Car guy needs a wagon that's fun to drive
January 16, 2013 12:42 PM   Subscribe

An Audi A4 is a bit small and I can't import and RS6, what else should I look at?

Our little puppy isn't so little any more and in the not too distant future, Mrs. VTX and I plan on having children. We drive up to my in-laws lake house about every-other weekend in the summer and about once per month the rest of the time. I work from home so this car will sit in the garage most of the time (we can't quite make thing work as a one car family or rather, we don't want to).

I have a 2005 Nissan Altima 3.5SE now and it's already feeling a bit too small once we get everything loaded up. Right now, all our gear goes in the trunk and the dog sits in the back seat. Once a child seat is back there, the dog will be stepping all over the kid and we'll have even more stuff so that won't work.

I know most people in this situation would get either a minivan or an SUV. The problem is that I like sporty cars that are fun to drive and I really want AWD (we're in Minnesota so rear drive doesn't really work and AWD is the next best thing). So some manner of wagon is going to be my best bet.

We test drove a 2009 Toyota Venza. My wife loved it, I loved everything about it but it's handling. It handled great compared to an SUV (and most cars) but I wouldn't really get excited about taking through a twisty canyon road.

An Audi A4 Avant seemed like the other option but I just don't think there will be enough space and an A6 is out of our price range.

What else should I look at before pulling the trigger on the Venza?

-2009 or newer
-Decent gas mileage
-$20,000-$25,000 well equipped (heated leather, auto climate control, etc.)
-About as much room as the Venza (a little smaller is okay)
-Fun to drive
posted by VTX to Shopping (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I have already decided to get a 3-series wagon as my next car for similar reasons (I don't have a dog, but do have a child and carry surfboards around in my car). It might be too small for you, but there's not much that compares. A 5-series wagon is probably too expensive. The wagon market is really, really small though. Good luck finding *any* wagon you want used, unless you're willing to sit and wait for months.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:47 PM on January 16, 2013

Standard answer, might miss out on the fun part - Used Subaru Outback XT.
posted by iamabot at 12:48 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, I have a 2012 Subaru Outback. It does not drive like a 3-series.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:50 PM on January 16, 2013

Or if you want smaller, Forrester XT - The XT is their 2.5 liter boxer with a turbo on it. Goes pretty good, especially the Forrester.
posted by iamabot at 12:51 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

What about something like a Volvo XC70? Should be larger than the 3 series, AWD and more fun to drive than an Outback (I have an Outback).
posted by Jacob G at 12:52 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Infiniti crossover (EX/FX/JX) would most likely not have decent gas mileage - but that's the trade off for being fast.
posted by ijoyner at 12:56 PM on January 16, 2013

BMW X3 would fit the bill. For some reason they're always priced cheaper than the equivalent 3-series wagon. Best handling SUV out there.

Weakest point on your list would be the mileage. It's not brutal, but it will probably be worse than your Altima.
posted by kaefer at 12:56 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know how feasible this is, but why not:

-Sell the Nissan and buy a sports sedan you'll enjoy driving.
-Buy a Subaru of the appropriate size as a daily driver for your wife and for people moving trips.

Unless I'm misreading your situation and the Nissan is your car/your wife already has another car?
posted by selfnoise at 12:56 PM on January 16, 2013

I currently have two Audis (no wagons), and every time I buy a new one, I cross-shop BMW and it always ends up high on the list. However, one thing I've never been very impressed with is their particular AWD system. If AWD was top priority and I couldn't have an Audi, I'd probably look at Subaru or Volvo. Also look at the Cadillac CTS wagon. I drove the coupe before I bought my last car and I liked it quite a bit (but I hated the dealer).
posted by primethyme at 1:02 PM on January 16, 2013

A 2009 Subaru Legacy Wagon seems sort of perfect for you. Or maybe a newer Legacy/Outback. I'm not wild about the 2010 redesign (CTVs are no fun to drive, generally, and it's ugly), but it did give it more room.
posted by Dasein at 1:03 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

We are Subaru people - 2003 Outback and 2009 Tribeca - both great fun.
posted by lasamana at 1:03 PM on January 16, 2013

Hi! I'm Mrs. VTX.
I drive a Mazda 3 sedan, and it's perfect for me. I drive about 10 miles round-trip to work each day and we use the Altima for just about everything else.

