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new car advice: Xterra vs Forester vs VW Jetta Wagon(47 posts)

new car advice: Xterra vs Forester vs VW Jetta Wagonj-son
Oct 27, 2002 2:55 PM
I'm shopping for a new car from the models listed in the topic line and I would appreciate real world feedback. I need a car with room enough for multiple bikes, dogs, and humans. Will never venture off road (although it will see gravel roads and Kansas winters). Looking to spend low to mid 20s (or less if I can find a good deal). I've driven the Nissan and the Subaru but not the VW (yet). [After talking to a few friends, I've been advised to consider the Passat wagon .. no can do, too much $$$].

General impressions and reliability experience would be appreciated.

Thanks in advancec.
re: new car advice: Xterra vs Forester vs VW Jetta Wagontremblay
Oct 27, 2002 3:15 PM
Just say no to the forester.

I had a forester rental car and I found it to have a poor ride. It was too cushy, the steering was soft, and the overall feel was nothing special. The interior was also this shits. Far too much cheap plastic for my liking.

If I were you, I'd go with a Nissan or a VW/Audi product. You can't lose with those two manufacturers.
re: new car advice: Xterra vs Forester vs VW Jetta Wagongtx
Oct 27, 2002 3:23 PM
Personally I'd get the Subaru Legacy wagon--especially if you're not going off road. If you are really going off-road look at the Outback wagon.

If you join IMBA and wait 6 months you can get a Subaru for invoice.

I think the Jetta is too small and the Xterra blocks the view of cars behind you. Plus, both only get average scores in crash tests, whereas the Subaru is near perfect.

Good luck.
re: new car advice: Xterra vs Forester vs VW Jetta Wagonzmarke
Oct 27, 2002 3:34 PM
In 2000 I drove a Volvo 240 wagon, VW Passat wagon , and a Subaru Outback. I did not want to purchase a "truck" because of maintenance costs, gas prices, and ride quality (I owned a Chevy Blazer in the past). After talking with friends, most that owned the Subaru Outback, I bought one. 31,000 miles used in long trips but mostly NYC traffic and... NOT ONE WARRANTY ISSUE HAS COME UP!

I know you asked about the smaller cars. Well, my mother needed a new car and she purchased the Forester instead of the Outback because she like the way it looked...She loves it. She looked at the VW jetta but was not impressed and said the ride was too harsh. The Forester is based on the Impreza whereas the Outback is based on the Legacy but they are both proven platforms. She has a 2001 model which is the "old look" but has about 24,000 miles on it with no problems.

The Forester which is based on the Impreza platform not only has a loyal customer following but also is rally-race proven. They also support many environmental groups.

The Subaru has All-Wheel-Drive standard which is great in the snow but even better in the rain. I do not think you can get it in the VW. It has dual front airbags and I think side airbags as an option on the forester.

Subaru has branded racks for bikes and such but you might as well by the Yakima ones because they make them for Subaru anyway and they are cheaper. We purchased the rear trailer hitch not so much to tow things but to use for the Yakima hitch mounted racks. My wife is short and cannot reach the roof if the bikes were on top so we use the hitch mounted carriers for bikes and skis.

Subaru also makes a "dog gate" as an option.

Customer service at the dealerships and via Subaru of America is great.

You get a quarterly magazine from Subaru after your purchase the car.

Subaru has a website dedicated to owners

Although I have the Outback I constantly get stopped in my garage and asked about the car. Needless to say, the amount of Subaru Foresters and Outbacks in my NYC garage has grown very is actually kind of funny because you can no longer say, "I have the green outback and assume they know which car to get."

Call consumer reports and get the pricing sheet for the car. It is the best way to go to a dealer and get a good price.

Good luck...and buy the Subaru.
Second the Subaru recommendation!sn69
Oct 27, 2002 6:31 PM
I've got 4 years and almost 60K miles on my Outback. She's still going strong. They are very reliable, very economical, powerful enough and extremely adpatable to a vratiety of conditions. I've had mine from the Gulf Coast to the Eastern Sierras. It runs great and has no problem on ice or in inclement weather. My only grip has been the seats, which were less than perfect on the 99s and older. The new models are terrific.

