Classic alternatives to today’s high-end SUVs and performance cars

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A couple of months ago, my friend Dana Mecum of Mecum Auctions stopped by. Noticing my 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer in the garage, he asked, “Why does anybody need a brand-new $100,000 SUV when you could have one of these for a fraction of that?” He cracked the door to peek inside. “It’s four-wheel drive, comfortable, and has power everything. We should all be driving trucks like this.”

That got me pondering daily-driver alternatives to today’s high-end SUVs and performance cars. Is there a sweet spot where a vehicle is old enough to have absorbed the bulk of its brutal depreciation—or is even appreciating—yet young enough to provide most of the conveniences of modern machinery? Would a lack of the latest features and state-of-the-art tech really be an issue?

I’ve determined that my sweet spot goes back about 10 years. I drive a lot, so I need something reliable. And I live in a climate where road salt would be cruel and unusual punishment for something like that Grand Wagoneer. There wouldn’t be anything left after a few winters.

I bought a new 2007 Jeep Cherokee SRT8 in December 2006 for $43,000. It had 425 horsepower and ran 0–60 in five seconds. Seven years later, I bought a new 2014 Grand Cherokee SRT ($68,000, 470 hp, 0–60 in 4.6 seconds), yet I couldn’t bring myself to trade in the 2007 for the $22,000 the dealer offered, so my wife made it her daily driver. We still have it, and it’s still worth about $22,000. No less a fast, comfortable truck than it was 11 years ago, it’s cost us about $1900 a year. In the meantime, I sold the 2014 SRT after four years for $42,000, which equates to a cost of $6500 a year.

Hagerty’s valuation team, with the help of Edmunds, ran some other comparisons. A 2018 Miata with a value of $30,550 has an expected value in three years of $15,122, a 50-percent drop. How about a first-gen Miata? Decent ones are roughly $5000, the best one in the world is $15,000—all fully depreciated—so if you bought one today, in three years you could likely get your money back.

For the big shooters, a new 603-hp Mercedes-AMG E63S costs $118,800. In three years, it, too, will likely be worth half that. So why not consider a 557-hp 2014 E63 for $50,000, or a Cadillac CTS-V from the same era for about the same? Neither is fully depreciated yet, but you’d suffer a mere flesh wound whereas the first owner would have received a financial beheading. This play gets you 90 percent of the performance of the new one for less than 50 percent of the cost.

In the supercar realm, a 2018 Acura NSX is on average $183,000 new, and its estimated value after three years is $128,000. Judging by slow initial sales, this could be optimistic. Meanwhile, an excellent first-gen NSX, one of the purest sports cars of our time, is still less than $100,000, even though values have risen 36 percent over the past three years. You can also work on it yourself, as opposed to the new version, which makes a spaceship look simple.

The latest Mustang GT350 is a car so good it rivals European sports cars like the BMW M4. It’s a bargain at $64,200 and has shown less than 20-percent depreciation so far. But may I suggest the 2012–13 Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca? That’s a ridiculously good car, and only 1532 were produced. You could grab one for less than $40,000.

You have to decide what level of infotainment, comfort, driver aids, and ease of maintenance is important to you. I’m guilty of heeding the siren’s call of the latest and greatest, but I know I’d be better off buying my “new” cars several years after they’ve graced magazine covers. Regardless, it is important to match the tool to the job. If I lived in San Diego and never needed to drive hundreds of miles in a day, I’d have a cool 1980s car or SUV as my daily driver. Maybe even a 1989 Grand Wagoneer with seats that make Marshmallow Fluff seem firm. And with the savings, I’d add a Bluetooth adapter for the factory radio to stream audio and navigation from my phone, and I’d convert the carburetor to EFI. After all, the value of some modern things is hard to ignore.

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