Charlie Chaplin, The Gold Rush (1925)
Mega-bonuses have dried up, McMansions are going empty, and three-car garages and credit cards can no longer be obtained on request. Jeez, this recession sure doesn't feel as much fun as Fox, CNN and the New York Times make it out to be.
Like us, you may have always dreamed of owning a new BMW, or Benz, or maybe even a Tesla. Dreams are nice, aren't they? Like ponies and cupcakes. They are not practical road maps to the future, however, and as the adults in this room, it's our sworn duty to calmly suggest you consider a Plan B at this moment in history. If you're in the market for a new car--and some of you still are--it's the perfect time to maximize the value in your next car while minimizing the chance your children will have to be homeschooled in its back seat.
The millions of new-car shoppers out there are in luck. The cut-rate prices on the current Golden Age of New Cars means you can have your pick of beautiful, capable, safe and relatively inexpensive vehicles without the usual ConEdison-level sticker shock. Cars like the Hyundai Genesis, Honda Accord and Ford Flex give off the sparks normally reserved for much pricier machines, if not the full-tilt image makeover.
So while our men and women in Washington keep giving us reason to use "teabagging" in polite conversation, let us recommend to you these nine "Plan B" cars, so you can hang on to your remaining dignity while the meltdown rolls on:
2009 Hyundai Genesis
Lust Object: 2009 BMW 7-Series
Plan B: 2009 Hyundai Genesis
We're not suggesting the Genesis is the dynamic equivalent of the big Bimmer. Nor is it a first-class ticket to the best valet spot outside of Hyde. What it is, though, is a distinctly plush, smooth-riding big sedan with a hugely powerful V-8 drivetrain. It's also about half as expensive as the new 7-Series, and Hyundai's even offering to take its cars back, should you buy one and then also acquire a brand-new pink slip. That's a buddy for you.
2009 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution MR
Lust Object: 2009 Nissan GT-R
Plan B: Mitsubishi Lancer Evo MR
Every living soul should experience a full brake-torque launch of the GT-R, one of the most thrilling cars our car enthusiasts ever have experienced. If you can't swing $80,000 for one without sharing a cell with the Madoffs and the Stanfords of the world, try out a Mitsu Evo MR instead. It has paddle shifters, outrageous turbo-generated power, all-wheel drive and an innately videogame feel that turns commuting into a game of Galaga. (Galaga? Seriously? There's this thing called Xbox 360, you know.) It's also about half as expensive as the GT-R, though it too encourages you into uncharted, warranty-voiding behavior. You're on your own with that fragged clutch pack.
2009 Ford Flex
Lust Object: 2009 Land Rover Range Rover
Plan B: 2009 Ford Flex
Hey, even the Queen of England is charging admission and letting the heathens tour her houses. Why not pick up a bargain-basement version of the Rover in a new Flex? To some degree, it's a visual ape of the Range Rover, with some '50s-wagon cues thrown in. It rides well, carries seven adults, and has the best infotainment system you can operate hazardously inside a car. At around $26,000 base, desperate housewives from Orange County, New York and Atlanta alike can afford this one, even if they're really in foreclosure proceedings and aren't quite married to their on-screen "husbands." The new 2010 Lincoln MKT is similar, but it'll be more expensive than the Flex for sure.
2008 Toyota Prius
It ain't easy being green--you're either late for a trip down the red carpet, busy counting your dodecajillions from music royalties, or tossing cans of red paint at fur-wearing troglodytes. You secretly hanker for a big Lexus, since it's bathed in the sheen of the righteous--but instead, you'll probably be better off looking at the new Jetta diesel or the tried and true Prius. For starters, each gets more than 40 mpg fuel economy in one way or the other. With the Jetta, you'll get better styling, a higher-quality interior and no need to worry about replacing batteries. In the Prius, you get a green-car dream that's so famous, South Park's parodied it. The Jetta also comes with clean-diesel tax breaks this year; the Prius is in a mini-sales slump, so you won't have to pay top dollar to acquire one, though it's long been out of hybrid-car tax-break territory. With either one, bumper sticker options include "No Republicans" and, well, "No Republicans."
