I know you aren't my mechanic but help us choose between two cars!
September 15, 2008 12:12 AM   Subscribe

CarFilter: We're replacing our lemon S40 with something bigger in either a sedan or "small" SUV, but we're totally stymied between our choices! Looking for any anecdotal or experience advice.

My wife and used to a own a 2001 S40 Volvo, that was a lemon from the get-go. It finally blew it's motor due to a undiagnosed problem in the cooling system. We got rid of it and have decided to move on. We're looking for something bigger. We liked the S40, except for the mechanical problems, but always felt cramped. We have a small daughter and another will be here next year.

We've narrowed our choices to a new CR-V LX or a used 2008 Altima 2.5S. Both will be about the same money except that the Altima has about 22K miles on it and maybe a year left on warranty. We can add another year and it will make the price between the CR-V and the Altima be nearly identical. We like both for different reasons and even though we know we want one or the other, we can't quite figure out which one.

We had considered a '06 Element but the 4 people only thing is a deal-breaker for us. My MIL visits often and we need a comfortable seat for her when #2 child arrives.

Anyone have any ideas? Any stories about either one? They both seem well-regarded on Edmunds, Car and Driver and Consumer Reports rates both well.

posted by damiano99 to Travel & Transportation (7 answers total)
I would definitely go with the CR-V. They're great vehicles - very reliable, durable, and great Honda resaleability! I was recently in a similar situation as you - choosing between 2 vehicles - but in my case it was between the Element and the CR-V. I drove both, and like you, found that the Element would not meet my needs. I then drove the CR-V and was very impressed. I went home, did some further research on it (I had been reseaching only Elements up to that point), and found it not only had great reviews (both by professional organizations and ordinary owners) but it also offered a lot of bang for the buck in terms of features vs. price when compared to similar vehicles. I was sold on it.

BTW, the CR-V I drove was the LX + Nav. It features leather interior and a navigation system plus back-up camera. It's a very nice option that I wouldn't personally go without.
posted by karizma at 12:31 AM on September 15, 2008

Advise the CR-V. The 2.5 in the Altima (and a few other models) had issues; the one in my Sentra needed to be replaced at 8,000 miles, and that wasn't particularly unusual at the time. I would have a hard time helping you make the decision if this were the 3.5, but given the 2.5, it's a no-brainer.
posted by davejay at 1:09 AM on September 15, 2008

My wife and used to a own a 2001 S40 Volvo, that was a lemon from the get-go.

So why would you assume that 2008 models are the same? The S40 was a JV car with Mitsubishi built in The Netherlands using the same platform as a Mitsubishi model. In other words, not really much of a Volvo at all.

The XC90, on the other hand, is manufactured in Sweden using more or less the same platform since 2001. The Honda is nice, but the Volvo is the car you want to be in when that drunk crosses the centerline.
posted by three blind mice at 1:44 AM on September 15, 2008

I have an '05 Volvo V70R and have a few friends with kids who have CR-Vs. They love them. My experience with current-day Volvos is that the place Volvo trades comfort for space is the front seat, rather than the back seat. We are a family of three (#2 also on the way) and are about to trade in the Volvo for a Prius because of fuel efficiency. But surprise, surprise! the seating compartment up front feels bigger to us, and is about the same as the Volvo in back. The cramped front seat of the Volvo was a big downer as we got used to the car.

Consumer Reports says the CR-V is great for safety--it performs at "excellent" in all the crash tests except for roll-over = "very good" (as you would expect from a higher vehicle). As three blind mice points out, Volvo's real selling point is safety. That said, the safety results from CR for the S40 are worse than those of the CR-V, and owner satisfaction is much lower.

Overall I have not been happy with my V70R. I expected a lot more from Volvo in terms of fit and finish, and mistakenly thought I was getting a "big feeling" car with the wagon. Three years on, many parts have fallen off (not essential parts, but interior parts and knobs and trim) in a way never happened with previous cars (a variety of Hondas & Mazdas & Saabs). I also get a service light on about once every other month with something I can't fix myself (chassis settings, ABS, etc.). I would love to be able to recommend a Swedish car, as they're one of my hobbies, but here I'd say go with the Honda over a Volvo. Can't speak to the Altima.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:40 AM on September 15, 2008

I'm going with three blind mice here. Have to confess that I'm a long-time Volvo owner. I traded in my 1986 240 GL Wagon (266,000+ mi) for a 1994 850 Wagon. I finally traded in the 850 (196,000+ mi) for a 2006 XC90. I LOVE it! It has room for our family and the dogs. The MPG is not as high as I'd like. However, it met all my other criteria.

No matter what you decide to buy, take the time to look for any recall notices, check the various consumer product boards and automotive boards to get client feedback. Because of this, I knew to avoid earlier models of the XC90 with a particular engine type.
posted by onhazier at 8:06 AM on September 15, 2008

I would stay clear of the Altima. The Altima looks like you couldn't afford the Infiniti (much like VW --- Audi).

The S60 or Cross Country is worth a look even though you are probably soured on that marque.
posted by Zambrano at 10:24 AM on September 15, 2008

I've owned a CR-V for six years now and I highly recommend it. We bought it used, the price was great, no maintenance issues since. We also needed family room, with two teenagers, and it really fit the bill. Family vacations on the road were a breeze, and three adults can ride in the back seat and be pretty comfortable. Gas mileage is excellent. Back seats fold down to haul "stuff". Mine's a 2001 model. Interior and exterior both held up well, my seats are cloth, not leather, and there's no wear after all these years. I love my little CR-V, it's a workhorse. I'm driving it until the wheels fall off.
posted by raisingsand at 2:02 PM on September 15, 2008

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