Advice: Downsizing From A Subaru Wagon, Seeking Better MPGs

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1997 Subaru Legacy Wagon XA Brighton

1997 Subaru Legacy Wagon XA Brighton

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We tend to get a lot of "What car should we buy?" questions at GreenCarReports, and we'll usually respond with a list of questions to narrow down the choices.

Recently, though, our high-school friend Sarah Sette in Baltimore sent the following note:

We are car shopping, seriously this time. The 1996 Subaru Legacy wagon is sadly aging and we need to replace it.

We're looking to get something a bit better on MPG since we don't need the roominess of a Subaru that often. Aside from one or two trips to Cape Cod a year, we'll mostly be hauling kids to school.

I'm not wild about the Forester--I don't think we could fit our dog back there, which is the point of a wagon for us.

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon

2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon

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Anyway, any opinions on the Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen, Acura TSX wagon, or any other suggestions?

Here's an edited version of our response:

"The 2011 Acura TSX Sport Wagon is quite nice and sporty, and it's the same car that's sold in Europe as the Honda Accord wagon.

"Volkswagen Jetta TDI clean diesels have many fans--who frequently comment here--and they often get better fuel economy than their EPA ratings.

"But Volkswagen reliability hasn't always been top of the pack, so we recommend checking ratings carefully before you decide. In fact, 2009 and 2010 VW Jetta TDIs have been recalled for fuel-pump issues once already.

2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI

2010 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen TDI

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"A final note on diesels: They get their best mileage advantages on long high-speed trips. If your duty cycle is much more stop-and-go, city-oriented, a hybrid is a better bet.

"Japanese-made hybrids may be scarce for the next several months (due to the earthquake and tsunami), but you might consider the upcoming 2012 Toyota Prius V wagon, which is expected to get an EPA combined rating of 40 mpg.

"Or, perhaps even a standard 2011 Prius five-door hatchback, which is rated as a midsize car by interior volume.

"Note that the new midsize 2011 Subaru Outback gets far better mileage (22 mpg city, 29 mpg highway, or 24 mpg combined) than your old model.

2012 Toyota Prius V launch press conference, 2011 Detroit Auto Show

2012 Toyota Prius V launch press conference, 2011 Detroit Auto Show

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"If you don't need a ton of space, consider hatchbacks versus wagons. They're more compact and can haul a ton of bulky stuff with the rear seat folded down. It's just that they can't do that at the same time that they're also hauling four people.

"Not every compact line offers a hatchback, but the Volkswagen Golf TDI was brand-new for 2010 and is quite a nice car.

"Subaru also has a compact hatchback, the 2012 Subaru Impreza (coming later this year). It will be rated at 36 mpg highway, which is the highest for any AWD car. (And you know Subaru will offer an optional luggage carrier for your kayak!)"

What other advice would you have for our friend Sarah?

GIve us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (9)
  1. The new Subaru Legacy wagons with the CVT are routinely reported to beat their EPA highway rating. I've seen reports of 35mpg highway on a long trip. Go with what you know.

  2. Although I also have a 2011 Leaf, I still love my 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid 2WD. Plenty of room for the dog and can haul almost anything (I brought home my new 5-foot bathtub with the tailgate closed). I routinely get 28-30 mpg on the highway and right around 34mpg around town (just like the sticker said it would!), even at 60,000 miles on the clock. John is right about hybrid economy for around town, it is much better as you get more of a chance to use electric-only mode.
    Good luck with your purchase!

  3. Personally, I would recommend the Prius. It is roomier than it looks.
    As an alternative, a dog owner friend of mine just got a Lexus RX 450H (SUV) with 32 MPG city. She is getting better MPG than in her old Mini (which has not been reliable.).

  4. I agree that the Prius is a lot roomier than most people think, and it certainly is the best overall MPG. The plugin version will be even better.
    Another under rated car is the Honda Fit -- it is truly as "Tardis". My brother Nathan is almost 6'-7" and he fits very well in his 2010, and I'm 6'-4" and I fit very well in the back seat. The back seat isn't called "Magic" for nothing. With the rear seat (partially or wholly) folded down, there is mot than 5 1/2 feet from the hatch to the front seats. The floor is flat and the space is cavernous.

  5. The VW Jetta Sportwagen TDI can be a good choice for a high mpg dog car. We use our 2009 JSW TDI to transport 1 medium size dog and 1 large dog inside their crates. We average 41-42 mpg in mixed suburban and highway driving, using no hypermiling tricks. Most owners of 2009 or later Jetta TDIs average 39-40 mpg, which as John wrote is well in excess of what EPA claims it should get. If you compare the usable cargo volume of wagons and small crossovers you may be surprised to find that wagons are competitive. The large tires on most crossovers create wheel wells that intrude into the cargo area, making dog crates less feasible.

  6. My husband and I are in a similar situation. We have a 100lb dog that we would like to be able to put into the back area of a wagon/SUV, but with our commutes to work and often to visit friends, we want something with great fuel economy. We want to find a car that will fit our dog in the back too and we're starting a family so we want room for the kids.
    We had been looking at the Jetta TDI wagon. We also have some interest in the Ford Escape. My husband loves the look of the Flex, but we are not totally sold on the fuel economy. We also looked at the Mazada 5.

  7. @Laura Mokelke - we paid a welder $100 to modify a wire dog crate to fit in the back of our Jetta TDI Sportwagen without having to fold down the rear seats. Our 95 lb dog rides in that crate.

  8. "The best car for Sarah really comes down to driving habits. Will she be doing a lot of inner-city driving?"

  9. Thanks for all this great advice. We are still wrestling with this decision, wavering between getting the new TDI Wagon and getting a young used Subaru. I have to admit I am having a hard time letting go of my identity as a Subaru owner. Unfortunately we need to make the decision this week because the Subaru needs a repair we don't want to have to pay for. So waiting for the Prius Wagon is out. But we figure we'll be ready to replace our other car, a 2004 Camry, in 4-5 years and can get a smaller, mega-fuel efficient car then when both the girls will be out of the house.
    @Ashley- My daily driving is more urban than not.

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