Rich had a 2009 Subaru Legacy GT that he put his heart into. Unfortunately, the Subie has expired so now he is looking for something reliable and sporty-ish with four doors for around $35,000. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario -
All good things come to an end gents and my 2009 Subaru Legacy GT has reached that end. After extensively modifying it and making it the car Subaru should have built, she’s finally given up the ghost. I love her and she’ll always be in my heart, but I’m thinking it’s time to move onto the next heartbreak.
Anyway, I have PCS orders to a new AFB in SC and my family will be staying where I currently am located in NC due to the fact that my wife has a much more awesome job than I, the kids are set in their schools, and I only have 3yrs until retirement. I need something reliable, somewhat fuel efficient due to driving back home (225mi one way) on the weekends, comfortable, and is also not a complete dog. I don’t need a loud/obnoxious car, but don’t want a complete soul-sucking commuter. What’s the next evolution of a Legacy GT for a 36yr old?
My wife said something about the next car being at least a family capable car, blah blah blah.
I have a budget up to $35,000
Budget: up to $35,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: North and South Carolina
Wants: Fun, Four Doors, Reliability
Doesn’t want: Something too thirsty or expensive to fix
Rich, when I was looking over the potential topics for this week’s column you had me at Subaru Legacy GT. I once owned an ‘05 GT wagon that also found its limits of reliability but will still remain one of my favorite cars that I’ve owned.
The Legacy GT had four-cylinder turbo power with AWD and was just sporty enough to be fun but also really livable. There aren’t too many cars that use the same formula, but if you can do without the AWD, one comes pretty close. The Mazda6 sedan is known for having some of the best dynamics in the non-luxury midsize four-door segment. It also feels a bit more “upscale” compared to the offerings from Honda and Toyota. Starting in 2018 Mazda offered a turbo option with an output of 250 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. This motor also returned a respectable 31 mpg on the highway.
If you search for Mazda6 sedans starting in the 2019 model year all trims at Grand Touring and up had the 2.5-liter turbo motor as standard equipment. A $35,000 budget will give you a lot of options to choose from many of which have lower miles. Here is a Certified 2020 example in Mazda’s signature Soul Red paint with only 17k miles. This car is a Reserve trim that offers some nice luxury upgrades.
I desperately wanted to find you a Lincoln Continental with its excellent suicide doors that could fit into your budget, but alas it was not to be. So instead, here’s another fun Japanese sedan. Rich, what about a Civic SI?
It might seem like an obvious choice, but sometimes the obvious options are that way for a reason. The Civic SI is flipping excellent.
For well under 35 grand, you can get your hands on a lovely compact sedan from the wizards over at Honda. It’d be a perfect replacement for the outgoing Subaru as it comes with the practicalities of five seats, four doors and a decent-sized trunk. But, with the SI badge stuck up front and at the rear, you also get Honda’s lovely 1.5-liter engine and six-speed manual gearbox. That’s the very definition of fun, right?
Thankfully, you’ve got a few different options to take with this car. If you can wait, a new Civic SI starts well under budget at $27,700, and that means you can order it in the gorgeous blazing Orange Pearl finish. By the time dealer fees are added, that will likely put the price up in the 30s. If you want it right now, then this metallic blue, 2020 model near you would be a peach.
The only downside I see here is that you’ll lose the all-wheel drive you had in the Subaru. But, you get to replace that with heaps of Honda excellence.
When it comes to practical fun for a car fan with a family, it’s pretty much impossible to do better than a hot hatch. But what if there was something better? There is and it’s an even hotter hatch, aka the Ford Focus RS.
Sure, it looks like the world’s angriest vacuum cleaner and it had some issues with head gaskets, but compared to that Subie life, it’s probably nothing. Besides, if you get one with some miles on it, that stuff is likely to have been handled already.
The Focus RS’ performance figures are pretty silly. It makes 350 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque from a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder. It’s got a six-speed manual and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. It’s also got room for kids and groceries and whatever else you can think of in the back.
Sure, you could phone it in and get a Focus ST and likely be totally happy, but why take half measures when this example of the gnarliest hatch that anyone has ever brought to the US just squeaks under your budget?
Live your best life, Rich. Live RS.
I might be a bit of a fanboy, but right now I don’t think there’s a new vehicle on the market that matches the performance per dollar that you’ll get if you purchased a Hyundai Elantra N. Look past the features you get for the money and just consider the serious performance: 275 horsepower turbocharged I4 with an overboost function that takes it to 286 hp, paired to a six-speed manual (or an eight speed dual clutch transmission). Then there’s fantastic handling, great throttle response, and probably one of, if not the best-sounding stock exhaust you’ll ever hear. And it’s efficient. EPA rating sits at 22/31 highway. And I’ve read even if you drive it with a heavy foot you’ll still get around 25 mpg.
The Elantra N won’t break the bank either. You will also benefit from Hyundai’s fantastic warranty. If the warranty runs out it’s still an Elantra, so most parts will be cheap. You’re also in a good position to buy one as you live on the east coast and there are dealers that are actually selling them at or near sticker price. I found one in Springfield, VA going for $34,645, well within your budget.
Rich, the first thing I thought of for a family-friendly car that’d be fun to drive between North and South Carolina was a BMW wagon. The best of those would be an E46 3-Series wagon, but since these are older, they may not be as reliable.
Given your willingness to work on your cars, like with your Legacy GT, bringing an old straight-six BMW wagon up to speed might not be hard. But instead of putting you through the trials of owning an old BMW, I recommend this 2018 Buick Regal TourX wagon, which will leave a little wiggle room in the budget.
The Regal TourX is often overlooked because of its Buick badge, which is a damn shame. The TourX wagon has good looks, a great interior with better fit and finish than a comparable Subaru and all the room your family may need.
Its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine won’t be as thrilling as that of a WRX, the next step to a Legacy GT. But it will be thrifty on those long stints in the Carolinas, getting up to 29 miles per gallon. I can almost promise you that you’ll be the only one on-base with a Regal TourX, and you’ll look the part of a responsible young adult with a family in the modern, handsome wagon.
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