Help me choose a car. I need shift paddles.
July 11, 2010 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I need a car for traffic, but don't want it to bore me to death. Any ideas?

I live in LA. I drive to and from downtown everyday. I've always driven a car with a manual transmission, but doing so in traffic is as enjoyable as rolling around in a pool filled with rusty nails. Also, my wife only drives automatic. I'm curious about cars with automatics that would be at least somewhat engaging--steering wheel-mounted shift paddles or buttons are a must. New or lightly used. Transmission, in this case, is crucial. I don't want an Accord V6 since there are no paddle shifters (which is stupid, I know, but I'm weird). I plan to keep this car and drive it daily for 5 to 10 years.

Here are characteristics I'm most concerned with:
* Dual clutch transmissions or good-performing automatic transmissions.
* Steering wheel mounted paddle shifters or shift buttons.
* Not boring.
* Somewhere in the neighborhood of $25k if new; $20k if used.
* Long term reliability.
* Handling.

Secondarily, I'm concerned about these characteristics:
* Gas mileage.
* Four door or hatch, though I'd consider a coupe. I love wagons, too.

Not interested in the following:
* Suzuki Kizashi
* Honda Insight
* Prius
* Large SUVs

I am most interested in the following at this point:
* VW Jetta TDI Cup Edition DSG

I want your input. Maybe you really like the TSX (of which I have no idea how it drives). Let me know if you have any ideas.
posted by rybreadmed to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honda Fit Sport, perhaps? Cheaper than your target range, but checks many of your boxes.
posted by jon1270 at 11:36 AM on July 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Mini Cooper Mini Cooper Mini Cooper. I have a six-speed, but they make an automatic with paddle shifters. I regularly get 37-38 mpg in mine. Super-fun to drive, and I drive the length of I270 outside DC twice a day.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:00 PM on July 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh! And my husband has a Jetta TDI, but also a six-speed. Also wicked-fun to drive.
posted by ersatzkat at 12:01 PM on July 11, 2010

Yeah, Mini Cooper! They handle very well, even automatics. Try one out!
posted by runtina at 12:03 PM on July 11, 2010

What about a mazda 3 or 6- I think they come with paddle shifters now. The 3 is a little cheaper than your price range, but the 3 speed has insane pickup and awesome torque. The gas mileage on both (not the speed) is pretty good as well.
posted by TheBones at 12:06 PM on July 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

My Subaru Legacy has paddle shifters. It's new, so all I can report is that Consumer Reports says that it handles great and is reliable. So far, I think it drives really nicely and has a nice style. It's well within your price range, even if you want some of the add-on packages.
posted by parkerjackson at 12:20 PM on July 11, 2010

Honda Fit, Mini Cooper or Mazdaspeed 3. If you're going with the Mini, be sure to get the S version. If the Mazda, note the huge differences between the regular model and the Mazdaspeed version.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:29 PM on July 11, 2010

Have you considered a previous generation Mercedes? A slightly older C-class is a far better car than any Jetta.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:04 PM on July 11, 2010

mini cooper S! the S model of both the regular mini and the clubman now has an option for paddle shifting automatic transmission. i have an older cooper s, and it's stupid fun to drive. it was in the shop for a few days and the dealership gave me a new clubman s to drive around -- it's spacious, if you need to have 4 adults in it, you could do it in a clubman. and the clubman s engine is even MORE FUN to drive than my older model.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:18 PM on July 11, 2010

The Mazdaspeed3 is a nice car, but it doesn't come in automatic; only the regular 3s do.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 1:42 PM on July 11, 2010

We have a MINI Cooper Clubman - can't recommend it enough!
posted by karizma at 1:46 PM on July 11, 2010

I know I sound like a broken record, but, altogether now, I wouldn't trade my Volvo XC 70 Wagon for any reasonable alternative.

It doesn't have paddle shifters on the wheel, but it does have a six-speed transmission that has both automatic and (clutchless) manual modes. It gets good gas mileage and can haul a decent amount of cargo, but can still be driven—let's say aggressively. It's out of your stated price range new, but it looks like you can get a model as recent as 2006 for the kind of money you want to spend.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:47 PM on July 11, 2010

If you're accustomed to a manual, everything mentioned here is an "also-ran" compared to the volkswagen/audi DSG gearbox. The mini cooper w/ the paddle shift is the closest after the DSG, but it's still an automatic transmission trying to impersonate a manual, and not doing so well at it.

FWIW, i find with any paddle-shifter senario I have to re-think the shifting process: when I'm driving a proper manual, everything is timed based on the end of the shift. With the paddles, I always wanted to pull the paddle when I wanted the shift to be over, not when I wanted it to start.
posted by desl at 2:12 PM on July 11, 2010

Audi A3 Black Edition TFSI S tronic
posted by Lanark at 3:16 PM on July 11, 2010

OP, my family just got a 2008 Infiniti G35 sport w/nav for $26k. Just outside your budget, but has every single of your desired characteristics. It will miss out on gas mileage though and paying for premium gas in LA is going to hurt - but an i dea non the less.

