Those Pretentious Luxury Cars

I have a friend, Heidy Morales, an extremely classy broad and great cook, born and raised in New Orleans, who came up here to live because she fell in love with (God help her!) Tom Ryan, a true friend and drummer in my band at the time. Besides having to deal with the cold weather and whiny Northerners, New York and New Orleans are quite similar (NY is larger and less friendly). She fit in rather well without much ado, other than she couldn’t find a lot of the cooking ingredients she was used to getting in the South … oh yeah, and her Isuzu Tracker (soft top) was a tad better suited for the quasi tropical climate of the Gulf Coast.

Anyway, one day she said to me something I never realized: “I have NEVER seen so many luxury vehicles in one place in my life!” Considering she is fairly well-traveled, I took her comment seriously, but I had to do a little investigative work of my own.

Well, barring places like Beverly Hills, Palm Beach, etc. (where you see REAL luxury cars like Rolls Royces and Bentleys), every place I visited (including New Orleans when I traveled there for their wedding), I checked out the normal-to-luxury ratio and sure enough, we do have a sickeningly enormous amount of them.

It’s all pretension, of course. Someone makes $120K per year and they think they are rich, important, and let’s not forget the mantra of upper middle class Long Islanders … “I am entitled.”

I would say it’s safe to assume that with 85% of these vehicles, the driver is in over his/her head financially, especially if he/she purchased it and especially if he/she bought it new. I would venture a safer guess that a hefty percentage of people buy these cars second hand. Like Hollywood, Long Island is the land of make believe; so long as everything on the outside looks good, that’s all that counts. You know what they say: Perception is reality. No need to try any longer.

Well, this sure makes for a vast group of self-centered, vapid, materialistic people, now, doesn’t it?? Who, by the way, take up two, three parking spaces with these monstrosities and will have no problem whatsoever parking in your marked reserved spot because they just don’t care. If you ever go out to Southampton in the summer on a weekend, they are all there in a bunch, like a massive wedgie. I call them the “breezy” people, i.e., mentally prepared and appropriately dressed to board a boat to Florida on a moment’s whim, avec drink in hand. Excess is the lore of the land on the East End (or as my friends say “down island”) for the Breezy people. Their day will come. It’s almost as if you would expect some kind of Sodom and Gomorrah-like devastation or Gatsby-esque tragedy to expunge the demons and cleanse the area of all these “pagans” who dared revel in the glory and extravagance of it for all those years. At least, then, the land can be returned to the decent, hard-working people who live there year round, for good this time, with the possible exception that it be a vacation destination for the middle class. It’ll happen. Lord, hear our prayer.

But as we already know, when driving, we’re all in the same boat, relatively. Cars, no matter how much they cost, still do the same basic thing: Get us from point A to point B.  Some do it a tad faster, a tad smoother, a tad more comfortable. It’s not really a discernible difference to matter THAT MUCH … So why would someone spend outrageous sums of money when they can get a great car for a fraction of the cost? To tell the world (so they believe) that somehow, they are “better” than you are … you there. In your crappy little 1997 Blue Neon with the falling off fender and left tail light that works when it wants to. Have you no self respect?? Don’t you know your car says EVERYTHING about you???

Sad, isn’t it?

OK. Pathetic. But it’s amazing how much worse blue Neon paint looks on a Black BMW than the other way around, doesn’t it? Hmm. Maybe it is better after all….well, it was. Before the blue paint.

Anyway, the list. That’s what everyone is waiting for. Pretentious Luxury Cars, in David Letterman order:

10. Acura. Don’t get me wrong  … a noble vehicle, safe as an armored truck, but it makes the list only because for $10-$20K less, you can get the exact same car from Honda. For that much money, I can do without the custom leather seats and driver “position” memory.

9. Audi. Again, great car, interesting and innovative amenities and the least pretentious of the German luxury cars. But they are status symbols, so on the list they must go.

8. Saab. I do love these cars. They are beautiful inside and out. They have personality and an extreme amount of class. Saab doubly wins my heart because they are probably one of the only major manufacturers still using chrome for detailing. And they are great cars … when everything is working properly, that is. Be prepared: your dealer is now going to be your new best friend.

7. Porsche SUV. Not the sports cars. Just the SUV. A car for the chronically stupid. Because no one would ever buy a Porsche SUV unless they were so incredibly dumb that they thought that this could actually be considered a status symbol … yeah, after everyone stops laughing. I haven’t seen one of these in years, so I think it’s safe to say everyone else agreed. Whoever dreamt up this one at Porsche has probably since been fired … but I’m pretty sure not before they made him sit through 8 hours of Porsche history (with a test) so he wouldn’t make the same mistake again. “Porsche is known for its _______ cars.”

6. Escalade Pickup. You don’t see them much here on LI, but they’re out there. This is only slightly more dumb than a Porsche SUV, but at least the Porsche didn’t look bad, it was just an oxymoron. Despite (and because of) its haughty functionality, this is too, but in addition, it looks like someone hacked up a perfectly good Cadillac, ripped out the upholstery, sawed off the back top end and propped it up on wheels too big for its size. I saw my first in Sedona and I had to keep rubbing my eyes because I thought I was seeing a metallic light blue mirage in the Arizona desert. BTW, my friend, Kathy, used to drive an old 1980 Mazda truck and I believe it had more flatbed space.

