Jarod lives in Philly and he takes frequent trips to NJ Motorsport Park to race his Mazdaspeed3. He needs an affordable, reliable, and family-friendly tow-rig so he can bring his boys to the track. 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 need a vehicle capable of towing my Mazdaspeed3 to the track (~60mi each way) and still fitting in the garage spot currently occupied by my 2012 Outback. I want to start bringing my two sons out for track days, but with racing buckets and no back seat I can’t bring them in my MS3. Plus the risk of stranding the three of us there in the unlikely event of wreck/failure is too high.
This vehicle would serve as my daily driver and haul the two kids around town as well as getting me to work.
I don’t want something too old or unreliable, I would like it to have modern-ish features like XM radio.
My budget is between $15,000 - $20,000
Budget: Up to $20,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Wants: Towing capacity, reliability, modern
Doesn’t want: Something too big
Jarod, this one was definitely a challenge. Looked up the curb weight of your MS3 and it comes in around 2,900 pounds. While I imagine you may have reduced that a bit because racecar, Google also tells me that car trailers could weigh up to 2,200 pounds. Which means we need something with a towing capacity that potentially exceeds 5,000 pounds. Also, the length of your Outback is about 188 inches so I assume we need to be around that mark for this other vehicle to fit in your garage. These are some difficult variables to fit into a $20,000 budget while getting something that isn’t too old or unreliable.
Since you can’t make your garage bigger, I am going to strongly suggest you consider opening up your budget a bit.
A Lexus GX460 is rated at 6,500-pound towing capacity, and is basically bulletproof. The problem is that the newer versions within your budget are well over the 100k mile mark. If you are ok with something with a little bit of age on it, you can find 2012-2013 model year examples with more reasonable miles for under $25,000. Though it will likely require a wide net to find a good specimen.
Tom is probably right. But as I mentioned the last time I recommended this exact car, there’s a bit of a cheat code for buying a used Lexus. This website allows you to check dealer maintenance records by VIN and narrow your search to cars that have lived the good life, making mileage—at least in my mind where owning a high-mileage car is just a slightly less dangerous and massively more fun form of Russian Roulette—less of a concern. I had no qualms whatsoever about buying a 2007 GX470 with just over 100,000 miles on it, even knowing I planned to modify it and subject it to the tortures of kid duty and off-roading with only road trips as a respite. I did that because, even though my truck was cosmetically a little whipped, it had been meticulously serviced by a single owner from new. GX470s like that are easy to find for less than $20,000.
Here’s one now.
You have a $20,000 budget for an older SUV? Get an FJ Cruiser, bro. Three. Windshield. Wipers. Bro.
Nothing wrong with a Lexus truck, but FJs are real treats and shouldn’t be overlooked. Owners don’t seem to have any trouble towing 4,000-5,000 pounds, and towing gives you an excuse to get some more side mirror action going on one, which seems wise anyway. It’s like a Honda Element but tougher. Local ones with decent mileage are well within your range, and cherry super-low-mile JDM imports are just over. Couldn’t be bad.
Good grief, three short and spendy Toyotas? For towing? In Pennsylvania? Sorry Jarod, my dear friends don’t have good suggestions for you today. You need to do a little more looking beyond “posted max tow capacity” to determine what’s going to be a good tow rig. And relatively short vehicles with high gravity centers, like those three Toyotas, are suboptimal for serious towing. (Sorry, fam.)
What you want is something lower and longer, easily serviced, and comfortable. Like a GMC Yukon XL. The mid-2000s design was, unfortunately, the ugliest GM’s ubiquitous sport utility vehicles have ever been but that’s what falls close to your budget. Here’s one in a fun color, at least.
You could always spend a little less upfront and get a much prettier GMT800, but the cab of one of those will feel pretty dated in 2020. Still, if you do go that route, you might be able to find a heavy-duty one that’s even better-suited to pulling weight.
The great thing about the first-generation Volkswagen Touareg is that it could do a little bit of everything. It was comfortable inside for highway cruising, incredibly capable off-road, and—especially when equipped with the diesel engine options—it was rated to tow quite a big load—over 7,700 pounds for the 2010 model.
The 90,000-mile 2010 “Touareg 2” (that’s the first-gen, post-facelift) shown above, for sale near you for about $11,000, comes with a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 under the hood. That motor makes 225 horsepower, which isn’t a lot given the vehicle’s 5,300-ish pound curb weight, but 406 lb-ft of torque is great, and fuel economy shouldn’t be too poor, with Motor Trend clocking over 24 mpg over a 2,500 mile road test back in 2010.
It’s stylish, off-road capable, comfortable, reasonably fuel-efficient, and famous for its towing abilities (particularly in V10 TDI guise). You should buy it. I sort of want to, except the idea of working on luxury German cars scares me.