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Comparison shopping

Maybe you'd like a new Lexus, but you have a Toyota budget. Don't despair; you can get the essence of a luxury ride without the luxury price tag if you know which vehicles to consider. Some luxury vehicles are little more than mundane vehicles with an attitude, while other everyday vehicles have many of the same attributes as pricier rides. Here are some budget-stretching suggestions:

Instead of a Mini Cooper, $20,200, try a Fiat 500, $16,000. Although the Fiat is 6 inches shorter and 120 pounds lighter than the Mini, it also has 20 less horsepower in its engine and one less cog in its manual transmission. Both hatchbacks have about the same amount of room, but the Fiat's comfort is superior, while giving up little in handling.

Instead of a Honda CR-V, $22,705, try a Kia Soul, $17,050. Like the Honda CR-V, the Kia Soul is a four-cylinder crossover SUV that fits four comfortably or five if they're good friends. Cargo space is generous, and the Soul has a surprisingly roomy rear seat. The Soul weighs 570 pounds less, has 38 fewer hamsters under the hood and funkier styling.

Instead of a Lincoln Navigator L, $63,725, try a Ford Expedition Limited, $51,590. Like many Ford and Lincoln products, this pair shares DNA and options. Given the 310-hp V8 can be rather thirsty, you might want to skip the extra cash you'd pay for the Lincoln and save it to feed this capable SUV. Its handling is better than you'd expect. Towing is rated from 6,000 to 9,200 pounds.

Instead of an Acura TL, $42,420, try a Honda Accord EX-L V6, $32,600. Though many wouldn't think of buying a Honda Accord with every option, it makes for a convincing substitute for the TL when equipped with the Technology Package. Better yet, the Accord is 1 inch longer than the TL and weighs 125 pounds less; and its 3.5-liter gives up just 9-hp to the TL.

Instead of an Audi Q7, $47,125, try a Ford Flex Limited, $37,325. There's no denying the Audi Q7's beautiful styling, agile handling and three-row seating. There's also no denying the Flex's distinctive look, responsive handling and three rows of seats. The Flex has all-wheel drive, along with an optional turbo V6. Try it; you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Instead of a Chevrolet Corvette Convertible, $55,500, try a Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible, $38,800. Both of these muscular sports machines have a 6.2-liter V8, with the Corvette rated a mere 4-hp higher than the Camaro. The Camaro is porkier than the Corvette, but each delivers fierce performance. But the Camaro tops the Corvette in one respect: It boasts a back seat.

Instead of a Mercedes-Benz CLS, $72,175, try a Volkswagen CC, $41,210. Buying the Volkswagen CC is like buying an automotive designer knockoff of the Mercedes-Benz CLS. Given the VW's 280-hp six-cylinder engine, you'll never match the effortless performance of the 402-hp Mercedes. But you'll get styling that's every bit as impractical.

Comparison shopping 11/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, November 3, 2011 4:30am]
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