By on April 3, 2018

In the last edition of Buy/Drive/Burn, we concerned ourselves with unpopular large luxury sedans. The general B&B consensus at the end of the day was that none of them were a great purchase idea (see, you’re getting the point now). In the comments, Brian E. suggested we cover a trio of compact-ish sporty sedans he evaluated in real life, back in 2006.

So let’s travel to those days before the Great Recession and pick apart some sporty import sedans. By they way, they all have automatic transmissions.

Acura TSX

The first-generation TSX was introduced for the 2004 model year as replacement for the aged Integra, which wrapped up its tenure in 2001. Underneath the badging and bumpers, it’s a Euro and Japanese domestic market Accord. In 2006, slight modifications to front and rear trim updated the design, installed fog lamps, and added five horsepower to the inline-four engine. The 2.0 K-series engine from the Accord is the only mill available, sending 200 horsepower through the five-speed auto.

Saab 9-3

The remarkably long-lived second-generation 9-3 debuted in 2003, and would continue through the 2011 model year until Saab closed its doors. Though the first-generation 9-3 played the role of successor to the popular 900 hatchback model, the second generation pushed forward without a hatchback — on offer were sedan and wagon versions, as well as a convertible. Revised engine offerings in 2006 coincided with the discontinuation of the Linear and Arc trims in North America (V6 trims were still called Vector). Both trims were replaced with the 2.0T trim, powered by a 210 horsepower turbo four.

Volkswagen Jetta GLI

Our only brand new competitor, Volkswagen’s fifth-generation Jetta, filled dealer lots between 2006 and 2011. The Jetta sat on a world platform that was also used by Audi, Seat, and Skoda. North American Jettas was assembled in Mexico, just like their MKIV predecessors. Today’s Jetta is a GLI trim (known as Sportline in other markets), which swapped out the standard seats with sportier buckets and lowered the profile of both the wheels and the car itself; the GLI sat .59 inches lower than standard models. Power came from a 2.0-liter like the rest of our trio, specifically the FSI version. That engine provided 197 horsepower, traveling through the front wheels via the six-speed DSG automatic.

Three small-medium sedans for the 2006 consumer. Which one do you sign and drive?

[Images: Acura, GM, Volkswagen]

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74 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Sporty Compact Sedans From 2006...”


  • avatar
    RangerM

    Burn the Jetta.

    Drive the 9-3.

    Buy the TSX.

    Selected in order of ascending reliability.

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      Probably would agree with this order. The TSX (with a manual, ahem) intrigues me a little as a potential DD. While the Jetta (at least in GLI trim) looks the biz, just too many concerns with the brand at that time to feel comfortable with having it in the driveway. And as for SAAB, by this time, it had lost a good bit of the “quirk” that made it interesting.

      So, Buy the TSX/Drive the 9-3/Burn the Jetta

      Not that any with AT would have seriously interested me, but the rules stipulated slushboxes for all.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve Biro

        Ditto. For the cars and the personal requirement for a manual with any of them. The first-gen TSX always reminded me of an Alfa-Romeo GTV.

      • 0 avatar
        Rick Astley

        As somebody who owns a 2004 6-speed manual TSX, i’d say it’s a fantastic daily driver! 2004 is the worst year for them content wise (power passenger seat came in 2005, and the revised bumpers in 2006 are nice, and the rear seat fold-down is an absolutely worthless design). It isn’t “fast”, but it’s fast enough for everything you need a daily driver to be, not too thirsty and in white with tan interior, it’s classy enough to compete gather compliments from passengers.

        For less than $100 you can get the GROM bluetooth interface so now it has everything I ever wanted in a modern car, yet with the last of the simple-to-work-on Honda motors that run with minimal investment (Have gone through 3 coil packs in 20K miles and bought the car with 50K miles)

        Burn: SAAB and VW. Because you certainly aren’t buying either of those as low-operating-costs drivers….

    • 0 avatar
      notapreppie

      This, right here, is the Flying Spaghetti Monster’s own truth.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Right on the money.

