Comfort on a budget - When a small car just won't do
Johannesburg - A nicely-trimmed new Polo costs about R300 000, and it is a fine car indeed. But what can you do if you need more space, prestige or luxury from your car, but your budget will only go so far?
We take a look at some large executive saloons available around the same price point.
Bear in mind that these cars (all between 4- and 7 years of age) will come without a maintenance plan, though – so it would be wise to invest in good mechanical breakdown insurance to cover unexpected repairs.
1. Jaguar XF
This stylish saloon has been around for the best part of a decade, but it remains as much of a style icon now as it was when it first appeared. And, because the all-new model boasts an evolutionary design language, the first-generation cars still look fresh and modern. It's also an absolute joy to drive, with sparkling handling dynamics and a range of engines which still provide plenty of go, even in comparison to newer offerings.
The downside is a cramped rear cabin and a small boot opening, but it's probably no worse in this regard than that new Polo.
Which one to look for: Try finding a late-model XF 3.0D S. It uses the same turbodiesel V6 as the new model (here producing 202 kW and 600 NM), combined with a slick-shifting 6-speed automatic, and it moves with real authority without consuming a huge amount of fuel.
If you can't find one to your liking, the 2.0 turbo petrol or 2.2 turbodiesels are also worth considering, but they do lose out on the charisma (and voomah) which comes with the bigger diesel. Avoid the V8 version, because it doesn't bring any real-world performance benefit, yet has a serious drinking problem.
2. BMW 5 Series
The F10-generation of 5-series saloon was replaced by an all-new model about a year ago, but that doesn't mean that the old-generation car is outdated. You still get most of the latest gadgets inside, and the range of engines are thoroughly up-to-date. It also doesn't look all that different from the latest model, and it's supremely comfortable and spacious.
Which one to look for: You'll probably be limited to a 4-cylinder variant at this price point, but that's not a great downer. The 2.0-litre petrol engines are nice enough, but the smart money will go to a 520d: there's enough power to be useful, but it will also be extremely frugal with the expensive dinosaur juice.
The 535i, with its storming turbo 6-cylinder petrol, will be mighty enticing too, but remember that its thirst is directly proportional to its ample power.
3. Audi A6
There's a new A6 on the way very soon, but it's again an evolution of the old one. And while its design is getting on in years, the build quality and interior are both absolutely top-notch. It's properly spacious as well, with a generous rear seat area and a cavernous boot. Engines are also much the same as you'd find on any new VW Group product, so they should prove to be fairly robust and economical.
Which one to look for: Yet again, the best options will all carry 4-cylinder engines. You have a choice between petrol- and diesel powered fours, but the diesel will likely prove to be the best bet. Not only is the 2.0 TDI amazingly frugal, but it delivers a healthy slug of torque which matches the (usually fitted) MultiTronic CVT very nicely.
However, make sure that your breakdown insurance makes provision for gearbox repairs, as these CVTs have a bit of hit-and-miss reputation for durability. Best would be to find one of the rare 2.0 TDI manual versions, really.
4. Lexus ES
You might wonder why we choose the FWD Lexus ES over its more sporting RWD GS sibling, but there's a perfectly sensible reason for this: the Lexus ES simply offers the most spacious cabin and smoothest, quietest ride this side of a long-wheelbase Mercedes S-Class.
If you're looking for an affordable, reliable and roomy sedan, there's probably no better choice than a Lexus ES. It's also quite current, and is still offered in much the same form as it was launched about 5 years ago.
Which one to look for: The normal ES 250 will do nicely, thank you. There isn't a massive flood of power on tap from the normally-aspirated 4-cylinder mill, but it does its thing quietly enough to convincingly impersonate a limousine. It also has sumptuous seats and a high spec level. Rather avoid the ES300h Hybrid, though – it's a bit of pain to drive, and its droning CVT is mildly off-putting.
5. Infiniti M
This is a bit of an off-beat choice, but may just prove to be the biggest bargain of the lot. Combining excellent handling dynamics, a spacious cabin with all the toys, and ample power into a large RWD saloon with unique styling, the Infiniti M really deserves more attention than it's been getting in the marketplace. It's also really comfortable (being Infiniti's largest saloon), and it's built with typical Nissan durability as a cornerstone.
Which one to look for: Your choices are a bit limited, because they're not exactly all that common out there. The majority of Infiniti M variants sold in South Africa came with Nissan's excellent V9X 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6, but that's the option to go for anyway: it's frugal, impressively powerful, and it even makes a nice noise.
Other engine options include the 3.7-litre V6 petrol and a 5.6-litre V8 petrol, but those are all very thirsty and not all that powerful. Rather maximise your savings and stick with the 3.0 diesel.