By on April 14, 2016

Bark M. wearing fancy Blue Oval threads, Image: © Bark Jr./The Truth About Cars

Since we’ve been doing these Ask Bark columns at the beginning of the year, I’ve received well over a hundred questions from you, our loyal readers. While I truly want to answer all of them, some of them don’t need a 1,000 word response, so they’ve been languishing in my inbox because I can’t turn them into a full column on their own.

So, today we’ll be doing some quick hits and answering several questions in one column. In other words, here’s your chance to call me an idiot multiple times, which I know that some of you are already quite giddy about.

Let’s get to it.

2014 Chevrolet Impala LTZ with tugboat, Image: © 2014 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars

Hey Bark,

My wife has a 2004 Camry that her old man’s passed down to her for the very reasonable price of free. It’s been in her family since new, but it’s absolutely beat; the paint is in horrific shape, there isn’t a body panel that isn’t dented or cracked, it burns more oil than gas, and on and on and on. Her round-trip commute is 5 hours a couple of times a week, and we’ve been known to go on long (12+ hour) road trips.

I need your (and the B&B’s) help. We need to replace this car with … something.

Budget is $30,000 or under. New or used, AWD/FWD/RWD, two-door or four-door, are all fine. I want something comfortable, relatively quiet, and fair or better on efficiency. Extra points awarded to cars that aren’t boring to drive.

It’ll be her car and, though I have veto power, I know where to limit my input. I’ve got my eyes on a Mazda6 or Accord Coupe. What else am I missing?

Thanks,
Greg

Greg,

It sounds like comfort and fuel economy are your two biggest concerns. While not being boring to drive is a bonus, the suspension stiffness that often defines “not boring to drive” can make a car feel like an Indian train ride. Because of this, I’m going to recommend either a Chevrolet Impala LT V6 or a Toyota Avalon. Both of them have enough straight-line power to make the occasional stoplight launch fun, but they can also deliver 30 miles per gallon on highway commutes. There’s even an Avalon Hybrid if you want to stretch your gas tank a little further. In addition, they’re all blessed with comfortable seating and supple suspension tunes.

If your wife feels comfortable with another Toyota, go Avalon. If she’s willing to consider domestic, go Impala.


W124 300E

Hello Bark,

I daily drive a Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera and I love it. Eventually, I’ll retire it, throw up a middle finger to the purists, drop a 993 engine in its derriere, and turn it into the thing I’ve always wanted.

But, for now, it’s perfect. I love driving down the highway and listening to the sound of the engine as it redlines from second to third to fourth.

Here’s the thing: I really don’t want to keep putting 40 commuter miles on it each day. I think the car manages it fine, and I can work on almost everything myself with a good set of tools, a floor jack and some jack stands. But, I was thinking of taking the money I saved up for upgrades and getting something else to beat on.

I don’t want to drive something I hate, and I’d rather have something pretty mechanical that I can wrench on myself. I see some fairly low-mileage Mercedes 300Es, and some W126 S-Classes. Paying cash for something under $6,000 is appealing.

Do you know anything about those cars? Any other suggestions?

Cheers,
Martin

Hey, Martin!

I think you meant to send this to a columnist elsewhere who will gladly tell you that you can buy a Bentley Arnage for the price of this Versa! (Hi, Freddy!) But, in all seriousness, there’s nothing wrong with buying something like a W126, if you can accept that you might end up sinking a lot more than that original $6,000 into it — not to mention all the time you’ll spend working on it. Also, the W126 was a fairly advanced car for its day, so there could be maintenance issues that will exceed even your considerable skills.

Here, let’s watch this video and then decide.

Hell yeah, let’s go buy a Mercedes and fight Ivan Drago!

Seriously, if you want one, go buy it. Also buy a service manual. Keep that 3.2 around though. There will be days when you’ll definitely need it.


2016 Nissan Leaf, Image: Nissan

Dear Mr. Maruth,

Which electric car should I buy?

Now, hear me out. First, I live in America’s hat, where gas costs $1.00/L (and electricity is cheap, and generated by waterwheels and smugness).

Second, I don’t go far away. I don’t leave town, so even the hapless Mitsubishi i-MiEV could cover almost all my range needs. Range anxiety isn’t a factor.

Third, I drive around in a Versa, which is pretty much the best shitbox ever made: quiet, stupidly roomy for backseat adults, free of bad habits, and able to hold two Christmas trees, three adults, and a small dog.

So the obvious options I can afford are the Nissan Leaf, a used Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, i-MiEV, or Tesla Model 3 — assuming you don’t have another suggestion.

