Ask Bark: The End of the Grand Prix

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
ask bark the end of the grand prix

Brad writes:

Hey Bark,

I’m currently driving a 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix with 220,000 miles and a transmission that is slowly showing signs of failure. Since they don’t make Pontiacs anymore, I’m not sure what to replace it with! I’ve had the car eight years and I’m happy with its power and utility. It fits my two school-age boys and has a big trunk. It even swallows mountain and road bikes with the seats down.

So with that as a baseline, I’m looking for a replacement that offers more precise and engaging driving dynamics, good reliability, good utility, and equal or better fuel economy. I live in the Northern Indiana suburbs and commute 65 miles round trip for work through a mix of country roads and two- and four-lane highways. I also have to deal with snow and the twisties don’t exist.

My frontrunner right now is a Honda Accord Sport manual sedan. It would be perfect if Honda offered it as a wagon! A Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen would do the trick, but I’m not sold on VW reliability. I like Ford’s STs but think I need more space. My budget is preferably around $16,000 used, or I spend somewhere around the low $20,000s for new.

Am I asking too much from one car? Should I get a Prius and a motorcycle? (Wife says no to both.)

Thanks for the advice!


Your wife strikes me as a brilliant woman — at least for saying no to a Prius! In fact, that gives me an idea … but we’ll get there in a bit.

If this were an Ask Jack column (and let’s be honest, we’re all glad it isn’t), he’d heartily endorse your idea of an Accord Sport manual sedan. I don’t think that it’s a bad idea, either, so we’ll keep it in the hopper.

The Focus ST is made for twisties, so you might not enjoy the stiff suspension a whole bunch in the flatlands of Northern Indiana. As you said, it’s not the most spacious thing, but it’s bigger than you might think. Still, it wouldn’t be my first choice.

If you needed to drive a wagon incredibly slowly around the country and get paid under the table for it, I’d definitely recommend a Sportwagen, but that’s about the only circumstance under which I would buy one.

So what else is out there?

Obvious answer would be one of any number of Subaru hatchbacks or wagons — whether it’s a newer Impreza 2.0i Premium or a slightly older WRX hatch/wagon. That solves all of your winter weather problems, gives you suitable bike space, and improves your driving dynamics. Maybe I need a Subaru stamp, too.

Somebody will recommend a C-Max at some point, but I’m gonna shoot that down. Checks all of your boxes, but not super fun to drive.

Here’s a crazy idea: if you wife says no to a Prius, why not a Lexus CT200h? The fuel economy and space requirements are go, but you’re probably not gonna dig it much unless you can find a way to also sneak a motorcycle into the picture.

Completely out of the box idea: why not a E46 BMW 328/330xi with the cold weather package? The cold weather package gives you folding rear seats, which would help you with the bike storage and what not. Driving dynamics would be great. You’d have the all-wheel drive for the winter. And fuel economy is decent. However, you might be driving a rolling time bomb from an economic perspective. Fixing an old Bimmer isn’t the cheapest thing to do, and a good example would eat all of your budget, leaving you no money for repairs.

I’m tempted to recommend a Pontiac G8 GT and a set of Blizzaks, but there’s no stick shift option. Also, when they blow up, parts aren’t easy to find.

Finally … what about a Wrangler? Could be fun. Available in stick shift, all sorts of fun space — but awful fuel economy.

So, WWBD? I’m going to be boring and recommend a 2013 Subaru Impreza 2.0i like this one. But I kinda hope you do something foolish and pick up an E46, instead.

Got a technical question? E-mail Sajeev! Want to talk about shoes, watches, or — god forbid — car buying? E-mail Bark at or hit him up on the Twitters at @barkm302.

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2 of 100 comments
  • Burgersandbeer Burgersandbeer on Mar 30, 2016

    How the hell would a non-M E46 eat all of a $16k budget? The newest E46 is an '06 for coupes and '05 for sedans. I can't see any reason to pay more than $8k for one, unless you must have the performance package. Are you sure you aren't thinking of the E90/92/93? Not that I'm recommending one, but Bark's statement on the acquisition cost is way off. If putting bikes in the trunk is important, I'm not sure even the cold weather package will help. The E46's trunk is really tight. I had a '98 5 series with folding seats and I had to remove the front wheel of my mountain bike for it to fit inside. Maybe this works with the folding seats in an E46, but it would be really close and I wouldn't want to wrestle a bike in there on a regular basis.

  • Burgersandbeer Burgersandbeer on Mar 31, 2016

    Chevy Cruze! Available with a manual if you can find one, good fuel economy, folding seats to accommodate a bike. It isn't the first thing that comes to mind when I think of fun-to-drive, but it is competent and won't embarrass itself if you have to turn the wheel or stop. The trade off is very low NVH for the class, and even for the size class above. Probably better than the Accord in that regard, and certainly any Subaru. Perfect for long stretches of flat road. Given the requirements and price range, an Accord Sport is tough to argue with if you don't mind how it rides. A Cruze is worth a look though.

  • Jeff71960 once a fun fast little car (if you can find an unmolested one)... unfortunately boy racer types trashed most of them
  • Pig_Iron How many second chances does Farley get? Is there a plan to deliberately destroy Ford? 😞
  • Tassos Neons, new, used, or junk like this one, were the right car to own if you wanted it advertised what a lame loser you were.
  • Damage My mother had a 78 with the FI motor. If you wound it out in first (not that she ever did) it would reward you with just a little tickle of torque steer. It was pretty reliable until water leaks from below the windshield found the fuse block. Once that was fixed, it was good for several more years. Eventually it got rusty and was sideswiped by a snowplow, and she sold it to my coworker who got several more years out of it. She traded it for a Mk2 Jetta, which was a fun little car. I don't miss the Rabbit but I'd love to find a clean Jetta again.
  • Tassos in the same league as Tim's so-called "used deathtrap of the day" today.Both emiently junkworthy,