NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- The definition of "cool" changes with age and time, but generations of affected, superficial attempts at social climbing have all led to the same conclusion: Cool costs.
Did Marlon Brando's Wild One, James Dean's Rebel Without A Cause or Tura Satana's Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! get baby boomers' hormones jumping in the '50s and '60s? Well, leather, motorcycles and fast cars all came with a price tag. Did giant chrome rims and bottomless bottles of Cristal in turn-of-the-millennia hip-hop videos make a generation want to buy out every bar they entered? An entire financial crisis tells us that's a bad enough idea when you're spending paper, never mind maxing out plastic.
The same costly maxims applied to the car world as well. Monaco-worthy sports cars and military-grade SUVs turn heads on the street, but can turn bank accounts and lines of credit into rubble if a car buyer's finances can't support their costly facade. Fortunately, the auto world's definition of cool has conformed to economic reality in recent years. Sure, carmakers are still trying to push the occasional muscle car, but when Camaro and Mustang engines are being streamlined to get more than 30 miles per gallon of gas and carmakers are loading more of their premier tech toys into colorful subcompacts, the threshold of cool shifts a bit.
Auto pricing site Kelley Blue Book took note of this changing tide and came up with a handful of cars that let the owners feel cool while spending less than $18,000. That won't get buyers a status-saturated hood ornament or significant horsepower under the hood, but it'll get them enough features and fun to elicit some envy from their debt-laden fellow drivers: