When It Comes to Car-Buying, Sometimes You Have to Ask: What’s Your Design?


Since the dawn of history, everyone from scholars to stargazers has pondered the meaning of the Zodiac. And even though the Talmud advises that “Israel is not subject to the fortunes of planets,” many Jews can be counted among that number.
As explained on the website shiratdevorah.blogspot.com, the same holy writings predict eminence for sun-sign children and material wealth but immorality for those born under Venus. Those born under Mercury will be wise and enjoy a strong memory, while those born under the moon will wrestle with evil. Saturn’s children will suffer frustration, those born under Jupiter will be upright and righteous and someone born under Mars will become either a surgeon or a slaughterer.
So it would be a mistake to presume that the ancient rabbis overlooked the shifting influences of the stars. The Hebrew word mazel, for instance, is usually translated as “luck” but literally means “constellations.” The Talmud famously states that “upon entry into the month of Adar, Jews should rejoice.” But come Av, the fifth month, Jews should avoid litigation because the mazel is bad.
Celestial alignments have foretold victories in war, of romance, and even the outcomes of modern-day political races, so why shouldn’t they influence our buying habits? Here’s what our neighbors would be driving if, instead of poring over road tests in Consumer Reports, they consulted the stars.

Aries (March 21 to April 19)

Born under the most adventurous and impetuous sign of the Zodiac, Lance, a 50-ish surgeon, still thinks of himself as youthful. Now that he can afford it, what gives him shpilkes is the 2015 ZO6 Corvette convertible. Priced from a mere $84,000, this sleek specimen is a world-class road rocket that performs as well as supercars four times as expensive. The heart of the Z is a supercharged V8 that pumps out 650 horsepower while its driver can customize the ride to match conditions, from bad weather to the race track, with the twist of a knob. An especially enjoyable feature is a technology called the Performance Data Recorder (PDR), which crosses the line from fantasy to reality. The PDR enables Lance to relive his driving fantasies via a video camera mounted by the rearview mirror that records the ride on a memory card. When the ride is over, he can play it back for his friends’ edification.

Taurus (April 20 to May 20)

Taureans like Biff differ greatly from all the other signs of the Zodiac. He is little influenced by trends and manages to stay aloof from the crowd. He gets things done by dint of perseverance and grit. Like his fellow bull Channing Tatum, who played a doomed Olympic wrestler in Foxcatcher, Biff is a highly disciplined athlete, not shrinking from routine and rote. Accordingly, he eschews flash in his choice of wheels, preferring the ruggedness and economy of the Mitsubishi Outlander. Though the company has been making cars since 1917, Mitsubishi is best known to car buffs for its success in demanding events like the Paris/Dakar road rally. This same durability can be found in the company’s 100,000-mile powertrain warranty, among the industry’s best. Priced from $23,195, the 2015 Outlander is a rugged seven-seater SUV. Though no head-turner, it’s a subtly muscular-looking vehicle, especially when mounted with lightweight, 18-inch wheels. The third seat isn’t exactly spacious, but younger passengers and dogs aren’t likely to complain.

Gemini (May 21 to June 20)

Tiffany isn’t really fickle and scatterbrained the way people think Geminis are; she just has a lot of interests. She loves zipping around town with friends, from the movies to the museums to fundraisers. Her new Fiat 500 is designed for this lifestyle. As a Fiat spokesman explained at the car’s launch, the marketing thrust was based on the public’s taste for things “smaller, more feminine and more Italian.”

In view of the sensibilities that led to bringing the gumdrop-shaped minicar back, it’s amazing that Fiat once considered rebadging the four-seater as a Chrysler, the marque acquired by the Italian carmaker in 2009. To appreciate the difference in appeal, imagine yourself sitting at an outdoor café in Rittenhouse Square holding a glass of Barolo while telling friends your car at the curb is a Chin-que-chen-to (the phonetic pronunciation of the Italian word for “500”). Let the name roll off your tongue. Now project that same image saying, “small Chrysler.” It’s not the same. However diminutive, priced at $17,145, the 500 is no toy and its 101-horsepower power plant can turn the Schuylkill Expressway into a mini Mille Miglia.

Cancer (June 21 to July 22)

Cancerians like Meryl Streep radiate well-being and benevolence, and their key characteristic is a need to be needed. So it doesn’t surprise Rachel’s friends when their favorite bubbe, also a Cancer, buys a Chrysler Town & Country minivan. Rated highest by J. D. Power for build quality two years in a row, it’s got conveniences and safety amenities like you wouldn’t believe: power sliding doors, blind spot monitoring, power lift gate, back-up camera and seats that fold into the floor to accommodate from two to seven passengers. Optional entertainment systems with individual headphones and separate channel selections keep the kids happy. It’s got more power than Rachel would ever need from its 3.6-liter, 283-horsepower V6, and with its six-speed automatic transmission, it’s easy to drive. All that for just $31,800. She can’t wait to start carpooling.

