A Hoon's Futile Attempt to Replace His Phaeton


Ugh, talk about your First World problems. After selling my beloved and obnoxiously complicated VW Phaeton, I have been technically carless. Well, not really. Between sharing my wife’s car, Zipcar, and generous friends, I have had no problems getting to appointments.

But eventually, I will need a car. My criteria– non-German, not too complicated, a gas sipper. I seriously considered a first generation Honda Insight. I bid on Lexus SC300s with manual trannies in Iowa and Philly. I took advantage of the local Buggy Bank and test drove a Saab 9-3 Viggen, a Saabaru, and a 271,000-mile Honda Prelude. I was even in a brand new Audi A8L and was absolutely non-plussed. The Phaeton will be the greatest car I have ever driven.

So, what to do? With the addition of a puppy to our family, I am leaning heavily towards a compact wagon. The Mercedes-Benz W203 is at the top of the list. I know, it’s German. To keep it un-complicated, I will forgo the 4Matic all-wheel drive system (I don’t ski in Tahoe anyway). And to keep it reasonably fuel efficient, I will opt for the 2.6 liter V6 C240 rather than the 3.2 liter V6 C320. 



The alternates are the Lexus IS300 SportCross and the Jaguar X-Type Sportwagon. The SportCross would be nice, but it is so hard to find and people are asking for more than they are worth. The X-Type is even rarer. However, I drove my mother’s X-Type sedan on the Road to Hana once and it was thoroughly one of the worst cars I have ever driven.

The search continues….

Images source: Copyright 2013 Hooniverse/Jim Yu


  1. Jim, maybe you're looking at this wrong. I think the key is this:

    I was even in a brand new Audi A8L and was absolutely non-plussed. The Phaeton will be the greatest car I have ever driven.

    You are looking at cars that are going to compare directly to that Phaeton. Everything you've listed is some kind of luxury tourer (except the Insight), and they just aren't going to measure up. You just said so.
    Maybe it's time to cross off all similar vehicles and re-think your priorities on this. Start looking at things that cannot be compared to the Phaeton, at all. Things that aren't designed to be luxury vehicles. Dedicated non-luxury sports cars, old muscle cars, roadsters, hardcore solid axle 4x4s, big trucks, small trucks, something without a roof at all. I'm not sure what it should be, but maybe it's time to break paradigm and re-do your required feature list. Either remove stuff, add something to the top that gets you away from luxury cruisers or just re-arrange it. Maybe it's time to start cross shopping Vipers and FJ40s and KV Minis.

    1. What he said.
      A few years back when it was time to replace my Audi 200 Quattro I felt the same way. It was an awesome car that was going to be a tough act to follow. Then I realized that almost half of my miles were towing a boat, and that what I really needed was something heavy duty, powerful, and simple enough that anyone in America could fix it. I ended up with a Durango, which was perfect for what I was doing. It ended up being one of my best car ownership experiences to date
      I'm not saying a Durango is what you need I'm saying get something dissimilar to the Phaeton. Don't even try to replace it

      1. I dunno man… I'm gonna be all the way over in Alameda tomorrow morning… Not sure I want to drive all the way across the whole 100ft of bridge…

      2. Urgh. I won't be able to make it. I'm flying back to Boston for work tomorrow. Plane takes off at 8am, I'll wave as we go by.

    1. I was going to say '05-'09 Legacy wagon, following a similar train of thought. Stick available, whether you want power in adequate, or extra PAH! Plus, that design is aging incredibly well. Forester is similarly worthwhile too, and slightly less rare.

    2. I was thinking the same thing, the answer was just beyond that Benz. Non-german, cargo hauling, fuel efficient.
      You're simply looking at the wrong red wagon in that parking lot.

    1. Well shit, now I want to buy your Cressida….
      Like… really badly…
      Where's that list of swear words from yesterday's article…? Oh yeah, here: s***, p***, f***, c***, c***s*****, m****f****, t***!!!

    2. Have I mentioned lately that I love your car?
      Because I do. I love your car.
      Wrong coast, wrong transmission, wrong time of year for me… but damn.

