Toyota/Honda/Volvo Loyalist Contemplating Jumping Ship for a VW or Saab

I have been a lifelong devotee of Toyota, Honda, and Volvo. Gave up on Volvos a few years ago when quality and reliability seemed to take a nosedive. I am about to have a teen driver, and I was going to get her a reliable used car (probably a Honda Accord or a Volvo S80, which seem to get good reviews). But then I thought, “Hey! Why does she get the new (to us) car? Why not me?” So I’m thinking of handing down our 2005 Highlander to her (which she’s learning on). It’s super reliable, has many more miles left on it, and is safe. That then got me to thinking about what I want, and I’m actually kind of fancying a Saab 9-5 SportiCombi or a VW Passat wagon or VW Jetta Sport Wagon. I want something fun to drive, a little sexy, but that will also be reliable and safe. To the best of my knowledge, neither Saab nor VW are as reliable as Toyota or Honda, but my impuslive self is giving my practical self a run for its money. Would love to hear what others think about a) who gets the new car, and b) which of the cars I am considering (Accord, Volvo S80, Saab 9-5, the two VWs) people would recommend based on reliability and safety.

The European brands (including Volvo) seem to be less reliable and more expensive to maintain than the Asian and American brands.

How important is that to you?

Highlander is a very reliable vehicle…

Even though the Highlander is based on the Camry platform…I’m NOT a big fan of a new teen driver behind the wheel of an SUV. They do have a tendency to flip more then a lower to the ground car. I would only allow my Daughter to drive my Pathfinder sparingly until she had a few years of experience of driving.

As for your car…Saab?? - You know they’re pulling out of the US market and have filed bankruptcy???

VW…I think you’ll find they are NOT very reliable.

I don’t care for young new drivers learning on any SUV, including the Highlander. The high center of gravity makes for tricky handling. New driver’s find a cars limits by testing them and that can lead to rollovers and spin outs in a poor handling vehicle compared to a car.

Keep the Highlander for yourself, or replace it with whatever you consider “sexy”. Get a decent Honda Civic for your new driver. Saab and VW are worse than average for reliability, frequent repairs, and high cost repairs. Similar with Audi, BMW, and M Benz. Have you looked at the Toyota Venza or Honda Crosstour? These are essentially wagon versions of the Camry and Accord.

Although Honda and Toyota still hold the edge in reliability, the other manufacturers (like Ford and GM), have done a pretty good job of catching up, making the difference in quality insignificant. If you find another brand of Japanese or American make you like, it will probably be reliable enough that you won’t notice a difference. Toyota and Honda have had their own quality problems, and for the most part, you are just as likely to be happy with a Ford or GM product as you are a Honda or a Toyota.

As MikeInNH alluded to, Saab would not be a good choice for a new car at this point, as the company has one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. I would not want to make any bets on Saab’s survival over the long term, and perhaps not even in the short term.

If, as many expect, Saab goes belly-up, getting warranty support–or even parts–could be highly problematic.
I can see the resale value of a newish Saab plunging to a very low point if the company continues on its downward spiral.

Hi, All,

Thanks for the replies. Keep 'em coming.

Noooo…I did NOT know Saab was in its death thralls. Glad I asked! So rule out on that.

As to those who have expressed not being fans of teen drivers learning on or subsequently using SUVs, I generally agree, but it’s what we have. We are a one-car family. This actually raises a point I’ve been mulling. Should I get the other car now vs. waiting so she can learn on the new car that she may ultimately take over?

But I’m also of two minds on putting her into a smaller car. We replaced our Volvo 850 with the Highlander when the kids were younger and so we could fit the dog. Since driving it for so many years, when I am in a smaller vehicle, I feel so vulnerable on the road. I cannot tell you the number of windshields I shattered with my head as a teen (both as driver and passenger) before I wised up and started religiously wearing a seatbelt after a family friend died in an accident. Both my kids are also fastidious about wearing seatbelts. But new drivers have accidents, and part of me feels like I’d rather have my daughter in a larger vehicle than, say, a Civic being met by an SUV. We were at a dead stop when we got rear-ended in the Highlander by a mid-size sedan doing 55 (her fault; not mine). I thought I was going to turn around and find my kids in pieces. $7,000 in rear-end damage, but the worst that happened in the cabin is that the leftover movie candy was flung everywhere. Meanwhile, the other car was totalled.

