What the wealthy are driving

Daniel Bukszpan

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Some wealthy people flaunt their status with shows of conspicuous consumption, while others prefer to stay low-key. These preferences extend to their major purchases, from the type of houses they buy, the type of clothes that they wear and type of cars that they drive.

TrueCar.com, an automotive information website headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., conducted a study of the most popular vehicles in the most affluent zip codes, as determined by the I.R.S. These included some of the usual places that one might expect, such as Lower Manhattan, Greenwich, Conn. and Palm Beach, Fla., but also included some unexpected locations, such as Teton Village, Wyo. and Oklahoma City.

The top 10 cars include luxury makes like BMW and Mercedes-Benz as one might expect, but there were other, more economical brands that defy the preconceived notions that people may have about high-net-worth car owners. Of the top 10 cars on the list, only two had a manufacturers’ suggested retail price over $50,000.

“The data demonstrate that wealthy consumers of today make value a top priority, as half the vehicles purchased are from mainstream brands, including Honda, Toyota, and Volkswagen, that offer the best in vehicle amenities and comfort that near those of some luxury models," TrueCar.com senior analyst Kristen Andersson said in a press statement.

Read ahead to see the top 10 cars that the wealthy are driving.

10. Honda CR-V

While the 10274 zip code is home to some of the wealthiest people in Manhattan, there are still plenty of working class and middle class people living there too. These people rub elbows with the bankers and hedge-fund managers and share the road with them as well.

Although more expensive at $29,575 than the Honda Accord, the Honda CR-V is still a popular choice in the 10274 zip code. The midsize SUV is one of the most popular vehicles in that part of Manhattan.

9. Toyota Camry

The Toyota Camry has been Americans’ reasonably-priced midsize car of choice for 30 years. The bestselling automobile is one of the most popular vehicles in the 60604 zip code in Downtown Chicago.

According to TrueCar.com, none of the top five vehicles purchased in Downtown Chicago were luxury brands. In addition to the $25,535 Camry, the top five was rounded out by Volkswagen, Honda and Jeep.

8. BMW X5

It’s not surprising to find a BMW or two on a list of cars owned by the wealthy. With a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $58,595, the X5 luxury SUV is the most expensive vehicle on this list, which is interesting considering that the residents of these zip codes could easily afford more expensive cars.

According to TrueCar.com, the X5 is popular with residents of Palm Beach, Fla., Fisher Island, Fla. and Greenwich, Conn. It’s most popular among residents of the 10274 zip code in Lower Manhattan, where the average income is $5,711,000.

7. Honda Accord

The residents of Manhattan’s 10274 zip code have some of the highest incomes in the U.S. That doesn’t mean that every one of them wants to drive a Beemer.

Many residents of this area are perfectly happy to drive moderately-priced midsize cars, such as the $23,070 Honda Accord. It was one of the most popular cars in this zip code, according to TrueCar.com.

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6. Volkswagen Jetta

The Volkswagen Jetta is a small car with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $26,085. It may be a low-profile vehicle and not exactly luxurious, but like the other most popular cars in Downtown Chicago, it’s reliable and affordable.

Although you might not see a lot of Ferraris and Maseratis lining the curbsides of the 60604 zip code, it’s not because the residents can’t afford it. The average income in that area is $782,000 a year, according to the I.R.S.

5. Toyota Prius

The eco-friendly Toyota Prius is one of the most popular cars in three very affluent zip codes, all  in California. It’s popular in the Northern California tech haven of Atherton, in Century City, and in Ross in Marin County.

This small car costs only $30,565, although the residents of any of these towns, who have an average income of $672,000 a year, could certainly afford to pay more if they wanted to. But apparently, those Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and movie studio executives know that you don’t get rich by spending money.

4. Lexus RX

The Lexus RX is a luxury SUV with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $39,950. While it’s not the most expensive vehicle in the world, it’s not cheap either, so it’s not surprising to see that it’s one of the most popular vehicles in some of the most affluent zip codes in the U.S.

The RX is one of the most popular cars in New Vernon, N.J. and Greenwich, Conn. On the West Coast, it’s one of the most popular cars in Medina, Wash., home of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. Residents of these communities have an average income of $633,000 a year.

3. Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Despite all the Toyotas, Hondas and Volkswagens on this list, there are plenty of people in America’s most affluent zip codes who will not settle for anything but a luxury nameplate. Mercedes-Benz certainly qualifies, which makes the C-Class luxury car a natural choice for the wealthy driver who likes the finer things in life.

According to TrueCar.com, the C-Class is most popular with drivers in Century City, Calif. and Palm Beach, Fla., whose residents earn an average income of $659,000. This makes the car’s $36,095 sticker price an easy pill for these car buyers to swallow.

2. BMW 328i

Along with the Mercedes-Benz, the BMW is another nameplate that discriminating drivers of high net worth insist upon when they want reliability and luxury. So it’s not surprising that the 328i is a favorite among the residents of some of the nation’s wealthiest zip codes.

The $35,795 BMW 328i is one of the most popular cars in New Vernon, N.J. and Century City, Calif., both of which have residents whose average income is $750,000. It’s also one of the most popular cars in Manhattan’s 10274 zip code, home of the $5.7 million average income.

1. Mercedes-Benz E-Class

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a runaway favorite with residents of the wealthiest zip codes in the United States. This includes the 10274 zip code in Manhattan.

The $51,365 E-Class is a top vehicle in other wealthy U.S. cities as well. These include Atherton, Calif., Palm Beach, Fla. and Greenwich, Conn.

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