We drove a 2005 Subaru Impreza wagon and weren't impressed - it was a little small and pretty spendy for the age and mileage.

You can't tell from the picture, but Bailey is 73 pounds now at 8 months old. Once we start thinkining about adding a kid, plus all our stuff we need for weekends at the lake, size starts to feel like the constraint. We don't want a big SUV, though.

Sounds like we need to drive an X3 and a Legacy wagon, at least. Keep the suggestions coming!
posted by Coffeemate at 1:12 PM on January 16, 2013

posted by Dansaman at 1:23 PM on January 16, 2013

Passat wagon. Same AWD as the Audi I think, lots more fun to drive than a Subaru and huge interior. Bigger than the Volvo even I think.

The newly designed Subaru seems much smaller to me than the one people here probably own. Significantly less legroom in the back, imho.
posted by fshgrl at 1:25 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have a 325xi wagon and were I to make the choice right now, would get a Subaru.
posted by Kafkaesque at 1:28 PM on January 16, 2013

One thing to consider, if you are at the lake as often as 16 times a year, is getting some duplicate stuff and leaving it there. It might be less expensive than getting a different car. Of course, that assumes that the in-laws are ok with you leaving gear at the lake house.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 1:30 PM on January 16, 2013

- Jetta sportwagen TDI - great MPG, I think VWs have very nice driving dynamics. not AWD so I understand it would be not exactly what you want but it could be close. the neat DSG transmission and high MPG would be the upside to the compromise.

- Mazda CX-5 - it's more a CUV than a car, but this review makes it seem like it's kind of out there in it's own world in terms of CUV driving experience.

if you're looking at a Venza, it's bit on the larger side, but I loved my Subaru WRX. you can get it in hatchback form, but it's going to be smaller. but the WRX is more sports car than wagon, though again if your wife likes the Venza it may be a hard sell.
posted by ninjew at 1:30 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

They are discussing this right now over at Audizine - A4 Avant alternatives
posted by Disco Moo at 1:31 PM on January 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

Volvo wagon..... Particularly the sporty ones
posted by lalochezia at 1:50 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

My husband had an Audi A3. We switched a Subaru Outback XT as mentioned upthread. It's kind of the cusp of your requirements - 2009 (so as old as you would go) and $24k (so about as expensive as you want to get). It seemed to be hard for us to find this one - we went through CarMax and had it shipped to us.

My husband says it's actually often zippier and more fun to drive than his A3.
posted by bibbit at 1:59 PM on January 16, 2013

I like my Outback XT. Mines a 2006, it's been a good ride and still going strong. Gets me to the ski resort on all kinds of gnarly days. Gas mileage is okay. Good clearance for desert back roads.
posted by trbrts at 3:15 PM on January 16, 2013

Nthing the Forester XT. I have a 2011 non-turbo Forester, and though it's not likely to be confused w/ a sportscar, it's reasonably fun to drive and handles well. I'd imagine a turbo would add an extra dimension of fun. Stock it's not likely to be as exciting as an Audi, but a lot of the available after-market upgrades for STI Imprezas are bolt-on compatible w/ the Forester (same platform). A few modifications could turn an XT Forester into quite the "sleeper" family car.

I often wish I would have spent the extra $$ for the XT, but I tend to keep my cars for a long time (The 2011 Forester replaced a 2001 Ford Ranger), and haven't had good experiences w/ long-term reliability of turbocharged engines, so my practical/frugal side won out.

