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Best AWD Performance Wagon under $40k

ccd1ccd1 Posts: 140
I'm searching for the best AWD performance wagon under $40k and, far as I can tell on the US market, it comes down to 3 vehicles: Volvo V50T AWD, the BMW 325ix Wagon, and the Audi A3 3.2 Quattro.

First of all, I know the A3 is classified as a hatch, but the line between a 5 door hatch, particularly one with a relatively straight roof line, and a wagon gets pretty fuzzy. Also, given the price of the A3, its competitors are wagons like the Volvo and the BMW.

I've driven the A3 and the V50. The A3, to me, is much more of a "driver's car" that has more versatility than you would associate with that kind of car. The thing is just fun to drive, has excellent cargo space for its size and has some all weather capabilities. Cars like these, for me, are a balance of performance and utility. The A3's bias is toward performance.

The V50 is fast, but not as much fun to drive. It impresses me more as a fast wagon than a sports car. The Volvo has more cargo space, and probably a much better bad weather car. The V50's bias is more towards utility.

The Bimmer can be had under $40k if you are careful with the options. I'm hoping it is a better blend of performance and function than either the A3 or the V50.

What are your thoughts? Did I omit any car I should be considering???


  • patpat Posts: 10,421
    Just a housekeeping note - if you want folks familiar with the vehicles which interest you to help you out, you need to enter those vehicles in the category section when you create the discussion. I've entered the three you named for you, but I just thought I'd mention this for the future. Good luck with your decision making process.
  • tazerelitazereli Posts: 241
    In limited form it comes with leather, sunnroof, climate control and should come dang close to being the best all around performing wagon for under 40K or even 30K for that matter. I guess the Dodge magnum R/T could be mentioned as well, but i prefer to cut my steak with a knife and not a chainsaw; if you catch my drift. The three mentioned are definately worth checking out but I'm extremely weary of European vehicles with their spotty reliability (you hear me audi/vw????). Maybe I've nothing to fear, just my own opinion.

  • ccd1ccd1 Posts: 140
    Tbank you for the housekeeping note and entering these vehicles in their respective forums.
  • ccd1ccd1 Posts: 140
    Reliability is a concern. The A3 is too new to have much reliability data in the US. However, the car has been available in Europe for several years and my lurking around various forums, including this one, has not turned up many complaints.

    Safety is another concern and the A3 got a good rating from the Insurance Institute (don't remember the exact name, but Audi is touting it at their website).

    I also caught your "drift" on the chainsaw comment. All of these cars are fairly sophisticated sport cars, not brutish hotrods. I would submit that even the WRT lacks the "polish" of the 3 cars I've mentioned.

    Perhaps the best of the bunch will be the VW R32 which is rumored to be a '07 or '08 model or the S3 which may be an '07 model in the US. Little is known about the R32, but the S3 will be released in '07 in Europe by all accounts and the talk is of a base price of $30k if it gets to the US. That could be a hot little number. But the "devil is in the details" and precious few details are available at the moment.
  • ccd1ccd1 Posts: 140
    There are several things not to like about the A3. Pricing is first and foremost in my mind. The car is priced right up to my "choke point." The lack of connections for Ipod, MP3 w/o the pricey navigation system is ridiculous and the lack of passenger side power seat in the premium package is just cheap. This is a car that people will do what I'm doing: thinking long and hard about the car and exploring all alternatives before making a purchase.

    The A3 is a unique blend, at least on the US market. It is a hatch, but far more sophisticated (and expensive) than other hatches on the market. Whether you think the sophistication is worth the price of admission is a personal decision. I compare it to small sports wagons, but the A3 does not make the compromises that you find in such wagons: this is a sports car with added cargo space. If you doubt this, jump from a Volvo V50T to the A3, particularly the 3.2, and the differences are readily apparent.

    Whether you think the 3.2 is worth the extra money over the 2.0T is also a personal decision. For me, it is. DSG and AWD is what distinguishes Audi for me, and I like the schizoid nature of the 3.2 between the normal drive and sports mode.

    The A3 is Audi's statement about where the balance between utility, performance and sophistication should be in the $30-40k market for this kind of car. People will surely differ on whether Audi got it right.

