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You are what you drive: Finding the ideal car

Whether you’re single and “active” (whatever that means) or a mom with three screaming kids, how you live points directly toward the kind of car you’ll need.
Looking for a convertible? This Audi A4 may be the car for you.
Looking for a convertible? This Audi A4 may be the car for you.Audi
/ Source: Forbes Autos

Whether you’re single and “active” (whatever that means) or a mom with three screaming kids, how you live points directly toward the kind of car you’ll need.

Commuting many miles to work makes gas mileage a primary concern, but you should also include reliability as a major purchase consideration — you don’t ever want to be stranded on the side of a busy highway. Also bear in mind that some people feel safer in larger cars and with more powerful engines — the better to accelerate away from danger, they may reason — and these typically get fewer miles to the gallon than smaller cars with less power.

Maintenance requirements — such as oil-change intervals — can be an excellent means of breaking ties for road warriors who pile up the miles, whether on the highway or in the city. While most cars today can be driven longer between routine maintenance stops than a decade ago, some luxury brands, such asw BMW and Volvo, include the cost of such upkeep in the price of many models. Let that be a guide for your purchase to the extent that trouble- and cost-free maintenance matter to you.

The more stops you make to pick up or deliver kids to their appointed activities, the more doors you need to minimize their entry-exit hassles. When kids factor in, coupes and convertibles naturally migrate to the special-occasions spot in the garage, if you’re lucky enough to have kids and more than two parking stalls and special occasions.

Let’s say you’re a young couple or single with the ability to indulge weekend trips, hobbies and athletic activities. You’ll need a ride that’s long-legged for ski trips, fuel efficient so you have funds left over for lift tickets and flexible enough to sacrifice at least one of its rear seating positions to accommodate your skis. While most coupes and sedans provide split-folding rear seats, they’re not always standard equipment. For example, that handy feature costs an extra $290 on the Mercedes C-Class.

Feel free to convert our downhill example to the leisure activity of your choice without forgetting that the car you choose will probably play some role in landscaping, remodeling, camping or mall-browsing. In other words, if you’re building the ultimate surround-sound theater experience, you might as well own a wagon to skip delivery charges during this phase of your life. Unlike the one your grandparents owned, today’s wagons can be cool.

Speaking of that impossible-to-pin-down dimension, you will know cool when you see it. Of course an $87,375 Mercedes CLS55 AMG four-door coupe is cool, but don’t stop with the window sticker. Mazda’s RX-8 is a very chic way to carry your grade-school twins or your loveable lab at one-third the price. If style is your thing, turn toward the coupes and convertibles in this guide.

If you’ve earned a treat and don’t mind flaunting your fine fortune, the scope of the luxuries awaiting your investment dollars will astound you. Pile on the optional gear — leather-wrapped seats and steering wheel, air suspension, in-dash navigation — and you can boost a $40,000 Audi A6 to more than $60,000. A top Audi, BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes-Benz costs well over $100,000. When you have big bucks to spend, the power and panache for sale is practically unlimited.

But let’s say you’re a city-bound working stiff who can’t live without wheels. In L.A. or New York, a car well worth considering is the Toyota Prius, because its hybrid powertrain (combination of combustion and electric power sources) excels in producing the maximum number of city miles versus the fuel consumed and the pollution produced. Short-wheelbase coupes (Acura RSX) and compact sedans (Lexus IS) are adept at punching clean holes through clotted traffic. Larger, more expensive sedans are harder to maneuver and more susceptible to theft, vandalism and bashed corners.

Read on to search for a car that suits your lifestyle and tastes according to size, body style or specialty.