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2008 Saturn Astra (General Motors)
2008 Saturn Astra (General Motors)

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Should he buy a used Saturn Astra or a VW Golf? Add to ...

Gentlemen: My question concerns a 2008 used-car purchase. Would you purchase a low-mileage Saturn Astra (an Opel product from Germany) but no longer made by General Motors, or a similarly priced but much higher-mileage Volkswagen Golf.

Thanks, Mark in Toronto

Vaughan: Now there's a good, straightforward question. Generally our readers blather on endlessly before getting to the point, just like you, Cato.

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Cato: There's a difference between blathering - which is what you do with your endless little wisecracks, Vaughan - and me and our readers providing context, nuance, clarification and detail. One is occasionally amusing but of little value, the other useful though not always funny.

Let me leave the smart remarks aside and instead talk about depreciation. As Mark has learned, VWs do not depreciate much at all. For instance, ALG, formerly Automotive Lease Guide, predicts today's VW will be worth 37 per cent of its original value in four years. That's top five among mainstream brands and far above the bottom five, which average 27.5 per cent.

Saturn is a dead brand, therefore any old Saturn out there is, well, not exactly worthless, but nearly so...

2008 Volkswagen City Golf

Vaughan: And there you go, Cato; blathering. Yes, depreciation is your friend. I get it.

I also want to point out depreciation can be an even a better buddy with older cars, like Saturns.

Our man Mark is talking about an '08 Astra, which surely has lost 75 per cent of its value. You can get quite a deal, but you really have to be sure that the previous owners looked after the thing.

Cato: Here's a great example of you, Vaughan, racing past the details, thus losing the essence of Mark's question. Mark is looking at a low-mileage Astra or a high-mileage Golf.

Here's what Canadian Black Book's online used value estimator - www.canadianblackbook.com - says about these two: a four-door hatchback Astra with 40,000 km is worth $7,100 to $8,400; a four-door hatchback City Golf with 100,000 km comes in between $5,000 and $7,000. The best price for the Astra is about the same as the worst for the City Golf.

Vaughan: You're wearing me out, Cato.

Cato: No, no, not at all. This is the sort of stuff used buyers need to know. The details.

Vaughan: But you could be less wordy.

I looked up both in the CBB, too. Basically, Mark is looking at $5,000-$7,000 for either one. It's totally up to him to find a good one at a good price. See how easy that is, Cato.

Cato: It won't be easy for Mark to be sure he isn't getting a lemon.

In general terms, both the Astra and Golf rated below average for quality. But before you buy used, spend $200 for a proper mechanical inspection.

Vaughan: I remember when that Astra first came out and we test-drove it. I thought it was a great idea to bring it over from Germany where I had rented one the year before.

The Opel Astra is a decent little European car and GM didn't soften it up or dumb it down too much for the North American market. But it sure didn't set the world on fire and it sure didn't save Saturn.

Cato: It was overpriced and filled with too much hard plastic.

Vaughan: Now for the Golf.

The 2008 is the Mark 5 (fifth-generation) model which had been around Europe since late 2003. In 2006, they started calling it the Rabbit in the United States, which I thought was totally stupid; the Golf was merely the best-selling car in all of Europe.

I thought the handling of the new one was a slight improvement over the Mark 4 but that the interior took a noticeable step backward.

Cato: More details, Vaughan. In 2008, VW was selling Golfs and City Golfs. The regular or European model had a smooth five cylinder engine and the City Golf had the old four-banger.

Vaughan: Neither would be my choice because the reason to buy a VeeDub is to get the TDI (diesel) engine and they weren't offered in 2008.

I sure wouldn't pay top dollar for a gas-powered Golf. Repair costs on Golfs are notorious.

Cato: You would know. You've been paying them for a decade.

Does this mean Mark should choose the Astra?

2011 Ford Fiesta

Vaughan: He's buying used because it's cheap so why not go all the way and try to get a really cheap Astra. They're not a bad car at all but being "extinct" now he should be able to find one that's in decent shape at a deeply depreciated price. With hard shopping and bargaining I think he can find a car he'll like for about eight grand. That in my view would be a great buy.

Cato: Or consider a third option: buy something new, taking advantage of all the deals out there. How about a Ford Fiesta hatchback, Mark? Drive it and do a comparison with those old German cars.

*****

HOW THEY COMPARE



2008 Saturn Astra XE four-door hatchback

2008 Volkswagen City Golf 2.0L four-door hatchback

2011 Ford Fiesta SE four-door hatchback

Wheelbase (mm)

2,614

2,511

2,489

Length (mm)

4,331

4,189

4,067

Width (mm)

1,753

1,735

1,722

Height (mm)

1,458

1,444

1,473

Engine

1.8-litre four-cylinder

2.0-litre four-cylinder

1.6-litre four-cylinder

Output (horsepower/torque)

138/125 lb-ft

115/122 lb-ft

120/112 lb-ft

Drive system

front-wheel drive

front-wheel drive

front-wheel drive

Transmission

Five-speed manual

Five-speed manual

Five-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)

1,325

1,246

1,151

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

8.5 city/6.1 highway

9.8 city/7.0 highway

7.1 city/5.3 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$7,115

$7,120

$16,799

Source: car manufacturers



*****

The 2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.0T has with Hyundai’s first four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline direct-injection engine
Shopping for a new car? Use Globe Drive's new car search to compare makes, models, prices and more



Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

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