Help me decide between a VW Golf Wagon and Subaru Forester
July 9, 2012 9:04 PM   Subscribe

Subaru Forester or VW Golf Wagon?

Here's the current situation:

2 adults and 1 baby (morphing to 2 adults, 1 kid and 1 baby in the next year or so).
One of the adults works, but commutes by public transit/cycling. Will occasionally drive for work but not more than 3 times a month.
Current vehicle is a leased Honda Civic that is too small (or rather car seats and strollers are too big).
Total driving per year will be around 15,000 km / 10,000 miles on a mix of highway and city. The car will not go offroad, and while it does snow here the Civic seemed to handle things just fine on all-season tires.
Lease is coming up in September so it is time to decide what to do next.

The plan is to buy a car and use it for as long as possible. We want a vehicle that will last long enough to make buying worth it.
In addition to the Forester and Golf Wagon we've looked at and/or driven the Honda CR-V, Toyota Prius V, Venza and Rav4, Mazda 5 and CX5, VW Tiguan, and Mitsubishi Outlander.

Neither of us are car people. We just want something that will be reliable and be able to cart us and our things around. We're looking at the base models for either vehicle.

Everyone + one additional adult will go for outings between 2-4 times a month, so a bit more room in the back would be a benefit.

This is how they seem to stack up

VW Golf
Less expensive
Looks nicer (although we both like the boxiness of the Forester)
Better fuel efficiency

Subaru Forester
More space for people and cargo
Much better reputation for reliability

We would be happy with either car. But which one would we be happier with?
posted by any portmanteau in a storm to Travel & Transportation (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Get two car seats, try to fit both and an adult in the back, go with whichever fits it...
posted by iamabot at 9:08 PM on July 9, 2012

I drive an 11-year-old Forester with about 120,000 miles on it. It's in perfect condition. The local mechanic says these cars are good for 300K miles if you don't crash into anything. Plenty of room for two car seats + one more person slightly scrunched in back, and driver+passenger in front. Like you, I just want a car that fits my kids and my stuff and that I never have to think about, and the Forester is it. There's a reason every suburban daycare has six of them parked out front at any given time.
posted by escabeche at 9:15 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

They are both good cars. My wife and I have a Golf GTI and a Subaru Outback and the two cars you're looking at are very similar to ours. A friend of mine has that Golf wagon (Jetta wagon here in the states) and it's almost identical to my GTI inside, except it has a bigger cargo area. The Forester has a smaller back seat than the Outback, and that was one of the main reasons we chose the Outback over it (it has room for two adults and a child seat to fit comfortably in the back).

It sort of just depends on which one you like better. I'd probably get the golf wagon of those choices, but one isn't the clear-cut winner over the other.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 9:24 PM on July 9, 2012

I've put 183,000 miles on my '05 Forester. We've had to do one repair of $900-other than that, all we've done is change the oil. I LOVE this car. Its a tank, it gets 30 mpg, it's very safe, it's great on snow and ice-nothing we don't like about it. It was just fine with 2 kids in carseats.
posted by purenitrous at 9:24 PM on July 9, 2012

Subaru has my loyalty. I've never liked Volkswagens, but only because people I knew stated they had a lot of electrical problems with them.
posted by discopolo at 9:28 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consumer Reports generally rates Subaru over VW for reliability.

That said, good friends had a Golf TDi that failed on them utterly despite good maintenance, and I have an older, boxy-style Forester which needed $3k into the seals to keep going pretty much smack at 100k. We need an emergency snow car and any 90k used not-SUV alternatives (RAV4, CRV, end of list) were over 4k.

So, my mental model of the decision tree is: not VW, they break. So does Subaru. But the repair is less than an equivalent not-yet-broken not-SUV, so stick with Subaru.

We had to jettison a '93 manual V6 Camry with under 100k in order to pay for the Subaru repair. The Camry was USELESS in the snow and at one point I tore the front end off with cable chains once I was out of the non-plowed area. So the Subaru still makes sense, but I hate the fucking thing. Which is a pretty OK attitude to have toward one's car, in my opinion.
posted by mwhybark at 9:36 PM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh, I should note we replaced the Camry with a 90k Prius. My wife has a hundred-mile-plus commute and the Forester was the wrong car for that, while I work at home. So our cars are only about her needs, not mine, as I have no actual need for a car.

