Featured: What's the Best Car Under $15K for a Petrolista Father-To-Be?

What’s the Best Car Under $15K for a Petrolista Father-To-Be?

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January 20, 2015
71 comments

Photography by Saam Gabbay and courtesy of Audi

Allow me to share with you a bit of exciting personal news: this May, I am going to become a father. Naturally, I am thrilled about how this beautiful life-changing development is going to impact our lives and am already fantasizing about what fatherhood will be like. But you know what I’m not excited about? No, it’s not waking up every three hours–that’ll pass after the first several months. And no, it’s not changing diapers or cleaning up other bodily fluids. It’s something far worse than that. It’s the minivan. I absolutely refuse. I also refuse to participate in the “war of masses” that seems so common with new parents in California, that is, buying the biggest and heaviest SUV thinking that it’s the best cocoon for your newborn.

Parenthood should not have to result in vehicular castration. There are plenty of fun, sporty sedans or wagons out there that can comfortably haul all the paraphernalia that one needs for a new baby.

So I ask you to help me think of some family cars worthy of a Petrolista that fit the following requirements:

Must cost under $15,000

Must be fun-to-drive

Preferably available with a manual

Has a good design

Must be reasonably reliable

Can be any year – does not have to be vintage

Must be safe (my 1969 Alfa Romeo Berlina would have been perfect if it weren’t for this nagging requirement)

What is the best family car under $15K for a Petrolista father-to-be? Thank you for your suggestions!

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Hugo Norton
Hugo Norton
5 years ago

My vote goes for the best fun all around, small sport car, eighties standard pattern… BMW E30 !
In some years the mighty E30 325i (171 hp) straight six smooth…are going to rise in value so… If You want a good one, try to be fast to find one!
Coupe (2 doors) of course!

BMW 325i e30
BMW 325 e (north american 2.7)
BMW 323i e30
BMW 323i E21
Porsche 944 S / S2 / turbo
Porsche 924 S / turbo
Porsche 914
BMW e28 528i / 525i

Thomas Hamilton
Thomas Hamilton
5 years ago

As a recent father, I had the same question bouncing around in my head. Driving a 318ti and an M Coupe my mind was set on a BMW.
I had always loved the e28 so that made it a simple choice for me. The e28 checks all the boxes for me; iconic design, fun to drive; 4-doors and it fits the baby seat perfectly.

The e36 M3 sedan was a close second but every time I get a wave or thumbs up for the e28 helps me know I made the right choice.

jetfixr07
jetfixr07
5 years ago

Admittedly, I haven’t yet scrolled thru the comments but immediately I feel compelled to blurt, “E39!” More specifically, (and perhaps because they happen to be my automotive Obsession of the Week,) the 540iT…

Tom
Tom
5 years ago

Vw Passat W8

Matt
Matt
5 years ago

Whilst I salute anyone who goes the route of a coupe (I know a couple of 911 fathers), the compromises will remain; 1) you won’t (shouldn’t) be driving vigorously with a baby in the car; 2) getting the baby in and out of a 2 door gets tiring (been there, done that), but if it’s a second car, then these are negated of course.

I’m partial to pre-Chrysler Mercs, and the W116 SELs or W124 (M104) make amazing classic daily drivers.

Jimmy Taridi
Jimmy Taridi
5 years ago

2 cars pops up in my mind.. V70R AWD or the RS4 Avant. Practical… safe.. cheap.. personally I would go for the V70R for that added safety and stealthy nature ?

Jimbodachimp
Jimbodachimp
5 years ago

Was about to suggest 02-07 wrx wagon but released the post is over a year old..what did you end up picking up?

Jeremy Butcher
Jeremy Butcher
5 years ago

Porsche 944….killer fun, cheap and prices on the rise, oh yea 25-30 mpg and a hatchback and backseat!

Jeff Burgess
Jeff Burgess
5 years ago

From a father of a 10 and a 5 year old, here’s my suggestion. Spend $3k on a used Forester or something, and take the other $12K and buy something fun, like a nice e30, 260Z or Corrado, etc. And here is why. Kids destroy vehicles. In reality, they ruin most everything they touch. Don’t get me wrong, kids are great, and mine are my world. But I own very few things that are not broken or damaged in some way. Do yourself a favor and keep your hobby car and your family car separate.

