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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  • 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.

  • FreedMike This article fails to mention that Toyota is also investing heavily in solid state battery tech - which would solve a lot of inherent EV problems - and plans to deploy it soon. course, Toyota being Toyota, it will use the tech in hybrids first, which is smart - that will give them the chance to iron out the wrinkles, so to speak. But having said that, I’m with Toyota here - I’m not sold on an all EV future happening anytime soon. But clearly the market share for these vehicles has nowhere to go but up; how far up depends mainly on charging availability. And whether Toyota’s competitors are all in is debatable. Plenty of bet-hedging is going on among makers in the North American market.
  • Jeff S I am not against EVs but I completely understand Toyota's position. As for Greenpeace putting Toyota at the bottom of their environmental list is more drama. A good hybrid uses less gas, is cleaner than most other ICE, and is more affordable than most EVs. Prius has proven longevity and low maintenance cost. Having had a hybrid Maverick since April and averaging 40 to 50 mpg in city driving it has been smooth driving and very economical. Ford also has very good hybrids and some of the earlier Escapes are still going strong at 300k miles. The only thing I would have liked in my hybrid Maverick would be a plug in but it didn't come with it. If Toyota made a plug in hybrid compact pickup like the Maverick it would sell well. I would consider an EV in the future but price, battery technology, and infrastructure has to advance and improve. I don't buy a vehicle based on the recommendation of Greenpeace, as a status symbol, or peer pressure. I buy a vehicle on what best needs my needs and that I actually like.
  • Mobes Kind of a weird thing that probably only bothers me, but when you see someone driving a car with ball joints clearly about to fail. I really don't want to be around a car with massive negative camber that's not intentional.
  • Jeff S How reliable are Audi? Seems the Mazda, CRV, and Rav4 in the higher trim would not only be a better value but would be more reliable in the long term. Interior wise and the overall package the Mazda would be the best choice.
  • Pickles69 They have a point. All things (or engines/propulsion) to all people. Yet, when the analogy of being, “a department store,” of options is used, I shudder. Department stores are failing faster than any other retail. Just something to chew on.