    For me, this car is worth the asking price to the degree that its balancing act works for me. Put high performance tires on the car and it tips too much in the direction of performance as would the S3 if it every reaches these shores. There are cheaper performance vehicles to be had. If I was into modding cars, I'd never start with an A3, I'd pick something cheaper and spend the savings on performance parts.

    The 3.2's added value comes down to whether you agree with the balance Audi has attempted to strike between the normal drive mode and the sports mode: whether you feel the 3.2 is tame enough for everyday driving, but beastly enough when you want to drive hard. For me, the two driving modes is Audi's attempt to stretch the kind of sports car that is not so "on the edge" that you would not want to drive it every day. Some would say the 3.2 which is available only with the S-line suspension is over that line. I'm not saying Audi got it right, opinions will differ.

    I'm exploring the alternatives, but each one gives me insight on the A3's balancing act: whether I would want to live with it or pay for it. In the end, I may not purchase this car, but there is nothing quite like it as far as I have seen, particularly in 3.2 trim.
  • Other options:

    - Legacy GT. Disadvantages: no manual available, pretty bad gas consumption, so-so interior, big outside but somewhat tight inside for the package. Great engine, good handling.

    - Passat 3.6 4Motion. Put a sports suspension in this one, and it should be a competitor. No manual available, as far as I know. Great engine, incredibly good gas mileage. Nice interior.
  • volvomaxvolvomax Posts: 5,274
    Another Volvo to consider is the V70R.
    If you are careful with the options, that car can be had for less than $40,000. Plus it is available in a manual and has very good room and cargo capability.
  • kurtamaxxxguykurtamaxxxguy Posts: 1,714
    This is a newbee but sounds very promising, especially if the (most likely Mitsubishi sourced) AWD works as well as promised. Its interior's not as luxurous as the Audi or Volvo, but you are paying thousands less!
    Also, like Volvo and BMW, Dodge is allowing owners to choose between all around performance, or focused driving (SRT models).

    The Audi A3 Quattro is sold _only_ with sports suspension and tires.
  • andres3andres3 CAPosts: 5,325
    The problem with the Dodge Caliber is that it is part of the Dodge/Chrysler family. Thats a HUGE problem, especially for a first year car.... anyone remember the 95 Neons released in 94. The chances of NOT getting a lemon on the new Dodge Caliber are probably about the same as winning the lottery in California.
  • kurtamaxxxguykurtamaxxxguy Posts: 1,714
    we'll have to wait and see. The Caliber's apparently to be built in the USA.

    But I agree, the Neon was dogsville (though its PT Cruiser variant does well in reliability studies).

    VW's not particularly good on reliability; ConSumUnion's latest survey had VW and some Audis in the cellar, along with Mercedes and some GM products.

    Does reliability matter in a performance mini-wagon?
  • andres3andres3 CAPosts: 5,325
    Does reliability matter in a performance mini-wagon?

    I think reliability and durability always matter. The have an effect on resale value, and money matters. But mainly, even in a performance/sport car, which maybe you are just using as your weekend driver, reliability still matters!

    Well, your 0-60 MPH performance time on a car that is broken down is infinity. Even a BIG SUV with a small 4 banger can beat you!
  • kurtamaxxxguykurtamaxxxguy Posts: 1,714
    USA TODAY (3/3/06) reviewed it. In nutshell, coarse engine, no racy feeling, unpleasant controls, but uplevel interior, regular grade gas, and rich materials.

    I hope Edmunds will have a hot-hatch comparison soon; will be fun to see how all the players stack up.
  • andres3andres3 CAPosts: 5,325
    Edmunds' review didn't care much for the crappy Dodge Caliber either.
  • kurtamaxxxguykurtamaxxxguy Posts: 1,714
    Apparently the AWD Pontiac Vibe is not selling well, so says autonews. So Pontiac will discontinue the AWD version _and_ the GT version after 2006.
    These models inability to meet ultralow emissions standards for 2007 was also a factor.
    Cutoff for dealer orders is end of May, 2006. Only model to be sold from then on will be the Base version.

    Sad to see the AWD model go, though it was badly underpowered.
  • allhorizonallhorizon Posts: 483
    So, since several quite different cars have come up, recently, and I just happened to drive a Cobalt (not Caliber) for a week, here is a mini-review. (2.2 liter engine with ATM – not an SRT-4).