Logan Tanner
Logan Tanner
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Burgess

I wish I could upvote this 1000x over.

Greg Severs
Greg Severs
5 years ago

I got a 2003 Infiniti G35 coupe in perfect condition with only 46,000 miles on it for only $10,700. (It comes in a sedan too). It’s fast, fun and has a nice growl on it. 280 horsepower. I get a smile on my face every time I turn a corner in this thing. And in my experience Nissans are very reliable.

Edward Llorca
Edward Llorca
5 years ago

For me safety was the number 1 concern. And when it comes to safety, one brand always comes to mind. Volvo. Try the 850R/T5-R, reliable, safe, lots of room in the cabin and boot. You have your choice of sedan and estate. With the BTCC heritage behind it as well, you can’t go wrong.

Oh did I mention, its a Volvo 🙂

Happy Hunting!

Luc Bonachera
Luc Bonachera
7 years ago

When my now-6-year-old daughter was born, I drove a 1988 SAAB 900 turbo sedan and it was great. I replaced it with a 1991 Volvo 240 2.3 just for the cliché but it turned out to be a great car and actually one of the few I regret having sold…

samir shirazi
samir shirazi
7 years ago

560SEC

Chris Leighton
Chris Leighton
7 years ago

your little champion will own the road in a 2007 Lumina sedan. When he’s old enough to face forward place his seat in the back, middle. He will own the road, be entertained by the road and grow up to be a Petrolista like his Dad. These cars are proven units for growing families. It can be a daily driver and drivers car. Sedans don’t have things rolling around making noise or have cabin noise like wagons can, your partner will love you for a sedan. All the baby things will be away from prying eyes in a sedans trunk too. That said the child wont care about the car nearly as much as you or your partner will so make sure you’re happy with your choice 7 let us know what it is so we can cheer/howl-it-down – Chris.

Federico Sagol
Federico Sagol
7 years ago

Congratulations!
I have been there 2 years ago, and now, we are waiting on our second daughter in a couple of month.
E39 are, may be the best option. I drive a ’01 M5 that I bought for far less than 15k (it needed “some” attention) and I am very happy with it. A 540i/6 is a very good option too since for that kind of money you can find a pristine one.
My wife drives a ’07 Accura RDX. Price is around 15k or less. The size is perfect for a family of 3 or 4 and the interior is very nice. It has AWD, useless for us in Florida but it might be useful when it snows.

Just to mention a different car: We had an ’03 Honda Element before the ones I mentioned.
I know it might not be a Petrolista’s car but:
1.- It was manual
2.- You can buy 3 with 15k
3.- It has rubber carpet in the interior. So you can clean it with a humid rag.
4.- It has suicide doors, to have a better access to the back.

Bret William Caldwell
Bret William Caldwell
7 years ago

300te

Steve Mason
Steve Mason
7 years ago

So many options here, going to come down to what you can find! My Wife drives a 2013 Subaru Outback, which is our family hauler, (2.5 yr old, and another on the way), tent trailer hauler, and my wife’s commuter. I have an E46 330i Sedan, which will also fit 2 car seats, and works for when I want to have some fun instead of taking the Outback. (Which is great, but not exactly “fun”). If your DD has to serve both duties, I’d have a E46 or e39 Touring.

Yosuke Yamamoto
Yosuke Yamamoto
7 years ago

Does your partner (wife, gf) have a car also? So far we only have one kid and have used our BMW X1 28i (M Sport) as the primary family car. I have a ’07 Z4M Coupe as my primary vehicle. I can turn off the air bag with a key on the passenger side, and the seats have ISOFIX points for the carseat… Anyway, I don’t know what you drive now, but as long as it’s not a primary car there’s a whole lot of options out there for you with one kid (two kids and more and you may need to think a bit more).

