The price cap here is absolutely necessary. Virtually every new car from Aston Martin and Ferrari is a stunner, and the Audi R8 leaves me weak-kneed. But once we descend into the world of the sub-exotic, things are much less clear.
Here I have chosen five cars that have recently caught my eye in traffic. Three of these are reasonably affordable, and each earns a place in my heart for standing out on a crowded tarmac.
For those who cling to the notion that “all cars look alike these days,” I respectfully disagree. Here’re a few rides that look good and, more importantly, look distinct. Got your own list? Let’s hear it.
5 Best-Looking Cars Under $100,000
Acura can’t give these away, and for good reason. The ZDX costs more than the brand’s excellent MDX midsize crossover yet offers shoppers a bunch less passenger space. A pity, as this fun-to-drive luxury ride is flat-out fabulous to look at.
Showing best in silver or black, the ZDX looks like the improbable mating of an SUV with a tiger shark. Sales of this slick ride have been dismal—fewer than 800 found homes in 2012—so expect it to be unceremoniously deleted from the Acura lineup sometime soon.
Chevrolet Sonic RS
Sure, every hatchback in the subcompact class profiles with about the same silhouette, but some cars wear it better than others. Enter Sonic. Thanks to some decisive body-side creasing and a pugnacious front clip, Sonic exudes volumes of character, which is missing from most every other entry-level ride.
But, it’s in RS trim that the Sonic really gets interesting. Lowered slightly thanks to a sport-tuned suspension, Sonic RS looks menacing and track-ready. Especially appealing to me is the “flying V” contour of the rearmost pillar as it cants inward toward the rear bumper.
I liked this car when it originally hit showrooms back in 2005, but the then-crisp edges and overly bold front end quickly wore thin. All that changed for 2011. Chrysler carefully sanded off the 300’s sharp edges and bestowed this big sedan with a classier, more refined look.
Gone is most of the bling, replaced by a more purposeful European visage that speaks of both speed and substance. Especially appealing to me are the somewhat baroque tail sails that cap the car’s broad flanks in the rear.
This big Dodge seems pretty simple after just a casual once-over. It’s only after a closer inspection that Durango’s more sophisticated design features register. The pinched waist just above the thick rocker panel is a classy element, one that helps the truck convey a visual message of “lean brawn.” But, it’s the Durango’s clean and uncluttered overall design that really stands out.
Especially cool to me is the shrinking rear-quarter glass, which helps create the illusion of a roof line more raked than it really is. In the past year, I’ve had several passengers ask if our long-term Durango was a BMW. Not bad for a people mover with a base price of about $30,000.
Redesigned for 2012, this German icon of precision handling and unorthodox engineering is as gorgeous now as it has ever been. I want one, I want one, I want one. There’s nothing here to defend or explain. Make mine silver.
Oh, and remind me to send Porsche a thank-you card. I am grateful that the German sports-car maker is again building 911s with more or less round headlamp assemblies, and not the teardrop things that were dragging this sweet chariot into the realm of common vehicles. Some design elements are sacred, and for the 911, round headlamps are among them.