It’s a sickness—I’m always thinking about what car I’d have next. If the 996 C4S were the last car I ever owned, life would still have been lived quite to the fullest…but there’s always that nagging bit of wonder…
Be wary–this list has no limitations other than the cars mentioned being relatively affordable (on the used market anyway) and having at least four seats.
Mercedes GLA45: The top-spec GLA, ramming over 26 psi of turbo boost into its four cylinders and then disgorging the excess out the exhaust in a manner befitting a .22 long rifle. PROS: High-end hot hatch exterior looks; hilarious tailpipe acoustics; somewhat rare. CONS: Cramped interior; tacked-on center infotainment screen; still pretty expensive.
Lincoln MKZ Thoroughbred Drivers’ Package: Lincoln’s Audi fighter with a 3.0L turbo six, AWD, and the rear diff from the Focus RS. PROS: A somewhat rare car that visually stands apart while remaining easily serviceable; remarkable performance from an unexpected comer. CONS: Lacking rear-seat headroom; aging body style (it’s really just a Fusion with a new grille); appalling depreciation (but hey, I could turn that around, make it work for me).
Mercedes E400 Coupe: Slinky new (model year 2018) 2-door with ample room for four, sporting the turbo six from the C400. PROS: Gorgeous inside and out—the best or nothing, with that F1-dominating badge. CONS: Some passengers will inevitably have to clamber into the rear seats; expensive—new-for-2017 refresh still a couple years from coming off-lease.
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk 3.2 (2015+): FCA’s right-size, right-time crossover with a risky front-end look and some quality issues. PROS: Easy to get price/availability-wise; lots of utility for the money; those red tow hooks! CONS: Questionable long-term trustworthiness and reliability.
Audi A6 3.0T (2013+): Handsome, conservative sedan. The lowest-priced “real” Audi. PROS: Classic, never-tire-of-it look; lots to choose from; fairly common yet capable VW engine/powertrain combo giving solid performance. CONS: The aspirational car of the upwardly mobile masses—not unusual enough. Like Nic Cage says, “I saw three of these outside my local Starbucks this morning!”
Ford Fiesta ST: The American hot hatch of the automotive press’ dreams. PROS: Clever engineering, great gas mileage, cheap to buy and maintain, fun! CONS: Cramped, cheap interior; exterior a bit dowdy too.
Chevrolet Volt (Gen 2): The nameplate advanced enormously in its second generation. PROS: Brilliant engineering; phenomenal gas mileage; nice to look at both inside and out. CONS: Still not an enthusiast car in the traditional sense—the 60-80 passing maneuver on the highway will remain fraught with peril.
BMW X1 or X3 xDrive35i: The X1 is frugal and spacious, while the X3 (35i spec) is sleeper-quick. PROS: Modern, capable BMW engines. CONS: Modern, capable BMW engines, likely to blend themselves on the “frappe” setting the day the warranty expires.
Ford Flex EcoBoost (2013+): The hidden gem of the Ford lineup—a seven-passenger rocket sled that depreciates like crazy because of the polarizing (but secretly awesome) look. PROS: That engine; that interior space. CONS: Wacky SYNC infotainment system; ride a bit flinty.
Chevrolet SS: The classic big, (somewhat) cheap, rear-drive V8 American sedan. PROS: All of the following letters and numbers: 6.2L LS3 V8. CONS: Interior in any color you want (as long as it’s black); steering wheel from a first-gen Volt (a shameless parts-bin car).
Chrysler 300 SRT8 (2013+): The OTHER classic rear-drive V8 American sedan. PROS: It’s got a Hemi; makes that Hemi noise; sometimes has those achingly beautiful “black chrome” wheels. CONS: Having trouble here…fuel economy? Yeah, we’ll go with that.
Fiat 500e: Over $32k new, now trading in the $10k range, this is the small pure-electric that Sergio Marchionne didn’t want you to buy (FCA lost $14k on every single one sold). PROS: The best-looking 500, does silent electric FWD burnouts! CONS: Range anxiety; quite small both inside and out; top speed of 85 mph; all of the used ones are in California.
Jaguar XJ (2013+): Sneakily, the best XJ has long been the shorter-wheelbase, lighter, supercharged V6 model. PROS: Sumptuous interior; engine worthy of much newer cars (F-Type). CONS: Reliability. And my reputation as “trustworthy” would likely take a hit.
Runners-Up: 2014 Cadillac CTS VSport, Audi SQ5, 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, Mitsubishi Evo MR-Touring, Porsche Panamera (2011+ V6 RWD), 2014 Audi allroad.