Best buys £20,000-£30,000

Make big savings on sporty and prestige models you thought were out of reach

Porsche 911 (2005/39k miles)

Price: £26,250

Price when new: £68,645 | Model: Carrera S | Engine: 3.8-litre 6cyl, 355bhp 

CO2/tax: 277g/km/£460 | Economy: 24.6mpg

Euro NCAP: N/A | Driver Power: N/A

The new Porsche 911 has just arrived, but the previous 997 model is still at the top of its game. For £26,250, we found a 2005 3.8-litre Carrera S with only 39,000 miles and a full Porsche service history. Behind the wheel you’ll enjoy the great handling and everyday usability only a 911 can deliver. The strong flat-six engine sounds amazing, the steering is alive with feedback and the combination of razor-sharp reactions and superb traction makes this the default performance car for the enthusiast. With its rear seats and deep front boot, the 911 is relatively practical, too, although road noise can irritate on long motorway trips. Keep an eye out for cars with optional PASM dampers – they improve the ride, but can be costly to fix. Most owners will have delved into the extensive options list, so you can expect sat-nav and leather trim. Later examples were also available with the excellent PDK twin-clutch gearbox, but for keen drivers the slick manual car will be more desirable.

Maserati Quattroporte (2005/38k)

Price: £21,995

Price when new: £74,347 | Model: 4.2 4dr auto | Engine: 4.2-litre V8, 395bhp

CO2/tax: 370g/km/£460 | Economy: 17.9mpg

Euro NCAP: N/A | Driver Power rating: N/A

Exclusivity is guaranteed with any Maserati, and the Quattroporte saloon is a stylish, characterful alternative to a Mercedes S-Class or BMW 7 Series. However, there are definitely some cars to avoid if you’re buying used. Most models we found featured the 395bhp 4.2-litre V8 – the quicker 4.7-litre was only introduced in 2008. The jerky and slow Duo Select gearbox spoils the otherwise thrilling dynamics. A smoother, full auto option arrived in 2007, but this will set you back another £5,000.

Top tip: Buy from a franchised dealer and you’ll find it hard to beat Lexus. In 2011, the upmarket brand secured the top spot in six out of seven customer care categories.

Audi A6 saloon (2011/5k miles)

Price: £24,690

Price when new: £30,145 | Model: 2.0 TDI SE | Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 175bhp

CO2/tax: 129g/km/£95 | Economy: 57.6mpg

Euro NCAP: ★★★★★ | Driver Power rating: N/A 

The all-new hi-tech A6 only arrived in showrooms last year, but it’s already possible to grab a used bargain. Audi’s big saloon appeals to head and heart with its sleek styling, surprisingly low running costs and impeccable build. SE models are the ones to go for – they don’t get the sporty looks of the pricer S line versions, but ride far better and come with all the equipment you’ll need. The really good news is that a 2011 car with just 7,000 miles on the clock will set you back only £24,000 – that’s a hefty £6,000 saving on a new example.

BMW X5 (2007/28k miles)

Price: £23,999

Price when new: £47,760 | Model: X5 30d SE | Engine: 3.0-litre 6cyl, 235bhp  

CO2/tax: 214g/km/£260 | Economy: 34.9mpg

Euro NCAP: N/A | Driver Power rating: N/A

The current-shape BMW X5 is still one of the best 4x4s you can buy, and is now available second-hand for the same price as a new Volkswagen Passat. It’s marked out by permanent four-wheel drive, a 620-litre boot and strong performance, particularly in desirable 30d form. Its smooth straight-six diesel engine delivers 235bhp and more than 500Nm of torque, yet still returns 35mpg. Even SE models come well equipped, plus they’re more comfortable than M Sport versions. We found a clean, low-mileage example for only £24,000.

Here’s what we drive…

Mazda 323F Dean Gibson, production editor

"I Chose the 323F nine years ago as I wanted a car that was practical and sporty, yet isn’t a run-of-the-mill choice. I love that pure nineties teardrop shape and the frameless windows, but the real highlight is the 2.0-litre V6 under the bonnet. Servicing is expensive and it’s quite thirsty – I’ve never bettered 30mpg – but the engine sounds great when you push it."

Lexus LS (2007/39k miles)

Price: £29,500

Price when new: £81,160 | Model: 600h | Engine: 5.0-litre petrol-electric 

CO2/tax: 219g/km/£216 | Economy: 25mpg

Euro NCAP: N/A | Driver Power rating: N/A

It's not the most handsome luxury saloon on the market, but the Lexus LS is one of the most refined. Acres of rear legroom, cosseting leather seats and top-notch build quality make it an excellent used buy – as long as your pockets are deep enough to meet the steep fuel and servicing costs. It’s the flagship of the Lexus range, and there are two petrol V8s to choose from. The 4.6-litre can be snapped up for £15,000, but we’d be tempted by the incredible 5.0-litre hybrid, which packs 439bhp and four-wheel drive.

Mercedes E-Class Estate (2010/15k)

Price: £24,950

Price when new: £43,865 | Model: E350 CDI Sport | Engine: 3.0-litre V6, 261bhp 

CO2/tax: 192g/km/£245 | Economy: 39.2mpg

Euro NCAP: ★★★★★ | Driver Power rating: 7th

The Mercedes E-Class blends huge space, top-notch quality and a rock-solid image, and is one of the most desirable estates money can buy. Highlights include a 1,905-litre boot and optional seven-seat layout. Like most premium cars, it’s available for a lot less than you might think. Demand is highest for diesels. The efficient four-cylinders start at around £23k, while the rapid E350 CDI can be bought for £27k. If you don’t cover a huge annual mileage, then a bargain-priced petrol version could be worth a look, too.

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