Adrian is one of the hundreds of thousands of Volkswagen owners who will be getting a big fat check to get his dirty diesel off the road. But he isn’t interested in getting a Prius—he wants something practical, large, and four-wheel drive. What car should he buy?
(Welcome to What Car Should You Buy?, a new Jalopnik feature where we give real people real advice about buying cars. Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.)
Adrian’s smart to want to dump his diesel Volkswagen. While the cars were a great value, pairing excellent fuel economy with outstanding driving dynamics, we still don’t know what Volkswagen’s “fix” will do to either of those things. Plus, in the wake of Volkswagen’s diesel cheating scandal, the resale value of those cars is likely to be shot to hell. It’s likely only the hardcore diesel crowd will be getting their cars fixed; everyone else seems ready to move on.
But to what? We’ve already covered some logical options if you are the current owner of a TDI, but Adrian wants to change things up and go big.
Here is his situation:
I’ve had a four-door sedan for my entire life (Mazda 626, Mazda 3, Passat) and wanted to see what it’s like to have a living room on wheels. I really like the BMW X5 or Audi Q7 Is it overkill? I’m sure. Otherwise, I’m looking for someone to bring me back to reality and get something with five seats, rather than seven.
My VW payout will be $21,950 based on 2012 Manual black on black Passat, ~48000 miles. I have another 5k I could put toward a car as well. So my first option is to get something that is fully paid off.
The other option is to use part of the payout towards a lease and get something brand new, but have somewhat reasonable payments.
Budget: $20,000-$25,000 or lease
Daily Driver: Yes
Average Miles Per-Week: 100-200
Wants: Living room on wheels, luxury features, AWD/4WD
Doesn’t want: A sedan
First of all, Adrian, good for you for wanting to take your diesel buyout money and put it towards something with the goal of no car payments. It’s a nice feeling not to have to worry about making your monthly car note—but shelling out the equivalent of a car payment in maintenance costs isn’t good either.
That is why I am going to steer you away from the BMW X5 and Audi Q7 in the $20,000 to $25,000 range. All of these cars are going to have a bit of mileage on them and be well beyond the warranty period. If you want a big luxury truck, without the extreme maintenance costs have a look at Lexus, specifically the GX series.
Lexus has one of the best certified pre-owned programs in the industry. Why am I mentioning that when none of the GX trucks under $25,000 are certified? The reason Lexus can offer an unlimited mile warranty for six years is because they know few people will ever take them up on it. That’s how well the cars are built.
Here is a 2008 Lexus GX470 with less than 67,000 miles for about $20,000. These are very off-road capable, very reliable (including one of the most bulletproof V8 motors you can buy) and will definitely give you a luxury car feel. What they won’t give you is anywhere near the fuel efficiency of your diesel, but hey, now is the time to get something like this while gas is still cheap.
Maybe an eight-year-old Lexus doesn’t exactly thrill you, or you aren’t all that opposed to having car payments. A lease may not be a bad play. You could take the easy route and lease a Honda Pilot or a Toyota Highlander. Deals are easy to find and the high resale values should make the payments reasonable.
Or you can look into something cool like the new Mazda CX-9, since you seem to have an affinity for that brand. A Grand Touring trim would give you all the luxury features you want and, in my opinion, a package that looks much better than a BMW or Audi.
Forget the Lexus. It’s much too logical of a choice. I mean, Tom used words like “warranty” and “pre-owned programs.” You don’t want to think with your head when you buy a car, Adrian, trust me. You want to think with your heart!
And what your heart undoubtedly wants—no, needs—is wood side paneling, big burgundy cushy bench seats, a gurgling carbureted 360 cubic-inch AMC V8 that will easily out-pollute your VW, and loads of chrome trim.
In other words, you need a Jeep Grand Wagoneer. Like that Lexus, it’s built on a totally outdated body-on-frame platform, sucks ungodly amounts of fuel with its big V8, and has the aerodynamics of a barn.
But unlike the Lexus, which Tom admits might not “thrill you,” the Grand Wagoneer drips with soul and passion. You say you want a luxury living room on wheels; well, this is the original. And it will thrill you.
And it’s tried-and-true, too, built on Willys-Overland’s SJ platform, which came out all the way back in 1963. You can snag a nice one for well below your $20,000 figure, and it will definitely (okay, probably) make it 100 to 200 miles a week through snow, mud, or whatever.