      TSX is perhaps the last of the old-school Hondas. Big windows, fun handling, revvy engine, but also not the most refined thing. Commendably reliable aside from 3rd gear synchros on the manuals. This one’s the buy, I’d just invest in some aftermarket soundproofing and quiet tires.

      A friend recently bought an ’06 9-3 Aero with the turbo 2.8L+stick as a commuter to keep miles off his newer car. 110k miles, after a brief honeymoon period he’s now dealing with optical bus issues and an injector issue. But the motors are fundamentally sound. And they are fantastic highway mile eaters with satisfying roll-on power on tap. Drive.

      The GLI represents the worst of the early implementations of VW’s 2.0T. DI-related carbon build up, fast wearing cam followers, oil burning issues. Just a real piece of crap IMO. This one gets burned.

      Why the auto transmissions Corey? What a spoil sport for this category. I’d be tempted to change my answer to buy the Saab since the Acura would be so gutless with the auto.

    • 0 avatar
      ernest

      +1

    • 0 avatar
      road_pizza

      Was going to post this :) .

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Buy the 9-3. – like the boosted mill but worried about long-term reliability. Also wagon.

    Drive the TSX – will be boring but dependable, provided the glass transmissions were fixed by then.

    Burn the Jetta. I’ve had an interest in these cars, but the performance, to put it frankly, is underwhelming. Not that any of these cars are going to burn the road down.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    saab by a football field

    the rest we burn.

  • avatar
    Dan

    Buy the Acura. Hondas last forever and this one’s a clean enough design that it’s aged pretty well.

    Drive the Saab. It already looks like something from 20 years ago and wasn’t cool even then but at least it has torque.

    The VW has probably already burned itself.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    Boy this is one of the easiest ones ever, being I nearly bought one, bought the hatch version of the other, and have seat time in the 3rd.

    Buy Acura. This was a fun car. Just enough lux. Back when Hondas were good and lasted forever. Though maybe the auto would ruin this car…

    Drive the VW. If it is anything like the MKV GTI I bought, it would do everything well. I didn’t keep mine more than a few years, so I had few problems, but I loved that car.

    Burn Saab. Bah. What does it offer worth buying or driving? Overpriced dead brand walking.

    • 0 avatar
      93vert

      LOL..I doubt you ever even SAT in a Saab. If you really knew how these cars were built and the logic behind every detail, you would ditch all other cars in a heartbeat.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Buy the pre-beak Acura.
    Drive the Saab.
    Burn the VW. Twice.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Buy the Acura.
    Drive the VW.
    Burn that GM’d Saab to the ground.

  • avatar
    TR4

    “By they way, they all have automatic transmissions.”

    Burn all of them!

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Honestly, I’m inclined to agree. What better way to totally ruin any interest in any of these nominally sporting vehicles than removing the one thing that makes all of them interesting to begin with?

    • 0 avatar
      IBx1

      Hear hear.

    • 0 avatar
      Astigmatism

      I’ve never driven that generation 9-3 with a stick, but my experience with the prior-gen manual was not encouraging – it was a rubbery mess that I felt had to be mashed into gear to find any purchase. Was this one notably better than the others?

  • avatar
    IBx1

    Buy the TSX: it has the K24A2 I swapped into my EP3 Civic Si and it’s an addictive and robust engine. They still look sharp today and few people make a gearbox better than Honda.

    Drive the Saab, I hear the power delivery is interesting.

    Burn the VW.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Buy the Acura, if for no other reason than to own the watermark of Honda design. DWB, great almost Italian looks. Would definitely need some go fast parts as 200HP in 3300-3400lb just doesn’t cut it… but the K24A2 takes to mods like a fish to water and has robust aftermarket support.

    Drive the Saab just to experience the torque and quirkiness. Bonus points if wagon (not really. I had a brown Focus diesel wagon in France last fall… drove exactly like a sedan).

    Burn the VW the same way an MKV GTI burned a good friend of mine with problems.

