HELP! – I Need To Buy A New Car

As you now know, we’re moving to Sweden. And as I sold my Alfa (quite literally) just five minutes before starting this post, my mind is now on what keys will be in my pocket when we’re living there.

This is a genuine quandry, and one I wouldn’t mind your collective advice on. My default is to go with the most fun at the cheapest price. But I might be growing up. And I might have some miles to do and need some reasonable accommodation and decent mileage. My penchant for classics might not cut the mustard here.

The criteria:

  • There are going to be a lot of furniture and appliance purchases in my near future, so the ability to cram a lot in the back makes some sense.
  • Fuel economy – have you seen Swedish fuel prices?
  • Automatic – Yes, I’m finally succumbing to age and I’m a bit tired of rowing my own gears in traffic. Plus, it’ll be easier for Caro (who’s already going to be challenged by the steering wheel being on the wrong side of the car, and the car being on the wrong side of the road).
  • Heated seats.
  • Carplay – or the ability to integrate Carplay. This has become a non-negotiable for us. It pretty much rules out all button-dash Saab 9-3s, but everything else can be converted, it seems.

My ideal two-car garage – in the long term – would be to have something modern, small and economical that we’d both drive in the colder months with something fun to pull out of storage in the warmer months. An Abarth 595 and Saab 99, 96 or 900, for example. Maybe something electric instead of the Abarth will be feasible by the time we’re in that position. Maybe there’ll be an electric car with character by then.

But that’s the long term.

When we hit the ground in Sweden, we’re going to need one car to do it all. Or most of it, at least. We also need to buy an apartment, so cost is going to be an issue as we’d like to minimise our mortgage.

I’m thinking that I can address this issue in either of two ways.

A) Buy a cheap-ish load-lugger for the short term and then get a longer term car in 6-12 months, or B) Look for something spacious with a medium term view, a car that’ll also consume a reasonably small amount of fuel (relative to its size). And then we get the ideal two-car setup in a few years from now.

The top end of our budget is around 150,000 – 170,000 SEK.

Here are the options I’ve come up with so far:

Saab 9-5 Aero Wagon

This would be instantly familiar. I had a 9-5 Wagon in (manual) Vector form for my whole 4 years in Sweden between 2015 and 2019. It was super comfortable, could swallow a whale, and it proved to be very reliable.

How comfortable was it? I also had a 1995 Jaguar XJR for six months and the 9-5 left it for dead in the comfort department. The seats, the ride, everything. It wasn’t the theatrical event that the Jaguar was, but on a practical level, the 9-5 was a much more comfortable long distance car.

This one’s for sale on Blocket right now.

It’s in Skane and it’s just 22,500 SEK. It’s a high miler, of course. Most of these are, now. But I’ve got a guy just outside Angelholm who’s a Saab guy, and who used to wrench on Koenigseggs for a living. He knows his stuff. Anything that needs doing, Mika can get it done.

If I want something with less mileage, this one’s only done 150,000 kms but it’s more than twice the price, at 49,900 SEK.

Getting a 9-5 would one of those short-term solution situations, most likely. It’s affordable, it’ll swallow a whale, and ….. well, it’s a Saab. And I love Saabs. That second one could do me well for a couple of years but I don’t know if I want to spend that much on a 9-5 Wagon.

The downside is that it’s old engine technology and it’s not going to be great on fuel (and have you seen Swedish fuel prices?? Did I mention those earlier??).

——

Saab 9-3 Aero

My two favourite Saabs that I’ve owned are my 99 Turbo and my Viggen. That generation of 9-3 is my generation of Saab. They still look great today, and despite the chassis flaws, they’re still good to drive.

This 9-3 Aero is a 5-door (there don’t seem to be many 3-doors) but it looks tidy enough in the ad and has reasonable mileage. It’s advertised on Blocket for 34,900 SEK.

The 9-3 and 9-5 can both be retro-fitted with double-DIN stereos with Carplay. It doesn’t look so great, but it’s possible.

The 9-3 won’t take as much gear as a 9-5 wagon but it’s still got a decent load capacity.

