New ride time, Which wagon? (OT)


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Social climber
Joshua Tree
Topic Author's Original Post - Dec 29, 2011 - 01:50pm PT
Alright, so the tranny is starting to slip on the ol Sable in cold weather, which is common on these A4xN Ford trannies, basically they were good for about 100k-140k before they crap out. It would cost more to rebuild it than I have in the car, and other things are due for, battery, etc.

So, looks like a new (used) ride is in the near future. Primary considerations:

1. Can bivy in the back with minimal hassle
2. Reliability (specifically the auto tranny,because sticks suck in traffic and I live in SoCal)

Looking to keep it under, say $12k. Which gives me some options. So let's hear your input. BTW, no Saabs...shitty ECUs that cost an arm and a leg to replace, seen 4 different 9-5s with shot ECUS under 70k. Also, no BMWs, the vanos variable valve timing units have notorious seal issues, so we're talking 2000-2006

Jetta (1.8T or 3.2 V6)
Passat(1.8T or 3.2)
Volvo V70
MB E320
MB C230/240
Saturn LW300
Subaru Legacy or Outback 2.5, 3.0
Audi A4/A6


Trad climber
Pebble Wrestling.... Badly lately.
Dec 29, 2011 - 01:53pm PT
Outback with the 2.5 liter turbo would be the choice for me. After all, you don't want to be one of those subie drivers that everyone complains always drives too slow.
scuffy b

heading slowly NNW
Dec 29, 2011 - 01:55pm PT
A friend had an Audi A6, described as a money pit.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Dec 29, 2011 - 02:57pm PT
the VAG 1.8T is an "interference engine" which means that if the timing belt slips, you trash the entire engine... daughter's newBug did that due to incompetent dealer service.

Otherwise, the 2011 Jetta TDI Sportswagen I have gets great mileage and sleeps me in the back without any problems. The automatic trany seems to be an option... (I have manual).

Gym climber
Dec 29, 2011 - 03:09pm PT
For all of those except the Subaru you'd better do your own work. And the Subaru is much the best for clearance, plus good AWD. Not great mileage, though.

Maybe also consider Honda Element (if you don't mind fugly)?


Social climber
Joshua Tree
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 29, 2011 - 03:27pm PT
No Elements, I specify wagons because I want to drive a car, not a truck, van, or SUV. Grew up driving F150s, and driving trucks and suvs suck, they handle like doo doo, are noisy, get bad gas mileage, etc. Clearance isn't a concern, 99% of the places I go you could get any cholo's lowrider in there.

Also not particularly concerned about interferene designs...shit almost every Honda made for decades were interference engines. Those burly Toyota pickups from the 80s with the 22R, one of the most durable engines ever built? Also interference designs...although they did use chains not belts IIRC.

Trad climber
Pebble Wrestling.... Badly lately.
Dec 29, 2011 - 03:30pm PT
A better way to set the element up.

Credit: G_Gnome

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 29, 2011 - 03:36pm PT
I remember looking in one of those Elements one time, and IIRC even with the seats all folded like Gnome's pic, it's STILL too short to sleep in. I was kinda interested in them when they first came out, but the short "sleeping" space killed it for me, same thing with the Mazda 5 microvan, which is otherwise kind of attractive as a climbing rig, but still too short to lay down in.

Trad climber
San Jose, CA
Dec 29, 2011 - 03:43pm PT

Dec 29, 2011 - 03:59pm PT
I'm partial to wagons. Avoid Volvo. I had a bad one.

Subaru is the way to go. Just bought the turbo outback - sweet. My commute subaru is fast approaching 200,000 worry free miles. I have been looking at the Element as a replacement.

Trad climber
San Francisco, Ca
Dec 29, 2011 - 04:06pm PT
Our family rig is an A4. Pricey upkeep and I think too small to sleep in. Fun as he11 to drive though.

Near Boston
Dec 29, 2011 - 04:07pm PT
Look fast...there is no 2012 Element. Subaru is the way to go though!!

