You’re probably familiar with the successful Eat This, Not That! series of books, which document America’s unhealthiest meals while offering other suggestions that provide just as much taste with less nasty stuff.
Consider this article the automotive equivalent, but with a slight twist. I present to you five vehicles that might be on your shopping list, but I would encourage you to check out their alternatives. Eat This, Not That! crosses platforms, offering suggestions for similar meals at different restaurants. This list will primarily focus on alternative vehicles that you can find either in the same showroom or under the same corporate umbrella; e.g., Toyota/Lexus/Scion.
All cars are model-year 2013.
Drive This: Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost
Not That: Ford Explorer Sport
In this battle of 7-passenger, 350-plus horsepower midsize crossovers from Ford, the funky looking Flex wagon is our choice. It’s a bit of an apples and oranges comparison since the company positions the Flex EcoBoost as sort of a luxury-touring vehicle while the Explorer Sport is a high-performance model. The former overwhelmingly succeeds in its mission while the latter is largely a flop. Flex rides well, handles more competently than you would expect, and is plenty powerful. The Sport is fast, too, but its brittle ride, lackluster handling, and general lack of refinement leave us cold.
Drive This: Hyundai Accent SE Hatchback
Not That: Hyundai Veloster Base
Hyundai’s wacky-looking Veloster is a case of form over function. Its appearance makes it stand out, but driving it is another story. Though not available with as many luxury or convenience items, the brand’s entry-level Accent trounces the Veloster in just about every dynamic category, while offering greater passenger and cargo flexibility to boot. If Hyundai would put the Veloster Turbo’s peppy motor into the Accent (and I am begging them to do so), there would be even less reason for the Veloster to exist.
Drive This: Nissan Altima 3.5SL, Infiniti G37
Not That: Nissan Maxima
Nissan bills the Maxima as a “4-Door Sports Car,” and back in the day it was certainly worthy of that title. Today, not so much. Sure, the Maxima is decently quiet and comfortable, but so is the redesigned-for-2013 Altima. It offers basically the same V6 drivetrain as the Maxima but is roomier, can be equipped with more safety features, and costs thousands less. At the other end of the spectrum, Maxima’s pricing is not far off from the G37 Sedan sold by Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury brand. These two vehicles might as well be from different galaxies with how different they are from each other, and you can probably guess which one we prefer.
Drive This: Toyota Prius c
Not That: Toyota Matrix
Both cars are small hatchbacks with pricing in the low to mid-$20,000s. While you can outfit a Matrix with all-wheel drive, the Prius c will be 2-3 times more fuel efficient. It rides better and is more enjoyable to drive, too.
Drive This: Volkswagen Golf/GTI
Not That: Volkswagen Beetle
When Volkswagen revamped its sporty Beetle for the 2012 model year, it did so with an exterior design and under-skin engineering that were meant to broaden its appeal beyond the stereotypical 20-something single woman. While it succeeded to an extent, the effort is undermined by virtue of VW showrooms selling the more enjoyable and more practical Golf and GTI. The existence of the Beetle Convertible, which joined the lineup for 2013, does little to sweeten the deal.