Clark Wisenbaker
Clark Wisenbaker
7 years ago

Congratulations! As a father of two, I fully understand the numerous fun challenges ahead of you, both in the child and car departments.
The E36 BMW has been mentioned several times, with the M3 sedan seeming to be an ideal version of that Bavarian vintage for a fun family mover. Here’s one from an Atlanta dealer included in a recent Petrolicious article as it’s also selling an E28 M5 (sadly at well above your budget).
http://www.motorcarstudio.com/1281_V20141224113223/Atlanta/1997-BMW-M3-for-sale

Ryan Corneliusen
Ryan Corneliusen
7 years ago

This was my question one year ago. My baby is now 6 months and counting. I rarely think outside of BMW:
-E34/E39 M5
-E34 535i*
-E36 M3

*my first car.

Peter Chan
Peter Chan
7 years ago

Volvo V70R 6MT… all problems solved!

Ryan Corneliusen
Ryan Corneliusen
7 years ago
Reply to  Peter Chan

Does it have to be a [station] wagon?

I don’t understand the wagon attraction, much less Volvos (& saabs). You guys are a rare & misunderstood breed.

RiccardoG
RiccardoG
7 years ago

For a family car the SW attraction (als SUV perhaps) is simply because it allows for a much more flexible and easy vehicle when it comes to transporting stuff around. Conversely, I cannot fathom why anyone would want a sedan (interested to hear any thoughts). I really wish I could as it would open so many more options for the “family car”.

JB21
JB21
7 years ago
Reply to  Peter Chan

Station wagons are, you know, cool. Shooting-brakes are even cooler. Seriously though, they are just so damn useful and often without sacrificing performance.

Conni Menschel
Conni Menschel
7 years ago

Hi,

how about an Alfa 164 Super? It offers security, an A/C and enough space for all the things you will have to transport.
With the 24v Alfa V6 there is still a lot of fun when driving it. So this could be a good combination between style, driving fun and practicality if you find a good one in the US.

Or a Volvo 🙂 Maybe easier with the buggy…

Best regards and congratulations…

Conni

Andreas Lavesson
Andreas Lavesson
7 years ago

If by “safe”, you actually mean a car that will handle a crash in some kind of reasonable fashion, you’d have to go with something kind of new. Sure, the Volvo 240 was very safe when it came in the 70’s, but quite a lot of things have happened since.

I saw a full frontal crash (in a Fifth Gear episode, I believe) with a Volvo 940 and a Renault Modus or whatever. Even though the 940 Wagon is a hefty thing and is considered a “safe car”, it got absolutely smashed and the small Renault was actually kind of alright. What sorcery is this?! Progression.

Again, If safety is a big concern, look for the newest one you can bear to buy. Audi S6/RS6 etc are amazing machines until they brake, because then they’ll also break the bank. While no “performance oriented car” is cheap, Audis certainly are expensive. If you’re after a big Wagon (by European standards), I’d say go for a BMW E39, Volvo V70R, SAAB 9-5 Aero (parts might be an issue in the US?), Subaru Legacy or a Volkswagen Passat if they are available (can be had with a V6 or VR6).

Robert Kirkpatrick
Robert Kirkpatrick
7 years ago

If you decide to look at WRXs, also take a look at the 2005-2006 Saab (Saabaru) 92x. Mechanically the same as the WRX wagon, but some came with leather interiors, xenon headlights, and a few other perks, including (to my eye) a better looking front end. Five speed manuals were also an option. I’ve had a 2005 with a manual transmission since new. I recently hit 95k miles and so far the only non-maintenance item that’s had to be replaced is the radiator.

Sam Fankuchen
Sam Fankuchen
7 years ago

Audi C5 RS6
Audi B5 S4 Avant
Audi C5 S6 Avant
W211 E55 AMG
Mercedes W124 E500 / 500E
Mercedes W460 / W463 G-Wagen
Toyota FJZ80 Land Cruiser

Brett Bratton
Brett Bratton
7 years ago

BMW or Mercedes are terrific cars for the father to be.

I am a father of three and use an e39 530i/5 speed with 251k as our primary family car. Now, I have three car seats across in the back seat (all Dionos) with one child rear facing in the middle. If you go e39, try to get fold-down seats because the seat back is flatter and will give you extra clearance. We have taken all five members of the family in the car for a week vacation, including bringing a stroller (compact single Baby-Jogger City GT) without resorting to using the roof. Our other car is a B5 A4 1.8 which is very tight compared to the e39 (similar car seat set up.) Unfortunately, my 944 will only fit child seats in the front because the rear seats are too narrow and the seat belts too high (86, so no airbag to worry about.)

