16 Nov 2013

Five blue-chip 21st Century luxury cars for under £5k

Graham King takes a look at some seriously luxurious motors for five grand.

A while back I showed you four luxury cars you had probably forgotten about that could be bought on the cheap. While researching it I noticed just how cheap proper, blue-chip, 21st Century luxury cars have become.
So here’s five examples that are all for sale right now for under £5,000. They all represent a helluva lot of car for the money. Take your pick…

Car: 2003 Audi A8 4.2 quattro Price: £4995 See it here

Engine: 4172cc V8 Power: 330bhhp 0-60mph: 6.1secs Top speed: 155mph

Of all the German luxury cars, the Audi A8 has always been the one that’s flown under the radar. And it’s hard to work out exactly why. It could be the styling, which is very discreet. But it’s still a handsome thing. Maybe it’s a bit of badge snobbery. But the Audi name has always spoken to me of peerless design and quality. Or it might be the less than sparkling handling. But it has four-wheel-drive, so it’s very safe.

Whatever you think of the A8, there’s no denying this 10-year-old, second-generation car with less than 100,000 miles for under five grand is astonishing value. It doesn’t seem to be loaded with options, but it has everything you need. And it looks fabulous.

They do suffer some electrical gremlins, particularly the rear electric parking brake motors which cost £600 a side to replace. But the all-aluminium structure will never rust.

I’ve always liked the undercover nature of the A8. Sure it might not be particularly exciting to drive, but you trade that off with all-weather security. And the slightly harsh ride is offset by extremely comfortable seats. It’d be my choice without even looking at the other options here.

Car: 2002 BMW 745i Price: £4450 See it here

Engine: 4398cc V8 Power: 328bhp 0-60mph: 6.1secs Top speed: 155mph

Your opinion of fourth-generation BMW 7-Series will likely be dominated by its styling. Chris Bangle’s creation remains controversial, though I don’t find it as offensive as some do. I’ll leave you to make up your own mind…

As every generation of 7-Series does, this falls somewhere between the A8 and the Mercedes S-Class in ride and handling terms. It’s by far the most athletic of the three to drive. And while ride is a bit more cosseting than the Audi’s, it still isn’t as plush as the Merc’s. But there’s a huge amount of rear legroom and the interior’s a nice enough place to be.

This one seems ludicrously cheap at under £4.5k, even with 105k miles - still a lot less than average for an 11 year-old car. I’m not a huge fan of the colour combination or the wheels, though. And it has the infuriating 1st-gen iDrive unit. And the ‘sealed for life’ auto ‘boxes are prone to failure after 120k-ish miles as you can’t change the fluid - a new one is £3.5k plus fitting. And big, cheap BMW’s have always had a bit of an image problem…

Still, it’s an awful lot of metal for your money.

Car: 2003 Jaguar XJ 4.2 SE Price: £4990 See it here

Engine: 4196cc V8 Power: 300bhp 0-60mph: 6.3secs Top speed: 155mph

The lone Brit in this list is easy to overlook because it seems so old fashioned. And while the (undeniably handsome) exterior and interior styling of this fourth-generation XJ are little changed from the original, what lies underneath was bang up-to-date. And to some extent it still is. The structure is entirely aluminium, and the 4.2-litre V8 engine is still in production in 5-litre form.

As you’d expect of a Jaguar, the ride and handling are sublime. It’s a shame, then, that there isn’t all that much space for such a big car - the rear has about as much room as a Mondeo.

This example is simply stunning in light blue and only has 69k miles. The interior looks to be very clean too - the previous owner clearly didn’t wear jeans. The dashboard is a button-fest, but the wood and leather are properly special.

Jaguars have been built properly for the last 15 years or so, so reliability should be good, but this generation of XJ has an odd problem: despite all the aluminium, they can corrode quite badly. Much of the car was riveted together with steel rivets. These react badly with the aluminium, causing corrosion. Check carefully.

But whatever the potential pitfalls, I think this one is a hugely desirable thing.

Car: 2002 Mercedes S500 Price: £4950 See it here

Engine: 4966cc V8 Power: 297bhp 0-60mph: 6.3sec Top speed: 155mph

There are many reasons why a £5,000 Mercedes S-Class would seem like a good idea. It’s comfort and refinement are beyond reproach, it’s a good looking thing and this one comes loaded to the gunnels with kit. But there are many more reasons not to buy one.

The W220-generation S-Class came along when Mercedes was going through a bad patch. As such, they can be riddled with faults. They rust for a start and the 30 year anti-corrosion warranty is only valid with a near-enough full Mercedes service history. Electrical faults crop up all over the place, so you have to check every single gadget to make sure it works properly. And as I’ve said, this one has lots of gadgets. It also has air suspension which can drain the battery when parked for a prolonged period. Worse, it can collapse altogether effectively reducing the car to scrap, it costs so much to repair. Oh, and the ventilation drains can get blocked, letting water into the electrics and potentially knackering the entire loom - check for damp carpets in the passenger footwell. At least it should be mechanically bulletproof.

This S500 seems sound, but personally I would only buy it if I could afford to throw it away if (when) anything goes wrong.

Car: Volkswagen Phaeton 3.2 V6 4MOTION Price £4995 See it here

Engine: 3189cc V6 Power: 236bhp 0-60mph: 9.4secs Top speed: 148mph

Perhaps a left-field choice this, and the only car here with six cylinders - there is a V8 version, but I couldn’t find one in budget. The Phaeton has an almost total lack of image, slightly lazy handling and in V6 guise, somewhat less than energetic performance. But it’s supremely comfortable, refined, spacious and has faintly ludicrous levels of attention to detail. At buying one second-hand, someone else has paid for the huge depreciation.

This one looks completely anonymous in black with small wheels, though I don’t actually mind that. The interior looks great and has plenty kit. There are some electrical niggles to look out for and for some reason, if one shock absorber goes you have replace all four, a £3k repair.

I’ve always admired the depth of engineering quality in the Phaeton, from the wonderfully over-engineered boot hinges to the beautifully damped action of everything that moves in the interior. As a showcase for what Volkswagen could do given free rein to build a luxury car, it more-or-less works. As a luxury car though? Well, let’s say it’s best if you just want to waft around in absolute comfort and complete anonymity. But I want more than that.

Article by Graham King