    My non-sanctioned pick would probably be a stripper E90 325i. Same 3.0L, with bolt ons it would get back up to 330i spec no problem.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      “Buy the Acura, if for no other reason than to own the watermark of Honda design. DWB, great almost Italian looks”

      Agreed. I always thought this generation of Accord/TSX looked Alfa-Romeo-esque, especially from the rear three-quarter view.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    This one will be a landslide more than usual.

    Why would you buy the Saab or VW? Irony?

    A work friend has a 2004 TSX and, while she has tried her hardest, she has thus far failed to totally destroy it. It drives nicely despite the bumps and bruises she’s applied to it and the interior is still in really good shape.

    I’d pick the Saab to drive since I don’t hate Saab. I almost bought a lightly used 2009 9-3 Aero wagon a few years ago. I probably dodged a bullet by not doing so.

    This generation of VW, along with every single generation of VW ever, was touted by VW fans as having addressed all the problems of the previous generations and was nearly bulletproof. Someone else can spend their time or money on it, I’ll burn it.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Buy the Acura, because duh. The other two, drive until something glitches or breaks, then burn. They’re both frangible Eurojunk.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Buy the last truly good Acura.

    Drive the VW.

    Burn the Saab.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    Buy the Acura – fanboys having Integra withdraw will want it someday.

    Drive the VW – VW german handling

    Burn the Saab… Saab died shortly after the GM takeover

  • avatar
    cheezman88

    I had a black ext/tan int 2004 TSX with the 6-spd manual. I loved that car; it looked modern and had good build quality, even to today; the shifter was solid and buttery; the engine was revvy (although pretty lackluster in the torque dept.). The reason why I sold it was because a lot of owners were having their A/C’s imploding on itself without warning, which lead to $4000 repairs. Acura didn’t admit it until years later when they lost a class action law suit. I didn’t want to risk it and sold it. But there were also other issues, like a suspension creak I couldn’t quite figure out, and the engine always sounded like it slammed against he firewall or something when you do a higher rev shift.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I don’t have to buy the 2006 TSX, because we still have the one we bought brand new in 2006. It was and is a terrific car, except for the poor sound isolation others have noted. Definitely choose tires carefully to keep road noise down. Reliability and durability have been great. Still a terrific driving car.

    Stay away from the Saab and VW, which probably isn’t hard to do as many have already been scrapped.

  • avatar
    jh26036

    Buy the Acura.

    Drive the VW (though I rather drive the Acura 6MT).

    Burn the Saab.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Ok pretty easy on this one

    Buy The Acura- plenty of years of trouble free motoring with some luxury bits and pieces, still look good today.

    Drive the Saab – Well because I own this car in a vert ( w a stick), but choices, wagon, check sedan check, convertible check, best seats, safest in a crash.

    Burn the VW- first year no thanks, do not really love the style of it and no wagon in GLI guise.

    so Corey if we ask for cars w a stick , that almost nobody buys w a stick we will give us that , interesting

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Burn em’ all. Four doors is not “sporty.” 2-2/2 doors would work, as long as the latches are hidden. (Yes, there is a way to keep the shorter front doors and still be a “coupé.” Four obvious doors with a slightly swoopy roofline is not it.

    • 0 avatar

      Play by the rules or don’t play. We’ve had three BDB entries on coupes, and you didn’t comment on any of them. Then you come to the sedan ones and comment about coupes. Enough.

      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2018/02/buy-drive-burn-burn-a-45000-rear-drive-coupe/
      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2017/12/buy-drive-burn-three-luxury-coupes-to-deplete-the-wallet/
      https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2018/01/buy-drive-burn-selecting-malaise-coupe-1980/

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        “We’ve had three BDB entries on coupes, and you didn’t comment on any of them.”