If I was going to go wagon, I would probably opt for a V8 E-Class because it has a third row, and the V8 would better mate to an automatic transmission. If sticking to sedan, I would go BMW or a high-powered Merc. My experience with Audi has been less than desirable and do not readily recommend those cars after servicing our A4 (see pinch bolt, control arms, throttle body adaptation, flex pipe, modules blocking ODB-II functionality, etc, etc.)

Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick
7 years ago

Congrats on becoming a father! My son was born in March 2014 and I went through the same thought process. Unfortunately, in Philadelphia, the weather was a factor for me as well so my daily driver is a FX35 (at least it has the G motor). But I looked at everything that I would’ve considered cool but ultimately with my commute and the weather, I went with Japanese reliability. For nice weather…I have the Esprit so I will just have to make do during these winter months. My vote would be a Ferrari Mondial as the daily.

RiccardoG
RiccardoG
7 years ago

Well, seeing as you’re in the US (I assume) then how about a late 80’s Jeep Grand Wagoneer? Very rare, very cool (its a woody!), a SUV of the old school and, I believe, if you buy a good one won’t depreciate and should be reliable. Enough space and nice (if slow and inefficient) sounding American V8.

In Europe instead it would be hard to argue against the BMW e39 (have a 530iTouring myself).

Johan Samanta
Johan Samanta
7 years ago

Congratulations! Safe but fun? Of course, you have to be talking about a turbo Volvo 240! You could even step up to the Bertone!

Best of luck!

Will Smith
Will Smith
7 years ago

There can only be 1 contender. See attached.
In addition, your baby will grow to love Alpina rims and insane German interiors…
@myoldbanger

Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia
7 years ago
Reply to  Will Smith

That is so SICK! I love it!

Takudzwa Munyaradzi Maramba
Takudzwa Munyaradzi Maramba
7 years ago

I agree that daily family driving is overly romanticized. i had to drive my nephews to and from school for just a week in their dad’s E39 528i and while it was perfectly up to the task; I found myself wishing for more space, toys and cloth seats in the summer conditions. I think driving kids around requires an eminently practical frame of mind when choosing a vehicle to do it. As such, with most emotion taken out, I think a wagon or an SUV will be your best bet for the task. My two picks would be either a 2009 Volvo V70 3.2 with the six speed auto, its practical and still has a bit of poke. or what I consider to be the most underlooked vehicle on the used car market; the Toyota 4Runner, plenty of space, lots of options, good mileage literally built to take child seats. You’d want to limit your search to the 2006 and up models. [url=”http://www.carsforsale.com/used-cars-for-sale/2006-toyota-4runner-lawrence-ks-251303220″]here’s one for $13,000[/url]

Phil Stewart-Jones
Phil Stewart-Jones
7 years ago

Congrats! I never understood the “OMG we’re having a baby we must buy a minivan!” thing. When my son was born we had a 1999 A4 1.8T as the main car, but I drove him every day in my Corrado G60 without any significant issues. Looking at it now I’d think those long doors would have been a PITA but I don’t remember it being a problem. In a pinch I could use the parcel shelf as a handy changing table too 😀

The A4 was succeeded by a Legacy GT wagon, which is a terrific family car in almost every respect – power, space and comfort in spades, enthusiastic community, and to my eyes the wagon is a considerably more distinctive and attractive car than the sedan. However, at higher mileage they are a true “enthusiast car” in that you would be wise to check the oil at every fillup and pay close attention to maintaining it. Which with a small child may not always be at the top of your mind. That said, a petrolista, by design, chooses to expend extra effort (and/or money) in order to drive something interesting.

What else.. “fun, sporty sedan” shouts Evo or STI, although finding one you trust for under 15k might be tricky. I can vouch for the Evo 8/9 as a worthy “sensible four door”. Design is subjective, although personally I like that it only seems to have design elements that [i]do[/i] something – there’s nothing for show on that car. Luggage capacity isn’t great but you can easily chuck a stroller, a baby jail and a couple of bags in the trunk. And the Recaro baby seats match the upholstery.

It’s hard to argue with an E39 though. Such a classy and comfortable car.

