Help us pick a car?
September 13, 2016 3:34 PM   Subscribe

The lease is up on our current vehicle (a BMW X1), so we're shopping. I think this time it's a buy, but we'd like to stay with a wagon-y or small SUV shaped thing. Bonus points if it's capable of light towing (think tiny travel trailer).

We've been looking hard at the VW wagons plus the Subaru Outback and Forester, but I'm finding it difficult to tick ALL the boxes we'd like ticked.

The biggest disconnect seems to be the fact that we'd like both creature comforts AND a stick shift.

VW, for example, certainly offers a stick in the lower-end model of its Golf, but the minute you step up to something with leather interior, the only transmission option is auto. We REALLY don't want fabric seats (lots of athletic events in our lives). (I'm also kinda torn on the VW idea because of all the lying, but I also figure their brand has taken enough of a hit that our dollars might go further at the VW dealer than elsewhere.)

Subaru seems universally wedded to the CVT, which is kind of anti-fun IMO.

Are we doomed to compromise here, at least south of $30K? What else should we be looking at?
posted by uberchet to Shopping (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I can't vouch for it overall, but the Mini Countryman seems to tick all your boxes.
posted by kickingtheground at 3:49 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's the upcoming 2017 VW Golf SportWagen Alltrack!

It's one of those auto transmission with an optional manual mode and has somewhat more durable seat covers but I guess not leather. Apparently the normal new 2017 Golf wagons will have more options than they currently have. So that might be an option.
posted by GuyZero at 3:54 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I should've been clear, but I absolutely don't consider "automatics with optional manual mode" to be anything other than automatics. If it has no clutch for my left foot, it doesn't qualify as "manual" for the purposes of this question.
posted by uberchet at 4:01 PM on September 13, 2016 [6 favorites]


You could also go GTI or Focus ST if you can spare the space. I guess you could stick a towing package on there. GTI is really comfortable, the FoST not so much.
posted by Huck500 at 4:02 PM on September 13, 2016


I believe that the Forester has a stick available, but likely with the same choice between the transmission and the leather seats.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:19 PM on September 13, 2016


So it looks like the Mazda 3 5-door in the Grand Touring trim comes with both a manual and leatherette seats. Apparently it can tow 1000 lbs or so although Mazda doesn't quote a tow rating.
posted by GuyZero at 4:31 PM on September 13, 2016


I love my Forester. Wasn't even on my radar when I bought it.
posted by humboldt32 at 4:38 PM on September 13, 2016


Yeah, you're in kind of the same boat I was when I was car-shopping.

Dip Flash is correct that the Forester is available with a stick.

One thing about leather seat covers is that they often zip on/off and are dealer-installed. I'm not sure, but this may be true for VW and Subaru. So you might be able to sweet-talk a dealer into doing a seat cover swap. And if not, you can actually get aftermarket leather seat covers (which is an additional expense, obviously, but whaddyagonnado?)
posted by adamrice at 4:42 PM on September 13, 2016


Really don't mean to threadsit, but: the 2017 Forester is CVT only, and the GTI Huck mentions is in the leather-or-stick camp.
posted by uberchet at 4:48 PM on September 13, 2016


The VW Golf GTI Autobahn trim comes with leather and a stick shift.
posted by mbrubeck at 5:07 PM on September 13, 2016


So it looks like the Mazda 3 5-door in the Grand Touring trim comes with both a manual and leatherette seats.
It's real leather if you get it with the 2.5l engine.
posted by kickingtheground at 5:10 PM on September 13, 2016


We really like our Mini Countryman, which can tow things like a small boat or a snowmobile on a trailer with ease. The interior is more sporty than fancy on our model but it's super cute.
posted by padraigin at 5:17 PM on September 13, 2016


(But the Autobahn trim is over the $30K limit, unfortunately.)
posted by mbrubeck at 5:23 PM on September 13, 2016


I have two cars: a Mazda Miata with a stick shift, and a Subaru Legacy with CVT. I swore up and down I'd always want a stick shift, and was intensely irritated to find it so hard to get a stick shift *and* leather seats or other higher end amenities, but really needed the other features on the Legacy so bit the bullet and got the CVT, figuring that I could get my shifting jones quelled with the Miata.

