We rate our top premium bangers, spanning from an Audi TT to a Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit to a Jaguar XJR.
by James Ruppert
26 January 2019
Any twit can buy a car for a few quid and feel morally superior – until it breaks down. What takes real guts is buying a high-end motor at a low-rent price.
The potential for disaster is greater, but think of the fun you could have with a car that has depreciated from fantasy to reality.
There are more used cars around in January as people part exchange and get ready for the plate change, and dismal weather means that buying anything right now is often a distress purchase. Stylish coupés aren’t quite so desirable, and who needs a luxobarge if they don’t have a chauffeur?
Yes, it’s a great time to buy a used car with a premium badge.
- Cost new: £50,850
- Cost now: 2002, 85,000 miles – £4290
The upside for buyers of premium used cars is that it’s impossible to fault Lexus on the grounds of quality. So yes, the SC is beautifully built, but that just isn’t enough at the luxury convertible end of the market, which explains why one of these isn’t as desirable as a Merc SL.
SCs are, however, bought by wealthy types who like their cars, so expect a full service history. Anything scruffy or blingy should be avoided. There shouldn’t be any problems, but if there are it’ll be roof sensors seized through lack of use and maybe underside corrosion.
In its 20th birthday year, is BMW’s original SUV back to its very best?
Find an Autocar car review
Choose a makeAbarthJACAllardAlfa RomeoAlpinaAlpineArielAscariAston MartinAudiBACBentleyBMWBorgwardBowlerBugattiBYDBytonCadillacCaparoCaterhamChangan AutoChevroletChryslerCitroenCupraDaciaDallaraDavid BrownDodgeDSEagleElementalEternitiFerrariFiatFiskerFordGreat WallGeelyGinettaGumpertHennesseyHondaHongqiHyundaiInfinitiIsuzuItalDesignJaguarJeepJIAKen OkuyamaKiaKoenigseggKTMLadaLamborghiniLanciaLand RoverLexusLincolnLotusLynk & CoMahindraMarcosMaseratiMaybachMazdaMcLarenMercedes-AMGMercedes-BenzMercedes-MaybachMG MotorMiniMiaMitsubishiMorganMS-RTMurrayNextEVNioNissanNobleOldsmobileOpelPaganiPeroduaPeugeotPininfarinaPorscheProtonQorosRadicalRamRenaultRimacRiversimpleRoeweRolls-RoyceRoverSaabSeatSenovaShelbySinSkodaSmartSpykerSRTSsangyongSSCSubaruSuzukiTataTeslaTigerToniqToyotaTriumphTushekTVRVauxhallVencerVeritasVolkswagenVolvoVuhlWestfieldWeyZenosZenvoZolfeZoyte
Then a model
Driven this week
25 January 2019
Volvo XC40 T4 R-Design Pro AWD long-term review
Can a shot of the Volvo XC formula work in its smallest measure? Six months..
25 January 2019
BMW 8 Series Coupe
BMW flagship returns after a 20-year hiatus to inject some glamour into the..
24 January 2019
Toyota Yaris Hybrid GR Sport 2019 review
Yaris Hybrid gets GRMN-aping performance suspension and a sporty new look but..
Mercedes-Benz SL350 (2005, 157k miles, £4695)
A more stylish coupé-cabriolet than the Lexus but slightly more likely to have an electrical issue or two. Otherwise, a wonderful way to show off – provided it’s straight and tidy.
Jaguar XK8 4.0 Cabriolet (1998, 114k miles, £6595)
A brilliantly old fashioned way to go topless. It weighs a lot but the point is to be seen and it rumbles around with real purpose. Prices are now on the up for these, and it’s easy to see why.
Maserati 4200GT Coupé
- Cost new: £56,650
- Cost now: 2003, 71,000 miles, £8950
Squeezing a Ferrari into our Banger line-up would have been a bit of a stretch. The nearest we can get is the M138 V8 engine made in Maranello, a legendary badge – Maserati – and everything built in Italy.
Here’s a supercar that can be bought for around £5k (sometimes), although it’s probably best not to. Instead, find one with good history. The 4200GT is ferociously expensive to run. You need to change the timing belt every 12,000 miles, warning lights are a way of life (it will always cost £100 to switch it off) and there may be rust. This isn’t very Bangernomics, but it is a Maserati.
BMW 645CI (2004, 141k miles, £3999)
A large, purposeful and not that pretty coupé, but the petrol V8s are at least now pretty cheap. Great for smashing long distances into submission in the most comfy fashion. A 6 Series is solidly reliable, provided it has been looked after. Unfashionably brutish, so quite brilliant.
Audi TT (2001, 107k miles, £1350)
There’s a decent argument here for an Audi A5, but that is just too boring. TTs, though, are currently incredible value, particularly the first-generation cars, so let’s give another well-deserved mention to a chic sports car that still looks like nothing else on the road.