If you want more sport, get the WRX--it's a rocket. Or, if you want a larger wagon but don't want to spend the money for a Volvo S70 or Passat, I recommend the Outback V8. Still, the base Outback is plenty for most.

I life the Forester too, and it offers even more headroom. It's simply a matter of personal preference.

Doh! Outback V8?grzy
Oct 28, 2002 4:39 PM
Care to provide a link to this car?

What you're refering to is actually the 6 cylinder, which is a flat boxer design (not a V or inline) - similar to say a Porsche Carrera/911.
re: new car advice: Xterra vs Forester vs VW Jetta WagonGreenFan
Oct 27, 2002 3:35 PM
I have no experience with either the Nissan or Subaru, but my wife has a '02 Jetta Wagon (recent trade in of a '93 Jetta Coupe). Her wagon is pretty spacious without any lack of power (VR6 option). If you were to put a bike rack on top, I think you could handle the rest inside pretty comfortably. As far as dependability is concerned...her '93's only major malfunction was covered by warranty (replaced transmission in '97) and other than that the only maintenance required were oil changes, tires, and a new set of brake rotors in '01. That's the reason why I've been driving VW's since High School (currently driving an '02 GTI) and if I take both wheels off I can stand up my road bike in the back under the hatch without a problem =)
read this before buying any SUV...Bruno S
Oct 27, 2002 3:53 PM

P.S. I'd go for the Jetta. Very similar to all the team cars used in Europe. Saturn also makes a wagon and its more economical than the VW.
I am reading it right now....Rode Warrior
Oct 28, 2002 8:31 AM
it's quite eye opening, although I am rather biased against them to begin with. Very factual, and a little dry, but it has a lot of info.

Get a Subaru WRX wagon, NM!kamss
Oct 27, 2002 3:56 PM
VW Wagon, I almost got it butLazywriter
Oct 27, 2002 5:40 PM
went for the VW GTI instead for the performance. However, the Wagon comes with the same engine in my car which is the 1.8t (turbo). This is the same engine that the Audi A4 uses and in my GTI, it is very very quick.
I liked the Wagon a lot but the GTI was the better performer. The Wagon with the 1.8t will move as well and the build and feel of a German car is sweet. I am not one to blow too much on cars as they are a poor investment, but the GTI is an exceptional performer and the interior blue and red lights are legendary already. If you haven't seen it, this will sell you on the car.
All VWs are tight riding cars and handle well. My little car runs to 60mph in 6.4-6.5 seconds which is very quick and the thing pulls strong through 120mph. Get the Wagon with this engine which is a 4 cylinder that drives like a 6. There is a 6 cylinder 6 speed available as well but I am not sure if it is in the Wagon.
Subarus are nice and the WRX Wagon is very fast but a little plastic on the inside (cheap). VW interiors are very rich for the $ especially with leather but I like cloth so you don't slide when turning hard.
Oct 28, 2002 11:32 AM
The WRX will run circles around you little vunder vagon when the roads get twisty and slippery. My brother runs a GTI while I run a 2.5RS. The full time AWD must be expereinced to be believed - especially once you've made the rear swaybar swap so that the car handles correctly. You talk about performance, but focus on the asthetics. The WRX sports 227 bhp at 2.0 liters and the car checks in around 2850 lbs. - with a little bit of tweaking you can get back up to the 280 bhp of the non-US spec and start eating Porsches for lunch at 1/3 the cost.

With the Subaru you're talking about a real live rally car that will inhale every type of nasty raod you can throw at it.
Grzy, waht are youLazywriter
Oct 28, 2002 2:39 PM
I am well aware of the performance merits of the WRX. It is truly a little marvel and faster than my GTI. The 4 wheel drive is also awesome, but the performance #s in the skidpad aren't that far apart on the track .86 for my GTI and actually .82 for your beloved WRX go to this link

0-60 is better be 1/2 to 3/4 second on the WRX depending upon where you get your data. I said it was a great performer, but the interior SUCKS AND LOOKS CHEAP. All reviews say it and I agree. The VW interior is above most other cars in its price range.
One little chip on my car and I am 220hp btw. $500 that is it. Regardless, I like the WRX but the aesthetics are not that great.
Grzy, waht are yougrzy
Oct 28, 2002 4:33 PM
Stoopid? Maybe, but I can spell most four letter words. Be careful when you throw stones - you want to look credible.