Matt Benedetto
Matt Benedetto
7 years ago

As much as I love an M3, Audi S4, or Subaru WRX, when it passes me by…I don’t assume that the driver is a Petrolista.

I suggest the Saab Viggen 4door. A little stretch I know, but I have driven in LA for years and seen only one…and I am certain that person must have a passion for owning it.

Congrats on the baby! (all this car talk makes me want to have a baby)

Steve Hayward
Steve Hayward
7 years ago

Congratulations! I don’t have any specific recommendations, but my preference would be for a wagon (sorry, Touring model) or large hatchback of some sort. Especially when it’s your first, you’d be surprised how quickly you load up the car with stuff for even minor trips! You take everything because you don’t know exactly what you’ll need (eg, a playpen for staying over somewhere, plus a stroller, plus a bag for you and your wife – it adds up quickly). If you have a dog like we do, it gets even worse!

Hiro Simez
Hiro Simez
7 years ago

I assume you are in Cali and not near any snow belts. Sooo…
Fun x Practicality x Safety = SAAB 9-5 Aero, either a sedan or a wagon. Or a 9000.
Other off-beat options for your budget: Merc W124 in any configuration, or a Beemer E39, as suggested above. I would stick with a 530 though as inherently cheaper to run and on a balance more reliable.
Volvo 850/V70 – T5, or R for the heck of it.
Audi Allroad (2.7T manual or 4.2, but be prepared to initially invest into upkeep), or a 100/S6 wagon.

If you are at all looking at SUVs, then in this price bracket I would only look at 2002-04 WJ Grand Cherokees, preferably with NV242 transfer, if you can find one – a true full-time 4WD Subaru on steroids. But an Overland with HO 4.7 and Quadra-drive is nice too. And boy this engine pulls.
Another off-beat option – a SAAB 9-7X Aero (basically Trailblazer SS with a nicer cabin).

Frank Anigbo
Frank Anigbo
7 years ago

Drats, I forgot you had a budget. I’m not the most practical person so I say a BMW sedan from the late 70s to early ’80s. I still liked way they looked then and consider them safe enough.

Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia
7 years ago
Reply to  Frank Anigbo

Yeah, I’m a sucker for those sedans as well. I just wonder how reliable they are for a daily driver.

Timotsu Nukamuze
Timotsu Nukamuze
7 years ago
Reply to  Afshin Behnia

In my opinion, the best pick for under $15,000 would be a BMW E38 — a short wheelbase 740i to be exact — possibly professionally restored. Fast yet spacious, huge trunk, adaptive A/T with manual/ sport mode, perfect for long distance drives. Believe me, you don’t really need a car from the 1980s — safety first, right?..

John campbell
John campbell
7 years ago

W124 chassis Benz is the best bet. Likely theM103 or M104 powered 6 bangers. Not as much fun as a E28 3.5is but a sturdy safe and fun car to drive.

Frank Anigbo
Frank Anigbo
7 years ago

First, a big congratulations! As a somewhat newish dad to a 22 month old, I can tell you that those first few months of sleeplessness goes by a lot quicker than you think. Savor every stage because you’ll miss it when it’s gone. My wife and I needed a new car to replace my daily-driver Boxster because Porsche made it impossible to turn off the front airbag without buying their ugly and expensive baby seat. We looked at a 911 but rear facing seats do not work for it. In the end she bought an Audi A5 and I took over her Saab 93 Aero, both good-looking cars with the performance to match.

Rich Chen
Rich Chen
7 years ago

Congratulations!

Listen to the folks that brought up things like:
* Rear-facing car seats
* Strollers
* In/egress height
* Overall reliability — No-start incidents, inop A/C, downtime, etc are not tolerated by infants & tight schedules
… for they know the realities.

Many great choices abound, though. With our little ones we’ve had a Forester (with 5mt, XT would’ve been a big plus), Mk4 Golf 1.8T 5dr, Chipped B4 Allroad (see above re: reliability, offered an Italianate ownership experience that ultimately drove us to our current Toyota hybrid SUV as the family truckster).

As much as I romanticize daily-family-driving the interesting sedans (W108… E28… Fulvia…) that’s only happened on the weekends, and relatively rarely at that.

