Alfa Romeo 156 GTA

The best sports saloons for under £10k

The best sports saloons for under £10k

If for some reason a small two-seater sportscar simply doesn’t fit into your lifestyle, there are other ways of quenching your thirst for exciting driving.

There’s a long list of larger, more practical, but no less exciting sports saloons that are capable of putting a dirty great smile on your face. Here are eight of the best.

W211 Mercedes-Benz E55

The W211 Mercedes E55 comes from a time when AMGs were as much about cosseting as they were about tyre-shredding performance. That said, there’s plenty of the latter. Power comes from a supercharged 5.4-litre V8 that hammers out 476PS (350kW) and a mighty 706Nm (521lb ft) of torque to the rear wheels via a conventional slushbox – factors that make its 4.7-second 0-62mph time all the more impressive.

Standard air suspension ensures it’s very comfortable, giving the E55 a high-speed ride not a million miles away from an S-Class of the period. It’s the ideal mile-crusher. Yet it’s also relatively agile, with neat body control and feelsome hydraulic steering. Having said that, a little more traction in the wet wouldn’t go amiss. Inside, the E55 is starting to show its age but still feels relatively plush. You get comfy armchair-like seats up front – complete with active bolsters that clamp your body in corners – and a back seat with acres of legroom.

The boot is also generously proportioned and there’s an estate version if you need more room. Sadly, you’ll need every one of our £10,000 to get your hands on one.

GD Subaru Impreza WRX

The Subaru Impreza rumbling flat-four could stake an Oasis-like claim to being a sound of the ‘90s and early ‘00s, it’s that recognisable. A delivery of more than 200PS delivered 0-62mph in under six seconds and a top speed of more than 140mph. Permanent four-wheel drive was the secret to the former and it helped the Impreza deal with the UK’s patchy climate.

Sadly, the introduction of cars like the Volkswagen Golf R – with its fancy DSG gearbox and viscous coupling on-demand four-wheel drive – sounded the Impreza’s death knell. But while a WRX wouldn’t see which way a Golf R went on a country road, the Subaru has character a VW can only dream of.

This brings us to this particular GD version of the Impreza. So long as you avoid early ‘bugeye’ versions, it’s a handsome vintage, with a chunky body that earlier models missed out on but without the ugly hatchback rear-end of later offerings. Our £10,000 buys you an exceptionally nice WRX but you could also take a gamble on a leggier (and significantly spicier) STi variant.

X350 Jaguar XJR

While this version of the Jaguar XJR lacks the svelte lines of the models that preceded it, it’s still the one we’d recommend. The X350 XJR is notable for its aluminium body that – larger than the car it replaced – meant the big Jag was capable of surprising fuel economy. Around 30mpg is within reach – not to be sniffed at in a 400PS (294kW) super saloon. That said, it’s the XJR’s performance that’s most notable.

Its supercharged 4.2-litre V8 offers effortless overtaking grunt – even compared to the competition of the time – and a buttery smooth ride makes this a great machine for tackling long distances.

Inside, the XJR misses some of the older model’s character but it’s a lot more spacious, with a usable back seat and a huge boot. Wood and leather are not in short supply, either. The best part about this unloved Jag is the price, with mint examples on offer for well under £10,000.

Saab 95 Aero

In lieu of a Volvo T5 saloon (sorry, fast Volvos need to be estates in our book), it’s the Saab 95 Aero that flies the flag for Sweden on this list. Unlike its countryman, the 95 wears its saloon car body well with a chiselled front end and handsome lines that bring to mind the aeronautical theme Saab loved to play on.

Performance isn’t jet-like but it’s not far off. Turbocharger torque and 250PS (184kW) mean the Saab delivers in-gear performance to humble far more exotic machinery and it is also an exceptionally comfortable cruiser. Unfortunately, it’s no B-road blaster. Traction is limited and the Vauxhall Vectra-derived chassis – although heavily modified by Saab – can feel all at sea if you stray above eight-tenths. But, with your family abroad, you’re unlikely to do that.