Again, though, it’s old-school engine tech and it’s not going to be as good on fuel as the more modern offering listed below.

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Abarth 595

This is one of the long terms options. It’d be great on fuel while still being lots of fun to drive.

It throws the load-lugging criterion out the window, though. Everything would have to be delivered if I went with this option.

This one’s for sale on Blocket for 129,900 SEK. It’s one of the cheaper ones on there. I’m not sure that it can be retrofitted with Carplay but it has a USB input, I believe, so maybe we’d just make do with that. I wouldn’t like it, but we could do it. If we had to.

For those Italia-sceptics out there, I’ve just sold an Alfa Giulietta QV that I had for three years with near-zero problems. The only I issue I had in that time was with a bottom radiator hose connection. Everything else was fantastic. I know Italian cars have a reputation, but that’s an historical issue from my point of view. And somewhat underserved. This was my 6th Alfa and they’ve all been great.

I’d get one of these with no concerns at all. And it’d be more fun than a sack full of puppies, I reckon.

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Volkswagen Golf GTI

The classic one-car-to-do-it-all. The GTI.

It’s German. It’s one of three German cars on this list, actually. And that troubles me.

The Germans all present as very compelling options on paper. Before you drive them. I’ve only had two German cars in my lifetime. A Porsche 968CS and a Porsche 928S. The 928 needed the most work of any car I’ve owned and while the 968 was an incredible performance machine, it was so incredibly competent, so well balanced, so in-control of everything it did that it was…. boring.

My concern is that the Germans do cars too well sometimes. But, maybe I need to dip my toe in the GTI waters to see what all the fuss has been about.

This one is red. That’s a genuine selling point for me. In a world of monochromatic road fleets, this could actually put a smile on my face. It’s for sale on Blocket for 134,700 SEK and has 160,000 kms on it.

It’s got 210hp. It’s got the tartan seats that add some character to the interior. It’s got funky five-hole wheels. And it’s a hatchback, so it’s versatile enough to fit mid-size purchases in.

It’s not great on fuel economy around town (10 litres per 100kms) but improves on the highway, going at just 5.9l per 100 kms.

It’s an option. It’s kind of grown up and a little bit childish. Just like me.

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Audi A5 Sportback

This is me growing up. Maturing.

I’ve always been partial to a hatchback and I’ve always found the A5 – both the coupe and the sportback – to be rather handsome.

It’s sophisticated and elegant on the inside, and there are Carplay options that allow you to keep the original screen and OS while running Carplay in the background, switching between the two according to your needs.

This one’s in dark blue – a colour I love – and has interesting wheels (the wheels maketh the car, as you know). It has 110,000 kms on the clock and is for sale for 149,900 SEK.

The sportback body style has a large opening at the back, so it’ll accommodate all our needs for some time. It’ll be comfortable, adequately powered and well equipped. Fuel economy isn’t bad, either, at 7.5 litres around town and 6.4 on the highway (VW Group fiddly numbers notwithstanding, of course).

One downside is that this engine has a reputation for drinking oil. There were words to the effect of “it is not unusual for this engine to consume a litre of oil per 1000kms” in the owners manual. Yikes!

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BMW 328i Gran Tourismo

It’s one of those weird BMW coupe-but-not-a-coupe things. It’s not quite “the answer to the question that nobody was asking” (i.e. the BMW X6), but it’s close.

On the upside, I’ve seen a 5-series version of this swallow an entire Ikea Landskrona sofa – the 4 seater. It can take plenty of gear in the back. It’s also got plenty of passenger space, is well equipped and at 6.8 litres per 100 kms in mixed driving, it’s pretty good on fuel for its size and power (245hp).

This one’s done 160,000 kms and is for sale at the very top end of our budget, at 169,900 SEK.

It’s a BMW, which is something I’ve never owned. I’d feel a little bit dirty, to be honest, but it does look rather comfortable and capable. Again, there are Carplay options that let you add it to the existing system, as with the Audi.

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Mercedes 380 SL

Why? Because I’m an idiot.

This car has nothing that we need. It barely has a stereo and you’d have to tow your own fuel pump behind it.

