Alex got a new job that’s a big upgrade. But he has to make a good impression for the company’s clients, so he needs to upgrade his ride. He is looking for something that can seat four adults, is good for Minnesota winters, looks professional, but isn’t over the top. What car should he buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario:
I am changing careers and will be in a position now where I both will drive 80 miles a day instead of my current 15, and will also be in a position where I need to be seen as polished, professional, and smart with money but where doing so doesn’t mean the typical Accord/Camry type of thing.
It needs to seat 4 adults in comfort, have room for a rear-facing car seat, have all-wheel drive, get pretty solid gas mileage and not bleed me dry on maintenance. My area of Minnesota gets pretty rough winters along with rough roads so AWD/4WD is a must, but it does not have to be an SUV.
While I would like something nice and luxury-oriented I don’t want anything with insane maintenance costs. My budget is about $30,000.
Budget: Up to $30,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Lake Elmo, Minnesota
Wants: Something “upscale,” 4WD/AWD, seats four adults
Doesn’t want: Too fancy or too expensive to maintain.
Alex, the good news is that there are a bunch of cars to choose from in the “nice but not too nice” category. It’s really going to come down to priorities and preferences. If you think a luxury or luxury-ish badge is necessary then an Acura MDX is probably the ticket.
This is basically a fancy Honda Pilot so maintenance will be easy. Plus, there are plenty of examples around, and the MDX is a nice place to be for a long ride.
The issue of course with the Acura is that it is a bit behind the times, so if you wanted something more up to date I would go with the Mazda CX-9. Mazda has been on a roll in making cars that could pass for luxury rides without the typical baggage that comes with the European offerings. The Mazda’s turbocharged four-cylinder does a bit better on fuel economy than the Acura’s V6.
I know it seems like a distant memory, but for a long time BMW did offer the U.S. a diesel 3 Series wagon, and that’s exactly what you should get my friend.
It can fit the car seat, it can fit the four adults, and it makes you look smart and professional, because modern wagons are only bought by the sort of people that seem like they’re always thinking about something behind a pair of very nice glasses. (If you don’t have glasses, consider it!)
These diesel wagons get 30 miles per gallon city and 40 highway, it’s an unexpected choice that will make you stand out, but not too much, it sure is upscale, and it comes with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system for those tricky winter roads. I found a few of them near you for under budget; this one is silver with a brown interior for well under your budget.
The only thing I’m ignoring is your maintenance stipulation, but I asked my friend whose family rocks one, and they said, “it’s fine.” So you’re totally fine! Everything will be fine.
Alex, mazel tov on the promotion! I can’t think of anyone who deserved it more than you. Now, as for your new upgraded ride, let’s be real honest here: there is no blander, more anonymous segment in the modern automotive landscape than the upscale, 4WD, roomy vehicle, which is almost always some sort of SUV, usually silver or black. You don’t want that. You want to stand out, at least a little bit, but in a classy way that says you’re not some chump. That’s why you need to look to the past, and, specifically, look to a Jeep Grand Wagoneer.
The Grand Wagoneer was delivering everything you need decades ago, and doing it with a handsome, distinctively American ruggedness and, at the same time, refinement. The old-school body design still looks smart today, and the wood paneling gives it just enough vintage charm.
I found one here in pretty much immaculate condition for $24,500, well inside your budget, and while, sure, the gas mileage isn’t going to be anything to gush over, the maintenance and repairs will be simple and cheap (AMC’s big V8 isn’t a fussy engine), there’s plenty of room inside, decked out in traditional La-Z-Boy-style American luxury, and its got a proven 4WD system that’ll get you through any brutal Minnesota winter.
The Grand Cherokee is a classic, full stop. Your clients will be delighted to see you pull up in a beautifully-maintained classic like this, and that means there will be something to talk about immediately, some novel way to remember you, and, yes, I even think they’ll like you better than if you pulled up in some Infiniti SUV jerkbox.
You’re going to actually love this thing, which I don’t think you can say about any of these other options. So there.
Congratulations on the new job, Alex, and Tom is absolutely right—you have a lot to choose from in the “not too nice” category. This car happens to be my mom’s most recent choice for her job that requires driving all day, and it was a pretty good one.
The Hyundai Genesis is a great car that fizzled out in its final years as Genesis became its own, fancy, expensive luxury brand. But the Hyundai-branded car still feels incredibly luxurious, without a huge price tag due to the big, slanted “H” badges all over it. The only real problems my mom’s had with her 2015 V8 model are some glitches in the infotainment center and headlights, but other than that, it’s been fairly smooth sailing as far as maintenance goes.
You’ll have to go for the lower-powered, less fancy 3.8-liter V6 model on the Genesis to get all-wheel drive, but the models look alike, so it’s not that big of a deal from the outside unless you really want a powerhouse engine. But the car is massive and comfortably seats four adults, and you’ll probably even have the occasional passerby ask you if it’s an Aston Martin for whatever reason—perfect for your fancy new job, right?
All of the 3.8-liter Hyundai-branded Genesis models on Autotrader right now are in the $20,000 to $29,000 range, for reference, and some have fairly low mileage on them. No matter what you choose, though, I’m sure you’ll be fine.