On European vs. Asian upkeep out-of-pocket, I know the European cars are less reliable generally and more expensive. But after this discussion, ruling out Saab, and knowing I have a beloved mechanic who has never in 25+ years ripped me off and is skilled at working on Volvos, I’m moving closer to getting the Volvo S80. Specifically, Consumer Reports gives (I think…don’t have the list in front of me) the 2007 S80 very high marks for reliability and safety. Anyone have thoughts on that?

On your size vs protection thing, don’t believe the misguided hype. Todays cars have far more protection built in, and even a newer small car will stand up well in an accident with an older, larger car.

I would still steer clear of Volvo’s, but that’s my personal opinion.

Ok to teach teen on an SUV, but once they are driving on their own without adult supervision an SUV is not the ideal vehicle IMO.

What if the SUV has stability management? Won’t that make it harder to roll it?

Maybe considering the high center of gravity, you should buy your daughter a used Accord or Camry, and keep the Highlander for yourself. It’s a little silly to put a new driver in an SUV just because you want to avoid new (used) car envy. If you have to, get a car for the girl that you won’t envy.

The problem with young drivers and SUV’s is when they get into a situation where they have to make a sudden move. An experienced driver might not panic…and drive carefully through the situation…An unexperienced driver may jerk the wheel suddenly…thus causing a roll over. I wasn’t really safe with my Daughter driving the SUV until she was in college…Early on she could take short trips around town…or drive with me with her…

If you don’t mind saving money, you might consider a used Chevy Cobalt LT for your daughter. We have a 2009 and it has been reliable. Of course it has less than 25,000 miles on it, but you can get a 2009 LT with auto, ABS, cruise control, and traction control for about $14,000. An equivalent Honda Civic EX would cost around $17,500. Consider the $3500 you save as an extended warranty. I’ve done that since 1998 on several cars and never spent the difference in repairs. A 2009 Accord EX would be $19,000 vs. $15,600 for the Chevy Malibu LT. You might find good deals on Fords, too.

I personally wouldn’t have any concerns about letting my daughter learn in something like a highlander. There are other cars in (approximately) the same category that I would be a lot more concerned about (something designed for off-road use like a pathfinder or a jeep, for example, is a lot harder to manage), but the highlander seems to be sufficiently stable for a new driver (in my opinion).

Of the four cars that you list as choices (Accord, Volvo S80, Saab 9-5, the two VWs), I would definitely rule out the Saab (for the same reasons as everyone else).

I would probably not pick any of the remaining three if I were in the market right now (there are a lot of other choices that I prefer), but all three of them are pretty reasonable choices if they meet your needs. Limited to just those three I would probably pick the accord.

Some of us suffer from “reliability” complacency. We drive boring, reliable cars and at some point think that a more a esoteric yet enticing make can’t be that bad. So, we consider their purchase, only to be fooled again. SAAB found out that reliability never takes a back seat to “being cool to own.”

BYW “jt”, I appreciate your experience with the well regarded Cobalt and I too support you consider the purchase of a Cobalt (and Ford compacts) over a Civic for the good reasons you give. But, I’m not ready to be a lab rat and assume that SAAB, VW are ready for prime time and support or recommend their purchase.

dagosa, I would not buy or recommend a Saab or VW either. I do have a soft spot for Hondas. As you may recall, my daily driver is a 2005 Accord EX V6. I bought it new, and got a great deal on it - much better than the alternatives. But I’d hesitate to buy a used Honda because of the premium the name commands.

jt…I feel your 2005 Accord EX v6 even costing more than a comparable (if there is such a thing) Malibu would be a better buy, even at a premium price should you choose to sell it. CR has shown over and over that used Accords have better repair records and longer life expectancy than many new cars, let alone another make the same year. That premium price is there for a reason. It’s worth more than many other makes.

