By on December 7, 2016

2018 Euro VW GTI Golf

Alexis writes:

I give advice to everyone about what to get and not get, and yet I’m finding it impossible to decide for myself.

I’m a moderately successful realtor living in Toronto, and my 2005 Saturn Ion is about to give up the ghost. Yes, I know, an enthusiast driving an Ion doesn’t really make sense, and I admit it’s a car for people who just gave up — that’s why I bought it four years ago.

Alas, it’s time for something else.

I like the idea of a turbocharged compact and have a narrow driveway so can’t really do anything larger than mid-sized. My requirements include manual transmission, engaging handling and an image that’s either innocuous or somewhat classy. The Subaru WRX is out.

I was thinking of a Ford Focus ST, Buick Verano 2.0t, or Kia Forte SX, although the latter isn’tavailable with a manual transmission in Canada. I’d prefer pre-owned and am open to either leasing or purchasing. My temptation is to stick with a GM, but the ownership experience with the Saturn bordered on abysmal, and I think my loyalty is displaced. My hope is for something reliable that doesn’t eat through transmissions like candy as the Ion did. (I replaced it three times, usually for output shaft bearings. The last two were bad upon installation.)

What would you and the Best and Brightest recommend?

First of all, let’s celebrate the death of the Ion, and be glad that it didn’t kill you, too. A Saturn Ion is no kind of car for a relatively successful realtor to be driving, especially not in the real estate boomtown of Toronto. You could probably list your Ion as a “one bedroom, quaint living space” and get twenty times as much for selling it as a rolling apartment instead of a car.

Also, our friend and contributor, Bozi Tatarevic, would like to have a word with you regarding your description of the Subaru WRX. He’ll be here as soon as the competitive vaping event is over.

Okay, so let’s get down to the business of selecting your next car. You mentioned your very first requirement was a manual transmission, and yet you included a car without a manual option in your top three. Uh uh. First rule of Ask Bark? We don’t settle. So the Forte is out.

The Verano is dead after a short 2017 model year run, which is a bit of a shame. You can view that either positively or negatively, depending on your spin. I would imagine discounts on new models will be easy to come by, so you’ll be able to get a lot of car for not much money. The bad news is that resale value is likely bad on an orphaned model, so unless you’re planning on driving this new car into the ground, you’ll probably be sad when it comes time to sell.

The Focus ST is a nice compromise here, in that you get to quench your turbocharged thirst for a small car that also scoots a bit. However — and I say this as a grown man who drives a Nitrous Blue Focus RS — I’m not sure it gives off the right vibe for your customers. I know  hatchbacks are more highly regarded in Canada than they are in these United States of Trump, but the boy racer styling of the Ford hatchbacks probably doesn’t say “safe, secure decision” to your customers who are about to drop $2M on a condo (I think that’s at least $300k USD). And since you’ll probably be toting around some potential buyers on home tours (I assume that’s how it works, based on all the episodes of Property Brothers I’ve watched), you might consider something a little more, well, adult.

That’s where the Volkswagen GTI comes in. No, I don’t personally like the GTI as much as the Focus ST, but we’re not talking about a car for me — it’s for you. The GTI is a kinder, gentler Focus ST: more comfortable seating, softer suspension, and easier on the eyes. It’s the sensible hot hatch. But, if the GTI just isn’t for you, then why not the Sonic RS?

The Sonic RS is a much better car than most people give it credit for. No, it’s not as fast as a GTI or FoST, and it’s closer to a Fiesta ST in size, but it’s super fun to drive, and the back seat is surprisingly large. The best part about the Sonic is the resale value: it’s terrible. You can find late-model, lightly used versions for 60 percent of retail. (And yes, I know what I said about the Verano just moments ago. I like to live in the moment.) Best of all, you get to keep that GM brand loyalty that you’re trying to pretend is dead and gone. Don’t be ashamed, my friend. Embrace that big bowtie. KNEEL BEFORE THE RENCEN MWAHAHAHAHAHA!

Whoa. I got a little carried away there. But, seriously, do yourself a favor and test the Sonic … and then go buy a GTI.

