By Eric Barton
Chances are, your first car was atrocious. That was a simpler time in the auto industry, when first sets of keys were usually to econoboxes, tiny tin cans that maybe had a radio, maybe made it home from the dealer without breaking down.
Cars like that simply do not roll out of factories anymore. Once a purveyor of cheapness, Hyundai now makes one of the best cars anywhere. Toyotas and Fords made today may outlive your mortgage. Nearly every new car on the market likely will be a pleasure to own.
So then, what’s the secret to buying a car today? It’s all about subtlety. It’s not Dollar General vs. Neiman Marcus. No, it’s more like walking into Barney’s and deciding which designer suit fits you best. It’s about finding the finest interior and the smoothest engine, all wrapped in sculpted sheet metal that will look stunning in your driveway.
There are those who like it when the designer tag on their dress accidentally hangs out or the wind catches their jacket and we catch the name on the label. For everyone else, for those who could care less about the name behind the brand, there’s the Hyundai Genesis, a CEO’s car for a junior executive’s price. The Genesis is all things big sedans should be: quiet, quick when you need it, comfortable and full of safety features. The lane departure system, for instance, is just shy of qualifying it as a self-driving car. The dashboard controls are friendly to anyone who grew up before phones were “smart” – in addition to the touch screen and mouse, there are actual knobs to adjust the temperature and radio volume. The giant seats are as comfortable as anything in your living room, and the materials look like the stuff in those name-brand European cars, you know, the ones that cost two family vacations to Munich more. Hyundai seems to acknowledge that its name doesn’t hold sway at this price point; inside and on the hood, a double-winged symbol reads “Genesis,” with no mention of the Korean brand that built the great car.
Audi Q5 TDI Diesel
If your Acura or Lexus just isn’t sporty enough, or if your BMW feels a little too track-ready, luckily there’s a great compromise. In fact, the Audi Q5 is no compromise at all. It’s not big by American standards – no third-row seating here – but it also never feels like it. The diesel engine slings this beauty around at what feels like sports-car speed and also cruises so smoothly you’ll forget you’re getting such great mileage. The interior is stunning, in spite of its simplicity, with pretty wood trim in flat brown and black grain; the leather seats are so chocolatey and soft they’ll make you hungry for fondue. There’s a large panoramic sunroof and killer sound system available and convenient touches, like an auto lift gate. This is an SUV that does driving, comfort and convenience well.
Driving a ’Vette means accepting the fact that everyone thinks you’re having a midlife crisis. It’s the quintessential car for the executive who just accepted that stock option buyout and has a penchant for adventure. And you know why? Because this car is as great as you hoped your dream car would be. It fairly bellows testosterone, from four exhaust pipes as thick as one-liter bottles. From them roars a V8 that will inspire kids to become car fans and midlife crisis sufferers to feel like kids again. It’s a car that, no matter where you are, turns heads. That’s in large part due to a stunning hood, which begins at near-ground level and rises up into a pair of Schwarzenegger-like pecks. Beyond the low-slung doors, CrossFit-sized shoulders bulge out along the flat back end. It looks every bit a Ferrari or Lamborghini or some other Italian stallion that costs far more. These might be fighting words in Milan, but it handles just as well as any of those pension-sucking beasts, gripping around corners like it’s possible to take any turn at any speed. It’s so good, for so little money, that you may even overlook shabby bits of the otherwise fine interior, like the start button and touch screen that look like they belong in a rental car. The Corvette, though, is more about remembering what you like about driving, with shockingly accurate steering and acceleration that goes from zero to reckless in no time. The idea behind having a midlife crisis is to feel young again, and the Corvette feels as fun as the first drive in your first car.
Land Rover Range Rover Sport Supercharged
If you’ve ever had the chance to stand on the sidelines of a Dolphins game, there’s something that might have surprised you about those big linemen. Despite weighing upwards of 300 pounds, they’re also surprisingly quick. It’s like that with the Range Rover, a bulky SUV that moves like an over-caffeinated right tackle. The supercharged engine stays quiet and reasonable in traffic, but when punched, it growls like an angry Florida panther. Outside, seemingly not a panel of metal is absent of some kind of design feature, from the double creases running down the sides to the blingy hood vents. Inside, the Land Rover has improved steadily over the years and now boasts one of the handsomest interiors around. The admittedly oddly named Autobiography edition (for wanna-be authors?) features leather of gray and black and silver on nearly every single thing you touch. Land Rover’s once ancient tech package now features an easy-to-use screen interface. It’s an interior that’s both luxurious and rugged, right down to the super-cool chunky rubber floor mats with metal corners. The Land Rover is a car for many people: It can take the kids to soccer camp in the morning, chauffeur the executives out to lunch, and even haul a few NFL linemen to practice.