I like the Prius OK, but I hate the proprietary bullshit like the RFID ignition key that costs $300. My wife wishes she were still driving the Forester. In short, cars suck.
posted by mwhybark at 9:40 PM on July 9, 2012

God, I apologize.

Get the Forester, it's bigger, possibly more reliable, and definitely better in snow.
posted by mwhybark at 9:41 PM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Everyone + one additional adult will go for outings between 2-times a month, so a bit more room in the back would be a benefit.

I own an earlier U.S. version of the VW wagen.
Assuming it hasn't gotten massively bigger in the last 3 years, 2 car seats and a normal sized adult in the back seat is going to be tight, if not very uncomfortable.

I've driven it in snow, and while it was a bit floaty (like all VWs seem to be in the snow), it handled it just fine. Plenty of room for chains if things go that far.

Keep in mind that the "wagon" version of the Golf is basically just a bigger hatchback. The storage, while decent, is more deep than wide, so if you have a mega-stroller (or a two kid stroller), you ought to try it for fit before buying.

Personally, I found the Foresters too truck-like when I was making this same decision, and they've only gotten bigger in the last 3 years.
posted by madajb at 9:43 PM on July 9, 2012

Tonight, the odometer on my 2000 Forester turned over to 290,000 miles.

I can't claim no fixes at all (oxygen sensors, I'm looking at you), but I am very satisfied and my next car will either be another Forester or the slightly larger (and even better gas mileage) Outback.
posted by apartment dweller at 9:45 PM on July 9, 2012

Subaru. The VW will cost bucks to keep running. The Subaru will go forever.
posted by fieldtrip at 9:46 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I handed my last Subaru (a '99 wagon) down to my brother, who's driving it now in Colorado. It had about 215,000 miles when I turned it over to him after Christmas -- saw it last weekend when he drove his family back to KS in it. So I vote for the Subaru.

For a more impartial view, check out True Delta.

ps: after having kid #2 and getting a dog, we moved up to a crossover. I'd rather have the Subie gas mileage and snow handling, but we're all kind of tall, and my 6 yr old was already complaining about leg room. C'est la vie...
posted by hms71 at 10:00 PM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Only anecdote here, but I've had two VW's and both kept costing large repair bills at regular intervals. The Subaru I had rain like a champ for years till I sold it. I regret both VW's, I don't regret the Subaru.
posted by bswinburn at 10:24 PM on July 9, 2012

I have a 2005 Toyota Sienna that has never had a problem. We did replace the windshield wipers, and because she has been such a sweetheart, we bought her new shoes: Michelins.
posted by Cranberry at 11:33 PM on July 9, 2012

Having been involved with several older Subies, they seem to be a car that you can really get to like after a while. Which is an intangible, but an important one.
posted by carter at 12:00 AM on July 10, 2012

I am surprised at all the Subaru's with no problems. My head gasket blew in both of the ones I owned.

That said, if you don't need AWD, then it is just a waste of gas.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:42 AM on July 10, 2012

Subarus had a known issue with head gaskets in the 99-2002 models. Later ones don't have that problem. That said, we love our 01 Forester and will definitely replace it with another when it does - in another 100K miles or so - we're at 180K now. Most sure-footed car I've ever owned on snow, sand or off-road. Had a different model VW than you're looking at and it was a tremendous money pit and not reliable. Have seen far more people have that experience with VW - I'll never buy another.

Just spent 2 weeks driving a rented 2012 Outback on a trip and it was great - spacious, comfortable for both of us to drive and we're a foot different in height.
posted by leslies at 4:24 AM on July 10, 2012

Subaru or CRV. Don't get a VW if you don't want stupid stuff breaking all the damn time.
posted by barnone at 4:35 AM on July 10, 2012

Are you going to be driving primarily on flat land, or are you in a hilly (or mountainous) area? I just got done driving a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder '11 Subaru Forester through New Mexico and Colorado for 10 days, and it was an absolute pig; it was badly underpowered (and had a hell of a time getting up roads with even a mild rise), its (automatic) transmission could best be described as delusional, and it was absolutely abysmal on gas mileage. Unless there's a Forester model with a bigger or more powerful engine (I think they used to sell one with the 4-cylinder turbo, not sure if they still do and if so if you're considering that) I would NOT get the Forester if you plan on driving in hillier country much.