    3. Yea, thats freaking awesome! I need to buy a car in CA and road trip it home. This time last year I passed on an '82 Corolla TE72 wagon, east coast rust everywhere……

    4. Damn I wish you were closer. I really would buy your car. I've been looking for a clean Cressida wagon for a while, and they simply don't seem to exist in the midwest. But you're just too far away 🙁
      Have you ever scaled your car? I can't find good info on exactly how much that generation weighs in wagon form.

  2. If people are asking more than they're worth … and they're selling for that … then maybe they're actually worth that?
    (disclaimer: I absolutely adore my IS300)

  3. Small wagon, not german, relatively simple, gas sipper… Correct answer is a FWD V50. Or V70, which is probably actually cheaper.

    1. But are those going to be able to crack 20 MPG? I understand the white block six follows the Volvo tradition of being a heavy drinker.

        1. Pfft I cracked 20MPG all the time in in Dale the S90, around 14MPG usually, without even trying. Whoops, did not know that was a requirement, then maybe not [79][46]5 instead?

          1. Wait, Volvos are thirsty?
            <img src="http://i.imgur.com/5OprM.jpg&quot; width="600/">
            (That was on the highway, albeit on three-and-a-half cylinders. I spent several dollars on extra fuel before replacing a $2.50 spark plug…)

          2. I see you've cleverly even tossed the fuel filler flap, saves precious seconds on your (very) frequent pit stops…
            Damn. I'm looking at an ad for a 2000 Corolla CE (Craptastic Edition? Cursed Excrement?) 5-speed and seriously considering it.

          3. No, the plastic just broke. Notice how that never happens on 240s? The hinge is metal like it's supposed to be.
            I think it's meant to be 'Classic Edition', although 'Cheapskate Edition' seems more apt. They're fine… for appliances.

      1. Yep.
        I've been kicked out of the local Audi scene so I have to prove myself worthy of the brand.
        Eh, I don't want to be ina club that'll have me as a member. Still wanna q.

          1. Haven't had an Audi since sept 10.
            I want one. One of my last students was driving a v6 quattro. It was tight and easy to drive.

  4. A W203 – don't those have the peanut headlights? They looked cool back then, but they're dated now.

  5. As others have pointed out, considering a non-German quality wagon without dropping the magic V-word is odd. So let me +1 it:
    What was wrong with the X Type? I have never driven or even touched one, but from what I understand it is just a refined Ford Mondeo. Can't be too wrong? I'm sitting a bit on the fence with this one.

    1. I was typing "hey, before Sjalabais gets here, I'm gonna say Volvo 245" – then I thought about it and refreshed the page… and here you are.
      Seriously, though, I liked my 855 (manual, non-turbo) and it cheerfully returned 25ish MPG in mixed driving. A stick-shift 245 will do that on the highway, too. My 745 was an automatic turbo car, and it… would not. Ever.

      1. If a 745 turbo is getting 25mpg it's a sure sign of an impending odometer or speed sensor failure.

        1. My odometer always seemed to work. My speedometer, on the other hand… not so much.

          1. Ha! Nice that my constant propaganda creates some expectations. With access to Zipcar and good friends, I'd seriously consider something nice and with style though. As others have pointed out, the Phaeton will not be beaten on perfection, so character might be a nice replacement.
            My wife, who more or less convinced me of selling my '71 145 when our first baby was on the way, keeps telling me that she misses the car. Not as much as I do, but wouldn't we need two safe child carriers every day I'd have another box in the driveway in an instant. Good as daily drivers!
            About fuel consumption…financially, all the options thrown in here seem okay to me (no Imperial proposed yet). Ecoethics? Meh. Our newly acquired '02 Camry claims a mileage above 33 mpg , but in reality it is closer to 27. Maybe fake computing might help?

    2. XType was a half assed attempt at the BMW3/A4/C where it would have been FWD, but there has never been a FWD Jag. Let's base it off the Mondeo and slap a crappy AWD system on it and shove that crap down the throats of the 35 yr old middle management type who wants something different!!
      Used Jags. Run until your legs are nothing but bloody stumps.

