"There's something about the design language of Italian supercars and sports cars that just exudes coolness," says Ray Wert, editor-in-chief of the car blog Jalopnik. "An Alfa Romeo 8C? Sex on wheels. Maserati? Gorgeous. Basically any Italian car will make you cool--with the exception of a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. Those brands are so overplayed."
Wert contends that those two most iconic of Italian brands are too stereotypical to actually raise their drivers' coolness quotient--though he admits that Ferrari's new FF, due out next year, may be different, at least for a while.
"It's one of those situations where, for the first couple of months, when you're the first guy who people have seen in that car, you're cool," Wert says. "But when you're the second guy, you're not." (Ferrari declined to comment on the record for this story. Seems it prefers to let its product speak for itself.)
Tough crowd. Apparently if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, cool has got to be obvious to everyone.
The Rules of Cool
Fortunately for drivers less intuitively cool than others, there are some general guidelines that determine whether a car is cool.
For instance: The car must not be awkward to get into or out of. The extremely low-riding Lotus is disqualified here, while the slightly higher Audi R8, for instance, is not.
Also: A truly cool car must have two doors rather than four, and it must not have undue amounts of chrome or unnecessary design accents on the exterior (this disqualifies any blinged-out Bentleys,BMW's admittedly great but four-door M-line sedans, and the aggressive Aston Martin Vantage, which has huge vents carved on its hood and chrome throughout the interior (though the Aston Martin Virage or Aston Martin Rapide would qualify for consideration).
Above all, a cool car must look effortless.
"Cool is self-fulfilling," says Tim Philippo, product manager for Jaguar North America. "Cool is really satisfying only yourself: You are complete within your coolness."
"We're not the obvious choice when you hit the lottery, but people still buy the new cars because they appreciate the design and the luxury," he says. "There's something that stands out about a Jaguar."
A vaunted history makes for another rule of thumb: Vintage cars are almost always cool, but you've got to do them right. An old car paired with an old driver will only look cheesy, Wert says.
"Absolutely vintage is cooler, except if you go too far back," Wert says. "Pick a target age: If you're a 25-year-old and you're driving a 20-year-old Lamborghini, that's fine because that adds 20 years to your age, so you'll be 45. That's fine. If you're a 30-year-old driving that 20-year-old-car, you're now 50. So you have to even them out. "
And if you're 70?
"An Alfa Romeo 8C, because it shows that you're hip and with the kiddies," Wert says.
Simple enough. But what about that fine line between something amazing and something amusing? The Spyker C8 Aileron is pretty flashy, but its authentic aviation-inspired engineering and design elements keep it in the cool column. And at 1,200 horsepower, the Veyron Super Sport may seem too outrageous to make this list, but it's tough to argue with the fact that anyone who drives one will be swarmed with gawkers ogling the $2 million machine--and talking about how cool it is.
The final component of coolness has to be exclusivity. Many of the cars on our list are indeed extremely rare--most people haven't heard of the GTA Spano or the Gumpert Tornante, which only adds to their aura.
"There definitely must be an element of mystique with a cool car, something that eludes definition," says Sarah Durose, a spokeswoman for Aston Martin. "People want something special; they want something unique." Aston makes only 5,000 cars a year worldwide.
All that said, there is probably only one absolute rule when it comes to cool cars, and it should go without saying: No minivans allowed.