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.