Bark M. is a very important guy who knows a lot about car buying. He’s made every terrible purchase decision possible—let him put all that experience to work for YOU! Email him at [email protected] and follow him on all social media. Thank you. 

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101 Comments on “Ask Bark Brief: The Death of an Ion...”

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Manual realtor’s car? Easy: base Cadillac ATS.

  • avatar

    “I like the idea of a turbocharged compact and have a narrow driveway so can’t really do anything larger than mid-sized. My requirements include manual transmission, engaging handling and an image that’s either innocuous or somewhat classy.”

    how was the gti not first on the list? i think there is more to the story.

    “My hope is for something reliable…”

    oh, well there’s that.

    but still the gti/golf seems to be one of the cars that vw gets right; even with reliability.

    and used? there are plenty, certified, at great prices. at least in the u.s.a.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    I would expect that a realtor should have a 4 door vehicle and something that projects professionalism and success without rubbing a potential client’s nose in the huge commission that you will be earning.

    Cadillac seems about right. A mid/lower range Lexus. A Subaru. Or how about a Genesis? Believe that they are available only in manual as an R-Spec.

    This situation was one reason for the existence of Buick in North America. A car for successful professionals who wanted to downplay their wealth, while still travelling with a modicum of luxury.

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Meeting and transporting clients as a successful realtor in a Saturn Ion is WAY more incongruous than owning one as an enthusiast, but the lack of pretentiousness and display of status is actually refreshing. The realtor hosting an open house in our neighborhood was driving a Ghibli and I’d be a little annoyed knowing a portion of my mortgage was financing that.

    Get the GTI. It’s tasteful, it feels richer than the price suggests, and even if it feels a bit sterile compared to the Ford hot hatches it will be so immensely better to drive than your Saturn that you won’t care at all.

    • 0 avatar

      A Ghibli owning agent doing open houses??? Typically around here the only people who do open house are newbies as open houses only exist to troll for new customers or to shut up the client who’s house hasn’t sold because they insisted on over pricing it or not fixing the glaring problems.

      Also I’d expect a Ghibli owning agent would specialize in high end properties where open houses just aren’t done. People who own really expensive homes don’t want commoners trapsing through their house to see how the other half lives, or to see if they can snag a little jewelry that wasn’t locked away or removed.

      • 0 avatar
        30-mile fetch

        I was surprised as well, our neighborhood of 1920s bungalows and post-war minimals doesn’t have much of anything in the price range I expected for a realtor driving that car. The open house was an odd 1930s art deco home that has been rotating in and out of the market for the last 5 years. There was another agent there, in an Explorer. Broker helping a newbie out? Home sales in our area seem to have slowed dramatically since midsummer so maybe they were desperate.

  • avatar

    My WRX is not innocuous at all but works well for my circumstances. It does have a nice backseat space but is a bit stiff for transporting clients.

    Bark, you know better than to stereotype me like that. What does the only person in the group who was vaping at Mid-Ohio own?

    • 0 avatar

      A WRX is not an STI – they look fairly sedate without the aroused wing in back.

      I would think in limited trim it’s a fairly decent place to be for a realtor and maybe even prospective clients? You get leather, nav, and heated seats in that price range to go with the AWD, so that’s good for Canada, eh?

  • avatar

    Around here all the Realtor Moms ride around in Japanese luxury brand SUVs. On the other hand, I bought my first townhouse from an agent who drove a diesel powered Rabbit that shook like a Soviet diesel powered sex toy while at idle.

    • 0 avatar

      Back in the 2005 time frame while house hunting with the first wife, our realtor was driving a late 1990s Lexus LX. Black exterior, gold badging, and tan leather interior. Very classy.

      She wore the kind of stilettos that made it impossible to take one step off the concrete into the yards of the houses she was showing for fear that she would sink in by the heels.

      I did get the impression that she was someone’s trophy wife during the several rides she took us on to show homes.

    • 0 avatar

      “I bought my first townhouse from an agent who drove a diesel powered Rabbit that shook like a Soviet diesel powered sex toy while at idle.”

      I had to log in just to say comment of the day! I actually laughed out loud.

      OTOH, I bought my first house from a realtor that drove a 1983 Ford Escort 4 door hatchback. After that first trip, I drove to all of the showings separately…

      • 0 avatar
        Corey Lewis

        I think the Internet means more clients drive themselves, since they’ve got their own maps and listings to review. I never even considered having my realtor pick me up.