    From the outside, in real life, it does not look all that much different from the Neon, except for the higher body line and lower roof line that leave little visibility. Speaking of which, the rear window is tiny and obstructed by that huge trunk handle, so don't plan on parking this car anywhere. At any rate, the car suffers a bit from the "baby of" look, as in baby of other dodges, like the Polo compared to the GTI, or the Mazda3 compared to the 6, or the discontinued small Mercedes compared to... you get the drift. The interior looked like what to expect from the car I got: a rental.

    Steering is direct, so is handling under normal city driving. When push comes to shove, push wins and there is absolutely no support from the rear suspension. My ’93 Golf with torsion beam axle handles better under power, and even more so does the first generation Focus. I am starting to wonder how many parts they needed to (or actually did?) replace for the SRT-4.

    The engine has enough torque for everyday driving and makes the tires chirp easily in first. Driving up a mountain at moderate altitude is another story. Don't try passing another car above 60 mph going uphill, even if you have no other passengers or luggage in this car. In other words, plenty of low-end torque for everyday driving, but not much power at higher revs – reminds me of the 2.5 Jetta. Except, you would not really want any adult sit in the rear seats, in this car.

    The suspension is supple and forgiving, but allowing for somewhat above-average noise to penetrate the cabin. Reminds me of mid-to-late 80's Saturns; just a tad stiffer.

    I got 18 mpg average, largely highways at decent speed, including mountain passes. A bit much for a 4 cyl. that already had 25,000 miles on the clock.

    Sorry, but a bare-bones Focus wins over this one any day, in any category.
  • andres3andres3 CAPosts: 5,325
    I vote my 2.0T A3 sport package in ocean blue as car of the year 2006.

    But Audi and it's dealers better watch those fit and finish issues!!!

    Most irritating (less than perfection issue) so far is the rattle coming from the back of the car. Can't locate exactly what it is yet, but its noticeably loud over bumps and vibrations. (Damn shame I didn't notice anything during test drive, or for that matter in the other 3 A3's I drove before deciding to buy.
  • bristol2bristol2 Posts: 736
    Is there a reason you are excluding the Subaru Outback?

    With your financial requirement you would be in the top of the line model with cash to spare. Either the H6 or the I-4 engine are great and the Outback is larger than the previously mentioned WRX.
  • ronsteveronsteve Posts: 435
    Good question.

    Now I can see the argument that the WRX might not be big or luxurious enough for this discussion, but if the Vibe is in the mix then surely the Rex should be.

    I would definitely suggest the Outback XT, which you can get into around $30K with little difficulty, especially with a manual (tho finding them can be a trick). If a manual was easier to find, I'd probably be in one now. The power and torque numbers suggest that the 2.5 turbo H4 would have a nicer power band than the H6, which can't be had with a manual.

    Instead, I ended up getting a 2006 Volvo V70 2.5T... it's a bit of a wolf in sheep's clothing and leans a bit more practical than performance, but I like it a lot. AWD was a bit easy to sacrifice here on the coast of North Carolina. I don't pine for a manual like I would with an Outback, because the Volvo turbo is so well-suited to the auto-tranny.
  • kurtamaxxxguykurtamaxxxguy Posts: 1,714
    AWD performance wagon seekers get more choices; revamped Subaru Impreza, Saturn Vue, Saab 9-3 combi, and (possibly) the Chevrolet Equinox SS.
    Saturn's opting for Euro calibration of its suspension. The Saab is essentially an Opel in disguise.
  • I know this is a way old thread, but I don't understand why no one mentioned the Dodge Magnum R/T. I have this vehicle (2006 Magnum R/T AWD) and I love it! MSRP for fully loaded R/T with all the goodies can be had for well under $40K. It comes stock with a 5.7L HEMI with 340HP and 390LB/FT. Most magazines had it doing 0-60 in under 6 seconds and the 1/4 in mid 14's at over 100mph. Also plenty of aftermarket to make it faster if you want.

    It shuts off 4 cyclinders to save fuel, so you will get acceptable gas mileage when not flogging it.

    I live in Colorado, where AWD vehicles are popular, and I had to drive 200 miles to find my AWD R/T. So they are hard to find, since most Magnum R/Ts tend to be RWD.

    My advise, buy used since they depreciate quite a bit, but makes a great bargain if you don't have to have new. I got my 2006 with 12000 miles a few months ago for $18,000. Has everything including Navigation/Sirius/Rear DVD.
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