Reader Question: Sportwagens and K-Cars?

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Here’s the latest reader rant, along with my my reply!

Will asks I just discovered your automotive articles. I will become a regular reader. Regarding your review of the 2019 Sportwagen and reflections on the Chrysler K cars:

I am shopping for a basic Sportwagen S with a manual transmission. Impossible to find anywhere within 500 miles of where I live. The 4 wheel drive versions are available at a few dealers but not the S FWD model with a manual trans. Some dealers far far way from me have one, but they insist I get trapped into a VW Corporate loan to get a fair price. Many horror stories on line about VW Credit. There are a boatload of revised TDI Jetta or Golf Sportwagens scattered around the country, but 99% have an automatic. Diesels remain popular in Europe and other countries and even Mazda has brought in a Skyactiv diesel for the MX5, but its performance is underwhelming. The number of hybrid models from everyone is increasing and the prices are more reasonable. VW did everyone a disfavor with their diesel emissions manipulation, so I doubt there will be many more diesel cars in USA. Trucks, yes.

As to K cars. We had a 1982 Reliant station wagon with the Mitsubishi engine. The carburetor on that engine was not good; idle and part throttle problems, but after much battles with the dealer it was finally improved….I think it was a whole new model of carburetor. The Reliant was a wonderful station wagon and got 28 mpg on average, which was mighty good for an early eighties car. Nothing about it would meet 2019 standards, but it would be wonderful if you could buy a station wagon of those dimensions again. Even the expensive wagons from Volvo, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, etc don’t have the capacity of the Reliant due to styling trying to disguise they are a wagon.

You may have read: VW is planning on not bringing the 2020 Golf to North America for a while, and then only the GTI and R, made in Germany. Regular Golf & Sportwagen production in Mexico may end because sales of the wagon and regular Golf have dropped way off. Even VW buyers want a CUV or SUV. The 2020 GTI and R models are going to be amazing, but more expensive.

My reply: It’s becoming hard to find manual-equipped versions of many cars! And not many cars even offer a manual anymore. Two reasons for this: One, most people seem to prefer automatics – or at least, accept them (rather than wait or search for months, as you are doing). Two, the car companies are under tremendous pressure to eke out even slight MPG gains on government fuel efficiency tests, for purposes of CAFE compliance. While it is true that a driver who knows how to drive stick can usually beat the MPG numbers delivered by the same car with an automatic, the automatic can be programmed to do better on the government tests. Therefore, automatics are favored.

On your problem finding a manual-equipped VW closer to home: The question here is how badly do you want the car? Do you want it badly enough to spend a day driving to the dealer that has the car? I have done so – and would, again. When I was in the market for a new (to me) Nissan Frontier pick-up, nothing nearby had the combination of features I wanted: Basic XE with a manual. I found one in Ohio – and rode my motorcycle there from Virginia; bought the truck and drove it home with the bike in the bed. Worth the lost day.

Another option: Dealers will sometimes work with another dealer to get you the car you want. They swap one from their inventory for the one in the inventory of the dealer that has the car. Of course there will be costs involved, but these shouldn’t amount to more than a few hundred bucks or so for fuel/driver time, etc. I’d ask your local dealer about this. Be clear you’d like to give him your business – including service, when the car needs it.

If that doesn’t work, I’d just negotiate via phone/email with the dealer that does have the car you want and then go get it. Once you have it, you can have it serviced locally.

On the K-Car: You’re right that such cars cannot legally be built today. Even though they were perfectly legal when they were made and so, presumably, not “unsafe.” They simply don’t meet current saaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety and other mandates, none of which have anything to do with whether the car is apt to crash.

It’s my demented opinion that in a free country, people ought to be free to buy the type of car that best suits their needs; if that means a car that isn’t built like a tank so as to be able to pile-drive into a concrete barrier at 50 MPH and be “survivable” for the occupants – but which is light and very fuel efficient and just as saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafe to drive (provided you don’t crash it) then so be it. A free man has the right to make such cost-benefit analysis – and decisions – for himself.

It is beyond obnoxious that busybodies with laws and guns – “the government” – have presumed to take those decisions away from people, whom they regard as their children to parent and their property to manage.

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  1. Just prior to getting my kids back from my now late ex-wife, being strapped for cash with the burden of alimony and child support payments on top of mortgage payments on the modest home that I’d somehow acquired for myself, post-separation, with part of the inheritance from my late mother as down payment, I had precious little for car payments. Wasn’t so bad as I had an ’88 Festiva for scooting around town, but as it had a smog issue that defied attempts to rectify, I had to ‘retire’ it to the back yard and rely on what I termed the “Pork Avenue”..a really nice ’89 Buick with the 3.8L V6, which was cherry…until it got creamed. Even with the insurance payoff, I still was uncomfortable with incurring more debt, so I scoped out a really nice 1986 Dodge Aries with only 56K miles that had been owned by the proverbial little old lady and her only. With my kids then (this was early 1998) being 22, 14, 12, and 11 (my oldest was a junior at BYU and had her own ride anyway), it was a tad cramped, but that car ran like a ‘top’, got 28 mpg in town (it had the 2.2 four-banger and automatic), and it was surprisingly nimble! About a year later, I had the kids and was done with the alimony, so the dinero situation was much better, but again, instead of car payments, I found an ’89 Chrysler New Yorker that was a tad larger, but still, with the Mitsubishi 3.0 liter V6, got decent mileage and could bomb down the road at 90 mph all day and night. With that digital dash, it was more a computer with hubcaps than a car. I still wish I had both rides, but especially the Aries…which I did intend to let the kids use, but I left wifey #2 persuade me, against my better judgement, that the kids would be laughed at to drive to school in that…’thing’!

  2. I had a Reliant station wagon as a company car for several years. You could stuff it full enough for a 3-day trade show (food biz) full of coolers, booth sets, fryers, steam tables, etc. and even though it wasn’t quick off the line it was well balanced and you could really carry some speed in the corners. My boss wasn’t fond of my Escort on the dash but, he didn’t mind it shaving an hour off a trip using backroads instead of interstates to get home from a week on the road.

    And then there was the time the ‘Vette was holding me up on a country road…I’m sure he loved my tail lights disappearing into the night on a twisty 2-lane in SC….

  3. Yep, I can attest to the beauty of the ’88 Aries Wagon. Had one with a 5-speed manual and 2.2L, A/C, PS, PB, Speed Control, roof rack, but radio delete, special ordered. It handled well, and carried a family of (then) 4 with camping gear and a cartop carrier anywhere we wanted to go. Excellent fuel mileage. Only downside, I had to pull the transaxle and replace the clutch at ~75K miles, a good bit early even for a 1988 model.

    As for VW Credit, we just paid off last year a Jetta Sportwagen. Never had problem one with VW Credit.

    And yes, the Jetta (now Golf) Sportwagen is a fantastic wagon. Ours has the 2.5L 5-cylinder, and it’s perfect for us. No turbo to go wonky on us and cost us $$$. I can recommend this car without hesitation.


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