Personal picks: Best cars for a midlife crisis

Consumer Reports News: August 04, 2011 05:23 PM

As we progress through life's stages, there is one point when practical, rational decision making is thrown out the window: midlife. Some may consider a middle-age spending spree a "crisis," giving this period a pejorative title, but when you're experiencing it, a midlife crisis can be liberating. Not that we're admitting we're at that stage just yet, but the Consumer Reports Cars Team has compiled the ways we could be tempted to indulge our automotive passions.

Be sure to share your crisis cars and automotive aspirations in the comments below.

Cliff Weathers: The definition of a midlife crisis is a period of dramatic self-doubt that is felt by individuals in the middle years over missed opportunities during youth. Thus, any vehicle I would buy would reclaim aspirations that I never acted upon. Well, the biggest automotive regret of my life is not owning a growling Detroit muscle car (truly embarrassing because I'm from the Motor City), and the second is not owning a convertible. So the perfect cure to what ails me would be a shiny red Ford Mustang convertible, and the V6 version is definitely not part of the prescription. I'm going for the GT Premium with the 412-hp 5.0-liter V8, Shaker audio system, and 18-inch wide-spoke painted wheels. Okay, its $40,000 price tag will cost me a lot more than hundreds of sessions on an analyst's couch, but then again I really doubt that couch has carbon-style inserts, contrast stitching, and six power adjustments.

Jeff Bartlett: My wife may argue that I had my crisis early, having owned a Chevrolet Corvette and a Pontiac Firebird, but there's always time for another bout of indulgence. My commute is far too long, and I've become too practical, to have true fun on a daily basis. Instead, my crisis car would be a weekend play thing. To that end, I have several options filling my idle dream time: A late-fifth-generation Chevrolet Corvette for three-season thrills, cruiser motorcycle for solo escapes, or a Jeep Wrangler for dirty, year-round fun. A 2011 Ford Mustang would be a more practical choice, capable of fitting the family and getting decent fuel economy, while still being ridiculously entertaining. But rather than a new Mustang, I'd go for a used toy—one that is more extreme in its abilities and would make smaller hit to the bank account. Scanning the classifieds, it turns out that fun can had on a reasonable budget, and in the case of a motorcycle, it wouldn't even take up much room. At least that's the case to be made on the home front. Wish me luck.

David Champion: The 2004-07 Subaru WRX STi still does it for me. I'd also trick it out without all the wings and add-ons to make it look a bit stealthy to the local constabulary! Why the STi? It's super fast and has great handling. Admittedly, it's noisy as hell, rides like a brick, and makes my wife not want to ride with me... Sounds perfect!

Eric Evarts: The beauty of having a job driving different new cars is that you don't have to have a midlife crisis to experience these mechanical beasts. Along the way, I've learned a few things worth considering when it comes to crisis time: 1. If your personality can wear a Corvette, they're hard to beat for fun. Mine can't. 2. It's more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. This goes double for Porsches, which I always used to lust after. To me, below 90 mph, they feel like the world's most refined shopping carts. Where are you gonna drive one? 3. When it comes to personality, the Infiniti G37 Coupe is the new Porsche 911. 'Nuff said. 4. For me, the top has to go down. That brings us to my easy and unequivocal choice: the Honda S2000. Refined it ain't. But perhaps because of that, rather than in spite of it, I've never been able to wipe the crazy bug-spattered grin off my face behind the wheel. As used cars, they're pretty affordable. A winning reliability track record makes that go double for maintenance. The only hard part is finding one that hasn't been radically modified or abused. Make mine stealth gray, with red leather seats, please.

Jon Linkov: So, I've saved my box tops, used coupons extensively, and put all my coins in a cookie jar for decades. It's time to spend some of that savings on a fun car, one that isn't appropriate for child safety seats, drive-through windows, or carrying hot cups of coffee. It will be a car that to elicit stares of both admiration and utter contempt, depending on where and how it is driven.

The safe answer is something like a used Porsche Cayman or maybe a Chevrolet Corvette Z06. But for this exercise, I'm aiming high for a car that starts with an F and ends with an I-don't-have-any-more-money-to-fix-it.

Yes, a Ferrari.

While my dream Ferrari—the 275 GTB4—has a few too many zeros to the left of the decimal point, I'm quite smitten by the 512 Berlinetta Boxer. Part of the supercar era, but before stock Toyota Supra Turbos, Mitsubishi 3000GTs, and Nissan 300ZX Turbos were powerful enough to dust most German and Italian sports cars. Make mine red on top with the black lower, Daytona seats with the contrasting inserts, and a saddle interior. Sure, I don't fit well in the car and it's likely going to make me very familiar with the local Ferrari specialist, but I can dream, right? But the price range of these have crested $100K, and that throws cold water on my dreams.

However, for maybe a third the price of a 512BB (at least what I see perusing Hemmings Motor News) are nice examples of the Ferrari 355 and 360. These are far more modern cars with more useable performance, and ergonomics for someone not built in the classic short-legs-long-arms Ferrari mold. Sure, maintenance is expensive, but that's something you worry about later on.

Mike Quincy: I love my wife and I love Chevrolet Corvettes. (Thankfully, I don't have to choose between them.) But I hate it when she calls them "old man cars." Sad but true, most of the time when I see someone driving a Corvette, it's a guy older than me with a head full of grey hair (or no hair). But I've driven the last four generations of Corvettes and they keep getting better and better. Image be damned. I still love these plastic-bodied cars.

See, I actually own a midlife crisis car: a 1965 Ford Mustang GT K-series fastback. It stops traffic every time I drive it. The problem is, I don't drive it much, in part because I've become spoiled with modern technology. (You don't really have to "warm up" a new fuel-injected, computer-controlled engine now, do you?) Modern cars also come with safety features engineers were only dreaming about in the 1960s. And the last Corvette CR tested—a 505-hp Z06—aced our performance evaluations and still managed to return 28 mpg on the highway. I think that's amazing.

So while I still love old cars, these days I'm leaning toward fast, V8-powered versions of ancient American muscle cars. The current Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, and Ford Mustang are the best of the breed. And if for some reason I had trouble locating "my" Corvette (Grand Sport coupe, manual transmission), I'd be thrilled with a Challenger R/T or Shelby Mustang GT500. And that would be the 2012 model year versions.

Tom Mutchler: My first thought was a classic 1970s-era sports car with stunning styling. Something like a restored Maserati Bora, Ferrari Dino 246 GTS, or BMW 3.0CSi. But I don't want to become the curator of a museum piece, and a good Bora or Dino equals big money. So, my choice combines classic and elegant styling cues with modern levels of amenities and performance.

I want a current-generation Jaguar XK. Coupe or convertible, doesn't matter (although the coupe looks better), and I don't need an XKR. I've put a lot of miles on recent XKs, and I've enjoyed every one of them. The big Jag two-door is a great highway cruiser that's athletic and willing to dance on a winding road. Plus, I love cars whose styling compels me do a double-take as I walk away. The Jaguar earns a triple glance back.

Jeff Bartlett

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