Leo (July 23 to Aug. 22)

For Shelly, a Leo, it’s not enough to be one of the biggest machers in town; he wants people to know it. So he leases a Rolls Royce Phantom Drop Head coupe. Other high-end cars are inspired by memories of luxury limos of the past or high-tech dreams of the future; the four-seater Phantom was inspired by the racing yachts of the 1930s, and combines elegance with performance. Despite its size and weight — it’s about as heavy as a Chevy Tahoe — the big convertible can sprint from 0 to 60 mph in under six seconds, thanks to its 6.8 litre, 453-horsepower V12. The latest Phantom takes on a more regal, unified look, having traded its former round Xenon headlights for high riding, rectangular LEDs. The automatic roof exhibits the kind of handiwork Armani would envy, comprising layers of five different insulating materials — including one of cashmere — to muffle any unwanted noises. Even the steering wheel is something to boast about; it is shaped from abachi wood, a material known for not taking on the temperature of its environment but rather, from the body temperature of the person it touches. It’s hard to speak of any version of the Phantom, priced from about $450,000, as “standard,” since almost every modern-day Rolls is customized in one way or another. For instance, in China, gold leaf dragons painted on the doors are an especially popular touch.

Virgo (Aug. 23 to Sept. 22)

Cool and rational, David, a tax attorney, is mild-mannered on the surface, but his mind is never still. Like fellow Virgan Alan Dershowitz, he is always thinking, calculating and assessing. He knows the devil is in the details, which is why he drives a Lexus. When the Japanese luxury marque made its debut in 1989, skeptics snickered. How did Lexus expect to compete with the Germans? Remarkably, Lexus built a reputation for unexcelled quality year to year, culminating in the 2015 LS 600h. A $120,000 hybrid, the big sedan’s appeal is fundamentally different from that of other big luxury sedans. While Rolls, Bentley, Mercedes and BMW are all about power and prestige, the biggest Lexus projects an image of unrivaled probity, producing 70 percent fewer emissions than any other vehicle in its class. It gets its power from a 5.0 litre V8 and an electric motor that, in tandem, produce 438 horsepower.

Driving the LS600h can take some getting used to — hybrids are known for the silence of their engines but this is especially so with the Lexus, whose operation is almost supernaturally smooth and hushed. Its environmental sensibilities don’t stop at the exhaust pipes: The hand-polished bamboo accents on the steering wheel aren’t just handsome; they’re also eco-sustainable. How virtuous.

Libra (Sept. 23 to Oct. 22)

Librans like Gwyneth Paltrow are trendsetters and talented but the most important thing for them is achieving a balance between their work and spiritual life. This describes Krista, who enjoys physical activities that involve a psychic component, such as long-distance running or yoga. So what else would she drive but a Prius? The iconic hybrid has become synonymous with the word “environmentalism.” With an EPA combined estimate of 50 m.p.g., you won’t find another competing hybrid that can match it. Also in the Prius’ favor: it’s reliable, easy to drive around town and spacious, thanks to the hatchback design. The backseat is large enough for full-size adults and there’s a lot of cargo space, especially with the rear seats folded flat. With five trim levels, there’s a wide variety of available features, too — options include touchscreen navigation, styling and suspension tweaks. From plain to flashy, you can equip a Prius any way you’d like, but it will remain frugal between visits to the pump. For 2015, the base model is the $25,500 Prius Two, a five-passenger, four-door hatchback with 15-inch alloy wheels, heated power mirrors, keyless ignition and entry, a rearview camera, cruise control, automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, a 60/40-split folding rear seat and an advanced trip computer, all to keep things in balance.