5. Infiniti. Now, this is a really nice car. I sat inside one and was very impressed. Super plush and comfy. Besides, it holds no where near the “Pretentious Quotient” of the Lexus and are far rarer in number. Unfortunately, the car can’t drive itself and for some reason, imbues a sense of snooty self-satisfaction into everyone who owns one. It’s not the car’s fault. But like the old joke …. “what’s the difference between a porcupine and an Infiniti?” “The porcupine has its pricks on the outside …”

4. Lexus. Japan’s #1 leading dive into pomposity. And those Christmas commercials…do people actually give other people cars for gifts? With big red bows??? Isn’t that the epitome of overindulgence and extravagance?! Given how all-fired simple and POSSIBLE it makes it seem to do this, I’m surprised there aren’t suicides directly related to those arrogant, presumptive commercials … I wouldn’t drive or own this brand if I did get one for Christmas, and I like Toyotas. I’d take it back to the store and exchange it for a nice Cadillac. Here’s why: #1 I like Caddies. #2, no vehicle is hated more than a Lexus and if you drive one, believe me, you are hated by everyone else on the road. Oh, no, no, it’s not because anyone is jealous of you, honey! It’s because a Lexus is a very succinct iconic symbol on Long Island. There is no better way to say, “I’m so much better than you are!” And trust me, EVERYONE thinks this, so, you just keep shining those overbearing halogens in my rear view …

3. Mercedes Benz. It comes higher than BMW, for a couple of reasons. #1, MB is not necessarily a rich person’s car in Germany. They have “levels.” #2, Germany won’t ship manual trannies to us (which would actually make it cooler, but I think it has something to do with catalytic converter compliance) so they have limited appeal, especially to sports car enthusiasts. #3 there are quite a few of them still driving around from the ’70s & early ’80s and those cars were cool (like the little red cartoon-like 250SL). But alas … cool has now been replaced complacent ostentation. It’s all in the symbol. Here, it’s the height of snobbery. In Germany, it’s like a Ford symbol is to us (in fact a Ford is more of a status symbol … ah, perception …)

2. BMW. IMHO, they have one great car; the Roadster. Navy blue, all the way, but if you insist, black. All the others are ugly boxes. (At least MB’s are attractive.) And, btw, quite an uncomfortable ride and seating, too. Loses $15-20K the moment you drive it out of the dealer lot. Before the Hummer arrived on the mass market scene, it was the most pomposity and arrogance anyone could ram into a 1 ton vehicle. You don’t see a lot of old BMWs. Probably because after the car is 5 years old, the sum of the replacement parts you’ll need will exceed the whole car’s worth.

1. And the winner is: The Hummer. Overblown is an understatement. You know what they say boys. Your car is a direct connection to just how small you really are. And this is one big Hummer. Remember when there was ONE dealer on the Eastern seaboard and you saw someone driving one East on the LIE … you’re sitting there with your mouth open, dumbfounded, exclaiming, “what the HELL is THAT??! And not in a “Wow” factor way, either. At first, especially after 9/11, we weren’t exactly sure if it was friend or foe. Now everyone with $80K can have one. Obviously, their pretentious ratio is directly relative to their size, so the H1 wins, closely followed by the H2. The H3 is really small, and anyone who pays that kind of money for the small gas guzzler that it really is deserves to be on this list (especially when you can buy a Jeep Wrangler, which BTW, is a better vehicle). I took a short ride in the big one, and let me tell you, it’s a rough ride and surprisingly small inside, especially considering how very large it is outside. The only reason anyone would EVER invest so much money to take up more road and parking space, fork out a king’s ransom on gas and upkeep while being so uncomfortable at the same time … would only be because it’s an IMMENSE status symbol. It’s surely not because of the desert-like conditions and mountain terrain here on LI. Yah ….

So … what’s missing from this list? Cadillacs and Lincolns. Grandma and Grandpa still think they’re status symbols, but we know better …. they’re cool. That new Caddie rocks! What a beauty! Not cheap either, but in my book, worth every penny. Lincolns are a little more geezer-oriented, but I can’t look at either of these cars, new or old, and not think of Elvis Presley. Case closed.

Can you say “Porsche??” Also missing are sports cars (real ones) and even what sports car enthusiasts call “sporty cars” (because their weight is too heavy to actually allow them to be classified as a real sports car). Yes, the sporty cars can be silly sometimes, especially with some of those extras like bras and lights and that stupid grab bar thing on the trunk (I know, it’s aerodynamic, but I saw 2 kids grab onto one while the driver was pulling away)…. but even for someone making an $18K purchase, these people are very into their cars … something that IS cool isn’t pretentious, it’s a lot of work! Whether you have a souped up Honda or a Porsche or a Maserati, these people are enthusiasts and it is a hobby (or possibly, an obsession) for them. They love their cars … they take care of them on a daily basis, wash and polish them weekly, baby them like children, buy them special accessories, maintain them to a fault … no matter how much any of this costs. It may leave their spouses feeling a little left out in the attention dept … but that’s true love! And there is no way true love can ever be called pretentious.

Note to all of you who want to appear wealthy: Wealthy people … TRULY wealthy people … drive Volvos and Hondas. Great cars. Not outrageously expensive. Rock solid resale value. Really safe. Low maintenance. Exceptional gas mileage. That’s why they have a lot of money: They don’t waste it on ostentation and outside frills and status. The bottom line is, they just don’t need to prove how wealthy they are … to anyone. Because it’s not pretension. It’s reality.

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