New or Used?: German Car Lover Wants Germanic German From Germany

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
by Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

TTAC commentator tedward writes:

Hey Steejeev,

I thought I’d finally throw my hat into the ring as my wife and I are on the hunt for a second family car.

We currently own a ’91 BMW 318is and a ’13 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen 2.5 — both manual, of course. In our previous lives as NYC residents, this was an extravagant stable that required personal sacrifice and demanded constant justification in casual conversation.

On one hand, we find ourselves with one real life car that fits us all; on the other, a relatively unsafe car that shouldn’t be relied upon (at 200,000+ miles) for day-to-day duties.

The big change here has been the average speed the cars are driven (at 20 mph, an E30 is acceptably safe for car seat duty) and the number of mission critical tasks we set for them. It’s no longer a duty cycle of joy rides or long road trips. Our day-to-day lives hang in the balance. Both cars run aftermarket suspensions and season-specific wheel setups. I am notably open to modifying my rides.

Our consideration list has boiled down to a new Volkswagen GTI, Volkswagen Jetta GLI, Ford Focus ST or Subaru WRX. If we go used, a BMW 328xi, BMW 530xi wagon or an Audi A4 Avant six cylinder are in the cards. The new GTI and used 530xi are currently leading the pack.

My wife’s must-haves are stick shift, sunroof, massive front legroom, no cloth and a torquey drivetrain. My own minimal input has been to keep all the turbo options strictly on the new car list, especially since all the older cars she likes to drive trend to be premium products.

I’d ask opinion givers to keep in mind that the new Volkswagens can be had for $3,500 under MSRP right now. Also, she’s already been completely underwhelmed by the Subaru and Ford interiors, so nice things do matter with this one. We have two kids and two dogs, but this car doesn’t really have to carry all of us all the time; that would just be a bonus.

Thanks for your help!

Sajeev answers:

Being completely underwhelmed with Subaru and Ford interiors means you both want to pay more money for machines that ape your rather Germanic garage. Nothing wrong with that.

Then again, the Vellum Venom in me wonders what you two would think of the stupid-nice interior inside the latest F-150. Not that I recommend you get one…

No, you both want an Audi or a BMW, or maybe a new Volkswagen considering the deals out there. My gut says to look harder at a 3-series or an A4, as they will be a decent value and their higher volume parts selection makes them easier and cheaper to repair out of warranty than a more bespoke 5-series. I recokon an A4 is the one, especially if the Volkswagen scandal taints Audi’s public perception. Watch the incentives flow!

Steve answers:

This makes me laugh because I now have a 2008 Volkswagen Passat with the VR6 engine and a 2008 Audi A4 with the 2-liter turbo. That Volkswagen drives an awful lot like an Audi A6 with a V-6, and the Audi drives like a Volkswagen with a not so thrilling four-banger. I’m glad you had the fortune of choosing the 2.5-liter in the Jetta because, honestly, I don’t see the benefit of the 2-liter when it comes to everyday driving.

I’m going to throw in a bit of a wildcard into this mess of models because there’s one model I sold recently, and it simply impressed the hell out of me: a 2003 BMW 5-series with a manual transmission. Mine was a 525i sedan and I liked it because it had excellent ergonomics and interior materials that weren’t equaled in the later generations. The E39 generation offers a bit of a retro feel while, at the same time, it’s completely safe and not overladen with an endless array of electronic gizmos that detract from the driving experience. That car has a great balance between space and sport and it’s exactly the right fit for your Teutonic tastes.

One of the less shocking findings we have discovered at the Long-Term Quality Index: the fewer the features on German vehicles, the better their long-term reliability, and the longer the prior owner keeps their ride. I would educate yourself a bit by clicking here, visit a few enthusiast forums, and focus squarely on condition instead of price.

You can afford to buy a mint condition, low-mileage version and you already have the ‘new’ car. I would take an E39 for a drive with the 2.5-liter inline six. I think it represents the best balance between what you want in theory, and what you would truly enjoy. If you have been driving the E30 for this long, the E39 will be a revelation. Good luck!

[Photo credit: BimmerToday]

Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang
Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

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  • Cabriolet Cabriolet on Nov 24, 2015

    Funny my wife and i both drive VW GTI's and we live outside of NYC in Queens. Roads are bad but had no trouble with either car and they both have 18" wheels. I just came across a killer of a deal on a 2013 Mini Cooper S that i could not refuse. Even with run flats & 17" wheels the car handles great.To be honest i have more fun driving the Mini then my GTI. As far as both the VW's they have both been great. 5 years old and other then a set of tires and 1 battery they still drive like they did when new. For the record driving NYC roads for 5 years and both cars still do not need any front end work.