When heading up the 17th Street Causeway, are you the type to slow down to take in the panoramic view of the Fort Lauderdale skyline? Or do you gun it and soak in the sound of a twin-turbo V8 chomping its way up the hill? If you answered that last question with a “hell, yes,” then this giant of a sports car is your steed. First, some understanding of exactly what this is: This is a car that’s as big as any stately four-door executive’s sedan but instead has just two doors, just four seats. That may seem impractical until you catch a glimpse of this car. In fact, just try to stop looking at those graceful creases that flow across the hood and down the sides of the door, like the sheet metal version of racing stripes. The back end swoops down gently in an arc, sports-car style, making this giant look diminutive in just about any photo ever taken of it. Inside is equally as striking, with bold touches that look like a vision of the future as imagined back in the space age. Round metal air vents in the center of the dash look reminiscent of jet engines. A row of spaceship-like switches, not buttons, controls the climate. In the center of the dash is a foot-wide flat screen so clear and pretty you’ll want to bring it into your house to watch TV. It holds an infotainment system that’s one of the best in the car business, easy to figure out and, with a touch-screen mouse and roller, surprisingly easy to control. As you floor it up the causeway bridge, be sure the seat massager is set to one of the six different settings. That moment is a reminder that the S550 Coupe isn’t just a four-person luxury coach or a super-fast sports car. It’s both.
The best tech on those new car options
These days, it’s possible to turn a family sedan into a six-figure expenditure. The reason? The dreaded options list.
Infamous especially in German dealers, the options can include rims that cost more than a plane ticket to Frankfurt and upholstery upgrades you’ll need to squint real hard to notice.
But among those options are technology packages and special add-ons that can actually make your car safer and easier to drive. Here are a few of our favorites.
Adaptive Cruise Control
If you’re a regular highway commuter, it’s hard to overestimate how much you’ll benefit from adaptive cruise control. It works by adjusting your speed to the car in front of you. So if you set the cruise to 70, for instance, but traffic is moving at 50, the car will slow down for you. This means, in moderate traffic, you might travel between Broward and Martin counties without ever hitting the gas or brakes.
The idea behind a lane departure system is simple: it helps you stay in your lane. The systems work differently depending on the company that produces it. BMW’s is the least obtrusive, merely providing a vibration to the steering wheel that feels similar to running over rumble strips on the sides of highways. In Volvos, Mercedes, and Hyundais, the systems will literally steer the car if you drift outside the lanes. That can be helpful for anyone who has scrambled through purse or pocket to answer a phone and momentarily wandered. But it’s not always helpful. We had a car heading south on A1A drift into our northbound lane, and when we tried to veer right to avoid a still-two-blocks-away collision, the lane departure tried to push us back. It can be easy enough to override the lane departure controls and veer the way you want, but that moment of fighting with a steering wheel can be unnerving. Still, there was a time that many of us can remember when seat belts were seen as an inconvenience. Perhaps someday soon lane departure systems will become our favorite driver helper.
Once an option only on the fanciest of European sedans, systems that try to prevent an impending crash are now available in Subarus to Fords. They work far differently depending on the car, from simple alarm-style warnings to systems that will actually brake for you. Volvo’s may be the most aggressive – hard-braking to react to an obstacle in front of you. But some drivers may prefer BMW’s, which beeps a warning and then uses a 3D-looking heads-up display to flash the decreasing speed of a car in front of you in red. All those bells and alarms can become unnerving, especially when you’re trying to avoid a potential crash, but it’s hard to argue against something that no doubt will stop accidents.
Mercedes-Benz of Delray, 561-291-6095, mercedesbenzofdelray.com; Mercedes-Benz of Fort Lauderdale, 954-949-0623, mercedesbenzfortlauderdale.com, Mercedes-Benz of Pembroke Pines, 954-644-5035, mercedesbenzofpembrokepines.com, Mercedes-Benz of Pompano, 954-644-4832, mercedesbenzofpompano.com.
AutoNation Chevrolet Delray, 561-291-6048, autonationchevroletdelray.com; AutoNation Chevrolet Fort Lauderdale, 954-446-8808, autonationchevroletfortlauderdale.com; Ed Morse Sawgrass Auto Mall, 888-469-2930, edmorsesawgrass.com; Lou Bachrodt Chevrolet – Pompano Beach, 954-971-3000, everychevyforlesspb.com; Phil Smith Chevrolet, 954-733-6000, philsmithchevrolet.com.
Audi Lighthouse Point, 954-545-4650; Audi Coral Springs, 954-509-8960; Audi Fort Lauderdale, audifortlauderdale.com, 888-806-9276. Audi Pembroke Pines, 954-620 2000; Audi West Palm Beach, 888-779-4661, bramanaudi.com; Prestige Audi of Miami, 888-514-1995.
Coconut Creek Hyundai, 954-283-1002, hyundaiofcoconutcreek.com; Delray Hyundai, 561-265-0000, delrayhyundai.com; King Hyundai, 954-421-3330, kinghyundai.com; Napleton’s West Palm Beach Hyundai, 561-686-7137, wpbhyundai.com; Rick Case Hyundai, 954-581-5885, rcasehyundai.com.