My 2004 Jetta Is About To Be A Pile of Rust! What Car Should I Buy?

Illustration for article titled My 2004 Jetta Is About To Be A Pile of Rust! What Car Should I Buy?
Image: CarGurus.com

Caleb has a 16-year-old Volkswagen Jetta with 200,000 miles that is not long for this world. He wants something to replace it that seats four, looks “professional,” but is also still fun and relatively affordable. What car should he buy?

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(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is Caleb’s Scenario:

Help! I have a 2004 Jetta with rust, leaks, rattles and 200k miles. My spouse had initially purchased the car as her dream car for long-distance commuting, but after a few years upgraded and the Jetta became mine. Prior to the Jetta, I had driven everything from a PT Cruiser to a Silverado — whatever I could afford at the time.

I now have a professional job where I need to appear respectable as I pull into a parking lot or travel with a colleague, but want to maintain some of sense of eccentricity and fun. I need something that can comfortably seat four but is also suitable for spirited driving. I would prefer a rear-drive car but I could be flexible on that.

I have a modest budget, ($15,000 to $20,000). I am experiencing a budding midlife crisis, and need to have a car for a family of four.

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $20,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Iowa

Wants: Fun, affordable, seating for four

Doesn’t want: Boring or too common

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Did You Say Different?

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Image: Autotrader.com

Caleb, some of my colleagues might disagree with giving up on the 2004 Jetta, but I’m on board that it is time to move on. You said you need something that looks professional but also won’t blend in with a sea of common cars.

My friend, you need a Saab — specifically the last generation 9-5 sedan. There aren’t many of these hanging around. The few you can find are still fantastic looking cars with a lot of character. This 2011 Turbo4 example has just under 70,000 and is on the lower end of your budget. It even has a manual transmission!

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The tech is pretty dated by current car standards, but it should be a bit of an upgrade over your VW. It seems that someone at Dan Deery Toyota really likes Saabs, as they have a few to choose from, so perhaps they have a Swedish tech on staff as well.

Expert 2: Justin Westbrook - Punch Way Up For Cheap

Illustration for article titled My 2004 Jetta Is About To Be A Pile of Rust! What Car Should I Buy?
Photo: Napleton Autowerks
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So there’s already Volkswagen in the family, which is seemingly going to grow, and you need to look professional. The car VW specifically built and branded for you, Caleb, luckily exists, and it’s the CC sedan.

With looks to rival a contemporary E-Class, this particular model near, uh, Loves Park, Illinois (hope that’s close to your part of Iowa), fits the bill perfectly. With its sleek black paint job and nice bright wheels, it will certainly satisfy your professional projection needs. Plus it will easily fit your family.

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It has a 3.6-liter V6 making 280 horsepower and 265 lb-ft of torque, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. On earlier model years of the CC, you could pair a lower trim with front-wheel drive and a manual transmission, but had less power. Those are out there if you’re interested.

This one is a 2014 Executive trim with 4Motion all-wheel drive, making it probably a fairly rare mass-production Volkswagen product, all things considered. I bet you won’t find many more.

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Expert 3: Mercedes Streeter - Extremely Respectable

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Photo: Facebook Marketplace (Other)
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That 2004 Jetta of yours sounds like it has a lot of character. Rust, leaks and rattles are all part of that Volkswagen charm. If I weren’t sitting on a pile of Volkswagens already I’d probably ask if I could buy it from you. But I understand, you want a fun upgrade. I have just the upgrade for you.

This is a 1962 Cadillac Sixty Special. It has a V8 engine, rear-wheel-drive, and will comfortably take your family and colleagues anywhere. Plus, you’ll turn heads whenever you roll into any parking lot. I mean, check out the sweet fins on the back.

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It’s noted as being a Texas car with a custom paintjob and a modern infotainment system. This car won’t carve corners or anything like that but it is an old American land yacht. The body roll alone will make every drive feel spirited. Put on some shades, crank up the tunes and rule the open road with this bad boy. It comes in well within budget, at $12,000.

Expert 4: Jason Torchinsky - Find Out What It Means To Me

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Photo: Duncan Imports
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You know what always commands respect? Royalty. That includes symbols of royalty, like crowns. Consider the Kings Burger or Mattress, for example. So why not take advantage of that, and get yourself this fantastic Toyota Crown Super Deluxe wagon?

This wonderful 1993 Crown is a RWD wagon with Toyota reliability, clean, respectable looks, and JDM quirkiness and charm. It’s got a 2-liter inline-six making about 170 horsepower or so, plenty of room inside, acres of rich, creamery velour and tons of character.

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Plus, a big crown right there on the grille.

It’s only $8,963 and, yes, is one of the very few cars with dual rear wipers.

This is your answer, buddy. You’re welcome.

Expert 5: José Rodríguez - Both Sporty And Posh Spice

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Screenshot: Carmax
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Let me start by saying that 200,000 miles is a commendable achievement, and more so in a Volkswagen. Good work, Caleb! Given your history with the marque and model, my immediate thought for you was a Jetta SportWagen, but there is another sport wagon out there that I think could suit you better as you move into a more mature car.

And that’s the Acura TSX Sport Wagon. Some will question it’s “sport” bona fides, as it is a front-wheel drive, automatic only, mid-weight wagon, propelled by a Honda four-cylinder engine good for just 201 horsepower.

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But sport, unlike speed, can be a relative term. Speed is quantifiable; whether a drive feels sporty is up to the driver. I’m sure you could feel at least a little sporty on a drive along Iowa roads, sitting inside the TSX’s impressive cabin, with its engine humming along confidently.

You mentioned you wanted eccentric, and I think this wagon is the best thing for standing out while looking professional and comfortably accommodating passengers this side of a SportCombi. But unlike the Saab, the reliable Acura could potentially break your 200,000 mile Jetta record.

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There are a lot of these to be found on Carvana, but they seem to favor black models. Weigh your options for what is best, but rest easy knowing the TSX can be found under budget, hovering around the $16,000 mark. I like this 2014 model in white, but mind the mileage.

Do you want us to help you find a car? Submit your story on our form.

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)

DISCUSSION

buckfiddious
buckfiddious

Ohmygod you are a family of four. Your rear wheel drive, spirited driving days are over until the kids go to college. Just buy the Acura and enjoy something that’s reliable. Get the leather interior because it’s impossible to get goldfish out of cloth upholstery.