        You did? When? Was that when I wasn’t receiving ANY emails from you at all and didn’t even know they’d been posted? (I had to complain to the higher-level site that I couldn’t get any new posts or followups–a problem that has since been fixed.) Now, if you were to re-post them…

        I am going to make noise, however. People from the OEMs do pay attention to this and other forums; this has been proven by the fact that we’re seeing more movement towards long ‘dead’ automotive types such as smaller pickups. In this particular posting, if I receive no more responses, I will probably not comment again. That’s the way I work.

        • 0 avatar

          The site was broken for one of those out of the three, yep. Multiple issues which IT took a long time to fix – several emails.

          But old articles from a month period of time where the site was broken won’t be reposted.

          “People from the OEMs do pay attention to this and other forums; this has been proven by the fact that we’re seeing more movement towards long ‘dead’ automotive types such as smaller pickups.”

          That is a spurious correlation.

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            “That is a spurious correlation.”

            Perhaps. But if so, what inspired Hyundai to prototype the Santa Cruz?

  • avatar

    I bought a 2006 TSX with the 6 speed manual and navigation system new in March 2006. It is still my daily driver. When the time comes to replace it, I struggle with what to replace it with. Anything with a stick that is reliable for the long term (10 years or more) is small and noisy.

    The TSX has been a great car and still looks good. It drives well, but has started burning oil. I have to add a quart every 3 months or so. One of the dome lights no longer comes on with the door, despite the bulb being okay. Lastly, the stereo’s volume knob doesn’t always work properly.

    Overall, I would buy another Honda / Acura but there aren’t many manuals available anymore. I’ll probably end up with a Mazda 3 or 6 with a stick, or if I get an automatic, something big and comfy like an Impala.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Try the door jam switches for the light problem; the switches on my S2000 stuck until I disassembled and addressed with some sandpaper and WD40.

    • 0 avatar
      Lampredotto

      I also have an ’06 TSX with a 6MT and am facing a similar conundrum. Mechanically it’s in fine shape, but I’m seeing some early signs of body corrosion. Nothing I can’t nip in the bud in the short term, but once the tinworm gets its foot in the door, it’s a tough guest to evict.

      So the time will come when I do need to replace it, but I’m kind of at a loss as to what would match the TSX’s combination of reliability, luxury, performance, and manual availability. Acura won’t sell you a manual at any price. You can get an Accord with a six-speed or leather, but not both. And good luck finding a manual to test drive.

      At this point my best bet may be a lightly used 4th-gen Acura TL, but those suffer from The Beak and are vanishingly hard to find with a manual.

    • 0 avatar
      nlinesk8s

      A quart every 3 months? That’s still worlds better than a “modern” direct-injection engine…

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Drive the EU cars till they die, burn the Acura then drive it after the Saab and VW succumb, the Acura will keep ticking.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: The Saab-it’s a nice driver with lots of torque and great seats. The reliability is actually ok.
    Drive: The Acura-the last of the simpler, cleanly styled without the ugly beak Acura’s. The Euro market Accord. I know there were automatic transmission issues with Honda’s of this era but I think it was just the Odyssey, Accord, TL and CL.
    Burn: The VW. A GTI sedan ought to be a cool thing but the subpar reliability torches it.

    • 0 avatar
      S2k Chris

      Honda really only had problems with the V6-AT combo, the 4cyl drovetrains are pretty bullet proof except for the AC compressor.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Yes I heard about the ac systems prematurely failing.
        I have a friend whose family had a 2003 Odyssey that blew its transmission. A replacement was covered under warranty.
        I’ve looked at a couple of Acura CL’s that had bad transmissions or replacements.

        • 0 avatar
          gtem

          I think Honda AC compressors of that era are suspect across the board. My ’03 Pilot had its entire system replaced a year before it came into my possession. The way they fail sends shards of metal throughout the system, contaminating it and more often than not necessitating replacement of all of the components of the system.

          • 0 avatar
            redmondjp

            I don’t know – maybe we just got lucky with our 2001 Odyssey, that still has the original A/C compressor still working at 245K miles (with one high-pressure hose replacement and a few freon top-offs).

