More Car for Less Money

Want a $100,000 car but don't have the money? If you know where to look, you can find a car that is almost as good for a lot less

It's a good time to be a day-dreaming gearhead. Thanks to an explosion of new ultraluxury and superpowered vehicles, there's more extreme automotive fare to drool over than ever. And, with so many new models from global manufacturers popping up at more affordable price points, it's likely your dream car has a distant relative or, at the very least, an acceptable stand-in.

All things being equal—particularly sticker price and gas consumption—who wouldn't want a curve-killing Porsche, a stylish Aston Martin, or an old money Rolls-Royce?

Indeed, the automotive firmament is arguably more crowded than it's ever been (see, 9/12/06, "Supercars for the Superrich"). As has always been the case, the stars are readily supplied by a proliferating number of manufacturers of exotics around the world. But the sticker prices are as out-of-this-world as the performance or exterior designs.

Unrelenting Performance

This year's superhero highlights were led by the world's fastest and most expensive production car, the Bugatti Veryon (see, 6/6/06, "Bugatti's New Level of Vroom"). That $1.4 million monster is capable of getting from 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds. It can reach top speeds of more than 250 miles per hour—and not for one race or special event, but on a daily basis.

There is a raft of other drool-worthy wunderkinds waiting in the Veryon's wake that, while not quite as fast, are almost as expensive. Those include the $175,000 Aston Martin DB9 that gets to 62 mph in less than 5 seconds and promises to make you look like James Bond on the way. Ferrari and Lamborghini, brands synonymous with unrelenting performance, both have offerings costing close to $300,000 that get to 60 mph in under 4 seconds.

Mainstream brands have more than noticed the effect fast and gorgeous can have on potential customers. So-called halo cars have proliferated as fast as untouchable exotics (see, 6/2/06, "Halo Cars that Shine"). These vehicles, intended to wow, attract, and—most important—cast positive light on sister products, have appeared under domestic badges in particular from Ford (F) to General Motors (GM).

Puttin' on the Glitz

All but proving the theory behind the desirable "halo effect," GM graced withering Saturn with an unexpectedly sexy, high-profile roadster, the Sky (see, 5/30/06, "Sky High"). Ford, meanwhile, switched up its emotional starter from the $149,995 Ford GT to the similarly named but appreciably less expensive $42,975 Ford Shelby GT500 (see, 6/9/06, "American Idol").

Nevertheless, for all the glitz—whether an exotic or simple halo model—everyday consumers have a plethora of prohibiting constraints. The most obvious, of course, is cost. The likelihood of an average middle-class family gathering the scratch to acquire a $580,000 Saleen S7—even if it is proudly made in the U.S.—is dubious at best. That's not to mention the awkward difficulty of fitting a booster seat into the cramped rear of any low-slung speed coupe à la Porsche.

Luckily, the stardust has tumbled, if ever so lightly, from the highest echelons down to earth. And, yes, some affordable models can reasonably stand in as viable alternatives for those all-out, maybe-in-the-next-life models.

Surrogate Thrills

Is a Mazda Miata going to zip from 0 to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds like a Porsche 911 GT3? Not a chance. Is a Toyota going to surgically slice through curves like a perfectly tuned Bentley? Nope. And, most important, is a Chrysler going to get the envious stares of passersby, men and women, old and young alike? Ah, definitely not.

But that's exactly why alternatives aren't the same as pie-in-the-sky dreams or even first choices. took a look at some of the most top-shelf gorgeous and Grand Prix-fast models of the year and devised reasonable backups for the rest of us.

Some of these share platforms and hence have a common set of automotive DNA, like the Porsche Cayenne and Volkswagen Touareg. Some, like the ultraluxurious Land Rover Range Rover and the proletarian Jeep Wrangler, were conceived with the same purpose in mind. Both of those cars, for instance, are known for their so-called dirty virtues, their genuine off-road ability. Others, yet, simply share legacies or are endowed with similar driving dynamics.

Will a low-cost Ford ever move like a Ferrari? Probably not. But can you find a comparable thrill or pleasure in something affordable? Without a doubt.
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