and Audis sorry but have had three and they all did really well for me, no major problems perhaps I was just lucky but put over 250,000 on the three and no problems. I had many accords made in the USA and they were great, nothing the big three makes excites me, but I will test drive the fords that people mentioned. I will let the board know what I end up with. Thanks again

  • avatar

    Adding a Saab 9-5 to your fleet for a couple of tens of thousands should fit budget and mpg of low 30’s along with wagon utility that a sedan won’t have. Just figure your repair costs less than a car payment. I figured if you outright replaced the 22 mpg with 30 mpg car you’ll save over $1500/ annually.

    Or have your Volvo computer reprogrammed(couple hundred $) for better performance and torque which will noticeably increase your highway mpg along with running higher tire pressures will get you close to 30 mpg. Plus the stiff sidewall will add protection to your wheel in the event you can’t miss a pothole.

    • 0 avatar

      Just bought the wife a 2004 XC70 as a kid-schlepping machine which will also do double duty as a ski machine this winter. We’re seeing 28-30 on the highway in ours and I’m not, ehem, gentle.

      FWIW, the XC70 wagons from early this century have a reputation of being somewhat unreliable and seemed to suffer from a higher than average number of niggling issues. I bought mine on the prodding of a trusted friend (& Volvo mechanic) who said that 2004 was the first year “they got it figured out”. The purchase inspection confirmed that we should get a nice long life out of our ’04 (only 76k on it currently).

      If AWD is off the table, Volvo does make some really nice FWD cars as well. Just sayin’. :-)

  • avatar

    I agree with Pch101, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to rent a few cars to help narrow down your choices.

    If the trunk is big enough, check out the Sonata hybrid. It’s rated at 40 MPG highway and has more grunt than most of the other hybrids. It has a 100,000 mile warranty on the hybrid components.

    Given your driving in the northeast, the Subaru Legacy is worth a look. Subaru has improved its lackluster fuel efficiency in recent years. In addition to the Toyota Camry, how about the Avalon? Finally, as the new Mazda3 comes online they should be running some specials on the 2011 closeouts.

    I also don’t think you should rule out American cars. The Buick Regal has been well reviewed. The Ford Fusion’s quality ratings are right up there with the top of the class.

  • avatar

    Which part of “90% highway” did you homers pushing hybrid hybrid hybrid miss? When you’re not on the brakes that is just dead weight.

    • 0 avatar

      at speed, aerodynamics matter more than curb weight, which is why even the awful old Impala powertrain with the 4 speed got excellent hwy mileage. Hybrids get more aero tunjng so even for highway use the Camry Hybrid makes sense.

  • avatar

    This doesn’t add up. On the one hand you say you drive 40K miles a year but then you say you’ve driven it about 4K since Jan. You also say you don’t trust an American car for the long haul but then you say you are interested in a Saab which is a GM.

    If you are looking for a car that will last the for the long haul and won’t cost you an arm and a leg in maintenance, insurance and repairs you do want a GM or Ford.

  • avatar

    OP here thanks for the replies, test drove/rented 10 cars that the group suggested with the exception of teh 12 Camary Hybrid not out yet, drove the 11 camary, did not like the seats or the truck space. In the end I went with a Jetta Sports wagon TDI, the car just felt right, right size, front wheel drive,pretty comfy, great on gas ( over 700 miles this weekend adv 43 miles per gallon) It is a leap of faith on how it will hold up but I did my research and am going in with my eye open. Thanks.

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