But where else can you get a Mercedes 380 SL for that money? The cheapest one for sale in Australia right now is nearly 500,000 SEK. This one is for sale for 159,000 SEK!!!!

Just beautiful. Just beautiful.

——

So what do you think?

What have I missed?

Aside from the Saabs at the beginning, I’ve not owned any of these cars before. I’m flying blind, here.

Is there anything else I need to know? Is there any other make/model I should be seriously looking at?

Your thoughts will be my food for thought.

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41 Comments

  1. Can you get the Golf estate, or the Golf All-Track over there?

    I have been very impressed with my Golf. Very capable, very comfortable and really goes when you put your foot down. It’s an excellent package. The All-Track boot offers a bit of flexibility.

  2. I would definitely choose the 9-3 Aero. Can swallow a dolphin and CarPlay can be retrofitted. In the Netherlands ReierParts has everything you need With connection to As3 en a working steeringwheel devices. And I have a pioneer that looks like it has always been there.

  3. Why not a Volvo? They are among the most popular cars in Sweden, for obvious reasons, and any model that starts with a V should fit your load-hauling needs. Models with the Drive-E engine will meet your fuel economy target, although they probably start at the top-end of your price range.

    I’m speaking from personal experience, I’m now driving one of the last S80, with the Polestar tune. It’s a great car, and surprisingly economical (10l/100km max in the city, real-world 6l/100km on the highway). I would have bought another Saab if things had turned-out differently, of course.

    In your case, my heart would go with Saab. You won’t have the same issues finding parts and service, as we do in Canada.

    The Abarth isn’t a great winter car. As you might remember, I had one. Lots of fun in the winter, but the heating sucks (one feeble vent on the side of the footwell), and it doesn’t have the ground clearance for a deep snow event. It was a fun car, but it could only ever be one of two cars for us, and only one of us drives.

    BMWs aren’t known as winter cars here. They just don’t have a reputation for sturdiness.

    Can’t you rent vans? You won’t be hauling new appliances home every day.

    Re: “Maybe there’ll be an electric car with character by then.” What do you think about the Polestar 2? It’s above your budget for now, but the 2 was obviously designed by people who share our love of the 9-3 hatch, in the same way that the Abarth was obviously designed by people who had 2-stroke scooters with big-bore kits and loud pipes during their teenage years.

    1. Volvos – I just don’t care for them. The newest generations are great. We had an XC90 at Koenigsegg and a mate here in Australia has a new-ish wagon. Both are excellent. But both sell for well beyond our budget at this point. And the previous generations just don’t ring my bell at all.

      The Polestar does look great, but again, it’ll be beyond my means for some time.

  4. Why not convert that 9-5 into an electric car? That would make a good project for your blog, too.

  5. I would look at the Golf Estate and also a Volvo. Not as much fun as the Saab but there should be a lot of them about. Look specifically for say a V90 or something that didn’t sell well and hence might be cheaper (unlike the XC90 or cross country V90 which probably outsold the V90 6 to 1). Alternatively, Dacia are basically Nissan or Renaults but a lot cheaper. Might be looking for something like that, or a Mazda 5 (basically a mini Minivan).

  6. The Current GTI is very, very good. The MK5 1/2 you’re looking at isn’t a stand out car. Again that generation of 3 series was a bit of a mis step, you’d be better looking at a 5 series.
    Owned an A5 and again underwhelming A6 is MASSIVELY better. The German the 5/A6 Eclass so well.

    I’d suggest (if in budget) 2014 E250 coupe or A250 hatch A 140i will be amazing if you can keep it between the hedges. An A6 diesel will do 55mpg all day long in supreme comfort. For blue collar thrills, Focus ST or Seat Leon Cupra.

    1. A5 – noted. My CEO in Sweden has an A6 wagon, I think. I might be taking notes on that. But diesels are not my cup of tea and are taxed through the roof, I believe.

