CHRISTMAS IS upon us. The presents are piling up, the wrapping paper is running out and who knows where the sticky tape has gone. For Driving it’s a time to sit back and cruise the classifieds: what better way to summon up some Christmas cheer than by dreaming about buying an impossibly stylish car?
We’ve rounded up six of the most desirable cars in the world; better still, we’ve found them for sale at prices that are around half what you would pay if they were new.
From luxurious sporting saloons that can soothe away the stresses and strains of a painfully early-morning drive to the in-laws’, to rip-roaring roadsters that will blow away the cobwebs after days of overindulgence, there should be something for drivers of all tastes.
As ever, the cars we’ve found are representative of what you’ll find at franchised dealerships and are supplied through manufacturer-approved used car programmes. This means they should have been mechanically inspected and prepared to a high standard, come with a minimum of a year’s warranty and have perks such as a 30-day no-quibble returns policy.
The glamorous convertible: Maserati Gran Cabrio
- Best for: touring the Cap Ferrat
- What you’ll get: 2011 Gran Cabrio, 54,000 miles, £55,900
Admit it: you’ve already pictured yourself and your partner cruising deliberately slowly around the Cap Ferrat peninsula, the roof of your Maserati retracted, the sunshine sparkling off your Ray-Bans and the V8 engine burbling away in a gear lower than is strictly necessary.
Yes, you too could be living the dream – but at a far more palatable price than the £97,195 a new Gran Cabrio costs. We found a Maserati dealer selling a 2011 model with 54,000 miles for £55,900; add a personalised numberplate to it and onlookers will have no idea it’s not the six-figure status symbol they’d imagined.
The 4.7-litre engine sounds magnificent, a mechanical melody of eight cylinders bellowing like Pavarotti
Unlike a Porsche 911 or Ferrari California, the Gran Cabrio can fit adults in its back seats, so taking a couple of friends to the beach is a breeze. This is because it’s a long car, at more than 16ft – which might make parking tricky, especially when you’re under the watchful glare of onlookers taking coffee on the seafront promenade.
To drive, the Gran Cabrio is not quite as heavenly as it looks, but those who just want to sit back and cruise will find plenty to admire. The 4.7-litre engine sounds magnificent, a mechanical melody of eight cylinders bellowing like Pavarotti, and the six-speed automatic gearbox has flappy-paddle controls for when the mood takes the driver. It’s a bit heavy and the engine feels a little sleepy at low revs, but at only a little over half price this is a seriously tempting convertible.
The luxury saloon: Jaguar XJ
- Best for: retreating from the world and taking to the back seat
- What you’ll get: 2011 XJ Supersport, 25,000 miles, £35,990
If you walked into a Jaguar showroom tomorrow and told the salesman you wanted to buy a new XJ Supersport flagship saloon, he’d be rubbing his hands with glee under the desk. Why? It costs £95,895 – a huge amount of money in anyone’s book. But guess how much you could buy a shiny, sub-30,000 mile, three year-old model for. Under £36,000.
Yes, the mathematicians among you will have spotted that that is less than half price. But the pessimists out there will be thinking, “What if it goes wrong after the first year I’ve owned it?” Easy: take out an extended warranty from Jaguar. It will cost £1,119 for a further year’s cover, which gives an owner new-car standards of protection without having to spend more than £95,000 for the privilege.
This is Jaguar at its very best, a car that oozes confidence and sophistication
And what of the XJ Supersport? This is Jaguar at its very best, a car that oozes confidence and sophistication, thanks to a striking design that stands out in a conservative part of the car market. The interior is equally bold, and like an elegant country-house hotel that’s been given a modern makeover inside, it mixes plush luxury with classic style.
The back seat is the perfect place for retreating from the world, as there’s plenty of room to stretch out (especially in versions with the longer wheelbase) and the boot holds 520 litres’ worth of presents. The trouble is, you’ll be itching to climb into the driver’s seat: with a 5-litre supercharged V8 engine that kicks out 503bhp, this 155mph XJ has the makings of a true thoroughbred beneath the surface.
The posh roader: Land Rover Range Rover
- Best for: plain sailing up the yacht club slipway
- What you’ll get: 2012 Range Rover 4.4 TDV8 Vogue, 37,000 miles, £38,850
Ah, the yacht club slipway: a test for any 4×4 where the slightest slip-up could result in not only a very wet car but also public humiliation that you’ll never live down. The good news is that the Range Rover will ace slipways – and much more besides.
