The Great Supercar Value Drain: Why Econoboxes Rule

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Oct 07, 2016

It amazes me, the range of car prices. This month I had a car I quite liked, the Hyundai Elantra Eco. It seats five quite comfortably, has a decent-sized trunk and a five-star safety rating, and its 128-horsepower, direct-injected, turbo four achieve an awesome 40 mpg on the highway (32 city/35 combined). With today’s gas prices, you’ll pay just $1,050 to fuel the Eco up for a year.

Building excitement with the Hyundai Elantra! Yes, I know they have the new luxury Genesis division, but here's the real value proposition. (Hyundai photo)

And all this for $21,610 as tested ($17,985 list). Believe you me, it’s quite possible to spend more on a car—a lot more. Suppose you decided you couldn’t live without a Rolls-Royce. Well, the entry-level Ghost starts around $250,000. And it has about the same utility as the Elantra. Though the Rolls makes a much bigger splash at the country club or high-school reunion.

The latest Rolls-Royce Ghost starts around $250,000. Fine if you're a billionaire and don't care about depreciation. (Rolls-Royce photo)

If luxury isn’t your thing, you could opt for performance—a McLaren 650S starts at $349,500. Or how about a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta for $323,745? The Aston Martin Vanquish is a bargain at $290,475. Or the Lamborghini Huracan at $203,295.

The Aston Martin Vanquish will be exhilarating, but the price drop is deaccelerating. (Aston-Martin photo)

For the most part, these prices will go in opposite directions. The Elantra (or Toyota Corolla/Honda Civic/Fit) will hold value quite nicely. Treat the little econobox halfway kindly and in five years my examination of the want ads shows you can sell it for $9,000 to $10,000.

But those supercars! If you’re Donald Trump (or, at least, Donald Trump on paper) then maybe losing hundreds of thousands of dollars isn’t such a big deal.

The price drops are scary for luxury cars. I can purchase a quite-nice 2011 Aston Martin Rapide for $74,000. That Rolls-Royce Ghost? I can buy a very nice 2011 for $110,000 to $120,000. Arguably, it’s the same ratio as the Elantra/Civic/Corolla—half the value gone. But the difference is $10,000 versus $125,000 or more.

The Lamborghini Hurucan: Buy the poster, but put an econobox in the garage. (Lamborghini photo)

Is there something called the Ferrari Exception? Will you make money buying one of these cars, the subject of slavish devotion in every car magazine from coast to coast? Well, no.

All Ferraris, like this 488 GTB, are red--for the red ink you'll spill. (Ferrari photo)

That same $110,000 will buy a nice 2011 California Roadster, a car that once took me to Nirvana on the New Jersey Palisades.

It’s price new? $192,000. If you want to make money on a Ferrari, buy strategically and put the car in an air-conditioned garage and hardly ever drive it. With luck—if you picked the right model—it will be worth millions in 40 years. But invest that money in pork butts and you’d probably make more.

Maybe I’m jaded, because I do get to drive a lot of high-end cars. But I really don’t get the value proposition. When people ask me what car they should buy, I say Civic/Elantra/Corolla, or maybe a nice Chevrolet Malibu. You can’t go wrong with a Prius, which also holds its value well.

I don’t require unborn buffalo-hide upholstery. I don’t need to go 200 mph, or zero to 60 in four seconds. Call me boring, take away my paddock pass to Le Mans, but there it is.

If you're still determined to buy a supercar, here's a video on five of the, uh, cheapest ones:

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