Thanks,
Ryan

If you’ve enjoyed the Versa (how? why?), then it sounds like the Leaf is for you.

Full disclosure (nearly two years late): I tagged along with Caroline on this Reader Ride Review (photo credits: me) of a Nissan Leaf, and this gentleman’s situation was like yours. He didn’t really need an electric vehicle, he just liked the idea of one, and it made financial sense to him. I really enjoyed driving the Leaf. It’s torquey, quirky, and has enough storage capacity for the bizarre menagerie of things that you just mentioned.

I’m mad at you for even typing the word i-MiEV in your email to me. Seriously, dude. Quit it.

If I were you, I’d investigate a Leaf lease. EV leases can be incredibly cheap after factoring in all available credits.


2012 Audi A7, Image: © 2012 Murilee Martin?The Truth About Cars

Bark,

This is a serious, completely time-insensitive question: What’s the best 5-seat GT car, at any price?

My wife and I live in the close-in suburbs of Washington, DC, and have all of our car needs met by a single Honda Odyssey. Between the Metro, biking, cabs, and the car (let’s be honest, not in that order), no more than once or twice a year do we alter our plans as a result of not having a second car.

But I desperately want a second car, and my wife is cool with that. After being truly honest with myself, the answer is not Miata. (I’m 6 feet, 5 inches tall, I don’t need more things destroying my posture.) I want a GT — fast, luxurious, comfortable.

Plot twist: We’ve recently added a third child to our family, and that has made me acutely aware of a phenomenon I hadn’t ever noticed before. Every cool car has four seats. Mustang? Four seats. Maserati GranTurismo? Four seats. Bentley Continental GT? Four seats.  Even stretching out to four doors, the Panamera and Rapide? Four freakin’ seats. Five seats are a must.

I can afford any of the cars I’ve mentioned used (and could afford the eventual repairs), so here’s the “any price” teaser.

What vehicle, in your opinion, best embodies the spirit of a true Grand Tourer, but has five seats?

Thanks,
Jeff

I don’t even have to think twice on this one: Audi A7.

Unfortunately, I believe that both the S7 and the RS7 remove the middle seat in the back, or else I’d recommend one or both of those. You’re still going to get a five second 0-60 time in the A7, and you can option it with the S-line package to make it a little sportier to drive. You can even add rear side airbags for extra protection. Go drive one and let me know what you think.


There you go! Four questions down, eleventy billion to go. Thanks for continuing to send them in. Without you, there is no Ask Bark. Well, I mean I could make up some delusional questions about what you should buy if you inherit an oil field, but that’s just crazy.

[Image: Top, © Bark Jr./The Truth About Cars; Impala, © 2014 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars; Mercedes, File; Leaf: Nissan; Audi A7, © 2012 Murilee Martin?The Truth About Cars]

Don’t forget to drink your Ovaltine, or to send your favorite car buying quandary to Uncle Bark (literally, I have three nephews) at [email protected] or find me on the Twitter at barkm302.

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36 Comments on “Ask Bark: The Supercut, Episode One...”


  • avatar
    FreedMike

    That W126 video is awesome. Did Hans Zimmer do the music?

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    Oh, god, that A7.

    Worth noting if the questioner is considering used: The first year (or two?) of A7s were four-seat only; they switched to five seats in 2013 or 2014.

    My calculations suggest that a couple-of-year-old CPO A7 can be bought for $38k and run for two years under warranty with depreciation around $400/month, which in my book is a hell of a price for what you get.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      I have been considering exactly this scenario. The last time I bought an Audi, was in 2008, when I bought my wife a 2005 A6 for her birthday. $23K, which was less than half the price of new. Audis have better resale today, partly because the economy is so much stronger now.

      At the time, I budgeted $400/month to cover depreciation, interest on purchase and maintenance/repairs. That was an appropriate amount for the first 5 years. Now, it’s about $300/month as depreciation is lower (maintenance is NOT).

      • 0 avatar
        PeriSoft

        Yeah, after five years of living with an out-of-warranty Saab I’m *done* with OOW cars. New or CPO unless it’s something absolutely staggering that I can’t turn down. But yeah it seems like the depreciation curve means that as long as you’re not paying a lot to borrow money, you can get a huge force multiplier vs buying a cheaper car new. A three-year-old $80k A7 depreciates at the same rate as a new $35k Optima; as long as the thing is under warranty your only additional costs are financing, tires, and insurance. And pretty much ANYTHING depreciates at under $1k/month, which means that buying a new S-Class every year costs only 4x as much as buying an Accord every three years even though adding up the MSRPs suggests it ought to be 15x as much.