  • Tedward Tedward on Dec 22, 2015

    Here's my follow up. We pulled the trigger and ended up bringing home a 2016 gti SE with lighting package. They're were three factors that largely played into this. 1. Scandal pricing at vw. Being able to buy a mid level gti +1k for base price, along with incentive finance rates of 1.9 was huge. 2.16 is a major year for vw content wise. Simply put the slightly used premiums did not have any desirable features that the gti lacked. Car play and android auto were important here (both phones types in house), although both Google and apple need to get their shit together here if they ever want to earn the trust needed to platform self driving tech. Looking at their current auto product I wouldn't allow friends or family to "beta" test in one of their autonomous cars. It's rough, but functionality is awesome and they just need to hurry their updates. 3. Size. Not living in a flat state means I can only view the extra quarter to half ton of the premiums as a negative. The gti is quiet, comfortable and much, much faster and more entertaining on our roads. In short, I love it. I'm not going to tune it, it already comes in at the equivalent of a stage 1 mk6 but with a far more refined turbo power band. There's just no need for more and I wouldn't appreciate an increase in non linear power delivery. My gripe for vw is pedal placement. It's never been vw's strong suit but the extra gap (no doubt to avoid a senior generated ua scandal) makes it worse. If I don't immediately adjust my technique for heel toe I'm going to move the gas pedal. I really shouldn't have to do this. We'll see. My wife hates the red exterior accents, which I ignored when I insisted on the lighting package (safety reasons for the lights). I'm de-badging tonight and eventually I'll find some light housings from an r or bixenon golf to swap over, then deal with the grill stripe afterwards. No performance pack? Nope, despite everything I've said about it. It just wasn't worth it as there were none with a manual in my area at all, and with the deal I struck it would have cost me double or triple the 1500 price to actually get the car so equipped (travel costs to other dealers lesser deals.) The car is sick fast already, it's my wife's car, and I can now fit any 17 I want for my winter rims. I'm happy with that. I gotta give credit to the dealer. Langan vw outside hartford, ct was amazing. We got the car there bc I've heard they were good, but the rep doesn't do it justice. Simply stellar. Thanks everyone! The help was much appreciated.

  • 3-On-The-Tree 2014 Ford F150 Ecoboost 3.5L. By 80,000mi I had to have the rear main oil seal replaced twice. Driver side turbo leaking had to have all hoses replaced. Passenger side turbo had to be completely replaced. Engine timing chain front cover leak had to be replaced. Transmission front pump leak had to be removed and replaced. Ford renewed my faith in Extended warranty’s because luckily I had one and used it to the fullest. Sold that truck on caravan and got me a 2021 Tundra Crewmax 4x4. Not a fan of turbos and I will never own a Ford again much less cars with turbos to include newer Toyotas. And I’m a Toyota guy.
  • Duke Woolworth Weight 4800# as I recall.
  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X '19 Nissan Frontier @78000 miles has been oil changes ( eng/ diffs/ tranny/ transfer). Still on original brakes and second set of tires.
  • ChristianWimmer I have a 2018 Mercedes A250 with almost 80,000 km on the clock and a vintage ‘89 Mercedes 500SL R129 with almost 300,000 km.The A250 has had zero issues but the yearly servicing costs are typically expensive from this brand - as expected. Basic yearly service costs around 400 Euros whereas a more comprehensive servicing with new brake pads, spark plugs plus TÜV etc. is in the 1000+ Euro region.The 500SL servicing costs were expensive when it was serviced at a Benz dealer, but they won’t touch this classic anymore. I have it serviced by a mechanic from another Benz dealership who also owns an R129 300SL-24 and he’ll do basic maintenance on it for a mere 150 Euros. I only drive the 500SL about 2000 km a year so running costs are low although the fuel costs are insane here. The 500SL has had two previous owners with full service history. It’s been a reliable car according to the records. The roof folding mechanism needs so adjusting and oiling from time to time but that’s normal.
  • Theflyersfan I wonder how many people recalled these after watching EuroCrash. There's someone one street over that has a similar yellow one of these, and you can tell he loves that car. It was just a tough sell - too expensive, way too heavy, zero passenger space, limited cargo bed, but for a chunk of the population, looked awesome. This was always meant to be a one and done car. Hopefully some are still running 20 years from now so we have a "remember when?" moment with them.