3 Expensive Cars With More Affordable Alternatives

Vehicles have always been a major expense, considering the price of a car is high relative to what a person earns for his or her salary. A 1996 article from the Chicago Tribune brought to light some interesting historical data on the prices of cars, relative to income. The nearly 20-year-old publication reported that in 1947, the average price of a new car was $1,864 (as per the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis). That same year, the Census reported the median household income at $3,031. This means, cars were priced at more than 61% of the typical household income.

The publication goes on to explain how post-war inflation played a role in these high costs and by 1950, this percentage went up to nearly 67%, as cars were priced at $2,210 and median income was $3,319. Then, over the next several years, the price of cars relative to income settled back down and it looked like this:

the price of a car since 1960
Graphic by Erika Rawes// data from the Chicago Tribune

As of 2013, the National Automobile Dealer’s Association (NADA) reports the average retail price of a new car at $31,762, and the Census reported the median household income that year at $52,250. These days, it’ll cost you around 61% of the median household income to purchase a new vehicle, just like it did in 1947.

But, you may notice in the chart how this (61%) percentage is high, when compared to other years. In 1980, you could buy a new vehicle for around 36% of the median annual income, and in 1970, it would cost you around the same 36% portion.

So, knowing that we’re faced with high vehicle costs these days, how can we save ourselves a few bucks, while still taking advantage of some of the features, benefits, and new technologies the automobile market has to offer?

One way to save on the cost of an automobile is to buy an inexpensive alternative to that fancy car you may have your eye on. Using information from an article by Car Deal Experts, coupled with supplemental data from KBB.com, we’ve created a list of vehicles that can serve as inexpensive substitutes for other vehicles on the market. These cars have similar ratings, features, and consumer reviews to the more expensive alternatives, but there’s one thing that they do not have in common with luxury vehicles: their price tags.

2015 Honda Accord EX L
source: Honda.com

1. Honda Accord EX-L vs. Acura TL or TLX

Price comparison: The new 2015 Acura TLX is going to cost you up to $44,000 (give or take). You can save at least $10k by opting for the Accord instead. For the new Accord EX-L, you’re going to shell out somewhere in the $28,000 to $31,000 range.

Reviews: The Honda Accord has an expert rating of 8.0, and consumers give the vehicle an 8.2 overall. The Accord scores high in terms of horsepower (ranking 3 out of 15), but lower with fuel economy (13 out of 15). The Acura receives an expert rating of 8.3, and gets a 6 out of 16 for its fuel economy. For its horsepower, it receives a 12 out of 16.

Features: The Acura TLX does come loaded with a ton of cool standard features, including keyless entry and start, heated seats, a rearview camera, automatic headlights, and even high-gloss Zebra wood accents.

The Accord can also turn heads, though, with its “8-inch color display with rearview camera, dual-zone climate control and a 160-watt AM/FM/CD stereo with Pandora, Bluetooth connectivity and USB input … EX-L [also] models gain leather seating, upgraded audio, heated front seats and lane-departure warning,” according to the vehicle’s KBB review.

2015 ford flex
source: Ford.com

2. Ford Flex vs. Audi Q7

Price comparison: The MSRP for a new, front-wheel-drive Ford Flex SE is around $30,000. A top-of the-line Ford Flex Limited costs around $39,000 to start, but if you add in a ton of options, the Flex can get pricey, potentially even exceeding the $50K price point. With a little careful planning and self-control, however, this vehicle can save you a few bucks over the new Audi Q7, which costs around $50,000 for a base 2015 Audi Q7 3.0T Premium. The Audi can get up into the $80K range if you add in a ton of options. 

Reviews: The Audi receives an expert rating of 8.0 and a consumer rating of 8.6. For its fuel economy and horsepower, its ranks are No. 18 and No. 19 out of 24, respectively. The Ford Flex has a lower expert rating (7.6), but a higher consumer rating of 9.2. The Flex ranks a bit lower than the Audi for its fuel economy, but much higher in its class for horsepower.

Features: The Audi comes loaded with some impressive standard features, ranging from rear parking sensors to leather seats to quattro all-wheel drive.

The Flex doesn’t disappoint either, with standard features like “keyless entry, a 6-way power driver’s seat, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, Reverse Sensing System, fog lights, front and rear air conditioning, an MP3-compatible CD player, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel,” according to its KBB review.

Volkswagen CC 2015
source: Volkswagen.com

3. Volkswagen CC vs. Mercedes-Benz CLS

Price comparison: The MSRP for the new 2015 Mercedes-Benz CLS400 is $67,000. But other CLS models can come with a much higher price tag. For the Volkswagen CC the MSRP is $33,360 — around half of the price of the CLS.

Reviews: Both of these cars could have received better expert reviews, as the CLS receives a 7.9 and the CC earns a 7.2. However, consumers seem to be happy with these vehicles, as they rate the Benz a 9.2 and the CC a 9.0 overall. The Mercedes ranks high in terms of fuel economy, ranking one out of five. The Volkswagen CC ranks much lower in terms of its fuel economy, earning a ranking of 13 out of 17.

Features: In the CLS400, you’ll find standard features like top-of-the-line power-heated seats, leather upholstery, multi-color ambient lighting, and an 8-inch audio display screen. The CLS550 model has additional features, like a navigation system and an upgraded sound system.

In the Volkgwagen CC, navigation comes standard, but it’s a somewhat basic system with a small screen. The CC also offers a variety of other cool standard features, though, like rain-sensing windshield wipers, Car-Net smartphone-enabled car-communication system, and heated front seats.