New or Used: Yo Dawg, Listen Up This Time!

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
new or used yo dawg listen up this time

Mark writes:

Hi Sajeev and Steve,

Sajeev tried to save me once before but I didn’t listen. Maybe this time I will. Last year, I bought a bomb of a project and he did his best to scare me away. He saw the monstrosity in person. That monster being the 1995 Ford Bronco I bought on a whim. We talked on the phone before I purchased the OJ Bronco. Sajeev told me to avoid it like the plague. Yet, I didn’t listen. I got burned. I owned it for less than 6 months (3 of those months being spent in my garage) before selling it to an offroader in Ohio.

But, now I am in a different situation…

I am back in Canada where gas is significantly more expensive (very unlike cheap Houston Texas gas). My girlfriend and I will be in the market soon for a vehicle and we have the following criteria:

1) Fun to drive: must be a manual, preferably RWD or AWD, and a bit chuckable (not in the “chuck it in the garbage” sense of the Bronco).

2) Practicality: I don’t need a gas guzzler. Something efficient. Two doors are doable. Four doors are better. Wagon or hatch is best. However, it must have enough room for my girlfriend and I, plus two black Labrador mixes (see cute doggy brothers picture).

3) Utility: It needs to be able to tow two motorcycles (~400lbs each) and trailer. Also, we need another room for camping gear, even when the dogs are with us.

4) Realistic: We have finite funds (like most people) so we would definitely be going for something used, under $8000. I couldn’t care less what badge is on the front.



Steve answers:

If you fold down the rear seats, most any modern-day AWD wagon should do the trick.

Subarus tend to be fully priced. A Mazda 6 Mazdaspeed version would be rare and priced too high for your budget. Hondas have stiff price premiums and no real wagons in that price range… at least in the states. Nissan only offers wagon-like SUV’s with AWD, although a Versa hatchback may be just enough to fit the two pooches with the rear seats down.

But that Versa is front wheel drive as well. To be frank, most of what I usually recommend would be front wheel drive because precious few hardcore enthusiasts would ever get the virile satisfaction of actually using the capabilities that come with a good RWD or AWD setup.

This is not an easy deal. You need to figure out whether FWD coupled with a great set of tires can already take care of your sporty needs. If so, let me offer a real dark horse to this race. A 2007 Ford Focus ZXW. Surprisingly chuckable. Great fuel economy. Cheap to maintain. Plus with the seats down in the back, it should be enough to transport the two labs. You should be able to get a very low mileage one and keep it until the Blue Jays win a pennant.

Yes, I am aware that it probably fails the ‘fashion du jour’ test. If you must have AWD and a stick there is always a Subaru Legacy, a Saab 9-3 or a Volvo S60. But I have owned and/or driven all of these cars from the 07′ – 08′ time period and I believe the better bang for the buck can be had with a domestic. Consider the Astra XR AWD as well. Good luck!

Sajeev answers:

Oh man, did I ever try hard to show you the reality of your situation! Then again, I shoulda known better. Nobody learns their lesson until they burn their finger on the waffle iron. Many people like the notion of owning a cool old vehicle and think they can make it work, but even I had to give up on that notion and buy a new vehicle to get to work.

I like Steve’s recommendations, except for the towing part. Then again, you are probably towing 1500lbs or so, and any of these vehicles can make it happen…stopping at highway speeds is another concern.

If you insist on a stick, a Subaru Forester does it all. Find one with your manual trans, a long service history and scan the forums for potential problems with that particular year and powertrain. Also keep your fingers cross it wasn’t abused. Not that I’d recommend this option, especially they can be awful thirsty…but it does make sense considering your requirements.

A Focus wagon is great for your budget. Maybe a Toyota Matrix XRS or a Mazda 6 wagon, too. None of these are great for towing, but maybe you can overlook that. Just like you and the laughably horrible Bronco I saw many moons ago, you want a vehicle that doesn’t exist at your price range. Time to make some compromises (fuel economy, manual transmission, budget, tow ratings) and see what you REALLY need in a vehicle.

Join the conversation
5 of 50 comments
  • Ranwhenparked Ranwhenparked on May 22, 2012

    The Focus ZXW is a surprisingly nice car. I know a friend from school who's now moonlighting with an office and airplane cleaning business, and he bought a Focus wagon to haul his equipment. Little old lady special, something like 30,000 miles and good as new, plus fully loaded - leather, sunroof, etc. He drove me to lunch one day, and I was surprised by how well sorted and substantial the car felt. Find one with a manual, and it would probably tick all your boxes, aside from the RWD part. Probably fine for towing a couple motorcycles too, with the biks and trailer, you're looking at ~1500lb. I don't think Ford rated the Focus for much towing in the States, but in the UK, the rule of thumb is that they allow a FWD vehicle to tow up to half of its curb weight, and they seem to manage just fine using their Focii that way.

    • See 2 previous
    • Krhodes1 Krhodes1 on May 22, 2012

      @RS 1000lbs is equal to four typical American males these days. Or three of the guys in my family. Is that a problem? If not then how is a 1000lb trailer a problem? I can tell you from having owned a 1000lb capacity utility trailer for 11 years that you won't even notice it is behind you. And that includes towing it with the mighty 90hp Golf TDi that I owned when I bought the thing. Would I recommend panic stopping from 90mph while going down a 15% grade? No. But let's be sensible here. When towing, SLOW DOWN, leave plenty of following distance, and don't be an idiot. Even on the otherwise unrestricted sections of the Autobahn, cars towing trailers are limited to 90kph (~55mph). What also amuses me in this thread are the comments about how entirely adequately powered vehicles are "underpowered" when loaded up with people and chattel. Well gosh, put a bunch of wieght in a car and it is slower! What a surprising development. And yet, even a fully loaded CRV is faster than the average car in Europe. Where people actually drive a lot faster than they do in the US. Automakers in the US don't recommend towing due to A: our insane product liability environment, and B: they would really rather you spent more on that nice, more profitable SUV or truck.

  • Bkmurph Bkmurph on May 23, 2012

    How about a second-gen Honda CR-V AWD manual?

  • MaintenanceCosts This class of car competes hard with Chargers/Challengers and modded diesel pickups for the douchey-driving crown.
  • 28-Cars-Later Corey - I think I am going to issue a fatwa demanding a cool kids car meetup in July somewhere in the Ohio region.
  • Master Baiter Might as well light 50 $100 bills on fire.
  • Mike1041 At $300K per copy they may secure as much as 2 or 3 deposits of $1,000
  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!