Instead, it’s better to marvel at the restrained good looks of the spacious cabin – complete with its Night Panel that reduces distractions by dimming all but the speedo at night. Our £10K budget means you can pick from the best examples.

Audi S4

The Audi S4 takes its place on this list based on its engine alone – a 344PS (253kW) 4.2-litre V8 that produced more thunder than a tropical storm supercharged by global warming (ironically, its replacement would be a supercharged 3.0-litre V6 with little of the older unit’s charm). The V8 started with a characteristic rumble that manifested into an old-school bark before you grabbed another gear in the six-speed manual box, revelling in the throaty splutter as the revs dropped. It’s pure theatre.

Which is just as well, because the S4 was not all ‘that’ in corners. With a large portion of its V8 sitting ahead of the front axle, it tended to understeer, which was exacerbated by the standard quattro four-wheel drive.

That said, there’s still a lot to love. The S4 looks as smart today as it did when it went on sale in 2005 and inside you’ll find an example of peak Audi interior – one that’s beautifully built, easy to use and has plenty of room for a family. Prices start from a mere £7,000.

BMW 335i

The days of the £10,000 M car might be far behind us but that doesn’t mean you’re all out of options. The 335i BMW 3 Series is a sparkling example of the hidden gems lurking below the M-car halo. Its lusty turbocharged 3.0-litre straight-six has the power to worry hot hatches (and a soundtrack they’d kill for), with over 300PS (221kW), 0-62mph takes well under six seconds and you get a 155mph top speed. The rear-wheel drive chassis is a joy to behold and – unlike newer versions – you can also have a (rubbery) manual gearbox.

Adjustable dampers are another option worth looking out for, giving a handling balance that ranges from surprisingly comfortable to deliciously taut. The 335i gets all the sensible stuff right too. It looks ‘right’, the cabin design is blissfully intuitive and you can tickle 40mpg with a light right foot. All in all, the 335i could be one of the best cars – of any type – available for £10,000.

Alfa Romeo 156 GTA

We couldn’t write this list and not include an Italian stallion with room for four. But while the Ferrari-engined Maserati Quattroporte seems like an obvious choice, the DuoSelect automatic is your only option at this price and it is plagued with slow shifts and dismal reliability. The Alfa Romeo 156 GTA has no such problems.

Its six-speed manual will never age the car (we’d avoid the Selespeed auto), while the Alfa’s magnificent-looking Busso 3.2-litre V6 is arguably more characterful even than the Maser’s unit. Delivering a rich growl you’ll not find in anything modern. Sadly, the driving experience isn’t quite such a delight with torque steer and understeer aplenty. But, hey, at least it’s a challenge.

The standard 156, with its hidden rear doors and offset number plate, looks great and the GTA’s extensive body kit only adds to the sense of occasion. Considering their rarity (around 150 are left), £10,000 for a well-used example of this practical saloon seems like money well spent.

Vauxhall Insignia VXR

While the Vectra VXR was a tyre-smoking, understeering mess of a fast saloon, the Insignia VXR was rather good. It was, like the old car, a performance bargain giving you a 325PS (239kW) 2.8-litre turbocharged V6 (0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and a 155mph top speed) for the price of a bog-standard BMW 3 Series. But, unlike the car it replaced, it could also handle. Sure, it doesn’t have the rear-biassed feel of a fast BMW but standard four-wheel drive means it grips hard and is never flustered.

It’s also very comfortable if you’re looking for something to while away the miles in. The Insignia doesn’t have the wide-boy image of VXRs of old, either. Its clean shape and tight shut lines are more Audi than fast Ford – only the lovely ten-spoke alloy wheels hint that this is the performance model.

Inside, it’s more stereotypically ‘Vauxhall’. A sea of black plastic meets your eyes and the scatter of buttons doesn’t look tidy, but it is roomy. With prices starting from £7,000 for a car that is not much more than ten years old, it arguably offers the best value of all the cars here.

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