  • avatar

    Go with a Jetta. Turbo and manual, plus has a bigger back seat. If buying used they are cheaper than Golfs as well.

    I would think a realtor would need a larger car though. Would a Passat fit in the driveway?

    • 0 avatar

      A GLI sounds even more suitable.

    • 0 avatar

      As someone who was recently shopping Jettas – if buying new they are cheaper than Golfs by a decent margin too, but the Golf is on the new architecture and the Jetta is on the old.

      The back seat is fine unless you go 3 across – similar to an Accord from a decade ago, and a far cry from the microscopic space my mazda3 has. You can fit a rear facing car seat in a Jetta fairly easily.

      A Passat lacks the manual option too (if buying new). It also skips over the 2.0T straight to the V6, so you don’t have a mid-level engine if you don’t feel like shelling out $30k for it.

      A GLI would scratch the itch, but even a Jetta sport would be pretty nice. The GLI has a 6-speed to the Sport’s 5-speed too.

  • avatar

    used manual acura ilx?

    • 0 avatar

      Dark Horse! Aka the non-boy-racer Civic Si.

      Good luck finding one though – I live in an affluent area and I think I’ve only seen a literal handful of ILXs in the last year.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    Don’t you have to do lots of hand gestures and pointing while showing clients around? This would seem less possible with all the shifting you’ll have to do.

    I can tell you older people will respect the subdued looks of the GTI. The Sonic RS might make them think you’re still a student at the community college.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    I’ve got an idea!

    Mazda CX-5 Sport.

    Manual, room in back for clients, Canadians love Mazda, and the most funnest to drive CUV. Suitably innocuous.

    Or why not Mazda 3 5-door?

  • avatar

    The answer to this question WILL ALWAYS BE:

    2012-2014 Acura TL SH-AWD in 6 Speed Manual.

    Probably one of THE MOST underrated performance cars for all weather joy.

    1. RV6 Pre-cat deletes (
    2. K Tuner Software flash with custom tune (
    3. AP Racing Brakes
    4. custom coil-overs with custom spring rates

    And simply enjoy a sonorous J37 V6, torque vectoring AWD, precision manual transmission, Panasonic ELS stereo, and a roomy comfortable well built cabin.

    I have one now and will be buying another.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorry but mods on the client car aren’t a good idea.

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        But those mods are funny. He’ll never pass Ontario emissions testing with the first two, he won’t have brakes in the winter with the third, and he won’t make it down a typical Toronto street with the fourth.

        Maybe he can tow it to Mosport. Only trouble is he still needs a street car.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d think one of those is just fine stock.

      Coilovers are just not necessary unless you *want* to slam the car. The factory setup works just fine. I’m a track junkie and don’t see the need to in my S2000. Why you would think a harsh-riding caris a good idea if you end up hauling clients in it is beyond me.

      AP Racing brakes are awesome, but overkill and $2500 of wasted money unless you’re tracking the car. The stock Brembos will work just fine for OP’s intended use.

      As for the power, I’m sure that much extra for that little money is great, as long as the only emissions test you get is a OBD read and not a visual inspection or sniffer.

  • avatar

    Sonic RS does have a nice back seat…. for a subcompact. For someone whose livelihood depends in part on a car making a good impression, I would go with the GTI, or even a base Golf/Jetta TSI.

  • avatar

    I have a very well cared for (ALWAYS dealer serviced) fully loaded 2014 Buick Verano T 6MT in beautiful metallic blue, with a set of powdercoated OEM 16″ Buick rims and winter tires, and a full warranty to 120,000 kms that I would happily sell to you, Alexis.

    I’ll even drive it to Toronto for you.

