Car Buyers' Guide: Manual options

By Jack Biddle

Some issues with automatic transmissions

The dilemma: Gligor and his wife have just relocated to Wellington and need a new car to go with the new job.

"A medium-sized hatch would be preferable because we may need room in future in the boot for a baby stroller and, as we'll be driving from the Capital to Auckland to visit family, the car would have to handle the open road," he says.

He'd love a new VW Golf but the budget won't allow for it and he is also a fan of good technology and extra features.

"I wouldn't mind having some optional extras that might come in handy, but I also understand that for the price range we have at the moment that might not be possible to get," he says.

Well Gligor, if there was one major component that has given some of the large players in the industry the largest amount of grief in the last 10 years or so, it would have to be the automatic transmission.

In an effort to improve fuel consumption, the traditional and conventional hydraulic automatic has been replaced by some manufacturers, with either a belt and pulley Constant Variable Transmission (CVT) or a manual transmission operated electronically called Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG).

Both have had their issues over the years with the Volkswagen Golf being no exception with its DSG unit.

To be fair, all transmissions wear out eventually. However, CVT (Subaru CVT is one exception) and the DSG have given their fair share of problems over the years and can be a lot more expensive to repair (and some are un-repairable).

While things are definitely on the improve, it's the older vehicles where owners' wallets can be hit the hardest, so extreme caution is required. If you like a particular make and model and can handle driving a manual transmission, then this option does eliminate a lot of risk. The budget: $12,000-$16,000

The shortlist

VW Golf

Check out a 2003 1.8 litre GTI 5-speed manual. There is also the Polo GTI-T (turbo) five-speed manual that may be worth a look although interior size may be a bit tight. Either way road holding and performance is assured and the European vehicles have a good reputation for safety.

Suzuki SX4 Sport

It comes with an impressive list of goodies including sport seats, electronic stability control, side curtain airbags and alloy wheels. The two-wheel-drive 2008 auto's 2-litre engine should provide all the power you require and room for the baby stroller if required. There are a number of used imports on the market, some with smaller engines, so don't assume they are all the same.

Subaru Impreza

The Impreza 2.0R auto may have the X-factor you're looking for. It's not mainstream Japanese, but still retains that overall reliability record that many of the older European vehicles struggle to achieve. It has the power, is an extremely safe vehicle including All-Wheel Drive and has the interior space to suit a growing family. NZ new would be my preferred recommendation.

Driven recommends

The Subaru Impreza 2.0R play it safe with flair.

- NZ Herald

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