Ben has a 2013 BRZ that he has owned since he was 16. While he enjoys driving it, the small coupe is not ideal for his outdoor activities like surfing, biking etc…He wants something with a bit more practicality and good fuel economy at a reasonable price. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario -
I have a 2013 Subaru BRZ with 84,000mi on it that I’ve had since new when I was 16. I absolutely love the car, but it no longer fits my lifestyle. I spend a lot of time in the outdoors, and do a lot of hauling of surfboards, skis, bikes, backpacking gear, etc. I also do long drives to get me up to the mountains, so I want something with good gas mileage and that isn’t likely to break down and leave me stranded. I’m looking for something that is capable in snow and on dirt roads, that has room for my toys and to camp in the back, and that gets reasonable gas mileage. I’m selling my BRZ, and don’t want to spend much more than I get for it on my next car, so my budget is ideally around $15k, but I might be willing to spend a bit more than that for the right car. In an ideal world I’d get something with a manual transmission and leather interior, but you can only ask for so much.
Budget: Around $15,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: San Diego, CA
Wants: Practicality, good MPG, reliability
Doesn’t want: Something too small or too old
Ben, you may remember a time when fifteen large got you a pretty nice car that was relatively new, but that’s not the market we are dealing with anymore. Given your current Subaru ownership the logical choice would be to move to something like an Outback, but sourcing one of those at this price point that isn’t both substantially older than your car or with really high miles is a challenge. However, sticking with the wagon body style would be a wise choice.
I would say go with an unloved Acura. Well, not totally unloved, there were maybe a dozen people who thought these were cool at the time, which is a shame because the TSX Sportwagon has a lot going for it. Under the hood is Honda’s fantastic 2.4-liter VTEC motor that makes about 200 horsepower. These things weren’t fast, but the handling was spot-on. The long roof body style means that you can fit two bikes in the back with the fold-flat seats, or even camp out in the car if you had to. Since all wagons look better with roof racks, a set from Yakima or Thule will increase your gear capacity even further. While these wagons are a bit rare, I had found a 2011 example with under 100,000 miles at just under $15,000 but that god sold before we were able to hit publish. Here is another one that is a bit over budget.
Okay, you cut your teeth with a BRZ, but now it’s time to really get your hot boi status. A 2008-2012 Subaru WRX STI is pretty much the middle of the Venn diagram between outdoorsy and car enthusiast. It has all of the speed and refinement and manual-transmissiony goodness you’re looking for, but with the all-wheel drive and hatch-backy sensibility you need to haul your outdoors-person gear. Okay, so you don’t really need AWD in San Diego, but if you keep the WRX STI at stock ride height, you could probably make use of it at the trailheads. And it’ll always be there for you to help if you want to take a ski trip to Big Bear or something.
The STI might be a little bit of a stretch in your budget, but you can occasionally find nice ones for between $17,000 and $20,000. In fact, here’s one on eBay for $18,999 that I can’t recommend enough. The SoCal market is a little bit crazy for these right now, so start off your ownership with an epic adventure. Fly in to Chicago, pick up this bad boy, and drive it home. If the extra power and widebody aren’t mandatory for you like they are for me, consider the standard WRX hatch as well. Thank me later. Happy trails!
My colleagues all have great suggestions for something practical, fun and reliable. Me? I think you should go vintage. You know what looks perfect with surfboards, skis and bikes on its roof? A 1980s Mercedes diesel wagon, specifically a W123. Let me run this 1981 Mercedes-Benz 300TD through your desires:
Practicality: This wagon is big enough to sleep in, so it’ll fit most of the gear of your active lifestyle with ease. And for what doesn’t fit there is a sturdy roof rack.
Fuel economy & reliability: Under the hood is an OM617 A 3.0-liter straight five turbodiesel engine. These engines are known for running so well that it will likely outlast any other car you’ll ever own. The last time that I owned a diesel W123 I got into the 30-mpg range on the highway and averaged roughly 26 overall. Of course, the cost of diesel will vary depending on where you live.
In short, you really can’t go wrong with an ‘80s Mercedes. Don some shades and pick up this beauty out in Texas.
As the staunch Toyobaru Lover on this site, My first recommendation would be to just keep the BRZ. It’ll fit a large-frame mountain bike in the back with just the front wheel removed and your dropper post set to the lowest setting, I promise — I did it all last summer:
If you’re really determined, you can even sleep in the back, and live out your outdoorsy vanlife fantasies:
But, fine. Maybe you want “comfort” or “room for more than one bike” or “the ability to carry a surfboard, that thing you explicitly mentioned in your ask.” I get it, I’ll bend to your will. You need a Subaru Legacy Outback XT.
Crucially, you don’t want an Outback. You want a Legacy Outback, from back when that second word was just a trim level. All the cargo room of a Legacy wagon, plus a bit of ride height to get you to your campsite. That XT badge gets you a turbo and, for a few brief years, a manual transmission — like this one, for sale just up the coast from you. It’s even got leather.
Sure, 2005 isn’t the newest, but you’re familiar with boxer engine quirks already. Throw a bottle of Rotella T6 in the back, top the engine off at every gas fill-up, and you’ll be fine. Just keep an eye out for those banjo bolt filters.
Ben, the running joke in this series is that Tom gets to double dip his excellent suggestions: with the picture atop the post, and with first pick of the bunch. As Tom is wont to do, he’s picked well! The Acura TSX Sport Wagon is great, but you seem very active: surfing, biking, skiing, hitting trails! We need something more exciting than the 2.4-liter in the TSX. So, let’s add two cylinders while keeping the same idea, more or less. You need this 2012 Honda Crosstour.
This specific car is a jaunt away in Palm Springs, CA. It’s slightly over budget at $15,888, but it’s only got 65,276 miles on the odometer! That lovely 3.5-liter V6 engine is just about broken-in at that point, and it’s making 70 more horsepower than the inline-four in the Acura. You still get 4WD in the Crosstour and since it’s the high-spec model, the inside is not that far behind the TSX.
The Honda Crosstour wasn’t popular when it came out, probably because the U.S. wasn’t quite ready for it. The design was hit or miss, but after seeing so many bloated crossovers trying to blend a sedan and wagon, the Crosstour looks sleek. It’ll be less thrifty with gas than the Acura, but Honda’s V6 engines are so fun to drive; they can surprise you. The Honda Crosstour will likely be a reliable ride, with enough cargo space to do the fun stuff you want. Get a roof rack, too!
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