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I Need Your Wagon Suggestion


So my name might be ‘volkswagenguy’, but I’m here to get the most unbiased feedback from a community of car enthusiasts that I can.

I need a new wagon. We are a young family with two dogs, a kid on the way, a bustling restaurant and business and we need a wagon to haul our lives around, and we refuse to get a SUV.

Ideally, we would like the following:

(Not in any particular order)

1. Lots of cargo room.

2. Fuel efficient- even green?

3. SAFE but sporty.

4. Manual transmission.

5. Good in inclement weather.

6. Fun to drive.

7. Well designed & built.

Therefore, my consideratios are:

2009 Volkswagen Jetta ‘Sportwagen’ TDI

2003-2008 Audi A4 Avant

2004-2008 Subaru Legacy Wagon

2003-2008 BMW 325xti

What are your thoughts, suggestions? Thanks!

We do love German engineering, but I’m open to other ideas.

Honda Element, Scion Xb will fill the bill…you can LOVE German engineering which is pretty much the same as everyone else (excpt BMW)

By far, the best handling vehicle, built, economical, and value for the money is a Subaru…hands down. It lacks the room, as all wagons will to an SUV. Sorry it just doesn’t have that German engineering to cause reliability problems.

The very best to fit your requirements/money no object, is a Highlander/lexus Hybrid. Sorry they are called suvs but in reality they are a big Camry.

All opinionated to spend someone elses money…

I haven’t heard good things about the long term price of diesel as it tends to follow the money and it’s in such demand in Europe where they have lowered the road tax to make it preferable to gas…so we may be stuck with gas …

Is the 5-Series out of range?

How big are the dogs?
I’ll suggest the Mazda 3 or even the Speed3 5 door, the Toyota Matrix twin, the Pontiac Vibe

Are TDI’s being sold again or are they just talking about selling them…

How about a Buick Estate Wagon with the LT-1 engine package…You could buy six of them for the price of one of the cars you mentioned…

5 Series is a little spendy for us. I’m hoping to stay below 32K. And best case scenario- if we can find something used that fits the bill, then we’re set.

Dogs are…big. A Rhodesian Ridgeback & a Mastiff. I just sold my Toyota truck which was great (for the dogs), but horrible for me (gas, insurance & payments!).

TDI’s are back. VW has released a bunch of TDI Sedans and a handful ‘Sportwagens’.

Considering the fact that you are hauling around a fair amount of dogs -you need big which will not equate with fuel economy- don’t worry though -gas costs are coming down. You simply can’t fit your family and the wildlife into any of the vehicles you have selected without stuffing someone into the thule carrier. My first choice with be a Buick Roadmaster Estate wagon. If you must go foreign look at a volvo Cross Country-it’s a wagon-safe and I think you may be bale to get a manual. Imagine three people and two huge dogs stuffed in a VW Jetta-it’s not a pleasant vehicular vision

Buy this car for what the taxes and plates on a new BeeMer would cost…You can buy a lot of gasoline with $20,000 …

FossilFuel suggested a Volvo Cross Country, which I was going to suggest except that it’s a 6-speed AUT with all wheel drive. That aside, it’s solid, versatile, well behaved, safe, roomy, and comfortable. If you aren’t looking for all wheel drive you can think about the V70 front wheel drive, which gets significantly better gas mileage and is at or below your target $32K.

I wouldn’t go diesel right now unless you just desperately WANT diesel and you plan to lease and give the car back at the end. Otherwise there’s some risk there.

As far as “German engineering,” all of your choices are well engineered cars.

I would take a hard look at the new Ford Flex; it’s a long square box on wheels with tons of room and it handles like a car. Qulity is repaortedly good and with the smallest engine fuel economy is not bad.

If you eant losts of space Chrysler sells aMeercedes van with a disel engine; this is the type used as hotel shuttle vehicles.

I was in the same situation (well, 1 dog but kid already present and sick of the old SUV) last year and did a lot of research. Here are a couple of pointers:

  1. You can’t really go wrong with any of your choices above. All great cars!
  2. In addition and if you’s like to go sporty Japanese the Scion xB is something you should test drive. I also personally looked into the Mazda5 last year (available as a zippy stick). I am in love with it. It’s a hip, Europ-syle “minivan” that is hip and practical. I decided against it because of the lakc of refinement (bought a used 5-series wagon instead)
  3. I know a couple who has 2 massive dogs (no kid though) and they are hauling them around in a Jetta Wagon. Works perfectly
  4. I know another couple who just bought the TDI Wagon and says they get 40+ MPG on it. I have personaly driven lots of TDI VWs when on biz trips to Europe and they are phenomenal cars (especially the sticks). The trunk is very spacious.
  5. Reliability is an issue with German cars. I’d get a subscription to and check it on a year-by-year basis. When I bought my 5-series I found that the most reliable years were 2002 and 2003. Everything before and after that can be spotty. The Jetta is going to be extremely reliable. VW’s spotty record in the US is only with things that the Europeans wouldn’t dream about ordering (like automatic, V6, AWD, etc.). A straightforward TDI FWD will be rock solid as it’s their most sold configuration in Europe and is actually built there (as opposed to Mexico).
  6. I know a guy with a 1999 A4 wagon who has also been trouble-free.
  7. A used 5-series is well within your budget. A 2003 5-series wagon like I own it would be around 16 or 17K now. One word of caution: The BMWs sacrifice space for styling. I’d personally think that the 3-series is too small for your purposes.
  8. Another friend of mine (I am apparently in a wagon-friendly circle) owns a Subaru Outback and says it’s the best car he ever bought.