Rolls-Royce Silver Spirit
- Cost new: £55,240
- Cost now: 1982, 100,000 miles, £4250
Which breeze block-shaped Vickers-era luxo-barge to go for? The natural Autocar choice would be a Bentley, so let’s fly in the face of convention. Old Rolls-Royces, like a Silver Spirit, are not that cool and have descended gracefully down the class ladder to the point where potential owners can no longer cope with the 12-15mpg.
Avoid tatty examples and aim for later Spirits with ABS. Suspension and brakes are astoundingly expensive to put right. These are eminently fixable cars, but rust will be the financial killer.
Bentley Mulsanne (1986, 125k miles, £7990)
The old-school Mulsanne is available with a turbo or as an S with all the turbo trimmings, alloys and firmed-up suspension. Buyers pay a bit extra for those winged B logos, but do get a sportier luxo-barge package.
Mercedes-Benz S320 (1995, 123k miles, £1750)
Yes, proper W140s from the old days are still out there to be enjoyed. Marginal economy and excessive size mean the appeal is limited to those who appreciate the finer things in life. Build quality will never be better.
BMW X5 V8
- Cost new: £44,005
- Cost now: 2001, 160,000 miles, £1750
Arguably the most handsome and iconic of the prestige SUVs, and the first decent one. Yes, the X5 is a high-rise 5 Series, which means it’s great to drive despite the bulk.
You don’t need the 4.8iS, but you do need to be careful. Early examples can leak oil and if there’s valve stem wear you’ll see blue smoke. With all big engines, coolant leaks need to be investigated. The automatic gearbox has ‘lifetime’ fluid but it really needs changing at 70-80,000 miles. Suspension and brakes take a big beating and need to be in good health for the car to handle properly. A fresh MOT should tell you whether the bushes and boots are up to the job.
Mercedes-Benz ML500 Sport (2006, 139k miles, £5500)
A Hummer is too expensive and a G-Wagen is too cool and possibly £9k for a 1990, so the realistic choice is a big-engined M. The 500 Sport works well, especially a facelifted one. Inevitably there will be some AMG trimmings, such as alloys.
Porsche Cayenne 4.5S (2005, 88k miles, £5000)
Here’s an astoundingly capable vehicle which makes all the right noises with the V8. Running costs are eye-watering and if parts and servicing are needed they will add at least a couple of grand to the asking price. Plenty to choose from but be careful out there.
Aston Martin DB7
- Cost new: £78,500
- Cost now: 1995, 75,000 miles, £19,995
We all secretly dream of waking up with an Aston in the drive, which probably explains why they are doing so well these days. The one that started all the fuss is really an XJS in a pretty party frock and has never been better value. They seem to have bumped to something like a £20k halt, and decent ones won’t ever get cheaper.
Engines are fixable, but that bodywork is the problem. Damaged polycarbonate bonnet, nose cone and boot lid can’t be fixed. The 30k-mile service is the big one and will cost a couple of grand, which is how quickly the dream can turn into a nightmare.
Mercedes-Benz CL (2002, 117k miles, £2995)
This is either a handsome, two door S-Class or a heap of trouble. They seem to be cheap for a reason: spacious, over-equipped and ready to drain your bank account at the merest hint of trouble. Otherwise it’s great, and for some worth the risk.
Jaguar XK (2006, 145k miles, £8795)
Here’s the budget alternative to the DB7 and it still looks great and arguably better than an F-Type. Certainly more of a sports car than the previous heavy XK. The combination of a V8 and a high level of standard kit is pretty much perfect.
- Cost new: £33,950
- Cost now: 1997, 140,000 miles, £2990
Bargain basement Porkers are now Boxster-shaped. Some suffered from porous liner syndrome, which sucks up the coolant and won’t be noticed on the test drive. Early models should have a proper pressure test. Whether you go for a 2.5, later 2.7 or a top-line 3.2S, you want to see, hear and drive a smooth-running engine. Ignition coils and air mass sensors are the usual culprits.
If a Boxster is leaving puddles on the drive the crankshaft oil seal is responsible. Higher-mile models may have crashing/ knocking front suspension, which means the anti-roll bar drop link needs replacing. Skipped servicing means thin discs, noisy wheel bearings and unrepaired paintwork on door bottoms and nose.
Mercedes-Benz SLK 230 (2001, 145k miles, £1200)
Many would say this isn’t strictly a sports car. It is a Mercedes, though, and it has a trick roof, which, if it is working, means you get the best of all worlds, whatever the weather. Now very affordable, although some of those really are very scruffy.
BMW Z4 3.0L (2003, 113k miles, £2750)
Here’s a proper sports car. Find the largest six-cylinder engine you can and enjoy. The styling has certainly matured well. There are lots around and values are falling away for the earliest models. That roof is pretty nifty and does its stuff in 10 seconds.
- Cost new: £55,140
- Cost now: 1999, 143,000 miles, £3995
Fancy a Mercedes? How about one of those three-letter ones? Supersaloons were nothing new at the time, but the E55 got it right with its sledgehammer of a powerplant and comfortable fixtures, fittings and overall ride. Hand-built supercharged 5.4 V8 engine surrounded by the roomy E-Class exterior seemed like the perfect combination. Shame that it was on that rust-prone body, which can finish off the whole car if not sorted out.