        Money’s a funny thing.

  • avatar
    cgjeep

    Audi S8

  • avatar
    Quentin

    3 series GT is a roomy 5 seater that has piqued my interest lately. Get the 335 version and have what is basically a Q ship. It has a longer wheelbase than the standard 3 series, a lift back, and more below-beltline cargo space than the 3 series wagon. Plus, you get the delightful 3.0T instead of the 2.0T or the dopey diesel that the 3 series wagon forces you to get now.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      Yuck. The 3-Series GT is hideous. However, the 4-Series Gran Coupe looks beautiful. I had one as a loaner. Like the 3-Series GT, it is a hatchback, and the one I drove had a powered liftgate. The only thing is that since it *is* a four-door coupe, it sits as low as the regular 4-Series coupe and cabriolet, meaning that ingress and egress may be uncomfortable.

      • 0 avatar
        VoGo

        +1 Kyree

        My only disappointment with the 4GC is that you can’t buy it with a stick.

      • 0 avatar
        Quentin

        Looks aside, the 3GT is a far better choice for his situation. It is effectively a class size up from the 4GT. He gets 5 series length in 3 series packaging and price.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Yeah, true.

          Or he could get a used 5-Series GT. The 5-Series GT actually doesn’t look that bad, and has the room of a 7-Series (in fact, it cannibalized 7-Series sales). Moreover, the fact that it debuted a full model year before the current 5-Series sedan (2010 vs 2011) and that a lot of people *don’t* like it means that he can find one rather cheaply.

          But it does look better than the 3-Series GT, which is plain ungainly.

          • 0 avatar
            Quentin

            I dislike the 5GT more than the 3GT. I think you just have to get a slimming color in the 3GT and it looks fine. White? Nope. Silver, black, grey, dark blue w/ M sport? Looks good.

      • 0 avatar
        derekson

        Yes. The 4GC is 100x more attractive than the 3GT (and IMO more attractive than the 3-series sedan as well).

  • avatar
    bills79jeep

    ‘If you’ve enjoyed the Versa (how? why?)’

    I refuse to believe anyone truly enjoys the Versa. I can understand that it represents decent value. It goes, stops, turns. It doesn’t cost much. Pretty much ends there.

    The interior looks cheap, the engine buzzes, and the seats are terrible. The front edge of the driver’s seat literally ends in the middle of my thigh. I’m not a giant, I’m 6’0″.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Hard to imagine the driver enjoying a Versa. His passengers might enjoy it because it has more room in the back than most cheapie subcompacts. Like, a LOT more.

    • 0 avatar
      cgjeep

      Coworker had a Versa, the 1 gen hatchback one. Was our favorite lunch car. Four fit in it better than many full size cars (it even fits 3 rearward facing cars) seats. The upholstery was nice, especially for a cheap car. Has a herringbone pattern that reminded me of 1980’s vws. Ride was nice for a small car too, absorbed bumps well. Coworker said it handled like sh)t and was slow though.

      • 0 avatar

        I am the guy who “enjoys” the Versa. Most of the above, except I don’t know how you can describe the engine as buzzy. At least mine (2007 with the 4-speed auto, the least interesting transmission of all) is geared pretty high, and it is about the quietest small car inside that I’ve driven (I assume something like a Lexus HS250h or whatever the Lexi-prius is would be quieter, but for Lexus money…).

        Also, I’m 6″ shorter than the “not that tall” guy above, and the seats feel great to me. The interior is spartan, but there is nothing wrong with it. The handling is surely bad by performance-car standards, but so what? I go around corners so I don’t push the front end, and everything works fine. Most of the time there’s someone in the car with me, and I’m trying to impress them by being as smooth and inobtrusive as possible (and if I brake too fast, the dog falls off the back seat and wakes up).

        And every time I take a person in the back seat, they comment on it. Positively.

        Also, I bought a coffee table and a side table on the weekend. Both were reasonably big, and not flat-packed. I shoved the side table in the rear footwell, dropped the rear seats, and slid a coffee table into the back area, and closed the rear hatch. My lovely bride was a little squeezed on the ride home (had to move the passenger seat forward to fit the side table), but this is only one of the many times that I’ve moved stupidly large amounts of cargo in this car.