This is the previous-generation Range Rover. It’s here because, well, you try finding a half-price example of the current car – it’s too new and too in demand. Whereas the old car is in plentiful supply and surprisingly affordable, yet still drives supremely well compared with the competition.
There has never been a version with seven seats, but the boot will hold hampers, and champers, galore
A Range Rover will waft you home from a charity ball in the City in complete comfort just as well as it will plough its way from stand to stand at a shoot in the Cotswolds. For a budget of less than £40,000, a Land Rover dealer will sell you a 2012 4.4-litre TDV8, which has a muscular diesel engine and is ideal for towing heavy loads (up to 3,500kg).
It is not particularly fuel-efficient – you’d be doing well to get 30mpg – but the interior is a beautiful place, a great improvement on that of pre-2009 models, thanks to a dramatic overhaul that includes a stylish rotary controller that rises majestically from the centre console to control the 8-speed automatic gearbox. There has never been a version with seven seats, but the boot will hold hampers, and champers, galore.
The oligarch’s option: Rolls-Royce Phantom
- Best for: front-of-house parking
- What you’ll get: 2006 Phantom, 19,100 miles, £134,950
Welcome to the rarefied world of Rolls-Royce ownership, where drivers are called James, children speak only when spoken to and no matter where you go the best front-of-house parking spot can be cleared at a moment’s notice.
If you think nearly £135,000 is a lot of money – and, let’s face it, it is – then consider the size of the Coutts cheque that must be written for a new Phantom: £310,200.
The Phantom is unlike anything else on the road. Not many will feel at ease behind the wheel of such a potent symbol of wealth, even if it is the most comfortable car in the world to ride in. The 6.8-litre V12 engine is virtually silent, making the Phantom as quiet as an electrically powered car. At first it’s an eerie sensation, but being able to hold a conversation in whispers is a neat trick that will impress passengers.
Carpets are thicker than the ones in Buckingham palace, chrome-plated umbrellas spring from the rear doors and beautifully polished walnut-veneer tables glide down from the front seats to give back-seat passengers a place for their brandy on a chill winter’s day.
It drinks fuel faster than Oliver Reed gets stuck in at the green-room bar
Naturally, if you have to ask about running costs, this isn’t the car for you. It drinks fuel faster than Oliver Reed gets stuck in at the green-room bar, and servicing and running costs are commensurate with the price of the car when new. But the thought that someone else has, theoretically, borne the brunt of the depreciation, to the tune of £175,000, could make this a deal too good to resist.
The screaming supercar: Lamborghini Gallardo
- Best for: standing your hair on end
- What you’ll get: 2012 Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, 4,800 miles, £144,950
There are those who believe a Lamborghini should be a wild ride. They say the driver should feel like a matador staring a bull in the eye, knowing that one false move could spell disaster. And they say – Driving included – that the latest Huracan isn’t like that, that the bull has been tamed.
The Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera isn’t tame. It is one of the wildest supercars ever built by the Italian car maker, a car for setting the driver’s pulse soaring off the scale, standing their hair on end and bringing out beads of sweat across their brow.
The noise of the 5.2-litre V10 engine is stupendous, a deafening bellow that cranks things up to a Spinal Tap 11. There is 562bhp to play with, but it doesn’t arrive until 8000rpm, so there’s no getting away from the noise for drivers who want to go fast.
Every hairpin is an opportunity to explore the way the four-wheel-drive system sends 70% of the engine’s power to the back wheels.
And that, presumably, includes anyone who slides into the deep racing seat of the stripped-out Superleggera. It will storm from standstill to 62mph in 3.4 seconds and howl its way to 202mph. Admittedly, the e-gear automated manual transmission operates with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer dropped on a little toe, but in a way each slam of the gears adds to the adrenaline.
Driving the Superleggera is always an event. Every hairpin is an opportunity to explore the way the four-wheel-drive system sends 70% of the engine’s power to the back wheels. It’s so much more thrilling than the new Huracan.
So much cheaper, too. By the time you’ve ordered a Huracan with a few choice extras and matt paint, it’s a £200,000 car. The rare, collectable Superleggera looks a good investment by comparison.