NEW YORK (MainStreet) -- If you want a car that keeps up with the Joneses, it pays to peek into the Joneses' garage every so often.
A Bentley may look great in a hip-hop video and a Bugatti would be a great buy if the government suddenly replaced Interstate 80 with the Autobahn, but America's top spenders tend to be somewhat more pragmatic when selecting the ride appropriate to their region. They like government rebates of fuel-efficient vehicles just as much as the average driver and know how to get a prestigious German logo on their car without spending all the loot they have.
To get some idea of how America's richest really spend on their cars, analyst Shadee Malekafzali of car pricing site TrueCar went over the IRS tax table, found the nation's wealthiest ZIP codes and looked at the cars bought most often in those ZIP codes. TrueCar shared those findings with us and gave us a look at the driveways and garages of the American elite. There are Mercedes, BMW and Porsche models aplenty, but Toyotas (TM) - Get Toyota Motor Corp. Report, Hondas (HMC) - Get Honda Motor Co. Ltd. Report and Jeeps got just as much love:
10. Ross, Calif., 94957
Average income: $497,000
Top car: Toyota Prius
Just outside San Francisco in notoriously eco-conscious Marin County, Ross seems like a great fit for the Toyota Prius. Until you look a little deeper into the garages and driveways, where the crunchy-munchy greenwashed wealthy are doing some serious funk faking. The Prius they show around town may get a combined 50 miles per gallon, but there's a lot more gas being guzzled by Ross' second-favorite Mercedes-Benz E Class (25 mpg), the third-place Mercedes GL Class SUV (19 mpg) or the BMW 335i (26 mpg) and X5 crossover (22) that round out the area's Top 5. There's a lot of room for skeletons when your closet goes a few cars deep.
9. Medina, Wash., 98039
Average income: $506,000
Top car: Land Rover Range Rover Sport
In a town Bill Gates calls home, it's tough not to go big. Medina's a family place, though, which means future Hope Solos need a ride big enough to get them to school and soccer practice. The Land Rover does this and trips out to the Olympic Peninsula or up to Mount Rainier with plenty of ground clearance (seven inches) and cargo space (71 cubic feet) to spare. The Land Rover is perhaps the best vehicular embodiment of a town with enough cash to make luxury SUVs such as the Lexus RX ($39,950) and Mercedes GL-Class ($63,445) its third- and fifth-favorite vehicles, but family oriented enough to make the Toyota Sienna ($30,510) and Honda Odyssey ($37,855) minivans Nos. 2 and 4 on its wish list.
8. Palm Beach, Fla., 33480
Average income: $566,000
Top car: Mercedes-Benz E Class
One ride down Worth Avenue or past the Breakers and Mar-A-Lago is all drivers need to see how this notoriously conservative old-money town spends liberally. The tricked-out E Class is a middle-class car here, with the $95,375 Mercedes-Benz S-Class selling the second-most cars in town and the BMW X5 ($58,595) designated as the SUV of choice for the grocery-getting, child-collecting help of the local gentry.
7. Greenwich, Conn., 06831
Yes, Greenwich has mansions, clubs, sweater vests and hedge fund money, but its love of the Jeep Wrangler suggests there's still some old Greenwich restraint at play. Not simply a plaything tucked away in some McMegaMansion garage, the Wrangler is a direct descendant of the
wagons and wood-sided grocery getters that were once all too familiar here. Greenwich's opulence was once carefully obscured by wood-paneled rec rooms and modestly upmarket family vehicles. This is a town where the moneymakers still make their own trips to the high-end grocery stores and take kids to lacrosse practice. The '90s and 2000s boom years brought in more luxury SUVs such as the No. 2 Lexus RX and No. 3 BMW X5, but a post-crisis culture that frowned on flaunting brought back Greenwich's reserved nature and made the No. 4 Jeep Grand Cherokee ($30,120) a fixture in the
6. New Vernon, N.J., 07976
Located along New Jersey's affluent Interstate 287 corridor that encompasses the historically well-off corners of Morris and Somerset counties, the village of New Vernon is the most lavish mailing address in all of surrounding Harding Township. Geraldine R. Dodge called it home, the Rockefellers that gave Geraldine her R. lived here from time to time and players and coaches from the area's pro teams tend to settle here before being traded or fired. It's an area that's had its money for a long time and makes no bones about displaying it around Morristown or in Far Hills when "The Hunt" steeplechase races and opulently catered tailgate "picnics" come around in the fall. New money keeps the town's median age at 35 and its streets filled with BMW 328s (No. 2, $35,795) and 535s (No. 5, $53,395) and Lexus RX SUVs, but the old guard still maintains order by piling its prized Austrailian Sheep Dogs into the occasional Jeep Grand Cherokee.