So, you add a chip and you get to 220 hp - oh well.

As far as the skid pad numbers go there's more to it than meets the eye - your article definitely mentions the tires. Straight out of the box the WRX (and the 2.5RS) kind of falls a bit short in the skid pad dept. due to the fact that the factory spec 22 mm sway bar was swapped out for a wussy 15 mm unit for the US market. They know that the US market can't handle the oversteer and is used to mushy front wheel drive. In this form the car understeers like a mother - really it's quite annoying. However, once you make the rear sway bar swap ($165 and 30 min. of your time) the car then handles correctly. The other factor to consider is that the Sube comes with some so-so tires that actually perform reasonably well in the snow. With similar tires as the VW the skid pad would be better, but in the snow the Sube goes around most SUVs. The WRX is designed to be thrashed.

I guess the real tradeoff is the AWD handling vs. the gucci interior and blue lights. It's not a tough choice when Caltrans has chain control in effect and there's three feet of powder int the forecast for the Lake Tahoe Area. ;-) If you want German and AWD then think Audi A4 and at least $10K more than a Sube. Most people don't like the styling of the WRX, but the GTI is downright booring - it's been around now for something like close to 18 years. BTW - I used to own a VW Golf, you don't need to lecture me about CHEAP interiors. I had a box that I used to keep all of the broken plastic parts in.

What you pay for is what you get. On twisty roads it'll eat your litte VW.
Grzy, what are youLazywriter
Oct 28, 2002 5:45 PM
It all comes down to the driver #1 and even with better tires on the WRX, the skidpad results aren't going to be 911 territory. At best you'll match my GTI so I don't know how you figure you will "eat me".
The 4 wheel will be awesome in mud or snow and in the rain. I totally respect the WRX and it is really quick. However, from a rolling start I will beat you or match you. Wheel spin on the front wheel drive is killer. As far as VW interiors, I assure you that they are solid. Audi's influence is easily seen and yes the blue and red lights are the best in the business, all cars included.
$ for $ the WRX cannot be beat and I am not arguing that. I will take the new R32 all wheel drive 241 hp GTI and then we can compare the two brands. Next year it comes ot the U.S..
Oct 28, 2002 7:09 PM
Ahh, you need to see the light grasshopper. Go drive a sorted out WRX on some twisties and just try to make it lose traction without messing your pants.

Wheelspin on front wheel drive - now there's a novel performance concept. Too bad they couldn't find a better way to make good use of that excess power. Wonder what that's like when you try and punch it at the apex of a corner?

Found some info for you from your beloved website:

" If all goes well, the car
could be in U.S. dealerships in the second half of 2003 at a price
around $30,000. If the driving experience isn't at the manic level
of the Mitsu Lancer Evo VII or Subaru Impreza WRX STi the R32
plays ball like no Golf GTI of recent memory" —Peter Robinson

So I guess they're saying that the new R32 will be the best Golf ever, but it's still nothing like a WRX and it'll cost you $5K more to be more comfy while going slower.

Found some interesting specs from that some link - essentially you have a car that's 500 lbs. heavier (3350 vs. 2850) and uses a 3.2 liter V-6 engine to produce 10 more hp - sounds like just another chunky over priced German car that needs to diet. Something tells me you're going to be in for a performance dissappointment. Think power to weight ratio - the VW is 17.5% heavier with 4.4% more horsepower - I guess one could add 500 lbs. (in pennies) to the Sube to make things a bit more fair.

Estimated price (Germany): $30,000
Engine type: DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and head, Bosch engine-control system with port fuel injection
Displacement 195 cu in, 3189cc
Power (SAE net) 237 bhp @ 6250 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 236 lb-ft @ 2800 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase 98.9 in
Length 163.3 inCurb weight 3350 lb

Hey, don't forget Golf is "FLOG" spelled backwards!
Always buy germanBill is in Denver
Oct 27, 2002 5:36 PM
If I told you half of what my german car has been through you would probably call me a liar. I won't own anything else.