Trad climber
Dec 29, 2011 - 04:15pm PT
My experience with a 2000 Jetta with the V6 was great until the odometer hit 110,000 and it was paid off. That is when the coolness of the VW wore off and it was traded in. I did regular oil changes/maintenance but that could not stop the radiator from exploding. The mechanic is a family friend and he gave me the deal to replace it at $800. He said that the VW is great until 100,000. And it was.
I would buy another one but it would have to be brand new with a full warranty. The wife had a Subaru Forester and although we could hear a lot of road noise when we were on the Hwy's it was very reliable and me being 6"3" I could and have slept in it many times just have to go corner to corner. Good Luck!

That Long Black Cloud Is Coming Down
Dec 29, 2011 - 04:15pm PT
My girlfriend's Matrix sleeps two. I'm 6 foot and can sleep stretched out. We've gotten it into some pretty rough trailheads. If you don't particularly need 4WD you might consider it.
Dingus Milktoast

Gym climber
And every fool knows, a dog needs a home, and...
Dec 29, 2011 - 04:20pm PT
Elcap those cars on your list are all pricey from a maintenance standpoint, aren't they? Saturn included, (my wife has own 3 Saturns, they have weird 'only Saturn' parts and are f*#kall to do self maintenance on)?

Aren't there other American wagons on the market?


Trad climber
Bay Area
Dec 29, 2011 - 04:55pm PT
Prius, 2nd Generation: 2005 - 2009.
You can fold down one side of the rear seat and sleep in it unless you're over 6'2
Reliable as tanks: I'm at 150K trouble free miles
Decent in the snow if you replace the OEM piece of crap tires with good all season M/S.
45 - 55 MPG unless you put your boot in it, then 40 MPG.
Cruises easily at any legal speed +10. Donner Summit at 75 mph with 2 aboard.
Room for two full sized people plus all their stuff for a big trip. 4 full sized adults if you don't fold down the rear seat.
Check this forum. About 2 years ago someone posted a simple mod to make sleeping easier on the folded down seats.

Low clearance so if you want rough backroads, not a good idea.

Don't know what you pay for a used one but anything under 75K miles should give your $$ worth.

The only essential options: HID headlamps and Vehicle Stability Control. All the other options are just fluff.

Edit: they also get very good crash ratings. Like any modern car, you crash it seriously and you throw it away. At least you're likely to walk away.

Dec 29, 2011 - 04:58pm PT
The Element has no problems sleeping someone 6ft stretched out. The front seat needs to move up only a couple inches for me. I suspect someone 6'4" would be ok too as the seat can move up quite a bit.

Social climber
Wolf City, Wyoming
Dec 29, 2011 - 05:10pm PT
Jetta Tdi wagon if you can find one in that price range

(35,000 trouble free miles on my saab, in the last year, btw, smarty pants)

Trad climber
Lone Pine
Dec 29, 2011 - 05:12pm PT
Sportwagen' it
Sportwagen' it
Credit: jfailing

A third "Aye" for the VW TDI... Lovin mine so far...

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Topic Author's Reply - Dec 29, 2011 - 05:19pm PT
Dingus, you are right on...but...

I went domestic on this last one, specifically due to cheap, abundant parts (half the fleet cars in America are Ford Taurus, and the Sable is just a Taurus with leather). This was after turning wrenches under a 528iT for a couple years and choking on the prices for parts. But the 4cyl in them, especially with the extra wagon weight, is a dog. So you get the Duratec DOHC V6, which is mated to these shitty transmissions...which ain't cheap. Looking about $2400 for a rebuild/install...I only paid $1650 for the car, put another $500 in parts and a day under the hood right when I bought it.

The Element is ~5'5" from the rear gate to the back of the front seat. About 6' if you slide the seat all the way forward, gets mediocre gas mileage, and drives like a why would you not just go the minivan route and have more room with the same mileage?

Leaning toward the Suby at this point...or just biting the bullet on the tranny rebuild, car only has 120k on it and otherwise is in decent shape aside from cosmetics...and it does get 27-28mpg on the hwy..which is better than the VW 6cyl, if the VW wasn't busy being broken. Since Audi is essentially a VW with some upgrades, and both of them have pricey parts and the worst nameplate reliability of the last decade or more in pubs like Consumer Reports, it was alwasy going to be a stretch for me to buy one.

Mazda 6 is an outside option, but it just doesn't have enough room compared to everything else in the midsize wagon sector.

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