      1. I recognise that "used Jag"-instinct, but have been told it's prejudice. Some car guy's called the X Type "solid" in my presence, and I don't find hard data on it (no TÜV score, for instance). Why is the AWD crappy?

          1. Go on, it's a civilised place. But don't you dare trample on Volvo in the process, dammit.

          2. My experience was from around seven years ago, so my memory is not 100%. It felt heavy and sluggish, like a rudderless boat. Except, the sedan has almost no room inside. (Although, to be fair, the big Jags of that vintage had zero headroom.) The interior felt like a cheap rental with a ton of wood and leather and chrome slapped on. On top of it all, it got horrible gas mileage.This was truly for someone who just wanted an “affordable” Jaguar, like my mom.

          3. +++
            I'd researched the X as the used ones hit the market. Maybe $11k? The AWD system has been panned by almost everyone. It had to have been a quick-get something out the door.
            For someone who wants a Jag hard enough, you can get parts. Is it worth it vs Audi/BMW/Merc?

          4. I understand that the Jag probably can't compete with the Germans. The allure for me is the uncommonness of the thing, which has also inhibited me from trying a local example. There are none.
            The example I have linked to pushes a lot of irrational buttons – colours and wheels are imho perfect. But I also remember my uncle's Rover 75 with its tagged-on dandyness and quasi-British effects, that I considered annoying.
            So thanks for the feedback! I will report back if I ever try one of these or even buy one…

          5. My old days with the MG made me want an Xtype. I have a real weak spot.
            I'd spotted the wagon version at an auto show and lusted for one.

    3. You know his wife was interested in Amazons before? It's true. My hunch is we can convince him of a 220 or 145 if we keep at him cheerfully. And then it might just be he does find a better car than the peoples' bentley was.

      1. It's a pity that this as new Amazon was sold at a moment's notice, despite the price of 30,000+ USD.
        Luckily, the same seller has an as new 1977 242, too.
        I'm on a phone and can't be bothered to link to the photos*. But look at them! Damn. Where is money when you need it?
        *Near impossible to post with Opera Mini today again. Odd, mostly it works, today it just refreshes senselessly.

        1. Wow that was incredible. I think '70 here they only sold the wagon in US, but it has some differences from what a '68 and on would be like here, like I did not notice a hazard switch and I expected the loop style seat belts. RHHN messed-up your link: http://m.finn.no/car/used/ad.html?finnkode=427159… The 242 is sweet too.

          1. That's interesting – wonder if the fake retro market (500, Beetle, Mini) affects the toy car market we're so fond of. Or if it is an entirely different crowd, which I suspect.
            The Amazon is said to have lots of period correct addons, is an award-winner and magazine star, and it is said to have been perfected with a finacial effort of close to 100,000$. That probably means there might be some minor model year mix ups.

          2. I think it's a totally different market. She likes it because of how it looks and it comes with a manual transmission.

  6. Just buy the C240! – V6 growl but economical / space / not to complicated. The Phaeton , IMHO, is one of the ugliest cars produced – period, so even a Lada would be an improvment. I had an E430 as a taxi but age rules and lack of finances forced me into a Chevrolet Epica 6 ( Daewoo Tosca), I'm happy enough but still WANT A MERC AGAIN !!! ( When I can afford it !!)

  7. When i purchased my saabaru, the sportcross was also at the top of my list. Small hatchback/wagons are very fun and practical. Maybe a t5 awd v50?

    1. They are incredibly cheap used and there's good reason for that. The new 6 wagon though…stunning, and one must hope that they have learnt a bit from their rust years.

      1. yeah, they're all saddled with the catalyst-muching, "why does this interference V6 have a timing belt" 3.0L Ford DOHC V6, as opposed to the sedans, which can be had with the $80 thermostat-killing, alternator randomly dying, why-does-this-motor-have-a-canister-oil-filter-and-why-is-the-cap-plastic, gutless, noisy 2.3L Mazda engine!
        But damn are they both fun to drive!