Agree 100%tremblay
Oct 27, 2002 5:49 PM
I prefer German cars over all others. Though I will concede that Nissan and Honda have a decent product going.

My 1982 Audi Coupe is damn near invincible and has only needed some minor wear and tear repairs over the years. The thing is solid. The transmission is unbreakable. The engine, albeit low in horsepower by today's standards, is strong and bulletproof. It handles like a dream, as good or better than most cars I've driven, and it shows no signs of giving up. Sure, it is starting to show its age, but who cares? I paid $500 for the thig three years ago, so I have more than got my money out of it. It's 99% rust free and will be my car until it dies or I decide to stop driving a car.
VW is the only way...spookygeek
Oct 27, 2002 5:49 PM
I have a 2000 VW golf 1.8T, i'd say its a good comprimise between utility with the hatch back, 4 doors, gas milage, and sport. However they stopped making the 4-door Golf with the 1.8T so you'd have to go with the GTI or Jetta. However if you choose to go the wagon route the Jetta wagon, still works wonderfully, just be sure they don't seduce you into a V6 (no where worth the extra money considering the 1.8t is arguably the better engine) and the 2.0 (i.e. 2.SLOW) The 1.8T is however one hell of an engine with lots of tunability. Check out if your interested.
even if it is made in mexico!(nm)merckx56
Oct 27, 2002 5:55 PM
even if it is made in mexico!(nm)Lazywriter
Oct 27, 2002 7:18 PM
you are paying for the engineering not where it is assembled. There is a misconception that QC is less due to where the thing is assembled. The engine is made in germany as are most of the parts.
Hondas are made in Ohio and are no less reliable. In fact the GTIs that were made in Germany in 2000 were more problematic than the ones now made in Brazil. Coincidence, but goes to show that they corrected a lot of the problems and diseminated it down to all their plants. VWs are finicky and more performance oriented. But the GTIs have been on the roads forever and keep running. Plus the VWs are for enthusiasts as well who abuse their cars and will report more problems. What do they expect?
not arguing that point...merckx56
Oct 28, 2002 7:37 AM
I'm a VW guy and have already ponyed up a reservation payment for the new 3.2 RS all-wheel drive Golf GTi, now I get to wait, and pine away for the next year! I was merely pointing out that things that are considered "German" are not necessarily built there. Go to the BMW plant in SC. It's frightening how clean that place is on a day to day basis.
not arguing that point...Lazywriter
Oct 28, 2002 5:37 PM
R32 is total balls. Very very serious power, but $30000 price tag is steep for a GTI. I expect it to be quicker than what VW posted (0-62mph in 6.6 seconds). My 1.8t goes to 60 in 6.5 according to Car and Driver. I expect the R32 to hit 60 in 6 flat or better when C&D gets their hands on it.
even if it is made in mexico!(nm)phacops rana
Oct 27, 2002 10:14 PM
My understanding is that Jetta sedans are made in Puebla, Mexico, but the wagons are German made. Perhaps that explains the mark-up: get a loaded Jetta wagon and you're at about the same price as a Passat GL sedan.

Me, if I could swing it, I'd get a VR6 Jetta wagon. The 2L I-4 is, shall we say, agricultural, and their 1.8 turbo 4 is great, but turbos do require greater maintenance and care.

In my opinion, the VW/Audi group has the best interior designs and materials of any major car company (I prefer the interior of my Passat to a Benz E-Class or Bimmer 5, and Audi interiors are peerless), and their exterior finish/shutlines are pretty amazing. The sheetmetal on Subarus and Nissans especially will feel just a bit thinner (because they are) and the switchgear and interior plastics will feel that much cheaper. If you can live with these differences, by all means go for something less expensive. But the important thing is to try all of them out firsthand at a reputable dealer.
Always buy germangtx
Oct 27, 2002 5:56 PM
Those 1.8 GTIs and Jettas seem nice, but I have heard of a lot of people having problems with their VWs.

Seen these sites?
Oct 27, 2002 7:41 PM
Well, I think just about every manufacturer makes a few lemons. Look at how many pieces of crap the US manufacturers build...

