Drive this, not that: 10 expensive cars and their cheaper substitutes

The reality is that exotic and luxury cars are horrendously expensive. These 10 imitators provide some serious bang for your buck.

The reality is that exotic and luxury cars

are horrendously expensive. These 10 imitators

provide some serious bang for your buck.

The dream is to park a new Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes-Benz, or Range

Rover in the family garage. The reality is that exotic and luxury cars

are horrendously expensive. But there are reasonably priced cars that

ape the spirit of the higher-priced ones, and come surprisingly close in

performance, luxury, or design (but not all three.) These ten imitators

provide some serious bang for your buck.

 

So You Can't Afford: Porsche Carrera 911 S

400-hp 3.8-liter flat six

Price: $98,300

The inexpensive imitator: Chevy Corvette

Chevrolet's Corvette has been competing with the Porsche 911 since it

first landed on our shores in 1964. Back in the 1960s, the Vette would

smoke the Porsche on any road—as long as that road didn't twist. Today

the sports car icons are much more evenly matched.

But Maybe You Can Afford: Chevrolet Corvette

430-hp, 5900-rpm 6.3-liter V-8

Price: $49,600

Both should hit 60 mph in just a tick over 4 seconds. The Porsche, with

its endless new technology like the Dynamic Chassis Control, which

replaces the traditional antiroll bars with active ones to get you

around corners faster, would probably squeak out a quicker lap time on

the track.

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But is the Chevy less fun? No way. In fact some would argue

that with fewer driver technologies, the Vette might be the purer

experience.

We're not expecting to convert any lifelong 911 fans here. Behind the

wheel, the Porsche is like a luxury coupe—the interior is gorgeous.

The

Corvette is as it's always been: a bit down-market by comparison,

especially with its thinly padded thrones. But if what you want is

muscle and you don't care much about the name on the back of the car,

you could get the Vette and buy some very nice seats with the $48,700

you'll save. In fact, you could almost buy another brand new Corvette.

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* * * * * *

So You Can't Afford: Audi A7

300-hp, 3.0-liter supercharged V-6

Price: $59,250

The inexpensive imitator: Volkswagen CC

Mercedes-Benz invented the slinky four-door coupe when it introduced the

original CLS in 2004. But VW wasn't too far behind when it took that

same idea and applied it to a far less expensive car with the 2008

Passat CC. Now this group of cars has grown to include the Porsche

Panamera and the new Audi A7.

But Maybe You Can Afford: VW CC

200-hp, 2.0-liter inline-four turbo

Price: $30,250

Although the CC is front-wheel drive and has 100 fewer horsepower than

the Audi, drivers can buy it with the optional 3.6-liter V-6 and

all-wheel drive, so it lines up even more closely with the A7. The V-6

CC sells for $37,403, but that's still 20 grand less than the Audi. The

CC is certainly smaller, yet it still provides a comfy 37 inches of rear

legroom, the same as the Audi.

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The biggest difference in terms of usability is that the VW uses a

traditional trunk with 13.0 cubic feet of luggage space while the Audi

is a hatchback with a whopping 24.5 cubic feet of room even before the

rear seats are folded down. And, since it's an Audi, it outclasses the

VW on the inside. But that $30,000 price gap between the two makes a

compelling argument for the CC. It's still the only reasonably priced

four-door coupe on the market.

* * * * * *

So You Can't Afford: Mercedes-Benz S-Class

429-hp, 4.6-liter twin turbo V8

Price: $94,550

The inexpensive imitator: Hyundai Equus

It appears that Hyundai's mission is to beat the luxury-car brands at

their own game. And it's having some serious success doing so. The

Genesis Coupe is the perfect low-buck foil to the Infiniti G37. The

Genesis sedan arrived ready to take on the mid-level luxury sedans like

the BMW 5 Series. The Korean automaker had to have some serious

confidence to take on the large luxury sedans—like the Mercedes-Benz

S-Class—with its new Equus. After all, since the 1970s the S-Class has

been the car world's benchmark for what a large sedan should be.