  7. I guess you won’t be wanting my Sonett III. You still have right of first refusal Swade.
    I just lost my 2006 9-5 Dame Edna Combi last week when it was parked it too close to a building(s) that caught fire. I loved that car. I may just have to steal my 9-5 Aero Combi back from my daughter and negotiate a new car for her. Both cars have been pretty reliable but parts are getting a bit hard to find – as well as mechanics to work on them. And rust is becomming an issue here in NEw England. But in the states you can pick one up for relative pocket change. Something to hold me over until I sell my boat in a few years and can afford a Volvo Estate (if they still make one) – hopefully a hybrid by then.

  8. I’ve had a number of the cars you mention in your article- Saab 99, Saab 900 Turbo mk1, Saab 9-5 vector Sportwagon (still have this with 173k miles on the clock now and solid as a rock – have a retro fit 2 din Pioneer stereo with carplay looks and works great), a number of Golfs.
    I’ve also owned a few Skodas. If you are after load lugging capability the Octavia and Superb estates have oodles of room, much more than the equivalent VW/Audi, the Superb beats the 9-5 in this respect, it’s an absolute Tardis.
    I get what you mean about Italian cars, I always been ‘nervous’ about them but my wife swapped her manual Polo for a Fiat 500 Lounge auto and it’s a great liitle car and in two years nothing but standard servicing has been required.
    I wouldn’t touch a BMW with a barge pole (beware the brand doesn’t carry any really cache in Scandinavia AFAIK, it seems to be here in the UK that it’s given some sort of ‘status symbol’ aura.
    Also a rear wheel drive version would be a PITA in the snow and ice.

    If it was me I go with the 9-5 at first and take time to think about the future options

    1. The Skodas are of interest. I have fond memories of a Swedish mate’s Octavia RS.

      The 9-5 option has a high likelihood, I think. We gravitate to what we know.

      The 328 GT listed is a 4WD version, so hopefully a little more capable in adverse conditions.

  9. If you choose a Saab (which I hope you do), as others have mentioned, there are many options for CarPlay retrofits, lots of them can look close to factory. Check out Saab Unleashed on YouTube, he reviews these regularly and has great advice. He just had one on that has a physical volume knob, which I personally would like if I do this. I’m giving serious thought to this + a backup cam in my 9-3 wagon.

  10. The Merc …. definitely the Merc … rest …. meh ….

    Get a Van and be done with it, Merc again, throw in some extra seats as needed. … this will haul all your crap (stuff) and then some, add a dog … go camping as needed ( or dog house as needed) …

    the Abarth for the fun stuff . Of Ford Fiesta ST …..

  11. Could you potentially be a Citroen man Swade? I’ve spent a total of maybe three days in Sweden so couldn’t comment on the driving conditions there, but it interests me that there seem to be a lot of Citroens advertised there, relative to Australia. Maybe a C5 wagon, Berlingo or even a Cactus could fit the bill?

    I actually went through this process a few weeks ago – I needed a slightly interesting, practical, fuel efficient daily driver that’s reasonable on the highway and easy for my wife to drive (ie automatic and not too big), for around $10k. If it were me I probably would have chosen a Skoda Yeti – which was “too ugly” apparently… so we ended up with a Citroen DS3. Surprisingly nice little car and quite rare in Australia. It even looks a bit like a 2-door 9-5 wagon if you squint 🙂 Maybe too small for you though?

    The 9-5 does seem like a safe bet, though it’s true paying for fuel could get tiresome… would you consider leasing an electric??

    1. I’d love to be a Citroen man eventually. I could imagine nothing more enjoyable than touring France in a DS.

      But a Citroen is probably unlikely as a daily for me, given other options. I do like them – a lot – but not quite enough to prioritise them.

    2. I just had a look at the DS5 Hybrid in Sweden. On budget, super-economical, very distinctive and seems to have the space we need. Interesting.

      1. Interesting, and it certainly checks-off several of the boxes: it’s somewhat exotic, Golf-class (which is the sweet spot for a two-person all around car), economical.
        The last time I drove a Citroen was a rental C5 Diesel in France, and it didn’t have much appeal, but that’s not unusual for a C-segment rental. It was better than a Qashqai (especially for my back).
        Does Renault have anything interesting on offer? A Zoe would be perfect as a city car, but it doesn’t have the range of a more modern electric.

