Welcome to my annual tradition of self-indulgence and absolute pining for the day I can buy a vehicle that I would truly enjoy and own.
But, how? And, who's money?
Understand that for the past few years, I took liberties on this site to do something that is part-selfish crap and part-consumer advice.
I arrived at this list by using some form of methodology to answer the question in the title of this missive. In past years, I went with a price point methodology – in 2015, I included pre-owned cars and in 2016, I just concentrated on new ones. For 2017, I just listed them out regardless.
To make things more interesting, I have shaken up the rules a bit. The list will be based on a class of vehicle – regardless of price. That way, I would have to acquiesce to the market and show some interest in an SUV/crossover. Not that I would prefer one over a coupe or a high-performance car, but I have been talking about the "reality of the marketplace" so much – I have given in. Well, just for this article.
Another thing I did was to throw out the distinctions between mainstream and premium brands. Therefore, I am not looking at specific price points, but rather fitting in the usefulness of the vehicle within the class. Sometimes, I would find a mainstream vehicle to be better than a premium-branded one. Or, vice versa.
Perhaps it's time to draw within the lines and spell out what Randy – er, yours truly – would buy in (almost) every viable vehicle segment sold in the USA…
SUBCOMPACT CAR – MINI HARDTOP TWO DOOR JOHN COOPER WORKS: Despite everyone's wallowing over MINI's previous quality and the fact that no one would dare sit behind me, this is more of an indulgence than anything. Have you driven one? If you have, then you might agree that the extra 39 horsepower in the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder is worth the autocross stints, shopping trips, and car meets. Then again, why do you want to pose your JCW when it is meant to drive? PRICE AS DESIRED: $41,750
SMALL SUV/CROSSOVER – VOLVO XC40 T5 R DESIGN AWD: Can a Volvo be a fun vehicle? Can a small Volvo be charming? Will this be the best small Volvo ever? Yes, on all three counts. What Volvo has done was to not only do a small Volvo by itself but to give it is own personality apart from its brethren. My pick of the range is the R Design trim, especially its Lava/Black interior combination. Also, selecting the T5 engine over the T4 returns many smiles with its more-than-adequate power – especially on highway journeys. Lastly, it will stand out in various places and do street parking without a problem. So, yes, Volvo can be small, fun, and enjoyable at the same time! PRICE AS DESIRED: $46,085
COMPACT CAR – VOLKSWAGEN GOLF R: Oh, you wanted me to drive something sensible! That’s now how I roll here. The Golf is a fine package by itself. However, I want more than just a Golf. Heck, give me something more than a GTI. Give me 292 horsepower, 4Motion all-wheel drive, and the ability to run an autocross with absolute ease in a car that can happily be in attack mode all day long. Sure, it’s larger than the MINI Hardtop JCW, has more horsepower, all-wheel-drive, and a more straightforward design. But, I can have an equal amount of adolescent fun in the Golf R and not apologize for it. PRICE AS DESIRED: $41,780
COMPACT SUV/CROSSOVER – VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN SEL PREMIUM: Some have said that it's not really a compact, but it is the most improved vehicle in its class. It starts with an expanded body, which the European market calls it the "Allspace." You can go with a third row, but I rather have the expansive rear cargo space with just two rows of seating. The 2.0-liter turbo is solid, along with a superb chassis. It does get its knocks for some details, but this is what I would get as a good "chase car" for events. PRICE AS DESIRED: $38,545
MID-SIZED CAR – TOYOTA CAMRY XSE: One drive in the new Camry can change your mind many times over. Akio Toyoda said it was "sexy." I agree – it is. Choose the XSE V6 and you get more than sexy. It is spacious, powerful, and offers attitude on top of all of the good things a Camry usually delivers on. It is not the middle-of-the-road sedan you know and…love. This Camry will break your heart, mend it, and bring your friends to the afterparty. PRICE AS DESIRED: $38,090
MID-SIZED SUV/CROSSOVER – VOLVO XC90 T6 INSCRIPTION AWD: Would you believe that this was the toughest one to pick in its class? I had to make the choice between two or three rows of seating, and efficiency over power. Some soul-searching led me to a familiar (and award-winning) choice: The Volvo XC90. It has to be an Inscription, with the T6 (turbocharged and supercharged) with all-wheel drive. And it has to be as equipped as the two I worked with already. Overall, it just has to be this one. PRICE AS DESIRED; $72,040