But if, for whatever reason, you can’t find a rust-free Grand Wagoneer on your local Craigslist (it’s tough, I know), check out a 2014-ish Jeep Grand Cherokee like this one.
It’s built on a much more modern platform than that Lexus (the Jeep’s is actually Mercedes-based), comes with a much more efficient powertrain (a 3.6-liter V6 and an eight-speed auto), and can off-road with the best of them. That should hold you over until you find a nice woody.
First, Adrian, let me apologize for my drooling simpleton colleagues–they mean well, they really do, but they probably weren’t breast-fed or something, and that’s why they’re misdirecting you so completely.
Sure, David’s old Cherokee is lovely, but it’s much too archaic for a modern, on-the-go fellow such as yourself. And that Lexus is only good if your goal is to disappear into a suburban mall parking lot, and never be heard from again.
Adrian, let’s cut the crap. You know what you really want. You said it right here:
“... a living room on wheels...”
Brother, you want a van.
Now, you specified a few other things: large, practical, 4WD, and I think I have just the thing. There’s a lot of great 4WD conversions for Ford Econolines, and you can get them in conversion-van guise to make them very living room-like, but those tend to be pretty expensive, and maybe out of your budget.
However, if we fudge a bit on one of your requirements—large—we open a whole world of amazing 4WD vans with living room-capable interiors and tons of practicality. We just have to go to Japan.
Or, even better, bring Japan to you, like I think you should do when you buy this importable Mitsubishi Delica Star Wagon Exceed. Look how many names this thing has! You know a car with that many names has to be good.
The Star Wagon meets all your requirements: it’s 4x4, it’s deliriously practical, with sliding doors and a huge box-like interior and a big-ass roof cargo rack. It’s got the living-room thing you want, too – look at those comfy couches in there! And that checkerboard carpet! This home on wheels, baby, and it’ll go anywhere! There’s even a huge sunroof!
It’s 1,500,000 yen, which comes to a mere $11,100 or so. That’s half your budget, so there’s plenty left over to cover shipping costs and any tricky registration and bribing the DMV person to register it as an ‘89 or ‘90 even though it’s a ‘94.
Look how much cooler the Star Wagon is than that Lexus. This is the way to go. You know I’m right. I’m actually preemptively envious of you right now.
If you wanted someone to bring you back down to reality, I’m not going to be the one to do it. Depreciation is your friend, friend, and you should be looking for more than a rubbery-interiored, kid-haulin’ Audi Q7. I’m talking, of course, about the king of all luxurious crossovers: the Porsche Cayenne.
If you want something that’s even nicer than your living room on four wheels, this is it. Options frequently include coating unexpected surfaces in leather, and gizmos you only thought existed on mid-1960s Cadillac concept cars. Best of all, older models are frequently available in that $20,000-$25,000 range.
As with any Porsche, look for a well-kept example with good service history, and get it thoroughly checked out by a shop that knows Porsches before handing over the check. But if it does check out, you’re in for a world of fun.
The Cayenne is suprisingly capable despite all of its luxury. It can tow a car! It can do some mild off-roading! It can warm your buttocks in its cocooon of supple leather with the press of a button! It can travel at ludicrous speeds on pavement!
Here’s a 2009 Cayenne GTS for sale on AutoTrader for $21,500. That’s not just a Cayenne, but one of the higher trim models with a few extras geared towards passing BMW X5s on the autobahn. If the extra speed kit and arrest-me red aren’t your cup of tea, you basically have your pick of any early Cayenne that tickles your fancy. The only model I’d avoid in your case, sadly, is the Cayenne Diesel, whose 3.0-liter V6 is also the subject of some Dieselgate brouhaha.
One other place to check is with your local Porsche owners group, or on Porsche forums. For example, the classifieds in the back of the Porsche Club of America’s magazine Panorama tend to feature pampered enthusiast-owned examples that should (in theory) be less likely to have issues. Those are the owners who keep up with every fiddly complaint logged on Rennlist, and you’re buying a better car for it. This classified section will be the death of whatever money I have in savings/win in the lottery/gain from striking oil in Mom’s yard someday.
A certain segment of the Porsche faithful values having the latest and greatest above all things, so some are even under $10,000 at this point. You could buy a Cayenne, a trailer and a beater 944... fine, I’ll stop there.