That said, the car was remarkably sure-footed during the few times we had it on gravel, which is a definite plus.
posted by saladin at 5:31 AM on July 10, 2012

Are you sure you need a large car? My family of four + a dog has been using a Toyota Corolla (slightly larger than your Civic) since we were a family of one. Two car seats fit fine, the trunk is large, and with car seats you have loads of floor space in the backseat. You would definitely be happier with the gas mileage. We're looking at moving to a Honda Fit right now since the kids are bigger and we have less stuff to carry around.
posted by monkeymadness at 6:09 AM on July 10, 2012

I'm on my second Forrester. I love, love, love it. I do a short commute to the train station every morning, lug around my son (now 10, but we lugged him as a baby in my first Forrester) and wife, take trips to Home Depot, go on occasional 500 mile outings, take it camping, drive in New England winters, haul a canoe on the roof racks, and fill it with groceries. It's perfect for all these things.

That's all I got. You should get a Forrester.
posted by bondcliff at 6:13 AM on July 10, 2012

The VW will be more expensive to maintain/repair. And is more apt to need repair.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:33 AM on July 10, 2012

I am the proud and happy owner of a 2004 Subaru Forester XT. It's a turbo 5-speed manual and is flat-out quick.

-Absolute best cabin view in any car ever. Seriously. No blind spots. Huge windows.
-Mechanically very good
-Reliability top-notch

- So-so gas mileage. The full-time AWD costs at least a few mpg. It adds to the handling, though.
- Wind noise is a little high
- Full of just goofy design decisions. They all kinda make sense after a while, though. You can really, truly fall in love with a Suby after you get to know each other.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:09 AM on July 10, 2012

We were in the same situation in October and chose the Subaru Forester Touring edition (non turbo-2011). So far we are VERY happy with the car.
Factors that helped us decide:
- Reputation for reliability... VW's are consistently rated as having a very high cost of ownership over their lifetime, high maintenance costs and frequent trips to have little things repaired. My family has had about half a dozen Subaru's over the years (and between everybody) and they perform flawlessly!
- AWD... In not so tropical Alberta we get a pile of snow. This thing handles like you wouldn't believe if you're in the snow or off the pavement. Watching the guy in the pickup truck spinout in the intersection while you just casually pull out around him=priceless! I see you're in Toronto, I grew up just west of T.O. and I think the Forester would be fantastic on those slushy/icy/heavy crud snow days that you guys get.
- Size - Forester is one of the few real "small" SUV's out there. We didn't want something as large as an equinox or Escape, or even something as big as a station wagon but we did want something large enough for 4 adults + Dog + 2 kayaks or ski equipment on the roof.
-Quality of materials inside the vehicle. The Subaru seemed to have much better workmanship inside the vehicle, the materials didn't feel as cheap or flimsy as those in the Golf did and things seemed to fit together nicely.

The only two things I dislike about the Subaru are the lack of a really useful Driver information centre style computer which is standard on North American models, and the radio is HORRIBLE. Seriously, you will want to upgrade the speakers at the minimum. Neither of those considerations was enough to sway us towards the VW though.
posted by Beacon Inbound at 7:17 AM on July 10, 2012

Never owned a VW but I heard they are very expensive to fix. My friend owns a Jetta (leases) and tells me they are a PITA to fix.

I just bought a 2012 Forrester. LOVE it. It was between that and the Mazda CX 9. While more stylish, the Mazda to me didn't have the longevity reputation. And Forrester is a green car as far as no landfill. They have brilliant marketing (not that is in your consideration). I have a DH and a toddler but we have fit a friend's kid in a second car seat. The back seat, to me, is perfect for kids. Adults--a little tinier than I would like compared to my Maxima (which was sooo roomy) but for cargo, Love the Forrester. And the back seats recline which was nice for my DH.

Hated the CRV because of the cabin noise otherwise it was nice.

Gas mileage for my Forrester according to the reading is 22 MPG. I bought it early Nov. and have 8k miles on it. Fills about $45 per fill. Just note it REQUIRES synthetic oil (but you're changing it every $7,500 miles).

Good luck.
posted by stormpooper at 7:19 AM on July 10, 2012

Oh and out the door with winter package/sunroom ($500 extra) was $24k
posted by stormpooper at 7:20 AM on July 10, 2012

2 adults and 1 baby (morphing to 2 adults, 1 kid and 1 baby in the next year or so).

