Ask Bark: Buyback is a Bitch

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
ask bark buyback is a bitch

Andre writes:


I’ve lurked on TTAC for around eight months and just registered to ask for a recommendation. (Thanks! —Bark)

My daily driver is a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, and it’s likely I’ll be taking the buyback option on the vehicle based on the agreement-in-principle between VW and the government on the “defeat device.” It’s been a great car (stone reliable, a miracle according to the B&B), but any fix is likely to cut both performance and fuel mileage.

The question is, what to replace it with?

Things I like about the Jetta that I’d also like to have in its replacement:

  • Engaging driving experience.
  • Able to fit real adults in the back seat.
  • Large trunk.
  • Stick shift.
  • Straightforward, no-nonsense gauges and controls.

Things complicating the decision:

  • I’d really prefer another manual-transmission car, and those seem to be a vanishing breed.
  • I’m in the Denver area, so need something that’s not hopeless in the snow (with proper tires) and won’t run out of breath in the mountains.
  • I’d like to move up on the refinement scale, but …
  • … I’m cheap. My income, credit rating, and bank balance would easily get me into a premium ride, but I just can’t see paying $40,000 or more for a car.
  • I tend to keep cars a long time, so out-of-warranty repair costs do matter and I don’t know that a lease would make any sense.

Putting all those together makes it hard to find a car I’d be happy with in the long-term. I suspect I’ll have to compromise on the stick shift as there are so few choices left. My preference is to stay with a sedan. My wife has a hatchback and we’ve found it handy to have one of each, and I already have an impractical second car in the form of an NA Miata.

What’s the best blend of refinement, sportiness, big-enough-for-adults, price, and reliability out there?

Congratulations on an incredibly well written and well-thought-out letter, Andre. Also, thank you for already owning an NA Miata so that some dipshit here doesn’t recommend one for you — although, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody recommended that you buy a second one.

I think that you have a few more options than you might think, Dre. (Can I call you Dre? Because I’ve always wanted a friend named Dre.) Let’s investigate some of them.

If you’ve read Ask Bark for any length of time, you probably know that the first rule of Ask Bark is that you don’t talk about Ask Bark. No, wait, that’s not right. The first rule of Ask Bark is that we don’t compromise on car purchases. Like, not never. There are just too many options and choices available at every price point to buy a car that doesn’t check all the boxes.

Therefore, I’m not going to let you compromise on your stick shift requirement. You put it first on the list, so I know it’s important to you. While you’re right that several OEMs ditched manual transmissions for 2016 in models that previously offered them, we can still find certified examples. So no compromising. Got it?

Now, which cars are offered with a manual transmission, powerful enough to be fun to drive, have a real trunk, are a step up in refinement from the Jetta, and are practical enough to go in the snow? I have ideas.

If you like your Jetta, then why not keep it in the VAG family (that sounds dirty) and step up a bit into an Audi A4? Here’s a certified example close by that’s well within your price range and ticks nearly every box. The one requirement you have is the ability to have cheap out-of-warranty repairs. Still, it’s a car that’s well within the paradigm your mind has created around your Jetta. Unfortunately, you can’t get the manual transmission any more in the new A3 or A4, so you’ve got to go lightly used. The Audi Certified warranty isn’t the best, either — it only extends the original warranty by two years or 50,000 miles. So, while I like this option, I think we can do better.

I’ve tried to avoid recommending the Honda Accord V6 EX-L sedan to you, mostly because this isn’t an Ask Jack column, but it’s really hard to come up with reasons not to recommend it. It really does check every box that you have. Best driving dynamics of any car in the class, high quality materials and construction, full-sized back seat, and a real trunk. In fact it’s … wait, what’s that? You can’t get the V6 sedan with a stick shift? Oh, for crying out loud. That’s just stupid. Well, scratch that one-off.