5. Century City, Calif., 90067
If you think the home of Creative Artists Agency, 20th Century Fox (NWS) - Get News Corporation Class B Report and MGM isn't going to have a bunch of hybrids puttering around, you haven't been paying much attention to Hollywood (or the neighborhoods near it). This Los Angeles enclave loves putting out the eco-friendly vibe, but much like its hippie neighbors to the north in Marin County, Century City's carbon footprint is somewhat wider than the Prius would suggest. The Nos. 2-4 cars bought in Century City -- the Mercedes E and C-Class (25 mpg and 26 mpg, respectively) and the BMW 328 (27 mpg) -- all get about half of the Prius' mileage while doubling its curb appeal.
4. Atherton, Calif., 94027
Average income: $768,000
Top car: Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Can you buy a car for less than $50,000 in Atherton? Yes, but if it's not the No. 2 Toyota Prius, your fellow residents may ask you to pick up the dry cleaning while you're out getting their groceries. There's a lot of Silicon Valley money in this heavily wooded town, and the top-ranked E-Class is a steal compared with the third-most-popular Porsche Panamera ($76,175), the Mercedes GL-Class ($63,445) and the Mercedes S-Class ($95,375).
3. Downtown Chicago, Ill., 60604
Average income: $782,000
Top car: Volkswagen Jetta
The Jetta was the No. 5 car in Century City, but it's No. 1 in Chicago's heart thanks largely to its compact frame, Its nearly 30 combined miles per gallon, 200-horsepower engine, keyless access, push-button start, 15.5 cubic feet of trunk space, heated front seats and 3 feet of rear legroom. Maybe it's the modesty of transplants from nearby Midwest towns, fear of blistering summers and snowy, salty winters or the realization that the city's shoulders may be broad but its parking spaces aren't, but none of the vehicles in downtown Chicago's Top 5 break $31,000. The Jetta, Honda CR-V (No. 2, $30,605), Jeep Grand Cherokee (No. 3, $30,120), Toyota Camry (No. 4, $25,535) and Toyota Camry (No. 5, $19,595) are all modestly priced by this list's standards, but are all reliable, practical choices. This ZIP code has a garage full of money to spend, but apparently keeps its fortune by spending it wisely.
2. Fisher Island, Fla., 33109
Palm Beach is nice ... if you're slumming it. Miami's Fisher Island apparently won't let you take the ferry over with a car worth less than $50,000. There are only 500 residents on this island, and most of them seem to prefer their cars with wood accents throughout, active cruise control that practically brakes on its own, climate control and vents for every seat, a two-screen entertainment center in the front seat and its own smartphone app. The Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW X5 pass for frugal choices on this island at less than $60,000 apiece, but the Land Rover Range Rover Sport and Porsche Panamera that round out the island's Top 5 are only economy vehicles in the sense that the $20,000 to $30,000 difference in price between them and the S-Class is enough to buy an actual luxury car or two.
1. Manhattan, N.Y., 10274
Sure, this segment of NYC is oozing with money, but is it necessarily a great idea to spend a whole lot of that cash on your ride? What are you going to do, park it outside a gala at the Met for five minutes until it's eventually moved or towed? Take it to a Knicks game and park it in a garage next to a carload of boisterous drunks from Hackensack? Even if you wouldn't deign to ride subways, there are town cars, limos and so many other options around town that make vehicle ownership a questionable proposition at best. The E-Class and the nearly $60,000 BMW X5 rank 1 and 2 on this ZIP code's wish list, but its affection for the Honda Accord ($23,070) and CR-V ($29,575) tell the bigger story of car ownership in this area. Owning a car of any sort here is a luxury, and if you're paying Soho loft prices just to park a car you might take out to the Hamptons or Berkshires every few months or so, it pays to aim low.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.
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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.