            I was worried about the compressor grenading – it’s even more expensive in the Odyssey vs. a sedan because of the second evaporator in the rear which can become clogged with contamination.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    I had 2/3 of these. I drove a 2004 TSX that’s bought new for 3 years and 63k miles (moved around a lot with the military). Great car, but it was low on power and I was always ticked I didn’t get the features from the updated 2005 (Bluetooth, XM, power passenger seat, mirror defrosters). The uptick of 5HP in 2006 was more like 15hp because it coincided with the SAE change where the old one would’ve been rated around 190hp.

    My wife drove a 2008 Jetta 2.5L, and for where we were in that stage of life at the time it was great. She drove it for about 7 years and 115k miles? She totaled it hitting a deer and got almost $8k for it, about 35% of what we paid. Pretty good. It was a PITA to work on, but honesty had very few real flaws. It ate climate control resistors ($75 easily replaceable part IIRC) and had a bad part in the automatic trans replaced at 75k under an extended warranty for that part because it was a known flaw. And it ate head and taillight bulbs inexplicably but they were cheap and easy to replace. It did have that good hefty German road feel lacking in Japanese cars.

    Honestly I’d take either one back, no complaints. Both would be every bit as good a DD as my current 2011 TSX.

  • avatar
    toplessFC3Sman

    My calculus in early 2008 was very similar to this, and I ended up with a 2006 9-3 with 20k miles for $15k at the time. Just about loaded except for the manual trans and 2.0T engine, which I specifically preferred over the V6. The pre-2007 2.0T seems like it has less issues based on forum posts, is plenty torquey from 2000 RPM up, and the front end felt lighter & more playful than the V6. Also, this engine was considerably lighter, coming in around 3200 lbs vs ~3500 for the V6 & ~3800 – 4000 for the later AWD & V6 variants. The TSX with a manual trans was harder to find and more expensive in the used market at the time, and I wasn’t really interested in the Jetta because VW left a bad taste in my mouth after helping a friend work on his Mk4 Jetta.

    Anyhow, mine has been completely reliable through now, never leaving me stranded and requiring only minor maintenance (outside of the dual-mass flywheel & clutch that was damaged by an aftermarket tune – +40 hp & 70 lb-ft). I’ve tracked it a number of times and its held up well despite being a bit under-braked for repeated 120+ mph stops (although I think most cars in this category would be), and surprised a number of Boxster & WRX owners.

    Mine is now at about 215k miles & going strong. Factoring in initial purchase price, fuel, tires, insurance, registration & maintenance (including stuff to prep for those track days, the tune etc), it has cost just under 32 cents/mile to drive up until this point, while the continuing operating costs including maintenance etc is just under 24 cents/mile. I plan on driving the car for at least another few years, unless something radically changes or the RWD bug bites harder.

    Anecdotally, I’ve had experience with my own car, my sister-in-law’s 2006 wagon, my father-in-laws 2009 sedan (both of which I convinced them to get), and a co-workers pretty beat 2005 sedan. All were the 2.0T although mine is the only manual, and they all have been reliable except my co-workers, which had a battery drain issue that would cause a recurring no-start. Since many of the mechanical parts are shared with GM vehicles, they have been easy & pretty cheap to keep running.

    So, as far as Buy/Drive/Burn, I’d have no long-term qualms about owning either the TSX or the 9-3, but if we’re stuck with an automatic trans then I think the 9-3 would be the definite winner for driving since the turbo engine and torque-converter automatic still make for an interesting combo, but they depreciated heavily from the dealer (which is why they were such good used bargains, especially with the sale of Saab & bankruptcy issues from 2008 onwards). Probably would buy the TSX and keep it tucked away since I think it’ll have the best resale, and burn the VW

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Buy the TSX, drive the Jetta GLI, burn the 9-3.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I’m a very big TSX fan. Obviously, as many have stated, a manual is preferred in this and the others. That being said:

    Buy the TSX. Excellent styling, sharp driving character, Honda reliability.

    Drive the VW, I can experience the fun part without dealing with the not-fun part of frequent repair bills.

    Burn the Saab.

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    ‘By they way, they all have automatic transmissions.’
    Burn Corey…drive or buy none of them….

    Nah, I guess the Saab wouldn’t be much worse with the auto, but this was an evil challenge to begin with…

    • 0 avatar

      Not my suggestion for a challenge!

      And if you have any trios to suggest, have at it.

      • 0 avatar
        Zykotec

        Sorry. Burn Brian E. then ;)
        I’ll try to think of something that would be relevant for you guys over in the new world.

        I guess I should also give a better answer while I’m at it.

        Buy the Acura/Honda, offcourse.

        Drive the Saab, these guys once knew Turbos, even if this 9-3 was a Opel Vectra with some lipstick on it, the seats are nice, and even if the engine isn’t as good as the by then finally retired Saab 9000 engine it’s still a powerhouse in a straight line.

        Burn that last incredibly bland thing whose name I refuse to even write. it’s probably as exciting to you Americans as a Civic sedan would be over here, but still, bleh…

        • 0 avatar
          Zykotec

          I could maybe suggest a late 80s choice of Turbo coupes?
          Dodge Daytona Turbo Z, Saab 900 Turbo (t16) , or Merkur Xr4Ti? With a manual transmission if that was available in the US at the time?

  • avatar
    PasadenaYellow

    This is funny to see because I’ve very recently been thinking seriously about options for my next daily.

    One option is to save a boatload of cash (compared with other, all much newer alternatives) and pick up a 1st Gen TSX. I’ve driven my son’s 2007 on many occasions, and even with a slush box, it’s fast and fun enough for DD duties – at least around town; it suffers just a tad speed-wise on the freeway but is not bad. It’s been super reliable, and still looks great, inside and out. I think it could easily go 300K with some care and feeding. Also, as others have noted, there’s a dash of Alfa Romeo especially in the real 3/4 view. Just a classic design, and a great car. Picking one up for less than $10K, which is very easy to do just seems like a savvy financial move that won’t cost me much in the fun sweepstakes (especially if I find a nice manual).

    Another option at the, ahem, other end of the spectrum is to lease a new Giulia on the theory that you only live once. But I gotta say – after reading the forums and whatnot (both forums; not just the Giulia forums), it seems the odds of having a relatively problem-free experience may be much, much better with a decade-old TSX than they are with a brand-new Giulia. Issues like non-working dome lights and even failed A/C compressors pale in comparison to the significant and disabling sorts of issues Giulias continue to experience at a seemingly high clip.

  • avatar
    denvertsxer

    I still love to DRIVE (and look at) the TSX I chose to BUY new in 2006, and have yet to be BURNed by any repairs. I think occasionally about selling it, but there’s just really nothing else I want, including any new Acura — though they are showing some improvements, in my mind. At this point, my TSX may well outlast me.

    Back on topic, I’d drive the 9-3 and burn the Jetta (assuming it hadn’t already self-combusted).

  • avatar
    Nedmundo

    I say buy the TSX, drive the Saab, and burn the Jetta. This is based on somewhat relevant experience, because my last three cars are close relatives of these, specifically a 2010 TSX, 2001 Saab 9-5 Aero, and 1995 VW Jetta GLX VR6, all with manual transmissions.

    In 2.0T (or Aero) trim, those Saabs were great driver’s cars. The handling was outstanding for FWD, and virtually no cars made today have such great steering feel. The main problem was poor reliability, as I think those 9-3s were even worse than my 9-5, which had more than its fair share of issues. But it was still better than the Jetta. A least our Saab was still rock solid after 135,000 miles, while our Jetta was disintegrating after 90k.

  • avatar
    Farhad

    Buy the Acura; it’s reliable and has some resale value.

    Drive the Saab; the last Saab I’ll ever drive?

    Burn the Jetta; small, and better replacements available.

  • avatar
    brn

    Seems terribly random.

  • avatar
    statikboy

    If you’re going to keep stipulating automatic only, I’m going to keep not playing.