D.j. Hite
D.j. Hite
7 years ago

The correct answer is E39 540i with the six speed manual and the sport package. I just bought this 02′ for $9k with 85k miles and it’s in excellent condition. Look for the 2003 with the M-tech package because they use the M5 bumpers. They are a bit harder to find and bring a bit more money but they do look better with the updated bumpers.

Future Doc
Future Doc
7 years ago

Second the Subaru Legacy GT… sedan if the wagon is vetoed. 2006-2009 have excellent crash safety. More mature than the WRX but hauls the family with a good blend of power, excellent 4wd handling, and will not make you look like an Post-2000 Audi driver…

David Vassilev
David Vassilev
7 years ago

Congratulations! I would say a 4 door e36 M3. It is safe, dependable (mine hasn’t let me down), light, handles amazingly well, I am sure can fit all of your baby gear, and if you want to splurge and spend closer to that $15K you can find a very low mileage oem creampuff (you’ll have to be patient though I am sure).

Martin James
Martin James
7 years ago

2001 Audi S4 Avant . Unless that is you’re either real lucky [ there are a few available here in the US ] or living in the EU/UK .. in which case I’d splurge for an RS2 . As a cheaper and more reliable alternative ? The 1st generation [ here in the US ] Subaru WRX wagon . A sweetheart of a car . An oddball choice I personally love if you’re not living in a snow zone ? The 2001 Lexus 250 SportCross

Thomas maine
Thomas maine
7 years ago

how about something like this:
http://bringatrailer.com/listing/1989-bmw-318i/

a girlfriend of mine had one many years back. Quite sporty to drive and with an inline 6 even more so

Jeremy DeConcini
Jeremy DeConcini
7 years ago

4 door E36 M3, not the sexiest beast out there, but big fun and reliability on a budget!

Shawn Baden
Shawn Baden
7 years ago

I’m feel so unoriginal but I have to echo the E39 M5. Wonderful car. I own one.

That said, the typical answers to these type of questions I feel are somewhat misleading. It’s always sedans and wagons. I’ve never found the need to throw a bunch of extra shit in the car beyond a stroller and bag so I don’t see the absolute logic in a wagon. Now granted, rear door access to a car seat and loading a child is much improved versus a coupe.

You know what I value the most in loading my kid into a child seat? Not having to be hunched over in doing so. I had a much easier time loading my daughter into our 1999 Honda CR-V than in my E39 M5.

So how about some taller vehicle suggestions?
– First-generation Porsche Cayman
– First-generation BMW X5
– Jeep Grand Cherokee STR (not sure if $15k is possible here)
– Jeep Wrangler 4 Door

Just food for thought. It’s not like you’ll get an E39 M5 and regret it. 🙂

Benjamin Shahrabani
Benjamin Shahrabani
7 years ago

Is the wagon for you or your wife?

Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia
7 years ago

Kika doesn’t drive, but as 1st passenger, she vetos the wagon.

Benjamin Shahrabani
Benjamin Shahrabani
7 years ago
Reply to  Afshin Behnia

She doesn’t drive? As the wife of a petrolista how can this be?

Alan stimpson
Alan stimpson
7 years ago

From the experience of just downsizing, I say go with the smallest wagon or hatch you can tolerate/will fit a rear facing car seat (things take up a ton of space)/and remember when your kid is three and a half and still in a car seat he/she will be constantly drumming on your kidneys.

Just went from Mazda5 to GTI, and even with 2 kiddos, it has definitely been worth it. Both are available with a manual, but the GTI will only work if you aren’t too tall.

Congrats, and test fit that car seat before buying.

Aaron McKenzie
Aaron McKenzie
7 years ago

Subaru Legacy 2.5 GT wagon, anyone?

Afshin Behnia
Afshin Behnia
7 years ago
Reply to  Aaron McKenzie

Is that suspension setup baby-friendly?

Josh Clason
Josh Clason
7 years ago
Reply to  Afshin Behnia

That suspension, probably not. The Legacy GT is a very good suggestion though. Very fun to drive, can be had in a manual, fairly reliable, and has a lot of room for a baby seat.

Bill Campbell
Bill Campbell
7 years ago

Black Crown Vic with tinted windows. Comfortable, safe. Drive like a boss!