And ... now I understand the value of an automatic: adaptive cruise control and automatic braking. These safety and convenience features can't work if the car can't control the transmission. I find them so totally worth it that these are now must-have features. I love driving. I love driving passionately. And these features seem like they would take away the driving role. But they don't. They take away the drudgery. Sitting in traffic and inching forward every so often isn't "driving." It's an exercise in staying awake and/or civil. Adaptive cruise control (Eye Sight in Subaruese) does all that work for you, and keeps you from slamming into the car in front of you. I loooooove this feature.

If you can see the value in these features, I'd suggest a Subaru with the highest end package you can get. My Legacy is much, much nicer than the new Outbacks and Foresters (I've driven them all many, many miles). My car feels like a luxury car for half the price, and it's quite pretty.

I still love driving my Miata, love shifting, love the control and the way that it makes me feel like I'm really driving. But I also love the Legacy, and would encourage you to test drive a model with Eye Sight and see if that could help you see the reason to go with the CVT.
posted by Capri at 5:30 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


The manual transmission / stick shift is a relic of dated technology - an internal combustion engine that has a very limited torque band so you have to change the gearing frequently to go anywhere. It's been marketed (quite successfully) as "fun" and so lots of people think they need it to drive "properly".

Once you've driven an electric car, you will see the light: Electric motors by comparison have (nearly) ideal torque bands, and thus don't need a transmission at all.

Consider that paragon of racing, F1 (Formula 1). The last F1 cars with fully manual transmissions were I believe in 1989. I think that in 2004 they (by fiat) outlawed full automatic transmissions, but even so, current F1 cars have paddle shifters but no foot-operated clutch.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 6:17 PM on September 13, 2016


Couple of things... the 2016 GTI SE has leather seats, a sunroof and a manual (every trim of GTI has a manual option) and the MSRP is under 30, and I bet you could get one for closer to 25K. The 2017 SE has leather and the sunroof and has the upgraded HP, brakes and diff for around 30K MSRP, which I'm sure you could get down.

And ... now I understand the value of an automatic: adaptive cruise control and automatic braking. These safety and convenience features can't work if the car can't control the transmission.

The GTI 6-speed manual has adaptive cruise control/braking and it apparently works really well.

Not to flog a dead horse, but I love my GTI, haha. I have the DSG though, which shifts faster than a manual, but yeah, you don't get to use your left foot.
posted by Huck500 at 6:21 PM on September 13, 2016


You might look at a Volvo. I have a 2008 C30 with a stick and love it (although I'd totally drive a GTI).
posted by trembleclef at 6:27 PM on September 13, 2016


You might also try a Mazda CX-5 sport manual. Great comfort and zippy handling with a nice price.
posted by nickggully at 6:39 PM on September 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'll try to actually answer your question. It doesn't exist. I went through this same search for a small SUV with a stick shift recently (though I was looking for something a few years old) and couldn't find what you are looking for. Manual transmissions, like you've noticed, are only available in base models in all the small SUVs that I looked at (if available at all).

I ended up getting a 2012 Outback with a manual transmission and cloth seats. I bet you could find some seat covers for the front seats that would be nice - not as great as factory leather but would work well.
posted by fieldtrip at 7:07 PM on September 13, 2016


My husband loves his GTI with DSG. Is not having a clutch because it just doesn't feel right the deal breaker, or previous bad experience with an optional manual mode?

My husband generally didn't like optional manual mode until this car. So if your distaste is based on previous experience, and a nice interior is the more important factor, it may be worth a test drive. He is also stuck in traffic a lot, so having automatic in stop and go when it's not fun has paid off for him more than it may for you.

To me it is a bit weird to shift without a clutch. Like the gears are gonna grind. So I understand if it's the former.
posted by ghost phoneme at 8:25 PM on September 13, 2016


I'm really surprised at the number of people responding here more or less insisting my preference for an actual manual transmission is somehow "wrong".
posted by uberchet at 6:13 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Nissan Juke Nismo RS

Does it have to be brand new?

