Jump forward in time, and let's imagine what cars they'd drive if they were going to a dealer today.
I just learned on the TV news that Barack Obama enjoys watching Downton Abbey. I’m not sure what impact that has on his policy agenda, but it’s nice to hear that our head of state is emotionally involved in the life stories of such beautifully drawn characters as Mrs. Patmore, dominator of the kitchen, and Lady Mary, the emotionally challenged widowed aristocrat.
One thing Downton Abbey and President Obama have in common is an extremely rich online population of detail checkers and historical-accuracy wonks. Check out for yourself the Internet Movie Car Database, which grouses:
“The second season ends in 1920, yet we see a 1925 Sunbeam and numerous Model T Fords that hadn't been built yet.” Excellent point, although not one that takes much away from enjoyment of the period-charm series.
It made me wonder, though: Suppose there really was no need for historical accuracy, and the characters in Downton Abbey could step out of time and choose whatever 2014 model car they felt best expressed their personalities?
Here’s a highly subjective list of some of the current starring women of Downton Abbey, and what I imagine they would choose to drive from today's showrooms. What do you think of my suggestions? Got some of your own? Please comment!
1. Violet, The Dowager Countess of Grantham (Maggie Smith)
First of all, the Dowager Countess would never stoop to drive herself. She is shown in Season 4 of Downton Abbey being chauffeured in a traditional 1920s luxury tourer. As a modern shopper, I think she would choose a Mercedes-Benz S550 sedan in basic black with the nut brown/black leather interior and burl walnut trim, none of which cost extra. It could be driven by a modern-day chauffeur quite well. She’d give approval to the heated rear seats ($620), but she’d disdain the cabin fragrances and air purification of the Air Balance package ($350) as tacky. Total cost: $94,445, including destination. As Oscar Wilde would say, Violet is a woman who has very simple tastes: she is always satisfied with the best.
Jean disagrees, feeling sure the Dowager would have a Rolls-Royce. Much as I can see Violet in the back seat of a Phantom, I believe she'd choose a lower profile and more discretion on modern streets. But let's split the difference and presume she would own both the Rolls and the S-Class.
2. Cora, Lady Grantham (Elizabeth McGovern)
Coming from money that she couldn’t keep control of, and far from her home country, Lady Grantham needs to be driving an American car. I'd love to see her in something resolutely modern, in which, as a soon-to-be empty nester, she can go have an independent adventure for once. How about a Tesla Model S? Hers would be in Tesla's aristocratic-looking multi-coat Pearl White. She'd also get the all-glass panoramic roof. Inside would be tan leather seats with lacewood accents. The price would come to $69,720 total, assuming she got the U.S. tax credits, and she can have one of the footmen plug it in during the evenings.
3. Lady Mary (Michelle Dockery)
Her husband having been killed behind the wheel of a sporty AC Six Roadster in Season Three, Lady Mary will value safety...and a closed roof. I see her in a top-end Audi A8 4.0 TFSI, with quattro all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission. She’ll choose it in a personality-matching Glacier White metallic, with Titanium Gray Valletta leather seats. Lady Mary will definitely check the box for the $3,250 Driver Assistance package (adaptive cruise control, top-view camera, Audi side assist, and lane assist), plus the required additional Premium package ($4,000) with LED lights, ventilated massaging front seats, and more safety features. None of it might have saved Matthew, but Lady Mary is all about self-preservation. She’s got an empire to build. Total cost: $91,150, including destination.
4. Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael)
Left at the altar, undermined by her older sister, and condescended to by almost everyone else, Lady Edith is just not a lucky person. She loves cars, though, so let’s picture her going down the road in the new BMW 4 Series coupe. (She does seem to have Germany in her future, after all.) Let's let her have it in the Sport Line trim. Hers might be the Mineral Grey Metallic outside, and an interior in Coral Red Dakota leather with black accent stitching, complemented by brushed aluminum trim. She'll take the Technology package ($3,150) giving her BMW's navigation system, head-up display, and smartphone apps, and the Dynamic Handling package ($1,000) for the variable sport steering and adaptive M suspension. She'll want to be civilized but drive fast, and there's no doubt she'd be an early adopter of technology. Top it off with the six-speed manual transmission (a no-cost option), and she'll be paying a reasonable $53,775 (including destination). Her other car, by the way, is a black Chevrolet Corvette roadster.
