Allie is a single mom who understands that you don’t need a big SUV to haul around two kids. However, her Volkswagen Beetle is getting a bit tight for kid duty, so she wants something a bit more practical—but she refuses to give up having fun. What car should she buy?
The eternal debate among enthusiasts goes like this: “Can you have a fast, fun car that will also accommodate your kids and all their stuff?” The ideal car would be big enough to haul kids and gear, and also have the performance that satisfies our inner gearhead.
Even though America doesn’t typically get things like manual-shift fast wagons, it happened once in the form of the Cadillac CTS-V. Unfortunately, most of those are still out of reach for our modest budgets so we are left to make sacrifices with various compact cars and hatchbacks.
However, depending on your priorities it can be done. Allie is looking to replace her TDI Beetle with something a little bit bigger, but still wants to a car that has the driver in mind.
Here is the scenario.
I’m a single mom with a cheater 2013 Beetle TDI and two kids, ages 3 and 9. I can either take the cash and fix the Beetle, but it is a little uncomfortable for all three of us, or I can use the payout to get something slightly bigger like a GTI or possibly a Golf R.
In general I love German cars, there’s something so satisfying about the way the doors sound when they close. I had an X3 that I loved; it was sporty, utilitarian, reliable, and sturdy. I also had a Cayenne S which I was crazy about; the horsepower and refinement was excellent.
...and I do love my Beetle, the manual transmission, the torque from the diesel motor, and I get compliments on it all the time. So I would like to get something German with character with more space, but still be enjoyable to drive.
Budget: $20,000 - $25,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Average Miles Per-Week: 200-300 miles
Wants: Something with character; fuel efficiency; manual transmission; lots of torque
Doesn’t want: Slow and boring
Expert #1: Tom McParland - The Struggle Is Real
As I mentioned above, what you really need is a manual wagon with a decent amount of power. A nationwide search reveals a handful or so of these wonderful Audi S4 Avants up or grabs. You get all the refinement and power you desire in a practical package. But despite my love of these Audi longroofs, I cannot in good conscience recommend it as a reliable daily driver to use for 300 miles a week. Given the mileage on these things, the reliability is iffy at best at the and repairs are costly.
If you are going to roll the dice on VW/Audi reliability you should do so with a warranty. A Golf R is a bit out of your budget, and you really don’t want someone’s leftovers on that car. By your picture you clearly do just fine with two-wheel-drive in the snow so your best bet is a brand new GTI. I may be a little bit biased on the subject, but I think it’s got the best balance of refinement and performance for the price.
I have two kids, both in car seats, and they fit just fine in my GTI. And yours are old enough to not have to worry about strollers anymore. While well-equipped GTIs can get into the $30,000 range, I’ve seen prices up to $5,000 off the MSRP, and don’t forget you get an additional $1,000 for putting up with Volkswagen again.
Selection in your area is a little bit limited so you may want to be open to shipping a car if the savings are greater elsewhere.
Expert #2: David Tracy - Loves The Torque Just Like You Do
The GTI is a great vehicle, but it doesn’t make nearly enough torque. What you need is a BMW 328d, a gorgeous Bavarian non-cheating diesel (as far as we know, anyway) driving machine that cranks out a ridiculous 280 lb-ft of torque, and still manages 36 MPG on the highway—that’s eight MPGs better than that disgustingly thirsty GTI!
Sadly, you can’t get the Bimmer with a stick, but other than that, the car is exactly what you’re looking for. It’s got lots of character, tons of torque, and it’s efficient and practical (especially if you get the wagon). More importantly, unlike that GTI, you can rip proper smoky burnouts in this thing. You know, if that’s what you’re into.
Here’s one for sale that’s right in your price range.
Expert #3: Stef Schrader - You Know What I’m Going To Suggest
You know you loved your Cayenne. I love the Cayenne. I need a Cayenne. Sure, it fits right in at soccer practice, but it drives so surprisingly well and car-like that it’s on my personal short list of Tow Vehicles That Don’t Make Me Want To Drive Into A Wall.
Until recently, a six-speed manual was available as an option. Depreciation on Cayennes is wonderful, especially if they have the love-it-or-hate-it manual transmission. Porsche discontinued the manual option for lack of demand. Thus, you may be able to haggle an even sweeter deal on an already low price just to take it off a dealer’s lot.
You can pick up an early six-speed Cayenne for as low as this $7,499 base Cayenne for sale in Indianapolis, but you have your pick of later models and higher trims that are a few years old. Find one you love, and walk away with a screaming deal.
If it’s character you want, though, I’m in love with this canary yellow 2011 Cayenne for sale on CarGurus. It’s a bit of a stretch as listed at $31,600, but there’s not a lot of demand for the manual Cayenne. You may be able to offer a more manageable price. It’s the sleeker, prettier refreshed model, with miles of soft brown leather inside as far as the eyes can see.
Please buy it so I don’t hock a kidney and drive to New Jersey this afternoon.
...anyone want a kidney? For sale, $31K, ran when pulled, inquire within.
Expert #4: Jason Torchinsky - I Can Tell You’re A Nut, And I Know You’ll Love This, Don’t Pretend Like You Don’t
German? Manual? Character? More space? Done, done, and done. Oh, and done. I’ve got you covered here, with this lovely 1968 Volkswagen Squareback. Sure, it may not seem as rational as some of these other choices, but just step back a second and look at yourself: you’re driving a diesel Beetle convertible in a place that, from your picture up there, seems to have the same weather as McMurdo Station in Antarctica. You’re a kook, and deep down you know I’m right.
The Type III Squareback is a triumph of packaging: the flat-four engine is under the floor in the rear cargo area, so not only do you have all that station wagon room out back, you have a very usable trunk up front. Nice bench seat in the rear for the kids, much more interior room than your Beetle.
Sure, it’s not as powerful as most modern cars, but it weighs almost nothing and this one has a significantly-uprated 1776cc twin-carb engine. An engine like that can be good for 75 HP, easy, and in this car that absolutely feels plenty fast.
Plus, let’s not forget you have $20,000 you’re willing to spend here– this car is $5,000, so that leaves you with $15,000 of cash to put into better seats and interior stuff, and maybe even some significant engine upgrades. There’s people getting 150 HP and more out of old air-cooled VW engines; you could have a practical screamer here.
As an aside, I’m just happy safety wasn’t on your list. No reason.