In reality, I've heard of very few VW/Audi lemons. I am on an Audi mailing list and I don't recall any of those guys having serious problems with their cars. And heck, mine has lasted 20 years so far!
Oct 27, 2002 7:51 PM
You're probably right. I've just heard a bunch of talk around the water cooler at the office, and thought those sites were amusing. Most cars will last pretty much forever if maintained properly. My Volvo still feels new at 14 and my Plymouth is still running strong at 36.
Oct 28, 2002 6:34 AM
My '91 240 is still running strong at 210,000.

Did have my first breakdown last week though; had to replace some exhaust.

Only one maker now, IMO.
Oct 28, 2002 7:16 AM
If you haven't already, be sure to check out

I've had three 240s. To be honest, I don't like their FWD cars much, though.
Oct 28, 2002 7:25 AM
I test drove an '03 S60 recently and was not at all impressed. It had a very cheap feel in the interior and poor rear leg room. It drove like an economy car, with little pickup and a box on wheels feel. It just didn't have that old Volvo feel. I wonder whether Volvo has been heading in the wrong direction since the Ford takeover.
yeah, great site...Steve_0
Oct 28, 2002 7:29 AM
stumbled upon that while diagnosing my MAF sensor.
Thanks for the link though.

I had (kinda) a 79 244DL in high school (86). It was actually my moms car - my car was totaled and I was yet too young to rent a car, so my mom 'rented' me hers.

I loved that car. They sold it without my knowledge when I was out of state in '90 (with only 30k miles - sheez). Had I known, I would have bought it. Im sure I'd still have it today.
stumbled upon that while diagnosing my MAF sensor. Thanks for the link though. I had (kinda) a 79 244DL in high school (86). It was actually my moms car - my car was totaled and I was yet too young to rent a car, so my mom 'rented' me hers. I loved that car. They sold it without my knowledge when I was out of state in '90 (with only 30k miles - sheez). Had I known, I would have bought it. Im sure I'd still have it today.Steve_0
Oct 28, 2002 7:30 AM
(ok, that was wierd)Steve_0
Oct 28, 2002 7:31 AM
I'll add my $.02JL
Oct 28, 2002 4:56 AM
I could add my old VW to the lemon lists above. My VW Passat ('98/99) was a piece of crap. I had the last model year before they changed the body style. Too many problems to list, but let's just say I was lucky to get what I did when I traded it in on my reliable Honda Accord.

My friend had the '99 or '00 model and had numerous eletrical issues. He filed a lemon law lawsuit.

I wouldn't buy another VW again. Now a used Mercedes...

I wish Germans would made bikes. nmBruno S
Oct 27, 2002 5:59 PM
They (nm)Duke249
Oct 28, 2002 5:23 AM
I just got a Passat wagonmickey-mac
Oct 27, 2002 6:24 PM
After looking at Volvo and Saab wagons, I surprised myself by getting the Passat wagon. It's a real pleasure to drive. I didn't drive the Jetta wagon, but I would imagine it's more or less the same, only smaller. The Passat's got plenty of room for a bike with the rear seats folded down. OTOH, a woman I work with recently got the Outback wagon and absolutely loves it. Drive the VW; it just might surprise you.
.....and pay too much. -nmgrzy
Oct 28, 2002 2:27 PM
re: new car advice: Xterra vs Forester vs VW Jetta WagonSnowBlind
Oct 27, 2002 6:49 PM
My wife has owned both the VW Jetta(1991, 94000+) and the Forrester (2002, 22000+). Tested the 2001 Jetta's as well.

The Forrester is a great little SUV, You can stuff 2 bikes in the back no problem, or with a trailer hitch or roof rack, carry 4 bikes and gear and the people.
You can do the same with the Jetta, but it is harder to see out the back with the bikes.

All have good power (handcapping the older Jetta ). The Suburu is damn fast even with the automatic (very handy after riding the Solvang century and then driving back the next day, 5-600 miles) because of the opposing 4 (just like a the old VW bugs). In fact the best compliment I can pay the Suburu is that it is a German Japanese car. Just like the VW, take care of it and it will last forever.
The interior is OK, better than a Honda I think, driver's seat is very adjustable. Has seat warmers (very handy). Cupholders suck, and block the enviromental controls. Cruise control is weird. Cockpit layout is good.