        As you might expect, this is a single car for two people, and one of them doesn’t drive stick, and doesn’t want to parallel park a large car. For my part, I go to the local racetrack on Wednesday nights, where I race my all-American reinforced-plastic sports machine. That’s right: a 2013 Cannondale SuperSix, because the track lets us use it once a week for a bicycle crit. It’s pretty great.

        I like cars just fine: the family project is getting a late-1960s sports car going, and I’m pretty excited to see that through. But cars aren’t where we spend a lot of money, and the household car can be as interesting as possible, as long as it is usable by everyone, fits the things we need to fit, and doesn’t cost too much.

      • 0 avatar
        Featherston

        +cgjeep – I too have a coworker with a ’04-’12 (C11) Versa hatchback. The back seat is fantastic and shames most vehicles on the market, including full sizers.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    I think Greg and his wife need to test drive vehicles from whatever manufacturers they respect and buy whatever his wife enjoys driving. Don’t discuss pricing or even imply that you might be buying that day and you shouldn’t have to invest much more than an hour per vehicle. Spend a little more time on analysis, research, pricing, and longer test drives once you’ve narrowed the field down.

    • 0 avatar
      bills79jeep

      Great advice. “I don’t know what I want, but I am looking at ___ class of vehicles. I’m looking at all the options right now. I’d like to test drive ____. Thanks.” If they don’t had over the keys without a hassle, walk.

    • 0 avatar
      cgjeep

      If I were shopping for that class of car I imagine I would enjoy spending more than an hour with each one. With the salesperson not so much. But the car, yes please.

  • avatar
    Feds

    It’s a bit of a left field choice, but could you option a Challenger up to meet the “Luxurious” criteria of a grand tourer? It’s 5 seats.

    Quick look at the website says you can get a leather and alcantara interior, and 707 hp is class competitive with the big dogs in the GT field.

    • 0 avatar
      Zoom

      I assume “new child” means baby. No to loading a child into the back of a coupe.

      I also think people overstate how much space there is in the back of a Challenger. If you’re tall or fat, and sit with the front seat farther back than the average person, there really isn’t much leg room left.

      • 0 avatar
        Feds

        Sure, but as a second car, baby use would be occasional, theoretically.

        If you could wait the year until they are forward facing, you could use the chally to ferry children. They’re little anyway.

        One thing to keep in mind: A child will DECIMATE the interior of any car you put them into. I don’t know how they do it, but there is a ring of filth around every booster seat in my car after every trip, despite my no eating, no toys policy in the car.

  • avatar
    ajla

    1. New Acura TLX or used Acura TSX.
    2. I like the W126 idea.
    3. No opinion
    4. Maserati Quattroporte

  • avatar
    dal20402

    1. I wouldn’t recommend a Honda or Mazda for this particular application. This buyer is doing a LOT of highway cruising and those (especially Mazda) are the brands that are the least comfortable cruisers. I agree with the Avalon and Impala (Epsilon Impala only!) suggestions, and would add a CPO Lexus ES350 or Acura RL/RLX to the list. If you’re in a region where AWD is helpful, look at CPO RLs first. Don’t bother with hybrids. They are best in crawling, block-by-block stop-and-go, and not worth the money on long highway trips.

    2. If you’re good with a wrench and OK with spending lots of time using it, go for it! There’s very little that’s as satisfying as an old Mercedes to the buyer who appreciates old-Mercedes virtues. My personal view is that the best old Mercedes ever is the W140, with the W126 and W124 close behind. W124 500E is the most special-feeling car of the lot, but will cost more.

    3. No electric currently made is going to be as roomy in the back as your Versa, because batteries take up some of that space. But I think the right car for you is a stupid-cheap Leaf. It drives like a Versa with much more torque and much less noise, has most of the room of a Versa, and is available, again, stupid cheap at the moment.

    4. CPO (or new, if price is really no object) Audi S8. The A8 just has a special feeling inside that the A7, as nice as it is, doesn’t reach. I wouldn’t recommend recent big BMWs to anyone just based on their repair history, and Mercedes doesn’t really do GT with four doors — it’s either full-on luxury or bats, loud AMG.

    If the Panamera Turbo had five seats it would be my answer here.

  • avatar
    jfranci3

    For Greg… If you go Toyota again, pony up for the S / SE / Sport models. For example, there’s a marked difference in way a $21k Toyota Camry LE drives and a $21k SE drives.

    Outside of that, I’ve always enjoyed the way Ford Contour/Fusion/Milan V6/autos drove.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Former Leaf owner here: Don’t get 2011-12 Leaf; their resistive heaters could dim the lights in a small city, and their battery chemistry is inferior to the 2013+ cars.