Another car that dropped the manual transmission option for 2016 is the Buick Regal GS, but you better believe that there are plenty of 2015s left on the lot around the country (I’ve even seen a 2014 or two), and the manual transmission cars, in particular, are lot poison. The sticker might say $40,000, but discounts of six or seven large aren’t uncommon at this point. If you can find a certified example, even better. The depreciation is strong with these cars. However, they have a torquey motor and a large-ish trunk. You’ll notice a real step up from your Jetta in refinement and interior materials. It might not be the first car that jumps to mind when you think of a fun to drive sedan, but all the better for you when you’re negotiating the price down. The Regal GS is a real sleeper of a car that deserves your attention. However, you might not love the Buick brand, and who could blame you? So let’s keep looking.

Again, this is TTAC, so I better mention the WRX. And then I’m going to unmention it, because you said the word “refinement.” Move along. Nothing to see here.

So with all that being said, I guess we’re gonna reach peak auto journo, because I’m about to recommend the Mazda6 to you. Loved by all and bought by none, the Mazda6 Touring is about as close as we’re going to get to fulfilling all of your requirements. It’s not as peppy as the Regal, but it’s considerably less expensive. It’s got a real back seat and a real trunk. You’re going to get good fuel economy (37 mpg estimated). The SkyActiv motors haven’t been around long enough for us to have a great sense of how reliable they’ll be long-term, but I don’t have any real reason to think that they won’t be. Plus, the nice thing about having a Mazda6 is that you won’t see yourself coming and going like you would with the Accord, and you get a bit of enthusiast street cred out of it.

However, the very best thing about the Mazda6 is that it stickers for about $25,000 with a whole list of standard features, which satisfies your cheap requirement better than just about anything else we’re talking about here. Not only that, they’re offering zero-percent financing over 36 months, so you can pay it off quickly and cheaply. And if you’ve enjoyed the quirky Volkswagen owner experience, the Mazda experience will make you feel right at home. It’s possible that I’m still coming down from the rush of driving a Mazda at over 130 mph at Watkins Glen this past weekend, but I still think you should check it out. Go drive one and let me know what you think.

Bark M. is simultaneously remorseful that he ever sold his RX-8 and thrilled that he sold his RX-8. Also, Mazda is the only OEM to ever send Bark a check, thanks to his SCCA MAZDASPEED contingency awards. Please help him focus on something other than his internal conflict and strife and write him an email at or tweet him at @barkm302.

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2 of 173 comments
  • Webbrowan Webbrowan on May 02, 2016

    When it comes to cars, I personally prefer to stay put with what I already have especially if it has not shown any signs of physical deterioration yet that could incur a hefty sum of money in the long run. I will however change to a new car should I either require a bigger space or more seats or vice versa.

  • BrunoT BrunoT on May 06, 2016

    Buy an affordable car that meets your needs and is safe until the day you can pay cash for a more expensive one. When you can write a check for it (while still maxing out your retirement and having a 6 months expenses emergency fund) then you can splurge. Or, you can "live for today" and spout platitudes about "you're only young once" and be a debt slave like 90% of Baby Boomers who are still trudging into the office at age 68 because they can't afford not to.

  • Buickman GoneFast.
  • SCE to AUX I sat in a 200 in the showroom, and promptly walked away. The back seat was extremely awkward to ingress/egress, and the car was small inside.Turns out even Sergio agreed, and he was upset about it: attractive exterior hid a terrible car. Those early 9-spd autos were awful.
  • Pianoboy57 I've always thought the 300D was just about the perfect car. Mine would have been green like my current Outback is. Once upon a time there was a Volvo diesel at the nearby BHPH lot. Too bad nobody rescued that one. I did have the privilege of owning a TDI Sportwagen and I would have kept my 02 Passat if it had been a diesel wagon. A few years ago I used to see older TDI Passats for sale on CL by owners who claim to have taken good care of them. Too bad you can't get a diesel in an Outback.
  • ToolGuy "A 920-volt electric system is rumored to enable faster charging times than any EV on sale today." If you can find a compatible charger, that is??• Differing voltage standards -- yet another way to slow down EV adoption.Engineers R Awesome™
  • SCE to AUX "without a must-have feature or selling point, the VF8 won't be top-of-mind for buyers"Yep, that's the problem with any new product, let alone an entire aspiring brand. I think they hoped the battery subscription would be a helpful distinctive, but they discovered that it was a negative instead.Perhaps they got their product launch guidance from Ford.