Which car? Volvo V50 R, Audi A4, Subaru Outback? Other ideas?

I need to get a new car ASAP to drive back and forth from CA to NY to care for my sick parents. I am taking our two very large and aging dogs with me. I am leaving my family and 2002 Legacy. I will probably make the trip a couple of times over the next 6 months.

Need AWD (go to the snow alot) , a VERY low back hatch height (Legacy is only 21" off the ground and 100 lb Labs are hard to pick up) and want heated leather seats. I don’t care about brand name or luxury but I do want to be comfortable. The Legacy has awful seats and is pretty noisy but maybe a new Subaru would be better. I am worried about maintenance and reliability over the long haul but at the same time don’t really love the styling of the new Outbacks, they are pretty big and macho looking. I like the look of the other two but is is foolhardy to go with one of them?

Other ideas? I don’t like any of the crossovers or SUVs that I have looked at. VW and Mazda wagons are cute but don’t have AWD. Time is of the essence as I need to be in NY by mid-June.

Thanks you for your time and suggestions.

Oh, we are paying cash unless it’s 0% financing. We are keeping the Legacy for our son to drive. I don’t really WANT to buy a luxury car but don’t want to be uncomfortable for 3000 miles either.

If you are interested in good fuel economy, the new Outback with the 2.5 liter engine and CVT transmission is rated at 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway, making it the economy champ in that size/class of vehicle. Many owners are reporting better than 30 mpg on long trips. However, if you don’t like the looks of it, that is something that is a personal preferance that nobody can change.

But, I do want to point out that perceptions sometimes alter reality. What you perceive to be “pretty big and macho-looking” is actually a vehicle that is a fraction of an inch shorter than previous Legacies and Outbacks. It is 2 inches wider than your '02 Legacy, in order to provide much-needed additional hip room, and the wheelbase is also longer, with the result that it has about 4 inches more legroom in the rear than your car does.

It is also a bit higher than your car, perhaps lending the appearance of a bigger vehicle. But, if you want to be totally accurate, the fact that the new vehicle is slightly shorter than your car makes the new one not anywhere near as big as you perceive it to be.

The need for a low rear hatch coupled with AWD limits your selection. I think it’s a shame Subaru stopped selling the Legacy wagon, as it would be perfect, assuming the seats have been improved.

Is the Impreza too small?

The Audi and the Volvo are going to be expensive to maintain over time. How long do you plan to keep the car you’re buying?

How about the Cadillac CTS Sport Wagon? It is available with AWD and should make for a comfortable cross-country cruiser. Reliability is questionable, but warranty service should be available just about anywhere, which is not necessarily the case with the others.

I would avoid Volvo and Audi.

A 4 cylinder Subaru, if properly cared for can be reasonably economical to run, but will always cost more than a 2 wheel drive car.

My pick for a comfortable coast to coast run would be a 4 cylinder Camry, Hyundai Sonata, or Ford Fusion. All three cars are reliable have good seats, and are QUIET!!!

The time you spend in snow can be made easy by having high quality winter tires. 95% of Americans who have SUVs really don’t need them.

Unless you have a job as a ski patrol and rescue specialist, I would not bother with AWD and its complexity and extra running cost.

I’ve driven East to West 9 times and the most comfortable and quiet car was my 1980 Oldsmobile Delta 88.

P.S. Sorry, I forgot about your dogs. A Hyundai Elantra Touring (Hatch back) has lots of dog space, is cheap to buy and cheap to run. It’s also quieter than a Subaru.

Dear VDCdriver,
I guess it’s the big bubble butt of the back hatch and those differently colored wrap around thingies around the bottom. The hatch height is about 4" higher than my Legacy. Plus the seats on the Legacy are awful. I came from a '98 Volvo wagon that I totaled in Tahoe in '04, hence the move to AWD. This will be my first new car purchase, all of our others were a couple of years old and I tend to keep my cars until they die. I loved the Volvo but it seemed the quality was WAY down back in '04 so we went with a two year old Subaru. This time b/c of all the back and forth driving I thought it might be good to have a warranty. Mostly I am worried about the Audi or Volvo being a money pit or unreliable. I don’t want to get stuck in Kansas or anything! Not that Kansas isn’t a lovely place…

Have you thought about a dog ramp? That’ll save you lots of lifting!

With the ramp, how about an awd Toyota Venza?

You can’t get over Donner Pass without putting on chains if you don’t have AWD. Our younger son is on the Squaw ski-team so we go almost every weekend. Chains are a nightmare. Like I said, I don’t want an SUV or even a crossover like the Toyota Venza. The new car will permanently replace the Legacy for me so there are the short term needs (CA to NY) several times and the long-term needs back at home. The Impreza is too small. Thank you again for your thoughtful replies.

You are driving back and forth from CA to NY a couple of times over the next 6 months? That’s a 3 - 4 day drive! I’d fly for 4 hours instead. What’s your time worth? Cost of the car, gas, food, hotel, etc.


PS: The Audi A4 with manual transmission would be my choice, but I’d still fly.

I need a car in NY as my folks don’t have one. Plus I have to get the dogs out there too. Alot of thought has gone into this plan and my driving with the dogs seems the best solution.

How about a BMW 328xi wagon? A bit better than Audi on reliability, not as good as a Subaru. May be hard to find.

I test drove the Venza and thought the visibility was poor and didn’t like it very much. I just want an old fashioned wagon. Too bad Toyota stopped making the Camry wagon.

You might give the Forester a look.

Rent a car when you get to NY. Still cheaper than driving, but it’s your time and money.


This discussion is more for me to decide between three cars than to debate flying vs driving.
Anyone have specific info about the vehicles or other car suggestions to make?

Welcome to the wild world of on-line forums. You should expect maybe 50% of the responses to meet your needs, the other 50% will pose related questions, make comments, whatever. It goes with the territory.

By the way, a Forester has more interior room than your '02 Legacy, and the Limited version comes with heated leather seats.

You appear to fit in the 5% of drivers who really need a good AWD vehicle. I did not know you were crossing the mountains through the Donner Pass. Agree, chains are a pain, and an AWD with really good winter tires is as good.

The best combination road car and AWD is the Subaru, and the Legacy Outback is a better highway car than the Forester.

It sounds like you have already made your selection. I belong to a hiking and skiing club and a number of our members have Subarus, since they spend 30+ weekends per year in the mountains.

Not sure if there are any minivans available with AWD now, but that would be a good choice. Low step in height means the dogs might be able to get themselves in, and with the seats out of the way, they’d have plenty of room

Yes, the Sienna is available with AWD. It would be very reliable, but would it be as good as a Subaru?

I think Volvo is offering complete maintenance for 5 years and X miles on new Volvo’s, this includes things like brake pads and tires too. At least that will help you during the initial period when you are making the long coast to coast trips. Volvo seats are usually the best long distance seats out there and that makes the Volvo my choice for the immediate needs.

Volvo’s are expensive to maintain when they get in the 10 year old range. But you have some time to deal with that later. I’d never recommend a used Volvo, but a new one with the current promotion might work for you just fine.

Test drive a 2010 Chevy Equinox. It’s a SUV, and they give you additional ground clearance that will be useful as you cross the Rockies and western plains. Another option would be to drive south to Vegas and avoid the high mountain passes, but you appear to like the more direct route. Yet another option is to watch the weather and time your trip to avoid heavy snows. You can at least do that between Cali and Nevada, and should be able to get to Utah without much trouble. The weather service does very well with 3-day predictions as long as your route isn’t along the front. If you do that, you could get by with a FWD wagon, like the Jetta TDI.