My son bought a Fusion, an excellent car, over an Accord for that same “premium price” reason. But, he had to get the v6 to get reasonable performance that the 4 cyl Fusion could not offer. He finds he now may have been better served in the long run with a 4 cyl Accord or Camry, even at the premium price because of the mileage and resale difference.

BTW, I really see nothing that was made by Ford for Chevy (or SAAB or VW for that matter) in 2005 that compared with the overall performance and reliability of an Accord EX v6, even for the higher Accord price. You get what you pay for. You have a very good car…

dagosa, I did not compare the Accord EX V6 to a Chevrolet. The competition was a Buick Lacrosse CXS. Even after GM bucks discounts, a comparably equipped Lacrosse would have been $2000 more. The dealer did not have one with satellite radio and sunroof, but it was still $1000 more. I’ve had such good luck with my 1998 Regal that I didn’t think that reliability was a big issue. Should I have compared an Acura TL to the Buick instead? Maybe, but I considered the Accord EX to be an entry level luxury car, and decided to take advantage of the name “Honda” on it and save some cash.

These days, you can get just as good, if not better, quality from an American-built machine than an Asian or European brand, and usually for a lower price, so you get more bang for the buck. Sure, domestic cars had some quality issues a couple decades ago, but they’ve since become greatly improved, and there are plenty of good choices available. I’ll talk about a couple here. Every police department in America uses American machinery rather than foreign makes, especially the Ford Crown Vic.; it’s a big, heavy car with a low center of gravity, especially if you get the police package with the interceptor engine and the heavy duty suspension with oversize anti-sway bars; they’re quite reliable too, otherwise cops wouldn’t be too inclined to drive them. Of course, the problem with giving such a car to a teenager is that she’s likely to want to “test out” the police interceptor engine. Another good choice is a crossover vehicle, that isn’t too high off the ground but yet not so low as to make a driver feel totally dwarfed by everything else on the road. My parents just recently bought a 2011 Chevy Equinox, with a 4-cylinder engine; I’ve driven it myself, and it feels pretty stable on the road. It’s also very sturdily built, has side-curtain airbags, has plenty of room inside, and is 5-star safety rated. That would probably be a good choice for your daughter, though not necessarily a new one; I’d look for one that was maybe 2 years old, with low miles, from a reputable dealer. I hope this helps. Good Luck.

These days, you can get just as good, if not better, quality from an American-built machine than an Asian or European brand, and usually for a lower price, so you get more bang for the buck

That’s an opinion…NOT supported by facts.

My parents just recently bought a 2011 Chevy Equinox, with a 4-cylinder engine; I’ve driven it myself, and it feels pretty stable on the road. It’s also very sturdily built, has side-curtain airbags, has plenty of room inside, and is 5-star safety rated.

My brothers Escort felt very stable and seemed to be be built very well when he bought it new…7 years later with about 150k miles…it was heading to the junk yard…One miserable and very expensive to maintain vehicle.

When comparing car quality subjectively, it becomes very opinionated and never a winning argument. MikeInNH is right.

You can’t go by how a new car feels.

A new Corolla feels pretty junky compared to a heavier new Chrysler. 10 years and $$$$$$ worth of repairs later, the Chrysler still feels better.

Ford builds ( built) a classic rwd platform that serves a purpose very well in the CV . But for daily use, by the public, it’s quite dated and does not compare well to a roomier Accord or perform as well as a Subaru in winter. Either of those makes though would be a terrible police car or taxi in NY City.

Cops and taxi drvers are poor references for daily public transportation…their car use is so different. Eating donuts in comfort while a car idles for two hours then gunning it to ram a bad guy Is best handled by a body on frame CV. The CV is an outstanding limited use fleet car which the buying public has not seen fit to make a top choice any more.