Car hunter: Luxury saloons

8 Nov, 2012 11:00am

Our reader has £12,000 to spend on a flash, luxurious saloon. So what should he buy?

Dear Chris,
I’m looking to treat myself by buying a luxurious saloon. My budget for the car is about £12,000. Is this possible and what are my choices?
Geoff Bridle, E-mail 

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The best buys:

The classiest buy: Audi A8

Audi A8 front cornering

For: Superb refinement, build quality
Against: Firm ride, dull to drive

The Audi A8 is a masterclass in refinement and build quality. Its interior feels more special than those in its main rivals, while comfort in the back is exceptional, making it more of a treat for passengers than drivers.

On the outside, the typical Audi styling has been criticised for being a little safe, especially compared to the BMW, and the handling is tailored more towards relaxation than excitement, while the ride does feel a little firm.

There are A8s well within your budget, although you will have to go for a pre-facelift version of the previous generation, and these are starting to look a bit dated. Opt for a 3.0-litre TDI SE with 73,000 miles on the clock and you should be paying around the £11,900 mark. While this engine isn’t the strongest performer in the range, it does help to keep running costs to a manageable level.

The market leader: Mercedes S-Class

Mercedes S-Class front tracking

For: Serene inside, luxurious, refined
Against: Dated cabin design, residuals

The Mercedes S-Class has long set the luxury car standard, but the emergence of the A8 and improvement of the 7 Series meant it faced stiffer competition than ever. Still, Mercedes upped its game with this elegant, sophisticated car.

Finding an example with a reasonable mileage seems to be the hardest task, although we spotted an 06-plate 3.2-litre S320 CDI with 95,000 miles for £9,950.

Inside, the S-Class can’t quite match the style or quality standards of the Audi. But it’s still extremely refined on the move, with even the diesel engines barely audible in the car. The ride is also incredibly smooth, especially compared to the A8’s.

As with most class rivals, the handling focuses on relaxation. The S-Class’s over-light steering does show up on more demanding roads, but helps when parking.

The best to drive: BMW 7 Series

BMW 7 Series front tracking

For: Engaging handling, good engine
Against: Subdued inside, ungainly out

Rounding off our luxury saloon trio is the BMW 7 Series – a car that matches both its rivals here in most respects, but has a clear edge in terms of handling. While it still has strong comfort and refinement, it also manages to keep a touch of the agility found in smaller BMWs – although as with the Audi, the ride isn’t as smooth as the Mercedes’.

Your options with this budget seem to have much lower mileages than the S-Class. Our search threw up a 2006 example of a 730d SE that had covered 63,000 miles, which will give you £10 change from your £12k.

While the level of space inside the car is on a par with the Audi and S-Class, the quality isn’t up to the same standard. In fact, the 7 can feel rather drab and dull compared to some of its luxury saloon competitors – although there’s easily as much equipment.

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Geoff, you might also want to connsider a 2006+ Jaguar XJ Sovereign 2.7 twin turbo diesel. It has the old world jaguar charm with a lighter aluminium body, lots of electronics too. It's great to drive and reliable upto 150k+ miles too.

Also you might want to consider a 2007 Lexus LS460, yes, its a petrol but it has 8 gears and will average between 20-25mpg, it has lots of kit, luxurious through out and its very quick - it will be cheaper to service than any of the above too.

However, if you ultimately want an exclusive, flash, luxurious saloon you need not look much further than a 1997 Bentley Turbo R with 70K on the clock, the cost of servicing this beast from an independent isn't much more than a main dealer Merc S class either.

Some nice choices in the XJ, LS and Bentley.

Might throw in the Chrysler 300 which while it might not get the neighbour's net curtains twitching, has mini-Bentley looks and could easily be from the set of The Sopranos.

Otherwise, the VW Phaeton is surprisingly good value, Bentley based and has a similar badge to the AE options.

Definitely the A8 or as you say, the Phaeton. Another great luxury car that is worth a look is the Citroen C6 - but only 4 were sold in the UK last year, so a used example may prove hard to find. Avoid BMW's, they have no prestige image left now, and do not impress me one bit when I see one.

You would only spend £12k on one of these cars if you wanted the warm glow of sitting in something expensive feeling with lots of toys and effortless power. And on that basis, I'd probably go for the A8 and definitely for the 3.0tdi engine: it is punchy and refined and the whole drivetrain will easily cope with remapping, and it has lots of lovely toys as standard. The 4.2tdi is simply not worth the extra cost, weight and noise. Try to get one with side repeaters in the wing mirrors, i.e. the facelift cars. The improvements were worthwhile.

The S-class and 7 series offer slightly better ride/better driving feel, but if that is more important, surely just buy a top spec 2.5t/2.2d/2.0 ecoboost Mondeo, which is a more enjoyable drive than any of these !