If your'e willing to go used, you can also look at the A4/TSX/TL/IS line of cars as well. All will be around 25k for a 2008 model.
posted by unexpected at 3:38 PM on July 11, 2010

If you want a non-boring car for LA, I think you want a convertible. You have no idea how much that changes the world, going from a hardtop to a convertible. People on the street talk to you, you can see everything around you, wind in your hair.

When I went from a sedan to a Mustang convertible, LA suddenly made sense.
posted by musofire at 3:54 PM on July 11, 2010

If you're used to the responsiveness of a manual transmission and never want to go back to a slushbox, I can definitely vouch for a DSG/DTC style transmission. I've been incredibly happy w/ my GTI DSG - it's super responsive, upshifts ridiculously fast (<1>
There are a fair number of DCT cars out there now, but I suspect that the VW DSGs may be the best bang for your buck: Also, the hatch is super useful, it's small enough, and I get pretty decent highway mileage (32-33mpg).

Definitely recommend the moonroof/sunroof - I gotta say that musofire is onto something w/ the convertible idea.

I'd definitely try test driving before committing to anything - having a manual feel was a big deal for me. There were and are a lot of cars w/ manual "shifters" (tiptropinic stuff, etc) but that are just controls for automatic transmissions.

Semiautos (not manumatics) are what you're looking for:
posted by lhl at 5:50 PM on July 11, 2010

I've driven the 2nd gen TSX w/ auto and it drives and handles quite well actually (shares many parts with the current gen Accord). There is an unfortunate issue with abnormal/early wear regarding the rear brakes. It is definitely priced higher than the realm you're looking.

Reliability aside, sounds like a VW GTI is most up your alley if you really are placing an extreme weighting on a DCT/shift paddles and performance. The Mazda 3 has tiptronic but only in the gear lever.

If you're seriously looking for mileage in a traffic-plagued commute, you'd be the ideal candidate for a hybrid. I'd take a look at the Ford Fusion Hybrid with the highly appraised Sync system. This review is by far my favorite non-typical review of it.

I live in LA too and occasionally drive through downtown traffic in my manual mazdaspeed3. It doesn't bother me all too much but I long since quit the "racing to stop" mentality that I am surrounded with constantly on my commutes up/down the 405. I can typically stay in specific gear and manage my speed through engine braking and looking very far ahead, so my clutch/brake/shifting actuations are very limited. Smartphones also make me pro at rerouting when I really do need to get somewhere faster than what traffic is allowing.
posted by liquoredonlife at 6:09 PM on July 11, 2010

The Jetta TDI is definitely an interesting car. Lots of torque, and incredible has mileage. Some might say that the DSG is a bit overkill for that engine although it's definitely no slouch... Last year, I test drove a volvo c30, and found it to be *incredibly* fun to drive. Add it to your list if you're considering a GTI. If nothing else, Volvo is a much more pleasant company to deal with than VW.

Paddle shifters aren't necessarily an indicator of a "fun" transmission. My 12 year old car has them, and it's more of a chore to use, with little payoff. You need a transmission that can keep up with them.
posted by schmod at 7:33 PM on July 11, 2010

I drive a 2003 350Z with the 5-speed auto (which is pretty similar to the G35 coupe mentioned above, minus the paddle shifters. It has a semi-auto tip-to-shift mode on the center-console shifter, but it isn't particularly responsive relative to a stick. Otherwise, hits all your buttons and is definitely a blast to drive. I occasionally wish I could do it again and buy the stick, but since a lot of my driving is commuting, I'm pretty much okay with it.

Friend of mine has a manual VW GTI and loves it, though I have no experience with the auto version.
posted by Alterscape at 7:44 PM on July 11, 2010

The VW DSG is, in my experience, miles above any manually-shifting automatic or semi-automatic gearbox. Not that I've driven any particularly expensive cars but I doubt any semi-automatic even is going to be as good as a DSG. Oh yeah the Audi A3 has S Tronic which is the same transmission.

Definitely go with the 2 liter turbo (or the TDI) and not the 2.5 liter. I haven't driven the 2.5 liter but just about every review mentions how bad it is and the 2.0 liter is quite good as is the TDI. However the VWs are probably not as reliable as whatever the Japanese or Americans are offering. I'd definitely go for a Golf over a Jetta but that's basically just personal preference.
posted by Authorized User at 11:37 AM on July 12, 2010

Thanks for the views. I'm still mostly leaning most towards the VW GTI or the VW Jetta TDI Cup edition--both with the DSG. I may also get a used GLI (again, DSG). I may just wait for the Sonata 2.0T to hit dealerships in the Fall. Quality with VWs has gotten better (according to Consumer Reports), but I think I'd rather have a Korean car--much better quality.
posted by rybreadmed at 6:48 PM on July 13, 2010

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