Scorpio (Oct. 23 to Nov. 21)

Audi users include Bibi Netanyahu, for whom, in 2010, Israel acquired a 12-cylinder, 500-horsepower Audi for about a million dollars. Based on the marque’s flagship A8, the Israeli prime minister’s car is equipped with extensive armoring, run-flat tires, an independent oxygen supply for the cabin, a fire-suppression system, explosive charges to free the doors in case of shockwaves, a DVD entertainment system, drinks fridge and humidor for the chief of state’s cigars. The more conventional version costs a mere $94,000, but it’s no slouch when it comes to amenities — or performance. It’s built around a lightweight aluminum frame with power going to oversized 20-inch wheels via the rally-proven Quattro All Wheel Drive powertrain that provides oomph to the wheels that need it most. Those curiously shaped headlights with the chaser lights around the periphery aren’t just decorative — they keep the road brightly lit whether it’s day or night. To be sure, everybody will see you coming.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 to Dec. 21)

Half man and half horse, the centaur was given to pursuit of adventure. Modern-day Sagittarians love travelling and exploring the open road, never more so than when behind the wheel of a Jaguar F Type R coupe. The most exciting car from the British marque since the classic E Type was enshrined in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, this new two-seater is visually breathtaking, sleek and muscular with a gaping maw at its front like that of a hungry predator. Discrete green and red badges fore and aft distinguish the R from the slightly less adrenal — and $20,000 less costly — S model, but who’s to quibble? With a 550-horsepower supercharged V8, the $99,900 R is the most powerful production Jag model ever. It is fearsome, loud and fast, with a presence that will make women tremble, grown men stare and small dogs bark. A spoiler nestles at its rear; when the car exceeds 70 mph, on the way to a top speed of 186 mph, the air deflector rises to reduce lift by a remarkable 265 pounds. With an extremely rigid aluminum unibody, the coupe is the most torsional-rigid production car Jaguar has ever built, respondent to even the most subtle steering and braking inputs through an exceptionally stiff body.

Capricorn (Dec. 22 to Jan. 19)

Capricorns like theoretical mathematician Steven Hawking are ambitious and serious, driven to succeed despite all odds and obstacles. Naturally, the all-electric, Tesla P85D is a Capricorn favorite. Arguably the most significant vehicle on the road since the Model T, in its dual-motor, 691-horsepower configuration, the All Wheel Drive P85D travels up to 270 miles on a single charge to its giant battery pack. It will also, if desired, accelerate from 0 to 60 in just over three seconds with barely a whoosh of environmentally friendly wind noise from outside. The futuristic powertrain isn’t the only jaw-dropper on the latest Tesla, priced from around $120,000. Current technology includes a complex of front-mounted cameras, rear-mounted radar and a suite of ultrasonic sensors that will beam the P85D into its “Auto Pilot” mode, whereby it will start, stop, steer, drive, navigate, park, speed up, slow down and avoid obstacles pretty much all by itself. When there’s a human at the wheel, the P85D will provide feedback through the steering wheel, sort of like a pony ride. According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, you may even soon be able to monitor and control many of the car’s functions, or even summon it to your doorstep, via your Apple Watch. All this, and a heated steering wheel. The only thing holding these technologies back is the DMV.

 Aquarius (Jan. 20 to Feb. 18)

Aquarians like Oprah Winfrey are generous with their time and resources, frequently working for humanitarian causes like relief aid. Some of the most deserving of these folks may now be driving a Volvo XC60 as part of the Swedish carmaker’s unique philanthropic giveaway campaign. Instead of spending big on this year’s Super Bowl ad, the Swedish automaker awarded XC60 crossover utes to five worthy men and women nominated by the public at large. It is, as they say on the game shows, a $36,000 value, riding more like a station wagon than an SUV and with styling that won’t scare the horses. The base XC60 comes with front-wheel drive and a 240-horsepower turbocharged four-banger mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. For rugged going, it offers over nine inches of ground clearance and accident avoidance features like bike and pedestrian avoidance systems for its suburban and urban habitats.

Pisces (Feb. 19 to March 20)

Like Justin Bieber, those born under the sign of the fish may be highly talented and creative but tend to get tangled in a web of dreams and mystical stratagems that defy all logic. This explains why Noel, a triathlete, drives a Mazda MX5 Miata. To be sure, the two-seater is a charming roadster, almost toylike in its dimensions and appeal. Remarkably, Mazda has resisted the temptation to make it bigger and bloated. The new MX-5 has actually slimmed down a bit from the previous, third-generation roadster. It has a slightly shorter wheelbase and is nearly a half-inch lower. Revving under the Miata’s hoodline is a 1.5-liter four-cylinder, direct-injection gasoline engine that makes 129 happy horsepower at 7000 rpm. The six-speed gearbox makes shifting fun again, with its delightfully short throws and the little drop-top handles like those found on the Lotus race car that inspired the original Miata in 1990. When his peers comment that it makes no sense for a grown man to drive such an impractical vehicle, Noel, a true Pisces, merely points out that common sense is the enemy of a good time.

Jack Smith is a longtime observer and chronicler of the automotive world. This article originally appeared in Inside Magazine, a Jewish Exponent publication.



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