There are two things that determine your automotive future. The first is simple: money. It is easy to get discouraged when looking for an interesting ride on a budget, especially when you have a family, a wife, and a boss (sometimes the last two are one in the same). With the focus of most automotive outlets being the latest and greatest or the classic and collector market, the average Joe doesn't get much attention in terms of real-world purchasing advice.
That being said, if you're on a budget there is a good chance you don't have the luxury of a third car. You need space for babies, dogs, bikes, and the various other things we inherit or create throughout our busy lives. But if you can't stomach the thought of a Rav4, prefer your left calf to be disproportionate to your right, and you need space to carry around your lifestyle, you are probably into wagon culture.
Below are the best wagons a little money can buy.
Pros: 250 hp BiTurbo, Audi fit/finish
Cons: Air suspension repairs, low-mileage examples dwindling
The first generation Allroad is a special wagon, offering a unique balance between performance and utility — I would argue this wagon sparked many of the performance wagons/SUVs that followed in the mid 2000's. These cars are notoriously dangerous in terms of maintenance, they sport the 2.7 liter bi-turbo six cylinder first found in the second generation S4 (B5) paired to a six-speed manual or four speed auto. In addition, they ride on a costly-to-repair air suspension —- the main ingredient to the Allroad's utility.
So why mess with a costly used German? If you're smart, you can end up with a 250 hp twin-turbo wagon that has three pedals and an extensive service history — the latter being of most importance. The air suspension is an inevitable expense, but if you opt out of the questionable automatic transmission your life and wallet will be much happier.
Pros: Cult following, sleeper speed
Cons: Cult following = perceived value
This is the first of two Swedes on this list — why you ask? Easy, they lose value faster than Kim Kardashian's next reality TV show. Second generation V70Rs have a cult following and are referred to as "unicorns" by many a Jalopnik. The short version is they are rare, offer 300 hp, and if you are into Swedish performance, they are pretty much the modern epitome.
A unique interior, specifically an aluminum shift boot, and a subtle appearance/wheel package makes this soccer mom look a little more supermodel. The large following and healthy online forum activity means that maintenance issues are easy (but not cheap) to sort out and prevent.
Overall, the V70R offers the biggest performance numbers on this list and a conservatively aggressive appearance, all the ingredients for a school house sleeper.
Pros: Low cost, usable performance and economy
Cons: Short supply, expensive parts
A long-time personal favorite, the 9-5 Aero wagon is certainly the best bang-for-the-buck on this list, with most of these cars trading hands in the sub $7k market. The 9-5 wagon also sports the longest production run — what seemed like eternity — from '99 to '10 with subtle changes throughout its design cycle. With Saab reaching its demise in '10, resources are often scarce and parts can be expensive but Aero wagons are the cream of the crop in Saab circles, so many have been well cared for and can be found sparingly on sites such as saabnet.com.
Offering between 230-270 hp, the Aero wagon when equipped with a manual transmission would give most sports cars of the era a run for their money. This combined with good looks and low initial cost make the 9-5 Aero wagon a great buy.