        1. It IS interesting, isn’t it? I’ve always been a little fascinated by French cars. I had an RS Megane for a little while in 2016. The interior let it down, but the chassis was first class.

          Sadly, Caro has a friend here in Brisbane with a Citroen and it’s been a bit of a lemon. She’d likely veto the selection as a primary vehicle that she’d have to drive, too. But it’s certainly interesting.

  12. Hi there, just some practical/boring mechanical advice: I was recently in the market for a car, and learned some things about BMWs in particular: the 2.0 turbo 4 cylinder (N20) engine has a known timing chain issue (possibly rectified around 2015), yours is a 2014…

    The 3.0 6-cyl (N55) doesn’t have TC issue, but seems like *all* BMW have cooling system issues and oil leaks after ~10ys (e.g electric water pump will die after 100-160k kms, $1500 to replace in Melbourne) All BWM also leak oil from valve cover/OFHG, more $$ to fix. Depends if the engine is in a fun enough car to justify 😀

    As for the Audi: the 7-speed DSG (dry clutch) has known issues with clutch wearing out (jerky operation, just a comfort thing) and also the mechatronic can have issues $$$. The reliable trans is the automatic (Tiptronic), but only in quattros I think. Yours is S-Tronic (DSG/DCT)…

    In the end, I went with a 2014 E200.

  13. Hi mate, I would say get something you couldn’t get in Australia! Scan the market for what is available and pick something which wasn’t available over there! Since you spent some time already in Sweden, there are probably stuff which you haven’t seen before and which tickles your heart. It’ll make you feel special for sure! It might be a model which isn’t available over there, such as performance version of a mid size car. Or an interesting GTI competitor.
    If you plan to stay in the Gothenburg area, the best Indy Workshop for Alfa (and maybe the best Indy workshop in Sweden – period) is Auto Alfa. They also service Fiat and Abarth and have been taken care of my 1999 Fiat Coupé since 2007 – and my Alfa 159 TBI TI since 2018. Excellent guys! Getting a Alfa was a nobrainer after the great experience with those guys! And the Alfisti community is really strong in Sweden – Alfa drivers wave to each other!
    I can also advice you to pick any car with a tow bar. That way you will be fine drive around with whatever you need for you daily needs. Freetrailer is a Danish company which lends you a trailer for 24h for 70 SEK – including no excess insurance. And they cover pretty much all of Sweden with no frills, app based pickup at places like IKEAS, Elgiganten, Seng etc. We use it a lot!

  14. Also, we have a bear market in the housing sector right now. Meaning it might actually be a good thing to find a place to rent for the first 6 month or so. Just for both of you to get a feeling for what you actually want and save some money. Most likely the market will drop about 15% at least since the peak in March. I can say if feels like a bit of a lemon for a guy who has talked about a house market crash since 2006 and have been renting until finally succumbing to buying a house in December of last year…
    At least I managed to lock the interest rate at less than half of the current 5 year going-rate just days before they shot upwards.

  15. Just rereading with others comments. If you’re going petrol I’d be looking at (all estates)

    Octavia VRS
    Ford Focus ST
    A6 Avant.
    The BMW 4 Series Gran Sport might be in budget but I still don’t recommend that generation of car

    A CLA estate would be a very fine thing indeed but expensive.

  16. Hi Swade. Great to hear you are on your travels again and congrats on getting hitched!
    I can recommend a BMW 320i Touring seeing as you have written off the Volvo route. (XC60 is an excellent car and moved my kids to and from Uni numerous times without a problem. Great not having to hire a van!) The BMW is a great car, can carry a fair bit but is not what I’d call a load lugger. Comfortable, reliable and great to drive.

  17. I’d suggest a Toyota Corolla Touring Sport Hybrid, but, at SEK250k-300k it looks like that would blow the budget 🙁
    Not “fun” exactly, but interesting hybrid system, very easy to drive, smooth, roomy, comfortable. (Mebbe I just grew up, too!)
    I still miss the 9-3 TiD Touring Sport, but the Toyotas have been 100% reliable. Personally, I’d have a 9-3/900 convertible as a fun car.

