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Active lifestyle vehicle that will play nicely on road trips

The Right Car for Me | TrueDelta


I currently drive a 94 BMW 525, which I've owned since 2002. 265k on the odo, maintenance hasn't been too bad, but it is time to replace it.

I had been looking at another BMW but my mechanic - who works solely on BMW - has suggested that I avoid the newer models due to issues that he keeps seeing over and over. I've driven a 2009 3 series, loved it. Drove an 07 X3, I wasn't sold on it. X5 of the same here was nice but I fear the repairs on those.

I live outside of Asheville, NC. My work drive is 30 miles RT and I have to be there regardless of the weather.

When I'm not working I am pretty active. I hike every weekend, camp a good bit, plus kayak, SUP, surf, etc.

The bulk of my driving is for road trips. I make 5 or 6 trips to the coast each year to surf (1k miles total each), plus trips to the DC, SE VA and FL panhandle areas for other trips. With the BMW I've driven 580 miles w/o stopping and my rear/back don't bother me. 4WD would be ok so I can drive on the beach when I go on my surf trips but I'd be willing to give that up. I do some driving on forest service roads in the BMW, it's done ok. I just watch for rocks.

The BMW is an ok vehicle but the cargo capacity is tight. I do love the seats, everyone who rides in it does. MPG isn't a huge issue for me, I'm ok with low 20s on the highway.

For passengers, usually myself and my daughter (mid teens), plus some friends when I go hike.

My priorities can be mixed up some, they're all pretty tight in my book.

What I've looked at so far:
4th gen 4Runner - I like the look of the 3rd and 4th gens. Seat comfort might be an issue, I've done short trips but nothing too long.
MDX (08/09/10) - I've not driven one yet. A friend had one, traded it for a new 4Runner. I like the look and the reviews seem ok, I do worry about the seat leather going to bits (the ones I've looked at all had cracked leather).
Forester (09/10) - drove ok, my daughter didn't like the rear seat.
X3/X5 (07/08) - 3 felt cheap, 5 was nice but I worry about the repairs.

Priorities: Front seat support & comfort / Handling / Rear seat room & comfort / Cargo capacity / Reliability & durability

Preferred Bodystyle(s): Wagon / SUV

Car Needs: Daily commuter / Long trips / Off-roader

Need minimum of 4 seats

Will consider both new and used cars
Maximum mileage: 120000
Maximum age: 10 years

Maximum price: US $ 18000

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Response from recycledsixtie

12:12 pm July 27, 2015

I would suggest the Lexus RX350 new or used. I bought a used 2011(one third off the new price) with 40k miles. It gets about 25 mpg (imperial gallon) hiway and 20 in the city. Very quiet and smooth on the hiway. Had it one year and has been reliable. Dealer support is excellent and bought the extended warranty. I have shied away from German because of high service costs. It has all wheel drive. It is a solid vehicle. I tried the Acura RDX and found the suspension too hard. Lexus RX is softer. Good luck with your search!


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Lexus RX

Response from jasonmreece

12:40 am July 28, 2015

I've got three suggestions for you-

2010-2011 Mazda CX-9

2008-2012 Nissan Pathfinder

2007-2008 Lexus GX470

Mazda CX-9- I have a 2012 CX-9 and, other than in my Volvo S60, it has the most comfortable seats in the world. The interior materials are nice and seem to hold up well over time. It has the handles as well as my old Mazda3 and it has a lot more power than you'd expect in a vehicle of this class and size. It has been very reliable according to all reports I've read online and in my own experience. I have 44k miles on mine and it's like brand new. It also is a true 7-seater if you ever need that much space, but it has the flexibility to be a great 5-seater as well. The middle row slides back/forth for 3rd row legroom so it is very roomy when 3rd row is not in use. Tons of cargo room also.

Nissan Pathfinder- I've always had an affection for the previous generation Pathfinder. They're solidly built and a great value on the used market.

Lexus GX470- A mechanical twin to the 4Runner. But the interior comfort, quality and features are several grades above what you get in a 4Runner. They're actually excellent off-road vehicles, but very few of their owners have ever left the highway.

Regarding the 4Runner- I am a big fan of the 3rd gen (2003-2009) 4Runner. I recommend the 4.0L V6 over the the 4.7L V8 because the power difference is minimal but the fuel economy isn't. Both engines are rock solid for 250k+ miles with decent maintenance, but if/when they break the V8 is a much pricier fix.

About the MDX interior durability- if you find an MDX with seats in good condition, that means the prior owner took care of them properly (which means cleaning and conditioning them regularly). Sadly, most owners don't. If you find a good one, it will remain in good shape as look as you maintain the leather.


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Mazda CX-9
Nissan Pathfinder
Lexus GX

Response from mkaresh

11:29 am August 1, 2015

You live near some of the best driving roads in the country, so I personally wouldn't buy something as trucky as a 4Runner (ride and handling among the worst).

The X5 is perhaps the least reliable BMW, so I share your concerns with it.

Have you considered the 3 wagon? Since you liked the 2009 you drove so much, it seems an obvious candidate.

I'd also strongly suggest the BMW X1 unless its rear seat is too small. It's based on the previous generation 1/3, so it isn't as complex as current BMWs. Reliability has been good in our survey, based on marginal sample sizes. A little more ride height than the 3, but lower roof than an X3, much less an X5, for sportier handling. I suspect you'll really like it--if it has enough rear seat and cargo space for your needs.

With either BMW look for one with the sport package to get seats with adjustable bolsters.


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BMW 3-Series

Response from ncbeachbum

2:17 pm August 1, 2015

The more I look around at what driving I enjoy doing vs what driving I think I might do, I keep returning to BMW, maybe a 3 or 5 series.

3 should have emough room, for trips I can load up a cargo box. For my surf/kayaking needs I could just buy an older F150 so I can load the boards/boats/etc in back.


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Response from mkaresh

9:04 pm August 1, 2015

Response from ncbeachbum

10:13 pm August 1, 2015

Not too many X1s around here in my price range (none actually). Going out this week to look at a few 3 series. The mrs is ok with having a beater vehicle for my sporting stuff, esp hauling the kayaks around. I could also use that for hauling stuff (like mulch/firewood) as needed.

My fears about the cars being moneypits seems to be unfounded. I see more complaints on the 5 series, but the 3s are solid.


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BMW 3-Series

Response from mkaresh

10:54 am August 2, 2015

There do seem to be more horror stories with the 5 and up.

Are any of the local 3s the wagon?


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Response from ncbeachbum

5:34 pm August 2, 2015

There is one within 200 miles, it's at a "broker", which I won't go near. If I expand to 500 miles there are many more (in the 600 mile range). Mostly 328ix, I'm ok with AWD for my winter commute.

Last year I saw a 3 series wagon with a manual, it went the same day it was posted. The dealer here said he doesn't sell too many manual wagons.


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Response from mkaresh

6:08 pm August 2, 2015

Many model years they didn't even offer a RWD wagon.

If you want a manual (I would) then one will be harder to find. Patience...


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