What it comes down to is test-driving it and feeling out the space. Now that you have a list of 5-10 potential cars you should test drive each and every one and pick what you like. I test drove them across the board a year ago: The Outback, the 5-series, the 3-series, the A6, the A4, the Mazda 6, the Mazda 5, the Highlander, the Sienna, the Odyssey, the E-Class wagon, the C-Class wagon, even the Lexus RX350. You’ll know which one is right for you when you drive it.

How has your ‘Bimmer’ been? One of the rides I have been looking at is a used 2006 325- see it here:

I feel like this has to be a comparable size to the Jetta Sportwagen. I do like the Mazdas too- but they seem harder to find in a stick. The idea of all wheel drive is appealing, but not necessary. I also worry about buying a used German car without a warranty.

Test driving Sportwagen and Highlander later today.

Thanks to all,

I had quite f few thoughts about your post. Let me just ramble a bit here.

The Bimmer 5-series (2003) has been fantastic in the past year. After all, that generation of the 5 (previous to the current) to this date is the HIGHEST SCORING car of all times in 60+ years of consumer reports road tests. And the 2001, 2002 and 2003 models have above average reliability. And as I am sort of a mix between car enthusiast and sensible consumer reports type of guy I was happy to find a car that satisfied both sides. So last year I spent 18K on a 50K mile used 525i with premium package, leather, wood trim, etc. It was a lease return which means the previous owner has been BMW. You should expect to invest 2-3K per year into maintenance and repairs (mine needed brakes, one hose and the 60K mile tune-up). Gas mileage averages around 21 MPG (17 city, 30+ on the freeway).

I have thought about this a bit today and I think with 2 dogs and a kid the 3 series wagon is going to be a challenge for you size-wise. I even remember renting an A4 wagon last year when I took my wife and our 1-year old to Europe. The trunk was hardly big enough for our gear (stroller, suitcases, laptop bags, etc.).

Where would you keep your dogs? In the trunk? You need to make sure that they have enough space there and with the 3-series roofline sort of going down in a triangular fashion to the trunk, headroom may be limited. That’s even the case with the 5-series (I mentioned style vs. space - much better in the A6 or E-Class but those suck reliability-wise).

The Highlander is a nice car (essentially a Camry wagon). If your taste is European you may find it a bit “numb” but very comfy. But the fact that you favor a wagon indicates that 2 things are important to you that a Crossover does not provide to the fullest:

  1. It really has to drive like a car. While the Highlanders and Flexes etc. come close it’s just not quite the same. Rules those out (at least for me).

  2. You want some bang for your buck. The SUV/crossover style gives you the least space and ride quality for your money. I went to a Toyota dealer last year and test drove a Highlander. I really liked it. Perfect size for 1 kid and a dog. Then I walked by a Sienna minivan. Same price, MUCH more space, even a better ride. Then again it is ridiculously big if you only have 1 kid and don’t drive other people around regularly. But it makes you think: Why do I have to pay the same for a smaller car just because it is supposedly “cooler”. And why can’t they just make that humongous van a little smaller and charge less for it? Which is why I sort of suggested the Mazda 5 with a stick as an interesting alternative. It has all the bang for your buck advantages of a minivan without being so ridiculously big. Objectively the minivan gives you the most space and best ride for your money. The wagon comes in second but the ride is even more car-like and if you like to drive that matters (that’s why I bought the 5-series wagon and not the Highlander).

Do you go on long trips? Around town those smaller wagons may be sufficient for the dogs. How often do you take them in the car anyway? Before our dog passed away this year we would take her everywhere and on long, week-long road trips so that is my point of reference.

The Jetta’s trunk is surprisingly big compared to the A4 and 3-series. It also matters if you need the car immediately. The friends of mine who ordered the Sportwagen with a stick had to wait a couple of months because of high demand.

Note: The did not make 5-series wagons between 2004 and 2006. I understand that the newer ones are not quite as reliable and only come with AWD but you may get a good deal for a 2006/2007 certified pre-owned, given the state of our economy. BMW takes quite an earnings hit because their lease returns don’t sell for as much as they used to. That can be your advantage! And overall the Bimmers have a relatively low cost of ownership because they still hold their value better than other brands. For years, the 3-series was one of’s best bets for “lowest cost of ownership” because of its high resale value that compensates for higher maintenance cost etc.

Hope that was not too much rambling.

Ok, Youngtimer.

Just drove the Jetta Sportwagen. I think I’m in love.
HUGE cargo area, ample backseat (not great, but good). Comfy, sporty,
lots of low end torque (fun in the bends), and it is CLEAN DIESEL!

I like. Also drove the Highlander today- no way. Just,…no.
The last car I’m looking at is a 2006 A4 Avant, and finally that 325 I mentioned,
above. But so far, they will all have to compete with the hauling room of the
Sportwagen. Amazing- 60 cub. feet with seats down!

I thought you would be. between having driven the Golf TDI in Europe this fall (being impressed by the engine, torque, …) and taking a look at my friend’s new Sportwagen TDI just 2 weekends ago (and being impressed with its HUGE cargo area) and knowing that my other friends and their 2 massive labs have been happy with their Jetta wagon for 5 years now I think that will be an excellent choice.

Add to that that the Jetta to my knowledge costs only around 23K new and that you can get a $1000+ tax credit (!!!) for it I don’t think that the A4 or the 325 are going to do it for you.

Please let us know. I’m really eager to find out what your final decision will be and how happy you end up being with your choice.

The Highlander is a nice car but I sort of had the same reaction as you did. Just too bland.

Does your dealer have a TDI Sportwagen in stock? My friends had to wait for months.

The terms “diesel” and “sporty” are mutually exclusive. Try the 2.0L Turbo gasser with the DSG. It’s even better than the manual.

“The terms “diesel” and “sporty” are mutually exclusive.”

Really? What about the Audi R10? What about the BMW 335d and X5 xDrive35d?