  8. It appears to be your lucky day – this just now showed up on Kijiji. A not-German definitely not-complicated wagon, unlikely to be terribly thirsty either, granted that the styling may be an acquired taste –
    <img src="http://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/NjAwWDgwMA==/$%28KGrHqR,!lwFHC9!erIVBR4D-yZC9g~~48_20.JPG" width="600">
    <img src="http://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/NjAwWDgwMA==/$%28KGrHqZHJ!4FHJO%29!fo%29BR4D-yHy,!~~48_20.JPG" width="600">
    1971 Toyota Crown

  9. Buick Reatta?
    Also, nonplussed means that you were absolutely shocked and unsure how to react, not indifferent or uninspired.
    Sorry, I'll go back to my cave now.

    1. I thought the second definition meant "meh"?
      My neighbor has a long cigar shaped 1990s Buick coupe. It's bigger than the Reatta. What's it called?

        1. It's just about precisely the opposite of what I usually like in a car but I kind of really want a supercharged version of one of those.

        2. A neighbor of mine used to have one of those, but she killed it by driving into a minivan (in front of my house, no less). I felt kind of sad to see it die.

  10. Non-German, not too complicated, gas sipper wagon? That seems to describe a Buick Roadmaster pretty well, if you consider 25 mpg to be sufficiently gas sippeing. You can get into a very well-preserved one for about a third of your proceeds from the Phaeton's sale.

      1. The two-tone paint helps with that, but yeah it still looks a bit weird in profile. It's still green and awesome! The SEC that replaced it is better looking though, and an all black 560SEC is about as badass as Mercs get.
        Sorry I can't really help with your car problem, I'm at least as lost as you are trying to decide on my next car..

  11. Looked out of curiosity, are you really going to save gas by looking at the C240 over the C320? Checked the EPA numbers for 2003s (arbitrarily), and the 240 is rated at 17/19/23, while the 320 is 18/20/24 (both RWD/automatic). Obviously, your mileage will vary, but I'm not sure it'll make that much of a difference (especially since the slightly bigger engine won't have to work as hard).
    Of course, I'd also be cautious of any early 2000s Benz, although the only real problem I've seen on the W203s (well, what few I've seen) has been chronic rust, something I suspect won't be quite as much a problem for you.
    Also, leaning two directions – longroofian approved OG Scion Xb, or KJ Wrangler Unlimited (just because it's about as different from the Phaeton as you could expect, and I see a number of them at my local dog park). Ooh, or aren't Honda Elements pretty dog-friendly? Find the rare 5-speed, and you're pretty set.

    1. I have reverse engine size envy (probably a result of living near Commies). The C240 badge just looks better. Heck, I wish there was a C220 or C180.

      1. I do sort of get that. Not necessarily that I want the smaller engine, but I admire the hell out of the more plebian Benzes, that tend to be attached to the smaller numbers. Mercedes Canada has frequently sent us the more basic cars (even before they brought out the four-cylinder on the W204, we could get a 2.5L V6, either as the C230 or C250), and I'd be lying if I said I didn't want one without the body kit that most C-classes get (especially with the five-speed).

      2. I had a 5 speed element, it was a ton of fun. i already regret selling it, but i had not other choice. it was fun to drive like huge orange box should be. kind of like driving a parade float everywhere. plus it was really good at hauling stuff

    2. The concept of the Element(like the CR-V) sounds good, but only about 22-24 mpg(ACTUAL- not EPA Estimate)

  12. Are those truck plates, or did CA switch up the numbering system once passenger car plates rolled over to 7s?

      1. I was so hoping to get a 6ZZZ or 7AAA plate on my last car, but got it just too early. I think I read somewhere that after 9ZZZ999, they plan to go to AAA0001.

          1. Also good for Craigslist. You can always tell the cars that have been imported from out of state for a quick flip.

  13. Oooh! What about a Dodge Caliber SRT-4? It's like the anti-Phaeton, in just about every sense possible. If that's a little too far, an HHR SS or a Mazdaspeed3 might be worth pursuing.

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