Rusty wings are the most common, also sills and door bottoms. The interior is tough old-school Mercedes, though. The V8 needs looking after. Overheating will cause problems if maintenance has been neglected and waterways get blocked. The proper tyres are very expensive and sorting out the brakes usually involves a computer.
BMW 545I SE (2003, 121k miles, £4000)
An M5 would be nice, but here’s the next best thing – and all wrapped up in the increasingly handsome E60-era body. Those BMW V8 engines are great and give you 333bhp to play with. Provided it hasn’t previously been slammed into a wall, a sublime choice.
Jaguar S-Type R Plus (2003, 126k miles, £3500)
Here’s the performance Jaguar that is very much under the radar – maybe because it doesn’t look cool, just a bit odd and dated. However, it comes with a whopping 400bhp and massive Brembo brakes. You’ll come across some shabby cheap ones, but they must be avoided.
- Cost new: £28,000
- Cost now: 2006, 48,000 miles, £2495
Fancy a Caddy? Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be something huge and wallowy with the steering wheel on the wrong side. The CTS was meant to be a sort of BMW 5 Series with an American accent, or a Yankie Saab. There was all that ‘refined on the Nürburgring’ nonsense, but the thing is, here’s a Cadillac which is easy to live with, even if it isn’t that special. But it is rare. The V6 is the cheaper one as a 2.8 or 3.6, but there’s a V8 as well. Proper gas-guzzling engines, then, a not half-bad interior and a fairly sporty drive. Sensor failures seem to be the worst of it and they are generally dependable.
Audi A6 (2004, 3.1 TSI SE Quattro, 135k miles, £2490)
Those after a mid-size luxury saloon have plenty of choice when it comes to Audi. Fairly anonymous but with a big petrol engine and all-wheel drive, here’s all the comfy car you could ever need. Build quality and cabin outstanding.
Saab 9-5 2.0 TID Vector (2010, 100k miles, £4995)
Badges don’t come much more exclusive than Saab, on account of there not being any new ones. The last 9-5 was a lovely piece of industrial design. Not unrelated to a General Motors Caddy and unarguably cooler.
- Cost new: £60,970
- Cost now: 2005, 145,000 miles, £4600
Jag’s Pace products are the future, but the old-school XJ still has head-turning cred. Here is a muscular, low-lying and quintessentially Lyons-like body with a 390bhp 4.2-litre supercharged V8 that’s good for 0-62mph in 5.0sec and 155mph.
The X350 Series has still got it, but this has 40% less weight and is 60% stiffer, plus there’s realistic room for three in the back. The more complicated air suspension has some fragile parts, starting at the rear with bushes and air spring units, which can all fail at higher mileages. Interestingly, some of those parts are VW Group ones. Like many old Jags there may be rot on the doors and boot lid.
Audi A8 4.2 Quattro (2004, 122k miles, £2998)
Sensational value, these, especially the big-engined ones. What it lacks in Mercedes-style presence the A8 makes up for with a ton of toys and a really quite big boot. Fun to drive hard thanks to quattro back-up.
BMW 750LI (2005, 141k miles, £3650)
A huge car with a huge spec and a lot to worry about if things go awry. A properly big limo with variable suspension, Night Vision and massaging seats. You need a brave pill to take on a V12.
Bentley Flying Spur
- Cost new: £117,500
- Cost now: 2005, 80,000 miles, £19,600
True bargain basement Bentleys are the rectangular ones, but the Spur is effectively a four-door Continental. It’s a Volkswagen Group bitza but still a comfy limo packing a twin-turbo W12. Regular servicing keeps the engine running and you wouldn’t want to hear any nasty noises or see smoke.
Water ingress can kill the ECU, and some cheap prices are explained by peeling lacquer and paint wear caused by polishing. Accident repairs are expensive because of bonded and laser-welded construction. Marginal brakes and unbranded tyres suggest neglect.
Lexus LS430 (2003, 135k miles, £2995)
It’s impossible to go wrong with any Lexus at almost any price point. They can cost a lot to sort out so it’s important to make sure there is a full history. Everything is standard along with almost complete anonymity. Some buyers might appreciate that.
Volkswagen Phaeton (2007, 3.0TDI, 149k miles, £3495)
Not the badge you might aspire to but it is much cheaper. Others will think you have a premium Passat, but if you care about comfort and having lots of toys to play with, it works on all those levels.
James Ruppert: the best luxobarges to buy
Used car buying guide: Land Rover at 70 special
Bangers that work – 20 bargain cars that won’t let you down
Join the debate
26 January 2019
It seems that luxury cars don not have to be reliable. Those who buy them are very rich and can afford buying two for redundancy. My best way of covering the whole spectrum is buying a Maserati for Sunday driving and a Lexus for someone to drive behind.