I Want A Manual Wagon That I Can Modify! What Car Should I Buy?

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Image: VW

Yianni has a Honda Accord coupe that is great, but it doesn’t make for the best family car. He is looking for a wagon to haul kids and stuff, but he wants one with a manual transmission that he can modify into a longroof sleeper. What car should he buy?


(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario:

I am a 43-year-old father of one awesome two-year old. I currently drive a 2014 Honda Accord Ex-L V6 coupe, which I love. The problem is it’s not a great family car. While we do most the family stuff with my wife’s Subaru Outback, I want my own family car. What I want is a wagon, one that I can mod. One that I can tune the engine and suspension, and is also a manual. One that would be fun drive during Wisconsin winters, but I could still go to Home Depot and fill it up with supplies. One the fits my child’s car seat and passengers but is a total sleeper. My max is $40k. New or used I don’t care. The more money left over in my budget the more I can do to mod it to my specs. And if I could get 20 mpg city, that would be the cherry on top of the sundae.

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $40k, mods included

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Pewaukee, Wisconsin

Wants: Speed, comfort, reliability, room for the family,

Doesn’t want: An automatic

Expert 1: Tom McParland – Plenty Of Money Left For Mods …Or Repairs

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The mention of a fast manual wagon is a big deal here at Jalopnik. Unfortunately, our choices of longroofs in the American market are slim and the ones available with three pedals are even smaller. I wanted to recommend a Subaru Legacy GT wagon since I had one at one time and it is still one of my favorite cars, but I came up short sourcing a decent example.

That brought me to the Swedish equivalent of the Subie, the V70 R. These are just as rare, especially with manuals, but they check most of your boxes. The V70 is roomy, comfortable, and under the hood is a turbocharged five-cylinder motor that pumps out around 300 horsepower. Now, these are not known to be the most reliable, but you have plenty of room in your budget to make whatever improvements you need.


Here is a clean-looking example in CA with only 82,000 miles, though it does have a questionable title history. However, at this price it could be worth the gamble.

Expert 2: David Tracy – Get That Volvo Or Maybe Get This Subaru


The answer to your question is the Volvo V70 R. Tom wins.

But should you decide — perhaps because you want better aftermarket support — that another Subaru should join your stable, snag a Forester 2.5 XT. It’s not as Wagon-y as the Volvo (it’s shorter), but compact can be fun, especially when you’re whipping a vehicle around turns. A 2006 Forester 2.5 XT, like the one that sold for about $11,000 on Bring a Trailer last year, weighs around 3,300 pounds; the Volvo V70 R weighs roughly 400 pounds more.


The Forester XT’s 2.5-liter flat-four makes 230 horsepower compared to the Volvos’ 300, but thanks largely to the curb weight difference, the Subaru could be a little quicker, with Car and Driver clocking a 5.9 zero to 60 mph time compared to the Volvo’s roughly six second sprint (measured by MotorTrend).

Of course, the Subaru isn’t as nice. The manual only has five gears, the interior looks a lot cheaper than the Volvo’s, and again, there’s just not as much wagonism going on due to the relatively diminutive size. So you should get the Volvo. But the Subaru is a good choice, too.


Expert 3: Lawrence Hodge – How About An Audi Wagon?

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Image: CarZone Reno


Everyone knows we love wagons here at Jalopnik. We just wished the public loved them as much as we do so there could be more choices. Wagons on slim pickings. Even slimmer when you’re looking for a manual. And don’t get me started on a manual diesel wagon.

But if you look hard enough you can find some gems. Like this 2007 Audi A4 Avant I found out in Reno for just $19,995. Not only does it have Quattro AWD (because it’s Audi of course), but its also got the 3.2-liter V6 paired with a six-speed manual. That’s 255 HP you can have some fun with. Luckily, the tuning community for the B5 gen of the A4 is pretty big, so you should have no trouble tuning this thing if you wanted. A simple flash tune can get you nearly 20 more horses.


Expert 4: José Rodríguez Jr. – Zoom Zoom, Cha-Ching


I would argue that right now is one of the best times to be in the market for a wagon, whether it’s new or used. Volvo, Subaru, Audi, Volkswagen, maybe Saab? You can find a longroof from any of these carmakers if you cast a wide enough net and $40,000 is a wide cast, Yianni!

You’re looking for something fast, reliable and comfortable. I’m going to try to talk you down a bit on the fast part because I’m recommending this 2002 Mazda Protege5! I’m kind of obsessed with these little wagons right now. They look awesome. Understated but athletic at the same time. They come from Mazda, which has a reputation for fun-driving cars and the Protege5 is supposed to handle excellently.


The inline-four engine won’t make massive power, but it should be fun to wring out with that manual transmission and it will likely be frugal when it comes to fuel consumption. Also, it’s cheap enough at $4,200 that you can mod it a lot, and still come in generously under budget. Mind the drive to Montana, though.

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