Unfortunately we are in the market for a new car after only three years. This from the people who have generally driven our cars into the ground – for 10 to 14 years – and then donated them to charity because they weren’t worth selling.
In case you didn’t know or guess, our current car is a Volkswagen Jetta TDI – one of those diesel numbers that are spewing noxious fumes into the air. Good mileage and low emissions per mile were among the criteria we set when we bought it. Those are still among our top criteria, along with handling and comfort for our long drives north and south. Six to eight hours in a ride that doesn’t perform well, isn’t comfortable, has to be fueled too often, and/or costs a bundle to operate is not what we are looking for.
We bought the Jetta to replace one of our two Subaru Outbacks, so we started looking at small cross-overs – particularly the Mazda CX3, Honda CRV, and Outback. I don’t remember what objections we had to which car, but generally we found them uncomfortable, weren’t happy with the way they handled (steering, acceleration, braking), and felt as though they were just too big.
By 2014 the Outback had increased considerably in size from our previous models – a 1997 and a 2000, which felt more like station wagons to me. Perhaps Subaru increased the size because of competition from other companies introducing crossovers, which weren’t so popular when we previously shopped for cars. Whatever the reason, we weren’t any happier with it than with the others we drove. And by then we were particularly disenthralled with the gas mileage of our older models, so buying an Outback wasn’t high on our list.
But there weren’t many station wagons three years ago – and honestly, I don’t remember driving any other than the Jetta. We loved it from the first ride. It felt right. We hadn’t been looking for heated seats and really preferred all-wheel drive, so we had to recalculate our attitudes to make it work. The more stable price of diesel fuel and high city and highway mileage were bonuses that more than made up for what we perceived to be the drawbacks.
Shopping for cars in 2016
Most of our considerations as we approach a new car purchase this fall, after Volkswagen forks over a sum estimated to be more than we paid for the car three years ago, are the same as before.
The difference this time around is that we are beginning our search with a station wagon. Not a “small SUV” or crossover. Not a four-seat hatchback, and not a two-door car with a big seat/cargo area behind the driver and front passenger. We need to be able to fit four full-size people, sometimes a half-size person, and one or two mid-size dogs inside. We need to be able to drive to New England or Asheville in relative comfort, allowing for the discomfort of traveling six to eight hours at a stretch with only brief stops. We need to get reasonable mileage, and above all it must not pollute.
The only obvious replacement, unfortunately, is made by the same company that lied to us about our last car. We will no doubt drive a Volkswagen Golf SportWagen because it may rival our Jetta in mileage, and if it’s as comfortable and easy to drive, it might work. But no heated seats (unless that’s changed on the 2017), and we question paying the money Volkswagen is required to give us right back to them.
There are a few other choices – a Volvo, a BMW, an Audi, a Mercedes. Not one of them gets decent gas mileage, and most of them are for sure out of our price range. So, is it worth even taking time to figure out if any of them are comfortable and easy to drive?
My real question is, why can’t we just buy a reasonable station wagon? Why is there no mid-price competition in this kind of car? Does everyone now have so much gear that they need an SUV, or at least a crossover? Why did the auto manufacturers give up on the staple of family cars, a wagon to haul three kids and a dog across the country in the summer?
This post is just a rant. I don’t expect anyone to have anything else to suggest. If you do, I’d be more than happy to hear about it, though.