Ask Bark Brief: The Death of an Ion

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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 and follow him on all social media. Thank you.

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • Anomaly149 Anomaly149 on Dec 08, 2016

    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!

  • Snakebit Snakebit on Dec 09, 2016

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

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  • Rover Sig We have a car with two fake exhausts in the bumper, but a large shiny muffler visible hanging down on one side, not aligned with the fake exhaust exits. Horrendous. I had to paint the shiny muffler with high-temp black paint to make it less visible. Exhaust pipes were meant to be round and hang below the bumper, and they can be made quiet or loud as the engineers like. But fake exhausts rank down there with fake intake vents on the side of that old Buick.
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