Admittedly, my experience with turbocharged engines is based on a sample size of one, that was purchased used, while in my twenties, and I drove it like a 20-year-old male w/ a turbo tends to drive. It's entirely possible a well cared for XT Forester would have the same reliability one typically expects from a Subaru
posted by zen_spider at 3:27 PM on January 16, 2013

VW Tiguan should be in your price range, but I'm not quite sure if it'd be big enough.
posted by rhizome at 4:03 PM on January 16, 2013

Perhaps check out the Chevy Equinox. The Mrs. and I got its larger cousin, the Traverse, last fall and really like it, but those are bigger than it sounds like you need.
posted by SquidLips at 4:07 PM on January 16, 2013

It will be hard for you to find anything in that price range with anything like the room (especially elbow, shoulder and hip room) the Venza offers. If the Venza you tested was a 4-cylinder model, try to find a 6-cylinder model with the 20-inch wheels and lower-profile tires. It is a much sportier drive with a firmer ride, and the gas mileage is not that much different from the 4-cylinder AWD model.
posted by TomBetz at 4:11 PM on January 16, 2013

The Subaru impreza changed the body style after 2005- I have a 2008 Impreza WRX that I love. I think it is roomy, it's really fun to drive (for rally racing too!), and it fits all your other criteria. We paid 18k for ours last year, 42000 mi.

You should test out a newer impreza and take a look at the WRX package. Consider buying from Craigslist if a dealer won't give you the price you want, kbb was at what we paid.
posted by yb2006shasta at 4:13 PM on January 16, 2013

The Impreza is tiny, half the size of most of the cars in this thread. I've owned one (and an Outback and a Passat wagon) and its not what the OP describes wanting at all.
posted by fshgrl at 4:27 PM on January 16, 2013

I vote WRX, but if you want more room stick with a Forester or Outback. Be sure to get the XT line for turbo. Just sold my '02 WRX due to needing more room (2 kids and a dog..). Our other car is a 2005 Outback and we love it.
posted by NotSoSimple at 5:18 PM on January 16, 2013

To clarify, the requirements I listed are in no particular order.

The Venza we drove was a V-6 with AWD. The power was great and felt similar to what I have now (and comparing 0-60 times, it is).

The WRX is way too small otherwise I'd have bought one already.

I felt like the pre-redesign Outback (2009 I think) is smaller than the Venza and isn't so much more fun to drive that I'd deal with it and the redesigned Outback is basically a cross-over SUV.

My gut feeling is that the Venza will be more fun than the best handling cross-over in our price range. I could be wrong but I think the worst car handle generally handles better than the best SUV.
posted by VTX at 5:32 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think a 2009 535xi would be around $25000 now. The xDrive is annoying, but it's a hell of a car otherwise.
posted by nicwolff at 7:02 PM on January 16, 2013

Echoing lalochezia: the sporty model Volvo wagons are terrific fun to drive, lots of oomph, great handling, loads of room, and very safe. Mine has rear seats that become kid seats at the pull of a handle. It gets about 28 mpg (US) on non-town driving, does 125 mph (oh, not on the public roads, no, never) and takes twisty CA Highway 17 at a gallop if you let it.
posted by anadem at 8:26 PM on January 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't know if they made them beyond 2008 (so may not make your year requirements), but the Volvo V70 R was the wagon I've been looking for. Basically the high performance V70 wagon with 300hp, sportier suspension and AWD. Don't know much about their reliability, but seems like an awesome package. Also, they do not look much different than the 'normal' V70s so a bit of a sleeper.
posted by evilelf at 6:16 AM on January 17, 2013

My gut feeling is that the Venza will be more fun than the best handling cross-over in our price range.

I think a Forester will drive better than a Venza, by a long way.
posted by Dasein at 10:55 AM on January 17, 2013

We're off to drive a Cadillac CTS wagon this weekend. The Volvo V50 wagon looks interesting but there appear to be two for sale in the entire country and the closest one is 1,000 miles away. The BMW 5 series is really pushing the top of our budget.

Unless we're really blown away by the Caddy, we're probably going to take Selfnoise's advice (sort of) and get a Venza now and replace Mrs. VTX's car with something sporty when we're ready (A WRX or Audi S4 if I'm really lucky).

Thanks for all the help!
posted by VTX at 8:17 AM on January 18, 2013

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