Little Red Diesel Manual Wagon

Adventures in a new car purchase


I wanted to share why our family went from one car for so long to two cars, why we decided to buy a new car, and why we bought the specific car we did.

My wife and I finally decided to get (and keep) a second car. We’ve been pretty conservative when it comes to spending money on cars. When I met my wife, Katie, she had a 4-speed Tercel and I had a 5-speed Geo Prizm. In Minneapolis, Katie decided to cut her car insurance on her Tercel and we shared the Prizm since I mostly biked to work. When we decided to move to California, we donated the Tercel and kept up with just one car.

Our wagon fresh from the factory.

One car worked well for us, eventually we replaced our Geo Prizm with a Toyota Prius because a hatch was a lot more baby-friendly than a sedan. Now that we’re up to 2 children with one child entering Kindergarten a second car is sounding very convenient. Caltrain, ZipCar and Uber/Lyft have been decent transportation options, but having two parents equally capable to get from point A to point B with car seats gives us enormous flexibility.

So here’s to our families first new car purchase, the Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen SE with a six speed manual transmission.

Why a new car

I am very much a believer in the used car market. New cars are overpriced (the national average for a new car is $33,560). They depreciate almost immediately. They put people in precarious financial situations.

There are countless blog posts about why you should buy a used car. The merits of buying a new car are almost purely emotional. You get to choose the exact car (of the vehicles on market) in your budget that you want.

That 9 on the left was the odometer the day I bought the car.

We were open to either option, but the market for used wagons is different than other cars. Wagons are rare in the US. The nice ones tend not to depreciate very quickly. They don’t stay on the market long.

We placed an order with Volkswagen for the exact vehicle we wanted, but we still looked at a few used cars (mentioned below) while we waited. The Volkswagen made us the happiest in the end.

Why a wagon

Some part of buying a wagon had to do with spending too much time reading Jalopnik (the archetypical enthusiast car is the Brown Manual Diesel RWD Wagon). Our wagon is 3 out of 5.

There’s an inherent appeal to a wagon for us. We wanted to transport more cargo than we can in our Prius (a hatchback) for road-trips. Our options are: wagon, SUV/CUV, minivan or a truck or a large sedan.

Personally while I don’t mind large vehicles once in a while, I prefer to daily drive smaller vehicles. That left us with either a crossover or wagon. I’ve driven a few crossovers and have mostly been underwhelmed. Increased ride-height is nice, but I like a spry little vehicle.

It also kept shopping simple. Who makes wagons anymore?

Volkswagen and Subaru are the only non-luxury brands making wagons. Volkswagen also offers a stick shift as an option on all trim levels. The Mazda CX-5, for example, only has a stick shift on their base trim.

Stick Shift

My brother and sister-in-law gave me their Geo Prizm as a college graduation present. I had just barely learned to drive and was a little freaked out about driving a manual. Eventually the transmission was irrelevant. I went from stalling in a parking lot and being unable to recover to being able to teach friends to drive on it.

I didn’t realize how much I liked it until I started driving our Prius. I like our Prius, but it was not an engaging ride. It got you from point A to point B without a lot of thinking.

We weren’t sure if the stick shift was right. I decided to test-drive the DSG dual clutch automatic that Volkswagen has on the Sportwagens. It was nice, and if I had to drive an automatic with paddle-shifters, that’s the automatic I want. Then I drove the manual. It took me a few drives to get convinced, but I realized that’s what I wanted.

I drive with kids, and I drive in rush-hour. The kids don’t make me forget to drive, and switching in and out of gears in rush hour hasn’t been a problem. Yes, I’d rather drive alone with no traffic, but the stick shift isn’t a hinderance.

Diesel

I’ve heard the diesel is a bit more reliable (for Volkswagen) and the milage is a lot better. In fact, the Prius-V gets similar mileage with it’s hybrid engine.

Update. So Dieselgate happened. I was definitely swayed by the “clean diesel” campaign. I still love my car.

2016 Car Play

I was about to cancel my order and re-order a 2016 because it’s coming with CarPlay. The dealer invited me to check out the car before he sold it to someone else. He also thought I probably didn’t want to wait for another order to come through.

The only model changes was a new infotainment system with CarPlay. I’ll stick with the older system until it bothers me and I can upgrade to a nice aftermarket stereo later.

Since I’m used to a Bluetooth receiver going into an AUX port, this will be a big improvement already.

Pricing

I used TrueCar and Costco to get a starting price. Both of these car buying services lend your information to various dealers and you get a lot of friendly emails telling you to stop on by.

While waiting for my car to arrive I decided to email around to other dealers. Most other dealers tried to convince me to get an automatic because that’s what they had in stock, but a few were willing to look around for a close match for me and give me competitive prices right out the gate.

Volkswagen also gives you a corporate discount as well as membership discounts if you work for certain companies. My car dealer gave me a decent price that was under invoice, so I went with it. It was better than most other dealers offerings in the area too.

I tried to deal exclusively with Internet sales managers as these are the people who get written up in Yelp reviews as being the most helpful. At least that’s the way it was where I live.

Kimmy teaches us compound interest

I decided to use Volkswagen financing as well. You get an incentive for that as well. I decided to finance because the rates are 0.9% which is almost nothing. The discount makes it a wash, and you can invest the cost of the car over the course of the loan and make up the difference. Or apply that money to an emergency fund if you don’t have one. The dealer initially quoted me a lower base price ($500 less) at 2.9%. Luckily I knew math and realized this was a terrible idea.

The Finance Department

One regret I had was not contacting the finance department before I bought the car. I should have spent some time researching the various add-ons they’d try to upsell me. I ended up going with two things at a discount: Autobutler and Titanium protection. These were rash-decisions and I’ll begrudgingly listen to why people think these were not worth it.

Autobutler is a paint treatment that keeps the car looking clean and magical. I figure for a small amount of money if I can have that new car look for five years it was worth my money.

Titanium protection would offer 24-hour roadside assistance (similar to AAA) as well as take care of minor dents and replace lost keys. Keys cost so much these days, that I figure the peace of mind is worth it.

I’m sure if I had known about all the offerings before buying the car, I could have made an informed decision.

Other cars considered

We looked at the BMW 5 series wagon from 2002/2003. We saw one beautiful specimen that would have needed some minor work, but the seller ended up selling to a friend.

We also looked at a few 2005 Subaru Outback XT/Legacy GTs. These were wonderfully powerful cars, but I never was fully in love with the cars. We certainly weren’t in love with gas-mileage.

Then of course there’s the car of Silicon Valley, the Tesla Model S. It was a sedan that was very wagon-like. It had a lot of cargo, and everything about it was beautiful. It was also the only reasonably useful electric car for road-trips. Unfortunately it’s also crazy-expensive. We could have 3 Golfs for the price of a Model S or perhaps a Golf R and a Golf Sportwagen.

Other electric cars had a restrictive range. They’d be great options if we decide to let go of the Prius. They are somewhat affordable, and we could definitely use them for commuting.


I think the most important thing is get a car that you enjoy driving. The choices we made to narrow down on our red-wagon were the ones that balanced a “fun” automobile with one that could support our lifestyle.

Katie and I are both excited about our new car. I can’t wait to take our first few road trips. I also am already appreciating that extra bit of independence by have having a car at the ready. Getting from point A to point B is a joy.