There wasn’t much dust to settle after all of the unveilings at the Chicago Auto Show, and I found myself with more time than usual to wander the show floor. I took the time to act like a consumer; what would I gravitate toward, if I was shopping for my Own Car with my Own Money?
Well, that’s an interesting question, now isn’t it? I’m not the average consumer by a long shot: I don’t have a family to transport, but I do live a reasonably active lifestyle, and between restoring cars, traveling to shows to sell books, and rescuing derelict vehicles I have need of a lot of utility. On the other hand, I also have a truck for doing truck-things, so towing capacity’s not a necessity. I do a long of long road trips and exploration, so the ability to enjoy the occasional curvy road is nice. And I really like weird stuff. Boring isn’t going to cut it. My current daily driver is an ’04 Honda Element AWD, and I’m pretty attached to my big blue box. Is there anything out there that might tempt me out of it?
A walk of the show floor turned up seven cars that I’d consider parting with my hard-fought dollars (and the Element) for. Then I went online and built ‘em, just like I was ordering with my own money. Price is an object, so the more expensive things get, the less likely I am to let certain things slide—like the fact that I can no longer get a lime-green Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. What’s the point of paying $45,000 if I can’t get a decent color? Oh, Land Rover, you disappoint me. The same thing happened at Mazda—there’s no hue available for the MX-5 that makes me as happy as the car itself does, so I’ll just have to wait. And I don’t seem to be able to bring myself to imagine spending more than $50,000 on a car, no matter what amazing performance or cargo tricks it’s capable of.
There are a few vehicles on the horizon that will no doubt make the list as well: the Fiat 124 Spyder, Volkswagen Golf SportWagen Alltrack and Volvo V90 aren’t available on the build-your-own sites yet, so we’ll visit with them next year. For now, this is what there is.
Kia Sportage: $26,670 in Twilight Blue. The Sportage narrowly edges out the Soul, by virtue of having all-wheel drive and slightly more entertaining road manners. The Soul looks better for sure—the Sportage looks rather like a shoe, to be honest. Twilight Blue is the least of several chromatic evils but the fact that the Sportage is also the least expensive of the cars I’d seriously consider counts for a lot.
Volkswagen Beetle R-Line: $27,065 in Habanero Orange Metallic. The Beetle lacks all-wheel drive and the cargo capacity of the Element, it’s true. And yet, there’s just something about it. When I drove the revised Beetle, there was an instinctive twinge that said, “I would totally own one of these.” Wouldn’t have thought it was my style, but the Beetle’s got VW’s twisty-road DNA and excellent all-around comfort. Besides, there’s nothing wrong with a funky boutique car. Also? I am a sucker for orange.
Ford Transit Connect: $28,775 in Magnetic. I am also a sucker for utility. The Transit Connect also gives up AWD to the Element, but makes up for it in cargo and people capacity. The Focus-based Transit Connect also rocks a bunch of cool interior options like overhead cubbies, and provides decent fuel economy. The Transit Connect that I would pay $40,000 for, the one with the Focus ST’s drivetrain, suspension, all-wheel drive and a manual transmission? That doesn’t exist. Yet.
Jeep Renegade Trailhawk: $29,875 in orange. I do like the Renegade quite a lot. The orange paint and honest-to-goodness off-road ability make up for the fact that I can’t get a manual transmission with the larger engine that comes standard in the Trailhawk. I wasn’t in love with the Renegade’s 9-speed autobox. But that’s a concession I’ll make; this is much more fun to drive than a Wrangler and, for my purposes at least, just as capable.
MINI Cooper S Clubman AWD: $31,000 in Lapisluxury Blue. Jeep and MINI are unusual brands in that I won’t always recommend them to my friends who are car-shopping due to questionable quality, but I’d totally buy one myself. But remember, I’m a Car Person, so I’m not always practical, and when the MINI I paid thirty large for has to go back for warranty work I’m going to shrug it off, because I really wanted a MINI and now I have one. The Clubman’s update to four doors and more legroom may damage its “mini” status in the eyes of some, but I like the look of it. For the record, this and the V60 are the only cars on this list that I picked without having driven yet.
Ford F-150 FX4 SuperCab: $42,623 in Caribou. The F-150 was a reach, partly because of a lack of good colors, and partly because dang! but they get expensive when you start outfitting ‘em the way you want. Bigger and thirstier than the Element, true, but an Effie will more than make up for it by being a workhorse that’ll tow another car. Among full-size half-ton trucks, capability is pretty equal across the board. I’d be happy with any of them (except maybe the Toyota Tundra; we didn’t get along), but the Ford is my favorite ergonomically.
Volvo V60 Cross Country: $46,300 in Twilight Bronze. The V60 very nearly got booted off the list as well, because it’s pushing $50,000, and also because of Volvo’s unveiling of the upcoming V90. The V60 Cross Country is a compelling vehicle though, with bad-road ability and Volvo’s Most Wonderful interior appointments. I expect it to be pretty capable on twisty roads and freeways, as well. My taste prefers the Newest Volvo to the Newest Audi, overall.