2007 Kia Rondo 4dr V6 Auto exterior front left
Lust Object: 2009 Chrysler Town & Country
Plan B: 2009 Kia Rondo
If you're truly lusting after a Chrysler minivan, you're either the most dedicated Midwestern parent on the planet or you're seeking to unseat OctoMom, in which case you'll actually need two or more minivans. Normal-sized families on a budget will instead turn to the Rondo, a mid-size vehicle that's part wagon and part U-Haul. It carries Kia's amazing warranty, which covers everything short of plastic surgery and Cialis, and it swallows up luggage and kids in parent-pleasing quantities. You say you don't want your children consumed by the cargo maw? Three rows of seats will tow five kids plus two adults, and the Rondo's safety package is comprehensive, even if its entertainment capabilities are somewhat lacking.
2004 GMC Sierra 2500 Reg Cab 133.0
Lust Object: Ford F-250 King Ranch
Plan B: 2009 GMC Sierra V-8
In the vast stretch of America between the West Side Highway and the 405, people actually need and buy pickup trucks for practical reasons. Even the most God-fearing contractor is merely heartbeats away from selling his wife to get his hands on the fantastic King Ranch Ford truck, what with all that baseball-raw leather seating that smells enticingly of ex-cow. But even if you're minting money, maybe it's time to consider the basic GMC Sierra pickup, the good-looking, good-natured lug in the class. You can tweak it innumerable ways to fit your mission--and with unbelievable discounts from the manufacturer and dealers, it's possible to find V-8 pickups most anywhere at 30 percent off.
2009 Volkswagen CC
Lust Object: 2010 Porsche Panamera
Plan B: 2009 Volkswagen CC
Admitting that you covet a Porsche Panamera--Broadway-quality hunchback and all--is the first step. The second step to recovery for most of you will be cutting Panamera pictures out of your handy Internet screen instead, pasting them up in your locker next to Zac Efron, and opting for a shiny, pretty Volkswagen CC instead. The CC is the Pilates-toned version of the VW Passat, with less space inside but a leaner bod that also upgrades the Passat's already admirable cabin. There's turbo four or six-cylinder engines and a paddle-shifted transmission available, along with 4Motion all-wheel drive. You can hook up your USB-plugged music player, roll back the big sunroof, and wave at the folks still waiting on Porsche's long order list. It's not earth-shattering, but it's distinctive and conventionally good-looking in a way
Paris Hilton the Panamera never will be.
2009 MINI Cooper Convertible
Lust Object: 2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe
Plan B: 2009 MINI Cooper Convertible
With sales of ultra-luxury cars tanking like a) the Titanic, b) the Andrea Doria, c) the Lusitania, or d) Chris Brown's potential to make the next cover of InStyle magazine, it's certainly not the ideal time to be considering a bespoke motor car like the Rolls Drophead. It would be unseemly. And, frankly, it would be tough to convince your Bank of America teller that the door-concealed umbrella is reason enough to take out your remaining home equity. In its place, we suggest the MINI Convertible, just revamped for this year. It's British, which sort of makes it a half-cousin to Amy Winehouse, but in the MINI you'll actually arrive at your destination without stumbling to the curb, getting your swap-meet weave caught in a door, and without assaulting hapless, gunless "policemen."
2008 Honda Accord Coupe
Lust Object: 2009 Mercedes-Benz CL-Class
Plan B: Honda Accord Coupe
Sybaritic luxury is out, and with it go your plans for escalating the driveway standoff with your BMW 6-Series-owning neighbor. Not that a Mercedes-Benz CL65 AMG wouldn't be a glorious way to rub his nose in it--it's just not nice to spend $150,000 on a two-door coupe while he struggles with his 7 handicap, his unassailable hairline and his barely legal third wife, who also owns a string of topless car washes. The Honda Accord Coupe is your way of calling a truce: it's one of the highest-rated vehicles here at TheCarConnection.com, sports delicious V-6 power and a silky transmission and a rich-feeling interior. It's also a metaphor on our confused economy, given that it's a Japanese car built in Ohio from lots of Canadian, Chinese and Mexican parts. Your neighbor will thank you for choosing it, in between sessions of Tantric sex with said wife and his black-belt training (both karate and Six Sigma).