Subaru outbacks had manual transmissions in the 2014 model year.
posted by czytm at 8:20 AM on September 14, 2016


I too require the actual manual transmission with an actual clutch, and agree that they are difficult to find and that having that preference is definitely not "wrong." I have a Mini Countryman and I love it. I don't think Mini has official towing specs, but I know a guy who tows with his Mini Hardtop so I feel like the Countryman should be able to handle a small load.

When I bought the Mini I also considered the VW GTI and the Fiat 500L.
posted by thejanna at 9:58 AM on September 14, 2016


Forester is in the leather-or-stick camp, at least for both 2016 and 2017. From the Edmunds review:

A six-speed manual transmission is standard for the 2.5i and 2.5i Premium trims, with a CVT optional. The higher trims are CVT-only.

If that works, you could take adamrice's tip and upgrade the seats.
posted by sapere aude at 12:04 PM on September 14, 2016


Wanting a manual is not "wrong," but you have understand the reality in that it's going to make things much, much "more difficult" to meet all your needs, and to stomp your feet on that fact is silly and wastes energy. I gave up the ghost on a manual years ago, and, honestly, I have just as much fun without it--something I promised myself I would never say! But there it is. I said it.

Also, car companies need to meet certain MPG standards across all their fleet, and automatics today get far better gas mileage than a manual because they can make use of tiny engines with transmissions with more and more gears, and the computers are calculating everything. I never thought I could be driving an SUV that got double the gas mileage of my previous car, for example, but I am, and I can still tow 2,000 pounds to boot.

You can always import something from Europe (I am not being facetious). My SUV is a re-badged Opel for the US, and the Opel version only comes with a manual. :)
posted by TinWhistle at 12:39 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Have you seen this list from Jalopnik? Might help you start narrowing things down a bit. You're looking for a bit of a unicorn but best of luck. I was on a similar hunt a few years back and ended up having to slightly modify my list of criteria but I got my stick shift, dammit.
posted by lazywhinerkid at 1:28 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


You can always import something from Europe (I am not being facetious). My SUV is a re-badged Opel for the US, and the Opel version only comes with a manual. :)
Much though I wish this were true, it ain't. If the car was not built specifically for the US market, with a US VIN, you cannot import it unless it is at least 25 years old. Valuable cars that have skirted this rule have been crushed by US Customs.
posted by adamrice at 2:06 PM on September 14, 2016


Just came across this today and thought of you... Can you wait a little while? Seems like the manual gearbox one will be here a bit later than the DSG. And seems to come with leatherette as standard...
posted by lazywhinerkid at 11:55 AM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


I didn't close this yet, because we're still shopping, but we DID just find an interesting piece of data that might be worth preserving in this thread.

Mazda's 3 Hatchback comes in a "Grand Touring S" trim level, which includes a full set of creature comforts as well as an upgraded engine (184hp), and is available with either an automatic or a real, live 6-speed manual.

Turns out there's only one in that configuration in greater Houston, but we're driving it tomorrow.
posted by uberchet at 5:07 PM on September 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


(I marked this closed, but in the event people want the end of the story: we ended up buying a base-model GTI because we fell in love with the tartan fabric, which is not available in higher trim levels (weird!). Also, it's a smaller car (because we realized maybe we didn't need a true wagony/SUV thing).

Oh, and, also, there was Compromise re: the transmission. You can certainly get a GTI in a stick, and they're delightful, but in the horsetrading leading up to the final choice, we settled on the auto model. The VW paddles are actually better than the last rev of Porsche's shiftable-auto I drove. I'd still rather have the stick, but so many other things are perfect about this car that I'm okay with the result.

Thanks all for helping out.)
posted by uberchet at 7:50 AM on October 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Mazda's 3 Hatchback comes in a "Grand Touring S" trim level, which includes a full set of creature comforts as well as an upgraded engine (184hp), and is available with either an automatic or a real, live 6-speed manual.

Turns out there's only one in that configuration in greater Houston, but we're driving it tomorrow.


Yes, these are in perpetual high demand because the niche is so specific and the car is so wonderful.
posted by spitbull at 1:17 PM on February 2, 2017


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