    But the van idea… Buy van*, use it to shift the furniture, then start a project to turn it into a day-van? (with a porta-potti in one of the cupboards!)
    *Transit, Merc, VW, etc

    Congratulations to you and Caro, and all the best on your new venture.

  18. Longtime reader from the days before you crashed the Viggen. I’ve enjoyed watching your journey from afar (I am in the USA) over the last 15+ years.

    As a current owner of two Saabs and a Mercedes 380SL, I feel moved to comment on this one. Although it pains me to do it, I’d like to dissuade (dis-Swade?) you from the 380SL.

    The R107 models are undeniably iconic and timeless classics. They look great to pop around town on an afternoon with glorious weather, and you’ll get nonstop second glances and compliments.

    But – it doesn’t satisfy hardly any of your requirements (other than having automatic transmission). It is completely impractical, can haul virtually nothing, gets horrid gas mileage, isn’t particularly comfortable if you are tall, and is almost certainly going to require significant expenditures to keep it maintained and in running condition. And unfortunately the 380 is prone to subframe defects and that car may have a single-row timing chain with high risk of catastrophic failure. Many have already been converted to a double-row chain, but I’d verify that before I ever bought a 380SL.

    Style counts for a lot, of course, but in the end it doesn’t overcome all those negatives. And to add a few more: the 380 in particular is underpowered for the weight of the car, the steering is soft, and it is very slow off the line. Now granted, the V8 engine will let you hit 90+ MPH (150KM/H) on the highway without even noticing…but it may take a couple minutes to get there.

    The bottom line is that this is not a great choice for a daily driver. Perhaps it’s the right choice to take up the “warm weather” bay in your “ideal” scenario, but it wouldn’t be a good year-round choice, especially in a cold-weather climate!

    Personally, I would go with one of the two Saab options…given the cargo you want to move, perhaps the 9-5. I think you’ll get the most utility from that and the best value for your Krona. These cars were built for winter driving, and as you noted you’ll be in country with no shortage of experienced and knowledgeable Saab technicians. Spare part availability shouldn’t be a problem either, even for the less common 9-5.

    1. Thanks for the considered thoughts, James. The 380 was in there as a tongue-in-cheek option, but one that I would certainly consider for a summer car, as you suggest. It’s a stunner. Just beautiful. But that idea would be subject to us having both the budget and the space, which is unlikely. At least in the first few years.

      The 9-5 is firming, I’d say.

      1. would you consider maybe a Datsun 1600 (Collectible) 4 speed synchromesh manual or possibly a Datsun 180B ( 0 to 60 mph in 11.1 sec or 0 to 100 km/h in 11.8 sec) top speed 165 km/h color Datsun Blue with Ivory vinyl roof
        it doesn’t get any better than this

        1. I don’t think they sell Dattos in Sweden but even if they did, I don’t think I could afford one. They’re big dollars now!!

          The only 1600 for sale in Australia on Carsales is $35,000!!!

  19. Did you consider a VW Touran? Why not buy in Germany and take it to Sweden? You may check mobile.de…

    1. I don’t think he is that desperate for space. That’s an appliance on wheels, not a car.

  20. Congratulations to both you and Caro on your nuptials, spring is in the air…..

    On the issue of new wheels, what about a Skoda Octavia or Volvo V60 Estate? Cars made for where you are living. I test drove a Skoda Octavia wagon (Aussie speak) a few years ago and it was a great drive but the trade was better at Mazda. Also add Mazda 6 Estate to your short list, the Mr’s will love you even more and all of the above, and hey why not let her choose?

    I’m off to Melbourne this Friday to visit Grace, and she bought me tickets for Father’s Day to the MCG for Saturday’s final between Collingwood and Fremantle. Unfortunately our beloved Blue baggers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the last 4 rounds and paid the price. Whilst in Rome I’ll be doing what the Romans will be doing and cheering on Collingwood, enough said.

  21. Saab 9-5 every day of the week, particularly for the prices you were quoting. Or a 9-3. BTW, My 05 button dash 9-3 vert takes carplay thru a $30 cig lighter adapter. Its bloody awesome.