Most of the consumer vehicles sold in the United States fall into the multipurpose, mid-market category represented by the Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, Ford Taurus and so on: sensible, reliable, affordable cars meeting most needs of their many buyers.
But there are niche vehicles outside this realm designed to meet the specific needs or wants of more demanding buyers. Take as examples the three cars and one truck we tested recently; they didn’t meet our needs but might be exactly what another driver is looking for.
Toyota Tundra Double-Cab 4x4
We used the V-8 Tundra to tow a 4,000-pound trailer with race car, three adults, parts and tools to a track near Red Bluff. It’s a real working vehicle, competing with the Ford F250, with 310 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque.
With a full second seat with separate doors for the crew, and a full-sized pickup bed, it’s priced at $31,358 including tow package, bedliner and other upgrades.
The truck seemed oblivious to the 4,000-pound trailer and the load in the bed, and even at speed the cab was quiet and comfortable. Unhitched and despite its size, it was surprisingly easy to manage and park.
Fuel consumption was not bad, given the truck’s size, weight and load, with mpg rated at 14 city and 19 highway.
But it did have a few drawbacks. The light-colored cloth upholstery and carpets are impractical for a working truck (vinyl interior and rubber floormats are a no-cost option) and the high truck bed sides make loading from the side difficult.
This is a fantastic work truck with great features for any contractor, but more than we’ll ever need on a daily basis, though we’d love to share one!
Nissan Xterra S 4x4
We borrowed the Nissan Xterra, a $28,845 sport-ute, because it came with the optional tow package and is rated for the weight of our trailer with race car.
However, the wheelbase was just too short for stability with a long trailer at highway speeds. It would be fine with a shorter trailer for snowmobiles or camping equipment.
In fact, with the ripstop nylon upholstery, rubber floormats in the footwells and load bed, and a lockable ventilated box built into the standard roof rack, this car was obviously designed for the active outdoors person.
Fuel efficiency of 15 mpg city and 20 highway isn’t fantastic, but the 261-horsepower, V-6 engine with 281 pound-feet of torque obviously was installed to give the sports-minded owner a little thrill when driving. In-town driving was fine, but it was bouncy on the Interstate 280 due to that short wheelbase.
For us? No. Too sporty, too utilitiarian. However, if we spent all our time surfing, skiing and kayaking, this would be a contender.
Infiniti G37x Coupe AWD
In between these sport-utes, we drove another all-wheel drive vehicle. But with the 3.7-liter, 330-horsepower, V-6 engine putting out 270 pound-feet of torque in this Infinity sport coupe, off-roading wasn’t the point – performance on the street is, and this coupe does deliver.
It looks the part, with performance brakes peeking through the spokes of the 19-inch wheels shod with low-profile tires, and big dual tail pipes. With the new 7-speed transmission controlled by alloy shift paddles, it can put that performance to the pavement.
With the premium audio system, navigation system and fancy alloy wheels, our tester sells for $47,000. Don’t expect to get a deal at the gas pump – this sporty vehicle is rated at only 18 mpg city and 25 highway.
Even though the car was fun to drive and drew admiring glances, that’s too expensive for a car that would require our friends to squeeze past the front seats into the small, dark back seat of this coupe.
BMW X6 M
At the absolute extreme of niche marketing, we find the BMW X6 M. It is a 5,000-pound crossover, equipped with a 555-horsepower, 500 pound-feet of torque, 4.4-liter twin-turbo engine.
It’s a monster of a car, 16 feet long and 5 feet, 6 inches tall, but it only holds four people, with limited back-seat head room, and no rear window visibility, due to the raked roof.
Nevertheless, it’s capable of going 0 to 60 mph in just more than four seconds, beating most sports cars. Fuel efficiency is an oxymoron here: 12 mpg city and 17 highway.
The X6 M we drove, with cold weather package, rearview/sideview cameras and keyless entry, costs a whopping $93,275.
But what it can do, with its power controlled by incredible steering, suspension and brake engineering, is run rings around most cars on a race track, a feat that almost defies physics.
So who would want to buy this car? Maybe someone who just wants to say that his or her BMW is faster than a friend’s Porsche Cayenne.
But what the X6 M proves is that BMW engineers are probably the best on the planet at developing high-performance automobiles, which may have been the point all along.
Longtime Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson are co-owners of Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits several car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.