Car Shopping with t0ast, Round 1: Planning

With the STR NC finally sold, I’m starting to research and evaluate options for my next car. The Outback XT will be on its way out too after this next purchase, so I’m hoping to land somewhere between them.

So between a Miata... and an Outback. Way to narrow it down, amirite? Well, I’m not planning on purchasing until mid-late March, and even then, that’s not a hard deadline, so I’ve got some time on my hands. I might as well make good use of it and take a more methodical approach to try and figure out what actually works best. I’ll be taking various notes along the way and share my findings here in case anyone wants to nerd out on the details/process with me.

Without further ado, let’s set some criteria and see what all might fit.

Criteria

Price: Must be ~40k or less, and I’m leaning strongly towards new since I’ll want to hold on to it for a while. At that limit, I’d still be able to keep the loan terms well ahead of the depreciation curve without stressing my personal budget, but the idea of spending less has its appeal as well. There’s no shortage of other long-term / non-critical house and Exocet projects that could use additional funding.

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Transmission: Must be manual. I know, I know, good automatics exist, but I just can’t quit you, Manuel.

Practicality: It’ll only be 1-2 people in the car most of the time, but I do occasionally take road trips with friends. It doesn’t need to be Outback-sized, but it should at least be able to handle four adults with as many small-medium bags while retaining some semblance of comfort. A hatchback or wagon would be ideal to better accommodate the occasional large box, multiple tires, etc., but a sedan would also probably be fine as long as the rear head/leg space isn’t awful.

Fun: I’d like something that is at least moderately engaging to drive, but not so much so that it’d steal the spotlight away from the Exocet or detract in any significant way from comfort.

Power: ~200 HP would be nice, and more is obviously better. This isn’t an absolute requirement, but it sure is nice when loaded up with people/stuff or for passing maneuvers on two lane roads.

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Platform/Drivetrain: We get all the weather in Missouri, so this car will have to deal with it (or worse at some extremes, given family and friends in Texas and Iowa). AWD is much preferred given our occasionally wild temperature and precipitation swings, but I’d realistically be fine with an LSD’d FWD/RWD car under most circumstances as well. Snow tires will be purchased regardless.

Comfort/Features: Comfortable seats and ergonomics for a 6'2" body is a must. Feature-wise, I’m a lot more interested in comfort/infotainment improvements than I am in driving assists, and my bar for this isn’t exactly a high one. Honestly, I’d be content with just some heated seats and Android Auto, so anything beyond that is gravy.

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Fuel Economy: As long as I can realistically hit near 30MPG or more on the highway, I’m good. Getting more than that and/or not requiring premium would be a bonus, but gas is relatively cheap here, so it’s not too big of a deal.

Reliability/Warranty: I’m wanting to hold on to this car for at least 6-10 years, so having a good warranty and/or reasonable upkeep costs would be a significant plus.

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The Candidates

These are the best matches I’ve been able to come up with so far and some preliminary impressions from various review sources and my own experiences/research. Some feel like much better fits than others, but I don’t want to rule anything out until I can at least see (or preferably test drive) each in person.

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(side note: I feel like I’m fast becoming the poster boy for “bUt NoBoDy CrOsS-sHoPs ThOsE cArS!” counter-arguments with this list...)

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Impreza Sport 5-door ($24k): This is the bare-minimum, practicality-focused pick. It’s cheap and will easily cover all of my basic needs, but 150HP in a 3100 lb car? Ouch.

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Civic Si Sedan ($24k): A great balance between fun and frugality, with likely the lowest TCO of the entire group. Loses some points for not being AWD or a hatch, however.

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Golf GTI Rabbit Edition ($29k) or SE w/ DCC+Audio ($32k): A more favorable form factor than the Si with additional power. Supposedly there’s a more “premium” feel here, but fewer features per dollar. My confidence in VW’s long-term reliability isn’t particularly strong, but their 6 year <DeMuro>B U M P E R T O B U M P E R</DeMuro> warranty helps mitigate that concern to some extent. Worst case scenario, I’d have it paid off well before the end of the warranty and could either build up a buffer for repair or offload it depending on how things go. Apply this thought to the other VWs below.

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Veloster N w/ Performance Pack ($30k): Two steps forward in fun, one door step back in practicality. Easily the best performance value of everything being considered here, especially with Hyundai’s excellent warranty taken into account. Unfortunately, that rear seat space looks borderline unusable. Combine that with the more raw 2WD performance focus and this vehicle would likely be encroaching on the Exocet’s territory without providing a whole lot of benefit elsewhere. If only we got the i30N...

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Golf Alltrack SE ($30k): A spiritual successor of sorts to my Outback XT with better on-road manners. I took one on a short test loop last year and it drove better than I thought it would, but it likely can’t hold a candle to most other options on this list. It could also use a touch more power, but the practicality and features for the price make a for a decent counter-argument.

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WRX Limited ($32k): It’s got the fun and AWD bases covered, but the rear seats felt a little too small when I gave them a quick try at last year’s auto show. Then again, that was right after stepping out of the considerably more spacious Impreza, so I’ll have to take a more objective look next time I encounter one. Also, who do I need to bribe to speed up the migration to Subaru’s global platform and give us another WRX wagon? Dead horse beatings aside, the purchase price isn’t bad for what you get, but judging by my Outback experience, Subaru’s intermittent quality issues, and their average-length warranty, I’d probably be in for some slightly above-average ownership costs.

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Civic Type R ($36k): Fun, fast, and practical. This goes one step further than the Veloster N in performance while solving its passenger/cargo area shortfalls, but still doesn’t alleviate my Exocet overlap concerns. I could deal with how it looks (hot take: it’s just okay) and the attention it might attract, but would prefer something a bit more chill. We’re also starting to get a bit close to my price limit from this point forward.

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Clubman JCW ALL4 Classic ($36k): Looking at the specs alone, it seems a nice middle ground between the GTI and Alltrack, and I already know that they drive well. Unfortunately, I’m REALLY struggling to justify $36k for something that doesn’t bring anything special to the table when it comes to features (being the base model) or performance. Then there’s also the matter of ownership cost worries akin to VW with only 2/3 of their warranty...

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G70 2.0T Manual ($39k): One of the most luxurious picks of the lot (ventilated seats? yes please!), with some respectable driving dynamics to boot. Being RWD earns it some favor over the FWD options, but not the AWD ones. The only things working against it are the seemingly cramped rear seats and the price tag in comparison to...

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Golf R ($40k): On paper, this is everything I want and then some. It’s got performance, comfort, AWD, exactly as much room as I’d need. I also find the idea of debadging one into a neat little sleeper to be very amusing. Still, there’s no getting around the fact that it’d likely be the most expensive option here to buy and own. Judging how well it might live up to its price tag will definitely require a little seat time.

Next Steps

Think I missed something? Have any experience with the above? Feel free to chime in, because I’m still gathering information and open to suggestions. Most of these still need a closer look in person, so I’ll be gradually checking out what I can at dealerships, Carmax, Turo, and the upcoming KC Auto Show over the weeks to come.

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