But Maybe You Can Afford: Hyundai Equus

429-hp 4.6-liter V-8

Price: $59,000

On paper the Equus packs a serious punch. It matches the big Benz in

horsepower, but produces it with a much smaller engine. The Equus is

about the same size too, with a larger trunk than the Mercedes. The

Equus packs the same level of luxury features, from its reclining rear

seats to the smart cruise control and lane-departure warning.

So where's the extra $35,500 worth of car you'll get with a

Mercedes-Benz? It's largely in the details. The leather is more

sumptuous. The wood, buttons, and switches are higher quality. And when

it comes to the drive, you can think of the Hyundai as Buick-level

engagement. The Mercedes-Benz feels tauter and more responsive in the

corners. And, of course, buying a big Mercedes-Benz doesn't require any

explanation. It's an S-Class. You might have to explain to people why

you bought a $60,000 Hyundai.

* * * * * *

 

So You Can't Afford: Fisker Karma

402-hp (drive motors), 260-hp 2.0-liter turbo generator

Price: $102,000

The inexpensive imitator: Chevy Volt

Despite advancements in technology and a rebirth of the electric car,

plug-in hybrids are still rare machinery on the streets today. There are

only a mere handful for sale by large-scale manufacturers. The Chevy

Volt may have been the one to break that ice, but it's the Fisker Karma

that wants to command the room. The Karma's proportions are sensual and

gorgeous, to be sure. And its powertrain will propel the sexy four-door

to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds.

 

But Maybe You Can Afford: Chevrolet Volt

149-hp (drive motors), 84-hp 1.4-liter generator

Price: $39,145

Both cars are plug-in hybrids. The Volt might be cool and techy on the

inside, but it's no luxury car. It is more efficient, though. The Karma

was certified by the EPA for a 52-mpg equivalent. It has an electric

range of 32 miles and returns 20 mpg when running on gas.

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The Volt

returns 93 mpg-e, has a 35-mile electric range, and returns a fuel

economy of 37 mpg on gas.

The Fisker will certainly be the more compelling vehicle to drive, and

the one that draws the larger crowd. But the Volt is backed by one of

the world's largest and oldest auto companies—GM. And that's comforting

when so much of this technology is so very new.

* * * * * *

 

So You Can't Afford: Land Rover Range Rover

375-hp 5.0-liter V-8

Price: $78,835

The inexpensive imitator: Jeep Grand Cherokee

For more than 60 years, the four-wheel-drive world has been dominated by

two brands—Jeep and Land Rover. Yet neither is stuck in the past. Oh

no. All Land Rovers use intelligent 4WD systems, and Jeep's brand

stretches wildly from the rugged Wrangler to the compact Compass. But

can the top models of each brand be compared fairly, despite a price gap

of nearly $50,000? That's why we're here.

The Range Rover is more luxurious than the Grand Cherokee by far. The

level of craftsmanship and materials on the inside of this British

machine rival that of Bentley. The Jeep has moved a large leap forward

in this department but, still, you can see where Land Rover's money

went.

But Maybe You Can Afford: Jeep Grand Cherokee

290-hp 3.6-liter

Price: $27,195

When it comes down to hard mechanicals, though, the two 4WDs move

closer. Both ride on an independent suspension system. And the Grand

Cherokee uses an optional advanced air suspension that mimics the

pioneering multiheight system that Range Rover has used since the 1990s.

Both vehicles use a 4WD system that can be tailored to suit particular

terrains as well.

When it comes to towing, a properly equipped Grand Cherokee can move a

7400-pound trailer.

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The Range Rover beats that, but by just 316 pounds.

Under the hood, the Rover's V-8 matches up well with the optional Hemi

V-8 in the Jeep. But while the $100,000, 510-hp Supercharged Range Rover

is still geared for off-road use, the 465-hp SRT8 Grand Cherokee is the

closest a driver could come to a Jeep hot rod. And it does so at just

$54,670. So for the cost of one Range Rover, you could have one Grand

Cherokee for off-roading and another one for the street.