Handling is kinda weird in the Forester because of the all wheel drive. It tends to shift from back to front drive in a turn, so if you are used to punching it at the start or the apex of a turn to compensate for rear or front drive (depending on what you are used to) it will get a little funky as it tries to compensate for what you did. If you just let it go around the corner at a constant thrust it will do the right thing.

The Jetta, like most VW cars, is very fun to drive, and has pinpoint handling with very little body roll. Visablity is OK, but not as good as the fishtank exposure of the Forrester. With the 6 in it, it is a speed ticket waiting to happen. (Yeah baby, yeah!) DO NOT play "Radar Love" while driving this car!

BTW, if you must have stick-shift (I love it for most driving) forget the Forrester. The super torque engine is paired with a low ratio gearbox and it bucks like hell in 1st and 2nd.

As for the Xterra, let's just say I hav'nt liked a Datsun/Nissan product since the 2000 convertable (MG clone) and the 240Z. Strictly a matter of taste, I here they are good products.

Have you looked at a used Jetta? Save your self enough for a new bike that way, or even move up to the Passat. I don't recommend this for the Suburu, because they just aren't available unless they are a rental.
Subaru is spons. a local bike team, Snow Valley, show thx. N/Mcurlybike
Oct 28, 2002 5:48 AM
Subaru all the way!Becky
Oct 28, 2002 5:52 AM
Get the Subaru. I've owned 3 separate (used) Subaru Legacy wagons in the past 5 years (2 are still in the family, I returned the other to my dad), and loved them all! I wouldn't buy anything else...
1991 Legacy wagon: 225,000+ miles on it and still running like a champ.
1992 Legacy wagon: 177,000 miles on it....needs some minor brake work, but nothing out of the ordinary.
1997 Legacy wagon: 125,000 miles (20,000 of those since January) and this thing is a tank!

The all-wheel drive is great, they handle well under all sorts of circumstances, and the reliability is top-notch. Did I mention how cool mine looks will a couple of bikes on the roof? :)
Subaru Legacy Interior are all new, 100% improvement. (nm)NJRoad
Oct 28, 2002 6:11 AM
re: new car advice: Xterra vs Forester vs VW Jetta WagonVVS
Oct 28, 2002 6:43 AM
As usual at RBR, a variety of opinion & experience. I've owned VW my whole adult life and find them very well engineered and balanced. Had an '00 Jetta; you can't go wrong with that car.

Re: 4wd. Most who buy it don't need it. A front wheel drive car with good tread in wet weather and SNOWTIRES in winter (buy 4) is as safe as and as unstoppable as 4wd with average quality all season tires. It's also much less expensive to buy, operate and maintain.

Good luck.
And not only that . . . .phacops rana
Oct 28, 2002 9:13 AM
. . . but the FWD with snow tire combo will probably be the safer car to drive than what we know as the 4WD. All wheel drive is different, and Subaru would easily win the traction contest between it and the Jetta and the XTerra. But I really don't like most of the 4WD on trucks. Whenever you see the warning label telling you not to engage 4WD on pavement, that tells you pretty much that you're driving a truck with $wd technology stuck in the 1940s. If you're going to let all 4 wheels get the power, you really need that 3rd differential.
re: new car advice: Xterra vs Forester vs VW Jetta Wagonblkberry
Oct 28, 2002 6:57 AM
J-Son, Get yourself a '90-'93 Volvo 240 wagon. Safe,Reliable easy for DIY'er. Built like a tank. A littlsluggish but it's all good.If not than get a 700,900 Volvo turbo wagon for a little more pep.
Test ride each and go with the one that fits best...biknben
Oct 28, 2002 6:59 AM
Oh wait, we're talking cars aren't we?

I'm a VW freak so I can't give an unbiased answer.
what will you "routinely" haul around?ColnagoFE
Oct 28, 2002 10:17 AM
I mean how many people, how many dogs (and the size of the dogs), how much equipment? It would make a difference in whether these will work for you or whether you need something bigger. The Xterra is more of a true SUV. If you are planning on going off road a lot I'd go for it. It's not all that big though. Then again neither is the Forrester (smaller than a Legacy) and not sure about the VW, but they are probably about the same size. Saturn also makes a mid-sized SUV now that looks OK and isn't super expensive.