Price new: £30,950
Model: XF 2.2D SE
Engine: 2.2-litre 4cyl, 187bhp
CO2/road tax: 149g/km/£145
Price Now: £14,990 (2011/61-reg, 75k)
Annual sales of the XF have climbed every year since its launch, and it’s not hard to see why. The Jaguar has a top-quality cabin with a touch of theatre – such as the revolving air vents on start-up – and it focuses on refinement rather than driving fun, making even the 2.2-litre diesel a quiet long-distance companion.
With 187bhp this is a fairly quick machine, but it’s cheap to insure and run. Be aware, though, that the SE doesn’t include satellite navigation – vital in this market sector – so it may be worth spending a little more money on an SE Business model, which does.
Price new: £28,045
Model: 520d SE
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 181bhp
CO2/road tax: 129g/km/£110
Price Now: £10,999 (2010/60-REG, 82k)
There's no better executive saloon than the 5 Series, and what makes the 520d remarkable is that it blows expectations out of the water: a big four-door car powered by a four-cylinder diesel engine shouldn’t be anywhere near this quick, quiet, refined or economical.
It’s great to drive, too, and while it’s not the last word in involvement – a long wheelbase and overly light steering see to that – its rear-wheel-drive chassis is certainly more engaging than on the Audi A6 or Mercedes E-Class.
In order to keep a current-generation 5 Series below £11,000, you’ll probably have to stick with a six-speed manual rather than the popular eight-speed auto box, but the 520d SE comes with a generous standard spec: leather upholstery, 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control and a high-resolution colour infotainment display linked to BMW’s iDrive control.
Better still, the cabin is vast, with plenty of head and legroom in the back and loads of handy storage. And while the traditional four-door saloon body isn’t the most versatile, the 520-litre boot is well shaped and there’s a useful split-fold function.
Quality is superb, as you’d expect – but what you wouldn’t expect is to be topping 50mpg with ease, as you will do on a daily basis. Only its common-as-muck popularity, justified though it is, might put you off.
Price new: £30,145
Model: 2.0 TDI SE
Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 175bhp
CO2/road tax: 129g/km/£110
Price Now: £15,000 (2011/61-reg, 47k)
Competition is fierce in the large executive saloon market, where high CO2 emissions figures can mean big company car tax bills. But as subtly revised models replace yesterday’s fleet favourites, private buyers looking to pick up a bargain can turn to used German four-door cars as
a cheap and cheerful way into premium motoring.
Audi’s current A6 is a strong performer, serving up a cost-effective mix of power and efficiency. The 175bhp 2.0 TDI engine is punchy yet refined for a four-cylinder, while CO2 emissions of 129g/km mean it will cost £100 to tax.
This A6 has been on sale for four years now with minimal changes, so you’ll get a decent level of equipment suited to business users – especially the intuitive MMI multimedia interface controlled by a central rotary dial. The cavernous interior feels upmarket and refined, and is comfortable for long journeys. Just watch out for cars with rock-hard S line suspension – SE-spec versions ride better.
BMW’s best seller has always been a big hit with fleets and private customers alike, making it a regular in the top 10 of the new car sales charts.
This popularity means the 3 Series frequently outsells supposedly more mainstream models, such as the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia. A large part of its appeal lies in the image. BMW’s status as a premium brand is without question, and the E90 3 Series – produced between late 2004 and late 2011
– exemplifies this, with sharp, angular styling and superb build quality.
Even though the oldest examples are now over nine years old, they still feel modern and well screwed together. Throw in Touring estate and folding hard-top Convertible versions, and the appeal of the range is clear.
So, the 3 Series has plenty of reasons to attract second-hand customers. Add its superb handling, even in entry-level trim, and the fact that it’ll raise a smile even on the most mundane journeys, and our compact executive class champion is a tough act to beat.
The 3 Series range comes in two distinct flavours: the sports models, which are powerful and focused on performance, and the business-oriented models, which are powered by efficient, yet pokey, diesel engines. The latter make more compelling second-hand purchases and are much more common on the used market.
The reasons for this are obvious. Fleet managers can put a BMW 3 Series on the company roster, run it for three years and retire it from active duty with around 60,000 miles on the clock having encountered very few problems. And stronger-than-average residual values mean the cars are still worth
a lot, so overall they don’t cost much to run.
As a used punter, that’s great news, as it means there’s a strong supply of well maintained 318ds and 320ds on the market. Offer a 3 Series a good home, and you won’t be disappointed.
Lexus’ compact exec has always been a little left of centre, with its petrol only, six-cylinder engine strategy. The second-generation was a bit more mainstream with a diesel option, but didn’t sell in great numbers, so is good value today.
By virtue of its 4.2-litre V8 engine, a 2003 Audi S4 looks pretty old school now, and it takes a special type of commitment to satisfy its demand for super unleaded fuel and a £500 annual tax bill. Still, the reward is a near-five-second sprint from 0-62mph, accompanied by the sort of soundtrack that smaller-capacity modern turbos cannot provide.
It’s also relatively easy to drive quickly due to its quattro four-wheel-drive set-up. Add to that the build quality we’ve come to expect from an Audi, and the S4 is an alluring high-performance family car for less than £6,000.