Do people who drive expensive cars like the BMW 750i or the Porsche Carrera buy them because of their equipment and handling abilities or do they buy them to achieve a certain status level? If the BMW or Porsche regularly sold for $20,000 would they still have as much appeal? Probably not, but we’re not likely going to get the chance to find out.

In a perfect explanation of how the high prices of some cars are engineered to add to their mystique, Klaus Berning, executive vice president of sales and marketing for Porsche AG, told the Associated Press recently that keeping prices high on the German sports cars was essential to the brand.

“We have never taken part in the absurd price wars in the U.S.A., nor will we do so in the future,” he said. “Our prices are sacred.”

Perhaps Porsche buyers also find the price sacred — a badge of status to be waved about at the country club.

But the rest of us car buyers are simply looking for value, and it’s hard to know when we’re paying for image and when we’re paying for usable features.

Consider the issue of upscale clones — cars that are essentially the same when it comes to engineering and many of the basic mechanicals — such as the Ford Fusion and the Lincoln MKZ.

The Fusion and MKZ share the same chassis, but the prices vary wildly. The Fusion starts at a little above $17,000, while the base MKZ starts at a little above $29,000. While it would be foolish to ignore the luxury touches in the MKZ, it’s also worth noting that in many ways they are the same vehicle.

So what’s the value of paying at least $12,000 more for the Lincoln?

To some buyers, it’s the matter of saying they own a Lincoln rather than a Ford. If that’s you, fine. Just know that you’re paying a premium for the status bump.

For buyers who want the best value for the money, sometimes it’s worth not being dazzled by the nameplate, which can carry a hidden cost.

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