FULL SIZED CAR – TOYOTA AVALON TOURING: You know that my partner has a last-generation Avalon. This generation – the 2019 model – looks as close to a Lexus as Toyota can make. And, for less than a comparable Lexus. I feel that its more than just that. It is a distinctive big sedan that offers great performance, advanced styling inside and out, great onboard tech, and a smooth ride expected from an Avalon. Sadly, they do not make this in Ooh La La Rogue Mica anymore. PRICE AS DESIRED: $43,350
FULL SIZED SUV/CROSSOVER – FORD EXPEDITION LIMITED: Taking cues from its best-selling-vehicle-in-the-world cousin – the F-150 – the formula was repeated by using military-grade aluminum on the outside, a stronger rolled steel frame underneath, and EcoBoost V6 power under the hood. The quandary is this: Go with maximum space for everyone with the long-wheelbase Max or stay with the regular wheelbase model. Hmmm…the regular wheelbase, this time. Maybe next? PRICE AS DESIRED: $70,155
MID-SIZED PICKUP TRUCK – CHEVROLET COLORADO ZR2: It's not enough to get just a pickup truck. You need a superlative. You need serious playtime. The ZR2 is capable and tough. The choices are simple: what kind do you want, and which engine should you choose? How about the Crew Cab in a Duramax Diesel. Instead of pushing hard on more technical roads, the diesel has more than enough torque to handle them with ease. Of course, I may consider a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, but can you get one with a diesel? Enough said! PRICE AS DESIRED: $48,200
FULL-SIZED PICKUP TRUCK – RAM 1500 CREW CAB 4X4 LIMITED: The newest is the best – right? In this case, yes. The new Ram 1500 is a leap forward for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles North American pickup truck brand. Not just in terms of weight loss, frame restructuring, interior quality, new engineering, and new technology. It is a combination of everything done in full execution. The eTorque systems on the Pentastar V6 and HEMI V8 are compelling – adding more torque for towing, while delivering improved fuel economy. Sounds like the newest is the best. PRICE AS DESIRED: $62,070
HEAVY-DUTY PICKUP TRUCK – FORD F-250 SUPER DUTY CREW CAB 4×4 LARIAT: How do you make a more efficient big pickup truck? With the F-150 and Expedition, you need military-grade aluminum and a heavier rolled-steel frame. Plus, you get a loss in weight, but again in the available PowerStroke turbocharged V8 diesel engine. PRICE AS DESIRED: $63,005
MINIVAN – CHRYSLER PACIFICA: Let me make one thing clear- the Pacifica Hybrid is cool, but Stow N’ Go seats are cooler. You cannot get this great feature on the Hybrid, so I would get the regular Pacifica instead – with its Pentastar V6, Uconnect Theater, and vacuum cleaner. Why would I need a vacuum cleaner? Think about road trips with your friends. PRICE AS DESIRED: $49,125
COUPE – LEXUS RC F: This above everything else. Need I say more? I could…but, readers of this website know full well how much the RC F has changed my automotive compass. I get that it's heavy on the track, unattractive to most, and so forth. But, I don't care. I love this car. Enough said. PRICE AS DESIRED: $77,985
FLAGSHIP – ROLLS-ROYCE CULLINAN: It is less money than the Phantom VIII, but you get a lot of the features found on the larger car. Plus, a capable all-wheel-drive system. My Cullinan would have the three-abreast rear seating, which would be to exploit its utility, as well as its luxury. The idea of a Rolls-Royce SUV may seem absolutely absurd. But, I would count on Rolls-Royce to make one that matches the level of excellence you expect from this great marque. PRICE AS DESIRED: STARTING AT $325,000
SUPERCAR/HYPERCAR/EXOTIC/ETC. – ASTON MARTIN VANTAGE: Some may argue that this is not a supercar. Not with 502 horsepower from a twin-turbocharged engine from AMG. But, the name is desirable. It is now backed by an entirely new lineup of vehicles designed to make you forget what James Bond drove in most of those films. With superb lateral control and an equally superior monocoque structure, the Vantage encourages the driver to step out of the ordinary and take it to the limit. It is also pretty easy to use and manage, once you learn a few tricks to make this Vantage yours – er, mine! PRICE AS DESIRED: STARTING AT $149,995
ROADSTER/CONVERTIBLE – MAZDA MX-5 MIATA GRAND TOURING: The car that brought back the roadster into our consciousness is the one you have to get. The ND – fourth-generation version of the MX-5 – may be Skyactiv-ed, but its weight loss helps in maintaining the dynamics we all fell in love with back in 1989. It is also the roomiest and most useful MX-5 ever. All of this point to a few things. One, it is the great weekend runner finding curvy roads to play with. Two, it is pure to the core – and that makes it fun to drive. And, lastly, I can take this on a track and not care of I get carved up by a Mustang or Evo. PRICE AS DESIRED: $32,760
So…what would be on your list? Comment below with the vehicles you would buy if you had a ton of money and great credit…or just a ton of money?
All photos by Randy Stern