Exotic Cars for Middle Class Millionaires

The rough economy has spawned a new moniker for single-digit millionaires who still may not feel wealthy enough: middle-class millionaires. Most don't belong to jet clubs or wear bespoke suits. They live in average-size homes and don't always call attention to what's lurking in their bank accounts. They may covet a sexy exotic car but feel conflicted about springing for the extravagance. If you're one of them, don't fret. Each wildly priced high-performance car from Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche and Maserati has a slightly less expensive sibling that doesn't compromise much in the way of looks or performance. To prove the point, I did the dirty work and drove them all.

Lamborghini takes first place for its exotic sports-car looks. Nothing subtle here. Reeking of testosterone, the top-line Murciélago and the entry-level (so to speak) Gallardo models both have sharply angled contours and sliver-thin side windows.

The Murciélago LP 670-4 SuperVeloce is a beast, the fastest Lambo ever built. Consider its torso-compressing 6.5-liter, 12-cylinder, 670-horsepower engine that yanked me hard to the seatback, rocketing to 100kph in 3.2 seconds. Spanish for bat, the Murciélago's doors open vertically, like wings on a Phoenix. And owners get to brag about its $455,000 price. Bargain-conscious millionaires can opt for the Gallardo LP 560-4 Spyder, at half the price, and still get a more-than-respectable 5.2-liter, 10-cylinder, 560-horsepower engine that snags 100kph in four seconds. The ride may be too taut for passengers with delicate stomachs, but this open-air beauty beats every heart-stopping ride at Disneyland.

While many Lambo drivers feed on the attention they are sure to get, Porsche owners by comparison can be downright self-effacing—after all, in some upscale suburbs Porsches are as ubiquitous as Camrys. Exacting engineering means that Porsches have predictable handling, which gives me confidence to push my limits as a driver. The racetrack-ready GT2's huge wing, or spoiler, pushes down on the car's rear, keeping it planted on the road. The GT2 sports a twin-turbocharged, 3.6-liter, flat, 6-cylinder engine that produces a formidable 530 horsepower. It's also got locomotive-stopping high-performance ceramic brakes. Like both Lamborghinis, it makes for a tight ride with very little shock-absorbing give. If the $192,000 price tag is too high for a daily driver, Porsche's 911 Turbo, for a mere $130,000, is at once nice and nasty. Nudge the accelerator and the car responds politely, with an easy, everyday ride. Stomp the gas and the 911 Turbo will restyle your hair.

And then there's Ferrari, Italy's iconic stallion. My heart belongs to the F430 Spider, at a modest $238,000. Strikingly sexy in a soft top, it is raucous with its 483-horsepower, V-8 engine and F1-style paddle shifters. Like a skirt hiked up just high enough, the F430 gives you a peek of its midrear-mounted engine through a glass-encased hatchback door. If the language of sex were morphed into an automobile, the F430 would teach all the tricks.

If you must have the best Ferrari, however, the $327,000 599 GTB Fiorano is considered by many drivers to be the epitome of Italian performance. This model has a 12-cylinder, 611-horsepower engine and gets the same brisk track time as the Porsche GT2. The car's sensuous curvy lines, created by the legendary Italian coach design firm Pininfarina, are subtler than the F430's. I guess it comes down to taste: Monica Bellucci or Sophia Loren?

Pininfarina also designed Maserati's latest touring cars, the GranTurismo and sportier GranTurismo S. Both are gorgeous, with hand-stitched leather interiors and optional five-piece luggage sets designed by Ferragamo. The S model has a luscious, bellowing sound—its 4.7-liter, V-8, 433-horsepower engine is so perfectly tuned that the automaker now offers it as a ring tone. It sells for $121,500, while the base model fetches $114,000.

The new American Dream: aspire to middle-class millionaire status with a budget exotic in the driveway. Not bad for austerity.

Exotic Cars for Middle Class Millionaires | World