Vertical Mobility

Driving to the Top, a Guide to the Cars of the Corporate Ladder

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Welcome to the parking lot — the place of subtle glances and quiet murmurs. It’s the aire libre water cooler, the place where all those status symbols on four wheels are assessed, discussed and judged. Not that opinions matter, right? All those furtive glances given as John Doe puts rubber to road in his shiny new Benz on the near side of a Friday afternoon — they’re not significant. Or are they?

There’s the old adage: “Dress for the career you want, not the one you have”; well, friends, swap dress with drive, and we’re in business. The rolling status symbol is a means of showing competence, at each compensation level. So we tested out cars at six different pay structures, seeing where they’d place on the corporate ladder. Because from the mailroom to the the “Reserved for the President” parking spot, what you drive does make a difference. – Matthew Ankeny


Jaguar XF

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The CEO’s Ride: Jaguar, like its sister company Range Rover, is tasked with carrying on the heritage of an entire culture. The XF fills the role, exuding cricket matches, tea time, tailored clothing and the perfect amount of refinement. The 3.0 supercharged V6 is certainly worth the extra $7,000 over the base, as the extra 100 horsepower fit the size of the car. The exterior lines are elegant without coming off as pretentious, and the interior — with its use of wood, leather, chrome and contrast stitching — is reminiscent of the corner office. The seats, perforated leather, suede headliner, 17-speaker 850W audio system and dramatic shifter knob that rises from the center console create an experience, not just a car. Unfortunately, the 7-inch touchscreen info system is slow to respond and rear visibility is poor due to the wide C-pillars — but, hey, even CEOs have blind spots.

Jaguar XF 3.0 Specs
Engine: 3.0-liter supercharged V6
Horsepower: 340
Torque: 332 lb-ft
Drive System: RWD
0-60 mph: 5.7 seconds
Top Speed: 121 mph

Mercedes-Benz C400

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The COO’s Ride: The COO should stand apart. He exudes a humble confidence, as if to say, “I am honored to be in this position and I will kick your ass if you mess with me.” The Mercedes-Benz C400 matches this attitude perfectly. Newly designed for 2015, the C-class has been classed up so high they had to create an entirely new car (the CLA) to take the “entry-level” moniker. With round, sculpted edges on the front fascia and rear end, as well as a gorgeous interior (natural wood, leather, chrome and accent lighting), its distinction is obvious. And, the C-Class’s tech game is on point with a new 7-inch stand-alone screen and a new center control with essentially a mouse track pad. The twin turbo V6 gives plenty of power and steering is sharp — especially in sport mode relaxing the traction controls just enough for some tail movement in sharp corners for those night drives home when you need to clear your mind from the day’s merger talks.

Mercedes-Benz C400 Specs
Engine: 3.0-liter bi-turbo V6
Horsepower: 329
Torque: 354 lb-ft
Drive System: RWD
0-60 mph: 5.2 seconds
Top Speed: 136 mph


Dodge Charger SXT

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The Manager’s Ride: A manager may push too hard, and he may piss some people off, but ultimately he wants the best for them, and the Charger SXT is that kind of car. It has the ability to get shit done, and it’s readily available to take all the cronies on a Chipotle run. The Charger comes with nine different trims, ranging from aggressive to “hide yo kids, hide yo wife.” The SXT comes with cloth sport seats and an 8.4-inch touchscreen featuring their Dodge U-Connect system. Multiple USB ports, an SD slot, two 12-volt outlets and available wi-fi give you assets for staying connected and charged while on the road. The car looks massive, but thankfully it’s well composed on the road. The long hood takes a little getting used to, but once you’ve figured out how to handle and harness this beast, it runs true and has your back. Just like your best new recruit.

Dodge Charger SXT Specs
Engine: 3.6-liter V6
Horsepower: 292
Torque: 260 lb-ft
Drive System: RWD
0-60 mph: 6.0 seconds
Top Speed: 155 mph

Toyota Avalon

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The Consultant’s Ride: The consultant isn’t quite ready for burnouts in the parking lot. He’s more level headed, more reserved, more understated; quiet, stable and reliable, just like the Toyota Avalon. Toyota has thankfully taken some styling cues from their luxe sibling, Lexus, and updated the exterior lines. The interior is all about comfort, with leather seats and plenty of room for everyone. There is ample cubby space, including a giant space between the front seats. The Avalon is also one of the first cars to offer the Qi wireless charging system for your phone; it’s a black rubber mat in the center console where you lay your phone so it can charge without plugging it in (if your phone’s compatible). The consultant knows this probably tested well with the 35-55 male demo, and therefore embraces the forward-looking tech. The 268 horsepower engine is surprisingly quick and flings the Avalon down straights, but it brings major wheel squeal when accelerating around corners (so, don’t). The brakes are soft and the steering feels a bit artificial, but when cruising on the freeway or sitting in traffic on a conference call, this car is comfortable, smooth and stable.

Toyota Avalon Specs
Engine: 3.5-liter V6
Horsepower: 268
Torque: 248 lb-ft
Drive System: FWD
0-60 mph: 6.1 seconds
Top Speed: 127 mph

Volkswagen Passat

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The Associate’s Ride: The associate must sets himself apart — he’s no longer entry level, and it’s time to show it. The Passat sets itself apart from the boring practicality of nearly every other mid-size sedan, and it does it at a thinking man’s price point. Built in East Tennessee specifically for the US market, the Passat caters to our American need for legroom and luggage space, and when tapped to give rides for lunch, there’s almost full-size sedan space in the rear seats. If you end up running the boss to the airport (along with all the luggage), you have space for that. The Wolfsburg trim, named after the Volkswagen Group’s World headquarters in Germany, is one step above base, which adds 16-inch alloy wheels, leatherette (something called “premium vinyl”) seating, a leather-wrapped wheel and shifter knob, power driver seat and an iPod interface. Performance is decent, considering the humble 1.8-liter engine, but the automatic (non-DSG) is sluggish on shifting even when switching to manual mode. For a car with so much room, it drives quite lightly, which makes cornering fun — especially for a front-wheel-drive car.

Volkswagen Passat Specs
Engine: 1.8-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Horsepower: 170
Torque: 177 lb-ft
Drive System: FWD
0-60 mph: 7.5 seconds
Top Speed: 115 mph

Subaru Legacy

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The Agent’s Ride: The only car on our list with AWD standard means that even in a base model, it’s ready to work hard during the week and play harder on the weekends — the life of a ground-floor employee. You pay dues, work hard and (eventually) move up the ranks. Subaru has a rich history of being a safe, stylish adventure mobile, and the Legacy is the business-oriented version of that personality. The 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer engine offers great power, though it is mated with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which means no gears and no shifting. The CVT does bring improved fuel efficiency and Subaru has worked some engineering back into the mix, allowing the paddle shifters to simulate a shift (this makes it one of the best CVTs available). It is lower on the driving experience, but the sharp exterior style, adventurous mentality, cleanly designed interior and fantastic base model offerings make this an affordable car that stands out in the parking garage.

Subaru Legacy 3.6R Specs
Engine: 3.6-liter six-cylinder boxer
Horsepower: 256
Torque: 247 lb-ft
Drive System: AWD
0-60 mph: 6.9 seconds
Top Speed: 139 mph