  • avatar
    cpthaddock

    Today’s Buy Drive Burn provides an great opportunity to critique the three brands via these cars.

    Saab – burn, burn, burn in hell … because that’s what GM would do to itself only a few years later, having savaged every morsel of life from the poor rotting corpse of Saab. This is no Saab, so Saab fans cheeks should be free from tears. Personally, I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive GM for what they did to Saab.

    Jetta – another one to burn, because it highlights everything that was wrong with VW, with their overpricing strategy and fully up themselves terrible warranty, as well as everything that was wrong with US buyers for preferring this homely duckling to the Golf it was derived from.

    Acura TSX – buy. A very nice little car all round that could have been great if it had a bit more motivation. Like the Jetta, this tells you a lot about the state of the US car market and buyers – it’s good looks were hiding none of the nice surprises buyers in this segment hoped for.

    At this very same time, Volvo had released the S40 which could be had with their venerable 5 cylinder turbocharged engine as well as 3 pedals!!! It’s 215HP and 240lb of torque made it surprisingly fast and very entertaining to drive, if a tad squirelly off the line under heavy right foot. This is the one you’d really want to drive, as owners found themselves less that thrilled with reliability and resale was a bit too sad to make a smart purchase.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    This is an easy one for me.

    Buy the TSX. I liked the looks from the moment I saw one, I liked the drive from the moment I left the dealer lot in one, and I expect it to be as reliable as anything. It’s conceivable that one of these with a manual could be my next car.

    Drive the Saab. An interesting, attractive car that I’ve never driven.

    Burn the Jetta. I don’t mind the looks of these now, but when they came out I thought they were ugly because I greatly preferred the previous generation.

  • avatar
    Ermel

    Buy the Saab. Upcoming classic, plenty of go, and part of the reason they don’t exist anymore was that they insisted on changing almost everything on the GM platforms they were given, which is always a good sign.

    Drive the VW. They can be huge fun, but I wouldn’t want to have to pay for everything that can go wrong with them — my Mk2 GTI 16V was bad enough in that respect, and this Mk5 is certainly worse once it ages.

    Burn the Acura, because yawn.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “Upcoming classic”

      Uh, really? Something like a clean 9000, especially in Aero trim sure. But aside from a stik shift V6 Aero in a rare color, I can’t see the newer GM-based 9-3s going up in value any time soon.

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    Burn all three sedans to the ground. 2005s and later represent the early stages of corporate cost-cutting. Acquire a pre-2005 model of your choice and have it resto-modded.

  • avatar
    WallMeerkat

    Went to look at an Accord (the European version which the TSX was rebadged from), seller said in advert “definitely no check engine lights!”. Turned up, the dashboard was lit like the Enterprise. “Oh I know someone can turn the check engine light off!”. No dice. To get a CEL in the first place on a Honda it must be catastrophic!

    Bought a 9-3 automatic. 1.8T, really a 2 litre but only 150bhp. Linear spec, which meant a crappy 4 speaker radio and not many toys. Nice car though, relaxing and did everything I needed of it.

    Had no interest in this era Jetta, the ricers/boy racers love them. Ended up with a Skoda Octavia, similar but with a fastback hatchback.

    Of the 3 cars, none are available in Europe anymore (Accord, Jetta and of course Saab went to the wall)

  • avatar
    MyerShift

    BUY: The Acura. Aside from the issues with Honda’s 6-speed manuals (like spitting the lever out of third gear while shifting so you rev like an idiot in traffic a la my ’08 Civic SI), it should be the most trouble-free of these three and it has the crispest styling.

    DRIVE: The SAAB. The most unique car here even accounting for all of GM’s stupidity with the marque. Will probably be the rarest in the future. Classic midsize Euro style, but not classic SAAB. Neatest features.

    BURN: The Volkswagen. Probably the least attractive styling, horrid reliability and durability of electronic AND mechanical components. After my stint in a NEW 2008 Golf V (Rabbit a la North America), never ever again unless I was rich.

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