Automotive Obscura, Yearnings, and Retrospective
Automotive Obscura, Yearnings, and Retrospective

My road to full-size SUV ownership was one many before me have taken. A new baby, and the unrealistic idea that my wife and I now needed a vehicle capable of handling virtually any situation that didn't involve saving fossil fuels or safely installing an elderly relative into the front passenger seat.

We had dabbled in SUV's before, once owning a Mitsubishi Montero Sport, and a Land Rover Discovery SE7, and our experiences were generally meh.

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I would liken the Montero experience to that of watching a family member succumb to a slow, agonizing degenerative condition. Every year, a little less get up and go, one more little interior feature would fail, and a little more blue smoke out the tailpipe.

The Land Rover was typical Land Rover. Very capable and unsuspectingly nimble, but you can only drop $1000 so many times to fix the power windows, locks, and cruise control, without being banned from your local Land Rover dealership's service department for "making a scene."

We settled on a 2005 GMC Yukon Denali. It would be my wife's daily driver, and the carrier of our child. We wanted size, comfort, and emergency satellite communications. The salesman charmed us with stories of the former family only using it to tow their boat on the weekends in the summer, which satisfied our reasoning for it's lower mileage. It had a 6.0 liter Vortec V8 that serviced all four wheels full-time (you know, for safety). seats you could spend eternity in, and at night, all of the lights on the dashboard made you feel like you were in some kind American-built plastic spaceship.

Sold.

We thought this time it would be different.

And it was.

Until...

...that day when you drive down that street in town that's littered with car dealerships and you see the newer model Denali is available for the same price that you paid for yours a few years back. And that you spent $400 on gas last month. And that you and your wife have decided to only have one child. And that there seems to be a strange sound coming from your transmission. And that you've actually never used the tow hitch, the 3rd row seats or half of those green glowing spaceship looking buttons.

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And that's when you realize that for much less than what you paid for, or are continuing to pay for, you can drive something that's more fun, economical, or original, than the massive SUV that you never use to it's full potential.

1. BMW E46-330 CIC (1999-2006)

Illustration for article titled 5 Cars That Are Better Options Than That 4 Year-Old Tahoe Your Wife Wants

"Why have a roof all the time when you can have one sometimes? "

The E46 CIC boasts the same amount of passenger space as the sedan, and from the interior, gives you no indication that it's actually a convertible. Hard top style headliner, quiet on the highway, and no air-leakage. The rear headrests incorporate automatic pyrotechnics to extend out well above the passenger's heads in the event of a rollover to protect from crushing the occupants. When the top is up, you can create more trunk space for groceries by lifting a lever which magically raises the trunk roofliner about 8". Car seats are easily installed/removed, but make sure the electric seats are in good working order. I'm sorry, but you had me at pyrotechnics.

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2. 3rd Generation Toyota Avalon (2005-2012)

Illustration for article titled 5 Cars That Are Better Options Than That 4 Year-Old Tahoe Your Wife Wants

" A Lexus for people who don't need their car to actually be a Lexus."

The Avalon is one of those cars that's you look at and say, "Hey, that's a pretty adequate looking car." True, it's redesigned for 2005 exterior is still pretty boring, but the interior is surprisingly modern, sleek, and makes you think you're driving something much newer. It's one of those cars that could use a nice set of somewhat conservative aftermarket wheels to completely change it's attitude. Lot's of good family space, ample power near 300hp (0-60 in 6 seconds), yet it's still considered a ULEV. Toyota added all kinds of safety goodies for this generation, including a nice new traction control system and incorporated an interesting driver "knee airbag." The IHS gave it their "Top Safety Pick" honor.

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3. Any Volvo Station Wagon

Illustration for article titled 5 Cars That Are Better Options Than That 4 Year-Old Tahoe Your Wife Wants

"Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo."

The only thing certain in life is death, taxes, and that Volvo wagons are freakishly safe vehicles. Unfortunately, they're not very well known for being fun and/or sexy. The V70R (pictured above) is both, but most other models need some work. That's where you come in. The key here is buying cheap, and spending the difference making the car what you really want it to be. Want a freakishly fast one? Buy a 960 and drop a Corvette LS1 under the hood. Yep, it will fit. Want one that handles like an African cat? Buy a sprightly 850 and replace the factory suspension with Kaphelnke racing components. Yep, they make those. Want one that has a classic look yet has all the amenities of a modern car? Buy a classic 240, tint the windows, add OnStar, new leather seats, a touchscreen sound system with rear view camera and rear seat DVD entertainment. Yep, even the 240 can be sexy.

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4. 4th Generation Subaru Legacy (2003-2009)

Illustration for article titled 5 Cars That Are Better Options Than That 4 Year-Old Tahoe Your Wife Wants

"My engine isn't horizontal, it's vertically challenged."

Like the Avalon, the Legacy is not particularly striking, but it can be. It's another one of those cars that needs a little wheel attention, followed by a minor stance adjustment. Some of them did come from the factory with aftermarket shocks paired with 18" alloys. Subaru made these with a ton of different transmission options, including a 6-speed manual. The 6-speed isn't particularly common, but it's out there. Pair that with a fun little turbocharged motor, and you're gonna have a good time behind the wheel. Plenty of room in the back seat and lots of trunk space for business. Plus, it's another vehicle that scored top marks for safety with the IHS.

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5. 1st Generation Porsche Cayenne (2003-2006)

Illustration for article titled 5 Cars That Are Better Options Than That 4 Year-Old Tahoe Your Wife Wants

"There are alot of impractical things about owning a Porsche, but they're all offset by the driving experience"

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Alright, I know what you're thinking. It's a freaking Porsche. Actually, it's not. It's a Volkswagen Touareg in Porsche Cayenne clothing, and they're more affordable/reliable than you'd expect. Not everyone's going to be swayed by my "don't buy a giant SUV" argument, so I give you the happy medium. The 1st gen. Touareg....err...Cayenne is one of those cars that people think are newer, and more expensive than they actually are. Prepare to be silently judged for your expensive tastes by your friends driving new mini-vans that cost twice as much. The base V6 shares an engine with the super-fun Golf R32, and has a lovely sound in the higher RPM's. If you're worried about reliability, stick with the VR6 motor. That classic Porsche "Turbo" emblem you'll find on some models will definitely be hard to resist.

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