  • avatar

    OK, Alexis, I get it. But allow me some love for the Ion.
    I’ve owned two of them (a 2004 and my current ’07), and I have enjoyed them both. But as with so many other cars, the right equipment makes all the difference. First off, the ’07 was the best-built Ion ever. All the improvements Saturn made over the years was combined with the best build quality ever. Second, I made the correct choice by choosing the 2.4 liter engine and the optional touring package with its heavy duty suspension, larger tires and ABS. It turns a decent performer into something rather fun, while getting a nice 25-to-30 MPG average. It’s now close to 53-thousand miles, and it’s still tight and solid, and there’s plenty of front seat room, with the Ion 3’s very comfortable and adjustable seats. And I love the high-end sound system with Sirius XM radio. Sure, there are some things I don’t like–the much too plastic interior, and lack of rear disk brakes. (I’m comfortable with the center-mounted gauges.) But I love my Ion, and I plan to hold onto it for as long as I can–until I spring for another car. We’ll see.

  • avatar

    You could lease a new Audi A4 sedan as they are now available with a manual. Quattro included.

    What about a late model 535xi. Available with a stick as well.

    I’d go with the Audi, though.

  • avatar

    I’m sorry but it is not time for a sporty compact if you are using that as a client vehicle. The right choice is a CUV, if you want a Turbo and something that drives well, for a CUV, you want an Escape.

  • avatar
    Turbo Is Black Magic

    As someone that currently has two MK7 GTI’s that I love dearly, I would suggest a Jetta GLI… 90% of the performance with a bigger backseat and tamer ride. Real humans just don’t fit well in the back of the GTI for extended periods. The GLI still gives you a decent German grown up vibe.

    This sounds horrible, but if my realtor showed up in a crappy looking old car I would probably look for another realtor. First impressions are everything, maybe this will help you move past moderately successful.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      Second vote for the GLI. Good to drive and it looks very conservative and professional. It’s long in the tooth by now, which could be a negotiating point on price.

    • 0 avatar

      My realtor drives a realtor car – a pre-crisis Lexus ES3xx. Probably bought back in 07 when she still had serious money coming in.

      That said, she keeps it in great repair, and it is still a solid car today at 8-10 years old.

    • 0 avatar

      The manual VW 2.0T removes the looming 40k mile, $700-800 DSG service.

      The GLI removes some of the harsher GTI enthusiast bits but can still roar (resonated).

      A used Manual MK6 GLI can be found in the deplorables bin (11-14k range) and I can tell you that most enthusiast owners, while giving it hard to their cars, probably took very, very good care of them.

      On the other hand, you won’t find leather seats south of the boarder and the terrible braking distance is nearly a legitimate safety concern.

      All that being said, the Mk7 GTI is the definition of “sweet spot”. It is an honest bargain with enough factory and aftermarket options to make anyone happy.

  • avatar

    Diesel Chevy Colorado.

    /In before Aussies.

  • avatar

    Weighing in with either the Jetta GLI (for the fun factor and room) or a nicely equipped Escape (ok, so maybe not as much fun but one of the better driving CUVs out there, and with the right equipment, looks appropriately “not shoddy”).

  • avatar


    Should be more reliable than a VW, plus 100K powertrain warranty.

  • avatar

    From what I recall, the Acura TL (now TLX) and MDX were the GTA real estate agent’s vehicle of choice: nice enough to shuttle clients in and give them the impression that you’re capable and successful, but not so nice as to give you the impression you’re robbing them blind on commission while kiting their deposit.

  • avatar

    New Cruze hatchback not available in Canada? LT model is available with manual transmission, although i’m not sure how easy it would be to actually find one on the lot….

  • avatar
    Frank Galvin

    Based on criteria – the only option appears to be the GTI. Refined, sporty, good passenger seating. But, my concern would be that he’s going to beat the thing to death in short order schlepping clients around the metro area; snow, bad roads, potholes, etc.

    What about a Mini Countryman? Not too big, not really a crossover, stick, turbo, awd, plenty of room, and still fits in the driveway?

  • avatar

    For the record, the Forte SX is available with a manual up here, although Kia’s website only lists the ’16 still, so it might be nearly impossible to find one. Looking at Auto Trader, there are exactly two in the entire country, and both are in BC (nicely discounted though).

    I would take the GTI. I don’t think our VW dealers have quite the bad reputation they do in the US.

    Or,can you deal with the new Civic’s looks? Because you can get the hatch with turbo and three pedals. No one’s going to judge a Civic up here. It just looks awful.

  • avatar

    Skip the Jetta — it’s old school VW, and not in a good way.