You forgot a stroller, somedays a bike, and your groceries. Where do your suitcases go when you are on a trip to Grandmas? Where is all the stuff going to fit on your way back from Grandmas? If there is one thing I've learned, Grandma does not care that you own a small car, her grand babies need the biggest possible toys ever.

Also, if you plan to make any trips longer than two hours - make sure someone can squeeze into the back between both car seats. You don't always need to be back there, but - you will find yourself back there. Stopping when babies are crying isn't always an option.

Be glad you don't have a dog... or if you do, it is best to teach the dog to drive - he'll have more room then.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:16 AM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yet another Subaru owner chiming in.

With the exception of the Jeep Cherokee I had years ago, I don't think I've ever been in let alone seen a better winter vehicle than the Subaru. Sure, there can be some glaring design flaws, but as long as you're aware of them, one can plan and be prepared. The AWD coupled with the low weight means that it's almost impossible to get stuck unless you drive on top of a hill of snow. (Yes, I've done this)

I have a rapidly aging hand me down Legacy wagon, but have several friends I've coerced into joining the URABUS bandwagon who will stipulate that they're happy with the decision to become one of us.


Also, that Golf wagon is a piece of crap.
posted by Sphinx at 8:32 AM on July 10, 2012

The Forester is a good choice. we've had more than one Subaru in the family and they're solidly made cars.

VW. Hmm. I think that if you do go with the Golf and you choose the non-turbo model, I think you're not necessarily buying a bad car. it will be smaller than the Subaru, that's for sure. I think there's a better chance you'd outgrow it's size before it needed any serious work. But if you don't, well.. German cars aren't very happy if they're not consistently maintained.

Toyota makes excellent cars. there's a reason they command premiums both new and used. they're built to a consistent quality standard, and they last. the Venza is a really big hatchback and can seemingly get close to $40k with all the options. the Prius V is just a bigger Prius, but I think the Prius is the best hybrid being made.

The Mazda CX-5 is getting very strong reviews.

Another one that may fit your needs is the completely new Ford Escape. It has nothing to do with the previous truck-ish Escape. It's more car-ish, with small displacement engines and 6-speed transmissions. They can seemingly get expensive as well... but Ford has been building very good cars recently. They're really nothing like what Ford used to be; i would separate them completely from the other American automakers. their quality, interiors, engines, design; all on the level with the Japanese makers. I had a newer generation Mustang for almost 40K miles, and other than being smashed into by someone else, nothing broke on it at all.

anyway.. this thread filled up with Subaru recommendations. it doesn't surprise me.
posted by ninjew at 8:51 AM on July 10, 2012

I have a 2007 Forester with just over 100,000 miles on it. I expect to be driving it for another 200,000. It is so low-maintenance it's crazy. I have replaced the tires twice and maybe the brakes once? I have also had 1 full size car seat and 1 booster seat comfortably in the back seat most of the time.

I can't recommend the Subaru strongly enough - it is a great car.
posted by elvissa at 10:31 AM on July 10, 2012

I love my '04 Forester XT (high fives, Benny Andajetz! CAR TWINS!) but we also have a, '09 Prius. This is the old, more wagon-y Forester chassis; the newer one is comparatively humungous. To my horror, the Prius back seat is actually wider -- can fit two boosters and an infant seat or booster, infant seat and average sized adult across more comfortably -- the Subaru cannot do this. (The 2012 might - note year). The hatchback has tons of cargo room. Also, it gets 25 more miles to the gallon, and the handling, while uninspiring, is totally fine.

Anyway, we are thinking about replacing the Forester with another Prius. I am sad about it, but there you go.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:39 AM on July 10, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, I did not expect things to be so one-sided. At least now I won't have to spend more than one more Saturday morning in a car dealership.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 11:29 PM on July 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love VW's but my standard advice is always to buy one that's made in Germany, not Mexico (former owner of a 2000 Jetta, Mexican-manufactured). Looks like the Golf Wagon (known as the Jetta wagon in the US) is made in Mexico. Skip it.
posted by radioamy at 9:30 AM on July 11, 2012

Response by poster: In case anyone's wondering we got the Forester. We did make a trip to Toyota for a ride in the Venza and were quite impressed with the interior but my wife couldn't get past its looks and name (apparently venza means toilet seat in Japanese).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 8:03 PM on August 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

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