These cars are bridesmaid cars because they are overshadowed and often overlooked through no fault of their own. Usually another model within the corporate family steals attention from the buyers and the media. To put it another way, if we played a game of car association, these models wouldn’t immediately be related to the automaker.

These picks are limited to the 2006 and 2007 North American model years.

1- Bentley Arnage

Overshadowed by: Bentley Continental GT

A great dilemma must bother Bentley Arnage sedan owners: drive or be driven? The Arnage was last updated in 2005 and is now offered in R, RL and T variants. The T carries a twin-turbo V8 engine under its bonnet, which produces 450 horsepower and 645 lb-ft of torque. If you have 5.5 seconds, you have time to reach 60 mph from a standstill. Flatten your right foot a little longer and you’ll achieve terminal velocity around 168 mph -- not bad for a den on wheels. If you’d rather settle in the back and be chauffeured, you can absorb the ambience and take comfort in knowing that you selected an incredibly aesthetic automobile.

Knowing the Arnage takes a back seat to the Continental GT is bittersweet. Sure, the “affordable” coupe propelled the revered British carmaker back onto the wish lists of rich guys and rappers alike. The trouble is that the Arnage was lost in the shuffle. The introduction of the Continental Flying Spur sedan may keep the old-school Arnage a bridesmaid for good.

An American tough guy gets upset by a more family-friendly relative

2- Honda Insight

Overshadowed by: Honda Civic Hybrid

As much as we love luxury and performance cars, there has always been a spot in our hearts for the Honda Insight. The first hybrid on sale in the U.S., the Insight hit dealers as Y2K fears peaked in December 1999. Not only did it look like nothing before, it was capable of some astonishing gas mileage. EPA estimates suggested 65 mpg in combined city and highway driving. We’ve since learned that’s a best-case scenario, achieved with equally strong tailwinds and karma. Nevertheless, the mileage was still great and emissions weren’t very offensive. At $19,000 without options, you paid a premium to put one in your garage, but you were also making a statement while supporting cleaner, greener technology.

The Insight’s still out there and still has a base price under $20,000. For a few thousand more, the four-door, four-seat Civic Hybrid offers an automatic transmission, air conditioning and cruise control as standard features. We’ll always like the Insight for its funkiness factor, but better values like the Civic Hybrid have relegated this showstopper to a bridesmaid.

3- Jeep Wrangler

Overshadowed by: Jeep Liberty

As many mud-splattered Wrangler windshields announce, “It’s a Jeep thing you wouldn’t understand.” Having plenty of firsthand experience with Wranglers (and their forbearers, the CJs), we get the Jeep thing. They’re iconic and project a spirit of adventure -- ready to take you anywhere the trail may wind even if it’s barely a footpath. Despite more than 60 years separating today’s Wrangler from the olive-drab workhorse of World War II, the lineage is obvious.

It’s too bad that this American icon is more of a symbol of the Jeep brand than its driving force. Much of the marketing effort seems to emphasize the Commander, Grand Cherokee and Liberty. The Liberty is most likely to sway buyers away from the Wrangler due to its similar price and the lesser off-road capability won’t be missed too much by the typical buyer.

We’re curious to know what the coming months hold for Wrangler. A freshened look for 2007, plus the introduction of the four-door Wrangler Unlimited are contrasted with the introductions of the Patriot and Compass models. Why are there so many models all of a sudden? This appears to be a Jeep thing we don’t understand.

4- Lexus IS

Overshadowed by: GS

Lexus quickly became a preferred alternative to European luxury sedan buyers, but those looking for a little sport with their luxury were left with the GS model -- sporty looking, but not terribly nimble. Feeling the heat from the competitors, Lexus produced an answer for both driving enthusiasts and younger buyers in 2001: the IS. It stood out, mainly for the right reasons, though it raised a few suspicious eyebrows. Like a CEO’s brash and unrefined son, the lineage was there, but so was a pronounced generation gap. The new-breed IS looked aggressive and poised, ready to mix it up with almost any 3-Series BMW (if not an M3).

A couple years on, the IS remained a great car and a great seller. As a small, sporting sedan, the IS was fighting for a thinning slice of the pie, as great competitive choices kept appearing. The GS, wearing more athletic sheet metal since its 2001 update, seemed to strike a better chord with traditional Lexus shoppers. Though the IS has been redesigned and greatly improved for 2006, so has the GS -- going so far as to introduce a hybrid version for 2007.

These aren’t the same station wagons that Mr. Brady drove

5- Saab 9-2X

Overshadowed by: Saab 9-3 SportCombi

Saabs aren’t for everyone, which is precisely why they are so attractive. Our love affair with them has cooled since GM entered the picture in 1990, mainly because the uniqueness and quirky essence diminished. We were excited to see the 9-2X wagon launched for 2005. Though it may be a Subaru Impreza in Swedish clothes, we think it recalls the mix of agility and utility lost with some recent Saab efforts. Too bad it’s a bridesmaid.

Other Saabs seem to get more attention than the 9-2X, especially the 9-3 SportCombi. As the 9-3 evolved from the 900, Saab’s best-known model, buyers in the mood for a wagon would be more likely to try the SportCombi on for size. The 9-3 also has more space than the 9-2X, a deciding factor for many consumers. Size aside, we still feel the 9-2X recalls the quirky days better than other late-model Saabs.

6- Volvo XC70

Overshadowed by: Volvo XC90

Like major Hollywood stars fallen from grace, it has taken a lot of damage control to repair the reputation of the station wagon. They’ve undergone extensive makeovers to distance themselves from the gaudy, wood-panelled behemoths of the 1970s. They even go by hipper names, such as “Touring,” “Sport Wagon” and “SportCombi.” Try as they might, SUVs remain the A-listers. This is true even within families, as is evident with Volvo. The XC (Cross-Country) surprised many when it appeared as a butched-up 850 wagon in 1998, but it made a lot of sense. Volvo had a vehicle with which they could simultaneously court SUV shoppers and traditional Volvo drivers wanting a little more ruggedness.

Then Volvo introduced the XC90 in late 2002 and out the window went the theory that the XC70 could cover all the bases. To Volvo’s credit, the engineers did their homework in designing this vehicle. The XC90 isn’t bad, especially with the optional V8 with 311 horsepower. Regardless, it’s a shame that the XC90’s success digs into the sales of XC70.

... so close, yet so far ...

Bridesmaid cars are models often overlooked through no fault of their own, much like a little brother. They try hard to impress us, but invariably our attention is focused on the first born -- or more luxurious. Perhaps it’s time we redirected our attention.


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