    I second a Mk7 GTI 4-door in one of the upper trim versions, either new or a couple of years old, depending on budget. And you really, really do want the one with the Lighting Package. Fast, fun to drive and comfortable to be in, the GTI is a performance compact for adults. My 6 ft tall daughter fits fine in the back seat, so I call BS on lack of rear seat room (for around town, anyway).

    • 0 avatar

      At 6’4″ I find the backseat of the GTI very comfortable, easily comparable to a small CUV. I would think the Jetta would less comfortable because its a sedan, and sedans have crap headroom in the back.

  • avatar

    The WRX may be too boy racer for your image, but how about the Legacy? If you’re looking at used cars, the previous generation model 2.5GT spec.B was basically a manual-only button down STi.

  • avatar

    I agree with Maymar on the Civic hatch. Despite its looks, its the clear winner here.

    Its too bad the Fusion 2.0T doesn’t have a manual, or it would be my top choice.

  • avatar

    Toyota RAV4. Decent space and you will appear dependable not flashy.

  • avatar

    Why not a Subaru Legacy? Versus the WRX, a Legacy’s width and track are only about 1.5 to 2 inches wider, and the cabin is surely a lot more commodious for driving prospects around. And in Canada you can get a 6-speed manual shift in the Legacy 2.5, both the base and the Touring. (No stick is available in current U.S. Legacys and Outbacks, even though they’re made for Canada at the Indiana factory.)

  • avatar

    I can’t believe how many people are suggesting a VW GTI or GLI.

    Don’t get me wrong, they drive awesome, and look nice, but did everyone miss the part where the OP writes:

    “My hope is for something reliable”

    And everyone is saying GTI and GLI?


    • 0 avatar
      Turbo Is Black Magic

      My MK6 GTI had 140k trouble free miles before I picked up a MK7, that has also been flawless. My wife had a MK6 Golf TDI and in 170k miles I had to replace one $80.00 coil pack…nothing else other than regular maintenance….Modern VW’s are not the VW’s of the past.

      • 0 avatar

        People said the same thing 15 years ago when the mk4 Jetta came out and I was shopping it.

        Everyone knows how that turned out.

        Individual anecdotes are just that.

        They may be better now, but they’ve been at the bottom of every list forever. And they still are at the bottom.

  • avatar

    Ion flux?

    actually Æon Flux.

    Crappy movie made watchable by Charlize Theron in skin tight leather.

  • avatar

    If the primary purpose is transporting clients in urban areas why would you want a manual? I think city traffic is the perfect place for an automatic. It’s less stress to drive, smoother for your clients and lets you keep both hands on the wheel at all times.

    • 0 avatar

      Serious question, how many realtors actually shuttle their clients anywhere anymore? My realtor drove a Fiat 500, and my parents’ had a Chevy Volt. I can’t speak for how their buying experience (in one of Toronto’s exurbs) went, but in our case, buying in Toronto, there was literally no time to get shuttled around. In our experience, the process was check the automated listings (that met our relatively broad criteria) sent to us first thing in the morning. if anything even remotely suitable appeared, we got our realtor to book a viewing as soon as possible (within the next 48 hours if possible, whenever we could squeeze something in), because odds are, all bids were due within a week. Meeting up with our realtor just so he could drive us to the location would have been a waste of time.

  • avatar

    Not sure why it hasn’t been suggested, but the answer is always C-Max…

    There is no manual option, but there is plenty of headroom and since it’s a hybrid, you’ll score points among the hoity-toity Eco minded clients. Extra points for that if you get an Energi. Best of all, they’re cheap used. The powertrain has been around for a while, so it’s pretty proven and they seem to be reliable.

    You’re welcome.

  • avatar

    I almost miss my old Saturn. (I got rid of it after that Piston Slap, THANKS SAJEEV! Best decision.)

    Stepped up to an EB Mustang. There’s stuff in the Ford that bugs the heck out of me that the Saturn (and GM in general) did differently, but when you’re making that much of a step up, it really doesn’t matter. Anything new will be night and day better than an Ion. Get that GTI!

  • avatar

    OK, I just finished my first glass of Bark koolaid. More please, kind sir.

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