What do I drive?
Nothing impressive. I drive a Volvo 850 with a 2.4L I-5 engine and a 5 speed manual. ~160HP, 0-60 takes about 9s. I have 100,000+ miles on the car, and I think I will keep it until parts start falling off. I bought the Volvo after college, used, because I wanted a safe, comfortable car with a reliable powertrain. So far it has been exactly that--safe, very ergonomic, but not very exciting.
I haven't done much to the car, except to upgrade the sound system with an MP3 capable head unit and better speakers, and replace worn shocks with better than stock units. I think the car is worth all of $4,000 at this point. I keep toying with the idea of adding an aftermarket turbo kit, and a lowered suspension kit, but I'm too cheap to do it.
Not my actual Volvo, photo courtesy of Edmunds.
What car would I drive if I decided to buy something different?
The new Volvo S40/V50 is a very good car, but it is a little too small for my taste, in the second row. I like the Volvo S60/V70, especially the R versions, but Volvos are fairly expensive to own--when something breaks, you pay out of the nose for it. And, despite Ford's efforts, Volvo is not yet a terribly reliable brand, plagued by electrical problems. I have no problem recommending a Volvo--just be aware that it will not be as cheap to maintain as a Toyota.
Also from Ford, I like the Mazda6 (3.0L V6, manual) and Mazda3 (2.3L I4 manual). The Ford Fusion looks like it might be a good car, but you can't buy on with a V6 and a manual transmission. A 2.3L Fusion with an aftermarket turbo might be fun. I love the design of the Mustang, but I think its muscle-car DNA would annoy me after a while, and I like having 4 doors. A Jaguar X-Type would be a steal, but I am not sure about reliability, and the depreciation would be brutal. Maybe I would buy a used one.
On the GM side, I am oddly attracted to the Chevrolet Cobalt SS--but I would hack off the wing, with prejudice, as soon as I got it home. I also like the Pontiac/Toyota Vibe, especially if I could get a turbo for it. The Pontiac G6 GTP with a manual is high on my list. I would also look at a Cadillac CTS, used. I think the Saab 9-2 ("Saabaru") would be a neat car, as would a Subaru Impreza wagon, despite its bland styling. I also like the Saab 9-3. I fantasize of someday owning a Corvette.
None of Chrysler's cars do anything for me at the moment. The 300 is too gangster for me, and can't be had with a stick. The Charger is interesting, but automatic only. I like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, but I wouldn't drive a large SUV unless it was given to me for free.
Toyota? I won't buy one, for loyalty reasons, but the Scion Tc looks a little like a Volvo, and a great value, so I like it. The rest of Toyotas lineup? Zzzzzzz. Toyota needs to hire some braver stylists.
Honda's Accord coupe is nice, but a little sleepy looking. There is something about the Element's boxy practicality that appeals to me. I really like the Acura TL. Again, loyalty prevents me from buying.
Nissan Altima and Inifiniti G35 are very good cars, with a great powertrains. But they are "the enemy".
My current top 3 picks are Mazda6, Pontiac G6 GTP, Volvo V50. Strange grouping, I agree.