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10 midlife crisis cars for Father’s Day

These performance-oriented time machines are more fun than therapy

Published: June 10, 2014 06:00 AM

Fatherhood has its rewards, but it often comes with sacrifices. As free time evaporates, hair thins, and the waistline expands, there can be a yearning for simpler times and the excitement common in youth. While we can’t send you back in time, we can recommend 10 thrilling cars that can help peel away the years.

Each car boasts a bold personality, with engaging dynamics, sharp looks, and pampering feature content. But many are not officially Consumer Reports recommended. This is a notable exception to how we usually compile such lists. Because this theme is admittedly wish fulfillment, we have stretched our rules to accommodate brand-new models we’ve just completed testing, such as the BMW M235i and Chevrolet Corvette, and others that we don’t have reliability data for, such as the Maserati Ghibli and redesigned Volkswagen GTI. After all, why throw a wet blanket on the car selection when you’ve no doubt dealt with enough of those in your day.

What we can say is that each will make you feel special and, indeed, younger. Treat yourself, at least once in life. After all, you deserve it.

Each model listed below is a 2014 model, and the chart indicates the potential savings below MSRP, based on incentives and negotiation, and the typical price others have been paying for that model. Click through the model names to get more detailed pricing, and other, information.

So here it goes, in alphabetical order.

Audi A7

Rather than go with a traditional sedan, such as the 2014 Top Pick Audi A6, the sleek A7 brings more style with its coupelike silhouette and the versatility of a hatchback. Strengthening the case for this indulgent machine is seating for five, unlike direct competitors as the BMW 6 Series Gran Coupe and Mercedes-Benz CLS. The 3.0-liter V6 turbo is as sweet as they come. But with an available 240-hp turbodiesel V6, the A7 can be considered a fuel-efficient, guilt-free option. Our turbodiesel test car returned 28 mpg overall and achieved 41 mpg on the highway. Performance is abundant, with a hefty forward surge that's almost always on tap. Handling is responsive and secure, and the ride is also quite good, being steady and compliant. Predicted reliability is unknown, but the related A6 is rated average.

Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Average transaction
Audi A7 $67,795 $64,265 5%+ $65,533

BMW M235i

Heir to the BMW 1 Series, one of the highest-rated cars ever to grace our ratings, the BMW 2 Series promises (and delivers) even zestier performance and refinement. We have been flogging, uh, carefully evaluating the sporty M235i, and the staff is once again fawning over a BMW coupe. The M235i is taut, eager, and quick, just like a car marketed as “The ultimate driving machine” should be. The bad news? This is not a cheap thrill. While the base 2 Series, the 228i, starts at $32,100, the M235i starts at $43,100. A few option packages pushed our car to $50,400. What you get when you step up to the M235i is an extraordinary powertrain consisting of a 320-hp turbocharged straight-six-cylinder engine mated to either an eight-speed automatic, or, as in our car, a six-speed manual. While not an all-out M-car (from BMW’s in-house performance boutique), the M235i delivers incredible agility and capability, partly due to sport-oriented suspension, brakes, and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, resulting in endless smiles. We love this car.

Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Average transaction
BMW M235i $44,025 $41,175 10%+ $41,611

Cadillac ATS

Crafted as an American alternative to the segment-defining BMW 3 Series, the ATS is a thrill to drive, with sharp handling, taut ride, and outstanding brakes. We actually prefer the lively steering in the Cadillac over that in the latest BMW 328i we tested. The ATS aced our avoidance maneuver like a sports car, posting an impressively high speed and leaving drivers feeling confident. The cabin is better finished than some competitors', with excellent front seats and a well-tailored driving position. Sure, the backseat is snug, trunk tiny, and fuel economy modest. Overall, the ATS is equal parts luxurious and entertaining. First-year reliability of the four-cylinder turbo has been average, but the V6 is below average. Try the CUE entertainment system, the car’s Achilles’ heel, before buying; we found it frustrating and distracting.

Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Average transaction
Cadillac ATS $42,020 $40,376 10%+ $37,861

Chevrolet Corvette

The Corvette has long been considered the definitive mid-life crisis car, and for good reasons: It is stylish, exciting, visceral, and rebellious. With a nostalgic nod, the “Stingray” name has returned for the seventh-generation Vette, marking it as something special. Indeed, the sharp-edged body and brash exhaust note announce this car’s performance abilities. Acceleration is blisteringly quick, handling is pinpoint and with the adjustable modes, the car can almost be a civilized cruiser or track-ready race car. With the redesign, the well-dressed interior is now befitting the car's price. As testing nears completion, it is clear that this Corvette has earned its place among the highest-performance sports cars ever built. Yes, it’s that good. The weak-kneed Corvettes you may have craved in your youth don’t hold a candle to this model.

Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Average transaction
Chevrolet Corvette Stingray $62,000 $57,490 10%+ $60,821

Chevrolet SS

Sports cars require sacrifices, often relegating them to weekend toys, but a sports sedan can bring the thrills seven days a week and share them with the whole family. The large, rear-drive SS is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it should be an easier sell to the Mrs. than many more focused cars on this list. Sure, it is an executive express par excellence, with a sumptuous cockpit, and a hospitable rear seat. Controls are simple to manage, replete with all of the modern electronic safety and communication goodies, and the trunk holds enough luggage to sustain a long family trek. Beneath the benign bodywork lurks a Corvette-sourced 415-hp, 6.2-liter V8 that invites comparisons to fabled German sport sedans, such as the BMW M5 or Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG, at a fraction of their cost. Being a new, low-volume model, reliability is not yet known. But you can honestly say with a straight face, “Really, honey it’s a practical family car.”

Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Average transaction
Chevrolet SS $45,770 $44,966 Mere gas money $44,736

Dodge Challenger

Looking like the bigger-than-life reproduction of the muscle-car era Challenger, today’s car faithfully captures the shape and spirit in a decidedly modern guise, since it’s based on a Mercedes-derived platform. Compared against its cross-town retro rivals, the Challenger is relatively roomy, with true backseat space. A wide selection of throwback colors, stripe packages, and special editions are certain to entice any Mopar enthusiast who appreciates the brand’s history. The base V6 produces over 300 hp, but the key model is the 375-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V8. With quick acceleration and a fitting rumble, this is a full-sized coupe tailor made for cruise night. You can even get an ultra-cool “shaker” hood. Reliability has been iffy over time, but for the last two model years, the Challenger has been above average.

Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Average transaction
Dodge Challenger
$31,490 $30,161 10%+ $28,840

Ford Mustang GT

With iconic looks and powerful engines, the Mustang speaks to car lovers of all ages, especially those who fondly recall raucous pony cars from their youth. In the twilight of the current generation, the Mustang is a steal, with notable incentives piled on that long hood for both coupes and convertibles, making room for the imminent redesign. The mild-mannered V6 is a prudent choice with modest insurance premiums and downright decent highway fuel economy, but it is the GT with its 420-hp, 5.0-liter V8 that is the real treat. Despite its old-school, solid-axle rear suspension, the Mustang feels agile and athletic, and it maintains an even keel winding through twisty turns. The GT made an impressive showing in our track handling trials, where it remained controllable, balanced, and forgiving at and beyond its high limits.

Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Average transaction
Ford Mustang GT
$32,035 $30,325 15%+ $28,045

Maserati Ghibli

The first “attainable” Maserati in decades, the Ghibli puts Italian exotica within reach of traditional luxury car buyers. And the reward is a four-door sports car powered by a Ferrari-developed engine, a 404-hp, turbo V6 driving all wheels in the SQ4 version. Snapping on the “Sport” setting brings a raging hellfire barking from the exhaust outlets—it is SO worth the price of admission. Based on a Mercedes-sourced platform shared with the Chrysler 300, the Ghibli is an international creation, with distinctly Italian pedigree. The interior is full of high-quality leather and suede, and most controls are easy to use, including Chrysler's UConnect touch screen. The Ghibli also corners with alacrity and delivers good tactile steering feedback. Sure, the ride is stiff and the rear seat is cramped. But, this is a car that makes an impression, and it comes across as a muscle car in designer clothes.

Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Average transaction
Maserati Ghibli SQ4 $77,850 $68,508 10%+ $74,224

Porsche Boxster

At half the price of a 911 convertible, the Boxster delivers 7/8ths the top-down thrills, with sharp handling, thanks to super responsive steering and a mid-engine design. Eager powerplants are tractable and punchy when asked to be. We found the 2.7-liter flat six-cylinder’s sound invigorating, but there is a more potent 3.4-liter six-cylinder available for those who crave more performance—provided their pockets are deeper. The latest Boxster has more noise isolation, a better-finished interior, and slightly thriftier fuel economy than its predecessors. The seats may be a bit narrow, which you’ll notice more if your waist line grew, and the center console, cluttered with buttons, can be daunting at first. On the practical side, it has two trunks and one of the slickest-operating convertible tops in the business. In the end, it is the amazing handling, wind in your thinning hair, and the infamous Porsche crest that matter most.

Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Average transaction
Porsche Boxster $51,395 $46,215 10%+ $49,566

Volkswagen GTI

No doubt, the GTI is a youthful car, blending agility, verve, and hatchback versatility. Just as we have grown up, so too has the GTI, as demonstrated by the next-generation car that goes on sale this month. It may remind of past hot hatches, but it does so with the refinement that mature drivers have come to expect from upscale models. This new GTI features a 210-hp, 2.0-liter turbo, driving through a choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The personality can be fine tuned through several driving modes that range from Sport to Comfort and Eco. Naturally, Sport mode is the fun one, winding up gears close to red line and tightening the suspension. Handling is agile with hardly any body lean, and it has a taut yet civilized ride. New infotainment systems include 3D navigation and a touch screen that uses swipe motions like a smart phone and has a proximity sensor that can detect when your hand is near. The GTI is truly fun to drive, without compromises in comfort or practicality.

Make & model MSRP Invoice Potential savings below MSRP Average transaction
Volkswagen GTI $25,915 $24,911 5%+ $24,077

When buying a car, in addition to research and reviews, Consumer Reports offers subscribers access to the Build & Buy Car Buying Service at no additional cost. Through this service, a nationwide network of more than 7,000 participating dealers provide upfront pricing information, as well as a certificate to receive guaranteed savings off MSRP (in most states). The pricing information and guaranteed savings includes eligible incentives. Consumer Reports subscribers have saved an average of $2,919 off MSRP with the Build & Buy Car Buying Service.

Jeff Bartlett

   

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