5. Lady Rose MacClare (Lily James)
A relatively new addition to the ensemble cast, Lady Rose is young, silly, and doesn’t mind slumming at a thé-dansant with the working class, as long as she can get back into her silk in time to join the ruling class for dinner at the castle. She’d like to drive a Mazda MX-5 Miata to let her buzz back and forth from one walk of life to another. The Miata would be the top Grand Touring model with a power retractable hard top and black leather seats. She’d look at it in Zeal Red but go with the cuter and less aggressive Liquid Silver in the end. She’d pay an extra $1,390 for the Premium package to get the Bluetooth connectivity that she'd rarely stop using while driving. Total cost: $32,735. I suspect she’s destined to be married off before long to someone who has a Bentley and no sense of humor, so let her have her fun for now.
6. Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton)
Mrs. Crawley is nothing if not sensible. She always has some kind of social-work project or garden activity in the works, so she would be an excellent customer for a Volvo wagon. The Volvo XC60 T6 AWD crossover would suit her need for timeless quality and meet her requirement for strictly no frivolity. She might choose it in Twilight Bronze Metallic (a $550 option), a resolute color for middle-class tastes. Inside, she’d pick the Soft Beige leather upholstery and walnut trim. She’d spring for the rational Technology package ($1,500) for its adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert, and collision warning with auto brake. She might add on the park assist camera ($850) but would draw the line at adding any luxury options with no practical purpose. Total cost: $45,365, including destination. She’d enjoy bringing it in under $50,000, I suspect.
7. Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan)
The Scottish house mother puts on no airs, but her longing for a little romance in her life is undeniable. She should be driving something indulgent, but she’d be more likely to turn wistfully to a duller car. But this is my fantasy, so she gets a Cadillac ATS. She’d choose it in Radiant Silver, with the base 2.5-liter four-cylinder that makes 202 horsepower, and choose the caramel-and-black leatherette interior. Since this would be a big expenditure for her, she’d spring for the theft-deterrent Advanced Security package ($380). She’d love the Cadillac CUE telematics and the SiriusXM, both included. Final price: $35,270, including destination. Maybe she can get Carson to go for a spin.
8. Anna Bates (Joanne Froggatt)
Anna has made the best of the hard knocks she’s been presented with, and who (besides Thomas Barrow, perhaps) can fail to love her? She is always warm and kind, but clearly she has very few illusions. Even if she had money, she would not waste a cent on comforts for herself. Her husband, of course, Mr. Bates, needs an accessible vehicle. I think the Bateses would like a Dodge Grand Caravan. Minivans are easy to get in and out of, and they are practical for the occasional picnic or trip to London to investigate the latest intrigue in either of their lives. (Besides, I harbor a personal hope that they’ll have or adopt children eventually.) They’d pick the base American Value Package model, in cheerful Redline Red. Despite the base trim level, they’d get Chrysler’s UConnect audio, a six-speed automatic transmission, and a 3.6-liter V-6. Mrs. Bates would appreciate this simple but friendly transport, especially since she’d get it for a total of $20,490.
9. Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol)
I love the frazzled kitchen despot Mrs. Patmore. She’s very uncomfortable with technology and change, so she will need a car that is extremely user-friendly and traditionally designed. She’d probably love the Toyota RAV4. I think a woman who spends most of her life trapped below stairs would enjoy a moonroof, so she’ll step up to the midlevel XLE to get one. She will stick with the front-wheel-drive model, though; no AWD newfangledness for her. The four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission are plenty exciting enough. She’d like the pretty green Spruce Mica exterior, which would go nicely with what’s left of the red in her hair, teamed with a sensible black cloth interior. Total price: $25,150. I just hope she takes time to go for a drive on her half-day off.
10. Daisy Mason (Sophie McShera)
Last but not least, we come to Daisy, the kitchen maid turned assistant cook. She still wears her wedding ring, I noticed in Episode 1 of Season 4, although her marriage to a dying young soldier lasted only minutes. This hard-working girl is still a dreamer, and since she has become close to a doting father-in-law, she is definitely on the move upward from extremely impoverished beginnings in life. She would look good behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Beetle, and she'd like one in sunny Yellow Rush. Let's make it the TDI for durability and fuel economy; Daisy is likely to keep a car for a long time. The Sunroof, Sound & Navigation model, with a six-speed automatic with Tiptronic and sport mode, adds up to $28,915, a lot for an assistant cook but not too much for the eventual head of the Downton kitchen. Take that, Ivy!