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New Year, New Car

Well, it’s gotten to be that time again — the time when I’m checking the vehicles section of CL every day — and I need your help, Oppo! (Repost for the Evening Crowd.)

Illustration for article titled New Year, New Car

One of the few, tiny upsides of being suddenly alone is that I now have a legit excuse to obtain a new vehicle, and also more budget for it. So, long story short, I’m looking to purchase a used manual hatchback or wagon for about $4k in the PNW, in a couple of months when a windfall comes through. What should it be? Well, Oppo, that’s where y’all come in.

Suggest me some cars! My hard requirements:

  • Manual. I’m so bored in my auto DD now that I practice braking to a stop as smoothly as I possibly can, to stay entertained
  • Hatchback or wagon. Need to have enough space to belt in doggo in back seats and have enough cargo room left over to carry two people + doggo’s supplies for a week-long wilderness trip.
  • Safe enough that I have a reasonable expectation of not dying even at highway speed incidents. Y’know, impact absorption zones and airbags and stuff. I figure this is a proxy for being built no earlier than the aughts (or maybe late 90s).
  • No leather interiors.

My not-as-hard requirement:

  • Budget of $5k tops, the whole thing. No financing; as a protestant-raised Midwestern boy I am basically allergic to debt. Maybe if the loan term was a year or less but does anyone even do that these days?

And my preferences:

  • I think I’d prefer something that has a little fun in the dynamics department. Not necessarily fast or powerful, but engaging.
  • Willing to do wrench turning as long as it doesn’t involve, like, engine hoists.
  • Very slight nudge towards a European manufacturer since I’ve owned Japanese and American so far.
  • Orange

I’m based in Portland (OR) and can’t really travel too far out to pick it up. Maybe up to Seattle if someone up there could look it over for me.

Based on a few days of looking, here are my impressions so far:

  1. Outbacks. Outbacks as far as the eye can see. Everyone seems to knock the current models for weak engines and numb dynamics, but was that true of the smaller ones from a decade or more ago? I’ve seen some kind words about the 3rd gen’s XT trim online.
  2. The Fit is my current top pick and is plenty popular too, though obviously not to the absurd level that Outbacks are.
  3. So.... how bad of an idea is owning a 15-to-20-year-old, 200k mile German car?
  4. I’m really attracted to suspiciously cheap Volvo V70 and XC90s.

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