    Not only that, the battery on an 11-12 Leaf will have degraded to “11 bars” or lower. Only buy a “12-bar” Leaf.

    If I had to get another Leaf, I’d consider leasing a new one. Some desperate dealers are marking them down 50% – no joke.

    You’ll also want to install a Level 2 charger.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      To add to that, I’d look for a Leaf that was produced late January 14 or later – but agree with SCE to AUX to go for a new lease (I recommend going for an SL version). Not sure on that date, but it’s what I’ve heard was the date they started putting in the latest battery chemistry. For reference, I have 28k miles on my Leaf and still have all twelve bars and it’s showing 108 miles on the guess-o-meter. Still enough capacity in that 12th bar that I usually get most of my errands done in the course of a day on that 12th bar.

      As far as charging goes, get a portable level 2 charger and have a NEMA 14-50 outlet installed at home. If you have a garage with an electric dryer, you can get adapters to use a dryer plug. Make sure the charger has the ability to adjust the current draw. Mine can plug into a 120v outlet with an adapter and take advantage of 20 amp outlets. The portable aspect also gives you the ability to charge at campgrounds with RV NEMA 14-50 outlets. The lock feature on newer Leafs will help keep someone from stealing your nice portable charger. Make sure you get CHAdeMO level 3 capability as well.

      Although I don’t have much experience with S and SV Leafs, the upgrade to the 17 inch 215/50’s on the SL gives it a lot of help in the handling department. You also need to be familiar with the 3 modes. I’m usually in “B” mode aggressive regen mode, but when I need better acceleration, I hit the button to take it out of ECO mode. Having EV Connect is another nice feature to have. If set up right, it will text or email you if forget to plug in or if it’s unplugged by someone or loses power.

      For me, the Leaf makes it possible to own it’s high maintenance carbon fiber Italian garage mate. It absorbs the abuse from an occasional hard commute and is tire rotations, windshield washer fluid, and wipers for maintenance.

  • avatar
    Acd

    Greg and Jeff: Go look at cars that appeal to you and your significant other and then buy one that you can agree on.

    Martin: Go look at cars that appeal to you and then buy one that you like.

    Ryan: Don’t waste your money on getting another car, instead keep driving your Versa and put the money towards something you have a passion for because if you actually like a Versa you probably don’t give a shit about cars and should probably spend less time on car sites.

  • avatar
    Chets Jalopy

    Has anyone mentioned the Chevy SS? Not even sure if it has five seats. Or qualifies as a GT. How about a Gran Tourismo Omologato? Again, the seat count is unknown.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    Greg could consider things like 5 series, E class, XF, etc for under $30k, and it wouldn’t be horribly old. If he is trying to keep it reasonably new and trouble free, 2013+ Lexus GS is under $30k. If comfortable and quiet are the criteria, I’m not sure how a Mazda6 landed on the radar.

    Martin might as well get the W126. He can do the work and has a spare car; I would say he is a good candidate for something like that.

    I have no opinion on electric cars, but I thought Ryan’s comment about waterwheels and smugness was pretty funny.

    For Jeff, Rolls-Royce Phantom Series II. Hey, he did say any price!
    Thinking more reasonably, if there is room in the definition of GT for a sedan, an XF or XJ supercharged V8 (but not the R; too harsh).

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    “Well, I mean I could make up some delusional questions about what you should buy if you inherit an oil field, but that’s just crazy.”

    I’m hoping the one about the kid in mom’s basement trying to get the math to work on a Viper ACR was something you made up

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      He may have made it up, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t some kid in some basement playing with a calculator while looking at a roadtest for a Viper. Or maybe even several of them…

  • avatar
    sbvaeth

    Martin,

    I just bought a w126 300se for daily use. The car is great but I’ve only had it for a month so I cant speak to its reliability. I also got one with lots of recent work.

    These cars are very simple compared to the later w140 in terms of electronics. The only real advanced technology that commonly goes wrong is the climate control system. Another issue is the self leveling system that is typically on the 560sel’s. Look at the forums for all the usual quirks.

    My advice is to look for a 420sel. The 300se has a very short final drive ratio (3.46?) and mine runs 3600 RPMs at 75 MPH. The v8 models get longer drive ratios that improve their highway cruising abilities. The reason for the 420 over the 560 is that the 420’s rarely have the self leveling suspension which I spoke to previously. Spending time (which it sounds like you have) to find the right one is key.

    I went with the 300 because the car was in such great condition and the price was just as good. The short wheelbase is also nice.


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