* * * * * *

So You Can't Afford: Ferrari 458 Italia Spyder

562-hp 4.5-liter V-8 at 9000 rpm

Price: $230,275

The inexpensive imitator: Lotus Elise SC

How could a four-cylinder Lotus with just a tick over 200 hp compete

with a 562-hp Ferrari? Well, on hard numbers, it can't. The Ferrari is a

supercar that would demolish it in any speed contest. When it comes to

pure driving pleasure, however, the Lotus is like a junior-league

Ferrari.

But Maybe You Can Afford: Lotus Elise SC

217-hp, 1.8-liter supercharged four-cylinder

Price: $54,990

The Elise has reflexes like a shifter kart. Its steering is

extraordinarily sharp, direct, and precise. Its featherweight

construction delivers a power-to-weight ratio and handling dynamics that

rival the world's best sports cars.

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The Ferrari is all of these things too, of course. And the 458 Italia,

particularly the convertible Spyder version, may deliver the most

bewitching engine sound of any car—period. But to hear those wonderful

noises and to feel the prodigious thrust from that V-8, you must be

traveling at speeds far greater than any speed limit on any U.S. road.

The Elise on the other hand, provides a similar adrenaline rush at far

saner speeds. And of course, opting for an Elise means you can keep that

$200,000 price difference locked safely in your bank accounts.

* * * * * *

So You Can't Afford: BMW M5

560-hp 4.4-liter twin turbo V-8

Price: $90,000 (est)

The inexpensive imitator: Subaru WRX STI

The top sport sedans have progressed so far that they are just about as

quick as the last generation of supercars. A Cadillac CTS-V, for

instance, will hit 60 mph in about 4 seconds flat. And now, with a the

new twin-turbo 560-hp V-8, the BMW M5 could be even quicker, and reach

190 mph. Wow.

Yet, selling at an estimated $90,000 when it arrives in the U.S. next

year, the 2013 BMW M5 will be far too pricey for many of the enthusiasts

who would appreciate it most. But, going for less than $40,000, the

Subaru WRX STI is a bargain-priced super sedan that won't break the

bank.

But Maybe You Can Afford: Subaru WRX STI

305-hp 2.5-liter turbocharged flat four

Price: $34,095

An all-wheel-drive Japanese four-door with a Subaru badge doesn't have

the wow factor of a BMW. But its 0-to-60 time of just over 5 seconds

isn't exactly slow. The Subaru's beauty is in the holistic approach to

its equipment. The suspension, steering, big brakes, and wide tires all

come together in a package that feels seriously capable and engaging

when you bend it into a turn—just like the BMW, albeit at a less

ferocious level.

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With that giant wing on the trunklid, the WRX STI embraces its roots as

one of the MVPs of the sport-compact-car world. The look seems a little

dated today. Still, the potent Subaru price tag is just too good. Let

loose that spoiler and dump some of that money you'll save on the long

list of aftermarket go-fast parts that are available for the STI. Oh,

and you can even get a wagon version of the Subaru.

* * * * * *

So You Can't Afford: Lexus LFA

552-hp 4.8-liter V-10

Price: $375,000

The inexpensive imitator: Nissan GT-R

In the world of high-end Japanese supercars, these two are the

benchmarks. And in this matchup, the less expensive car could actually

be the quicker machine.

The LFA is a carbon-fiber V-10 monster that screams to its 9000-rpm

redline. It's built in extremely low numbers and it's one of the most

expensive cars on the planet. But save your cash. The Nissan GT-R will

do almost everything the LFA will do, for $275,000 less.

But Maybe You Can Afford: Nissan GT-R

545-hp twin-turbo V-6

Price: $96,820

There's a reason the GT-R is nicknamed Godzilla. According to Nissan's

internal testing, the 545-hp 2013 GT-R will scorch 60 mph in 2.7

seconds. That's beyond even a motorcycle time—it's sportbike territory.

It takes the LFA over 3.5 seconds to do the same job.

Around a track, though, the LFA will be a match for the GT-R. In recent

tests, the LFA set a Nürburgring Nordschleife lap time of 7:24, while

the LFA Nürburgring Package demolished the production lap record with a

blistering 7:15.

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The previous model GT-R set a best lap time of 7:24,

but Nissan says the more powerful 2013 edition will shave a little more

than 7 seconds from that time. Not quite enough to dethrone the Lexus.

Still: Is the Lexus's exclusivity, its incredible track potential, and

its ferocious V-10 enough to justify the enormous price difference? Not

to us. We'd take the GT-R and park a Ferrari 458 Italia next to it in

our garage—and still keep more than $30,000 in the bank.

* * * * * *

So You Can't Afford: Lamborghini Gallardo LP-560

552-hp, 5.2-liter V-10

Price: $202,000

The inexpensive imitator: Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Before you start writing an angry letter, we know: There's absolutely no

similarity between a Mustang and a Lamborghini. The Mustang is a

rear-drive muscle car, with a hot V-8 up front and a (cough) live axle

at the back end. It's a ruffian that gallops along on old technology. A

Lamborghini is the very definition of Italian exotica. There's a

lightweight aluminum chassis, sophisticated all-wheel drive, and a

scalding V-10 hanging out behind your head, ready to wail. It looks more

like something developed at Area 51 than any machine Detroit could

churn out.

But Maybe You Can Afford: Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

650-hp 5.8-liter supercharged V-8

Price: $60,000 (est)

But the new 2013 Shelby GT 500 isn't just any Mustang. Ford has boosted

the power by a full 100 horsepower over the last one, up to a staggering

650. That's even more horsepower than Chevy's ZR1 Corvette. And though

the Shelby weighs about 500 pounds more than the Gallardo, we'd suspect

the two wouldn't be too far apart in a drag race.

Here's the most interesting part.

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The Mustang, according to Ford, will

hit a clean 200 mph. The advanced, technology-packed Italian supercar

will go only 1 mph faster. That's some serious bragging rights for

anyone who ponies up for this Mustang.

* * * * * *

So You Can't Afford: Ford F-150 SVT Raptor

411-hp 6.2-liter V-8

Price: $43,055

The inexpensive imitator: Nissan Frontier PRO-4X 6MT

Ford's mighty Raptor is the

factory-engineered production incarnation of a Baja trophy truck. It's

engineered to tackle off-road terrain at speeds far greater than any

other vehicle. It wears a long-travel suspension damped by Fox remote

reservoir shocks. And under the hood is Ford's potent 411-hp Coyote V-8.

But at over $40,000, it's certainly not cheap for a truck.

 

But Maybe You Can Afford: Nissan Frontier PRO-4X

261-hp, 4.0-liter V-6

Price: $28,780

Quietly, Nissan has been producing a capable

and much less expensive off-road package for its midsize Frontier pickup

for years. The Pro-4X comes with larger tires, Bilstein shocks, a

locking rear differential, hill-descent control, and more. These are

really the tools of slow-speed off-roading. And with only 265 hp under

the hood, the Frontier can't even dream of catching the speedy Raptor in

the dirt.

When locked in low range, crawling over boulders, they are much more

evenly matched.

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This years' Raptor does come with a new

Torsion front differential, so it should be a better slow-speed crawler

when traction is limited. But the Frontier is much smaller and nimbler

on tight trails, some of which are simply too small for the Raptor to

fit. Remember, the Raptor is several inches wider than your neighbor's

F-150.

The Frontier certainly won't match the Raptor's thrill ride, but it

could be a good pickup for those that need serious off-road capability

in a tidier package.

Plus, with the extra $15,000 in your pocket, you could buy a Polaris Ranger RZR 900 to supply your four-wheeled adrenaline rush.

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