Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

The best sub-£50k sports saloons for 2023

The best sub-£50k sports saloons for 2023

Need a car that can handle the daily grind of family life, while still being fun to drive when you find yourself in an empty car on an empty road? Then you want a sports saloon. Sports saloons are based on regular family cars, so they are practical, easy to drive and (for the most part) comfortable, but they also have the performance to give supercars a run for the money.

Here you’ll find a list of eight of the best, covering everything from halo BMWs to nearly new Alfas – keep reading for our guide to eight of the best sports saloons currently available.

BMW E39 M5

The E39 BMW M5 could claim to be the best M5 ever made. Its 4.9-litre 400PS V8 got it from 0-62mph in 5.3 seconds and would have exceeded 180mph were it not limited to 155. In short, it has all the power you’ll ever need. Better still, you get a V8 backbeat without the fake sound augmentation you’ll find in the latest M cars. The E39 handling also speaks of simpler times. You get a six-speed manual gearbox with a weighty shift, rear-wheel drive, and a proper mechanical limited-slip differential. The result gives the E39 M5 a delightfully analogue feel, although there’s still a stability control safety net, if needed. But the M5 can also be practical. The old-school interior has loads of room for four and a big boot, while the design has none of the chintz of later models. Cars start from less than £20,000, but a budget of £30,000 buys you a clean, low-mileage example.

Lexus  IS F

The Lexus IS F is the sports saloon for thinkers. Coming from the same people that brought us the million-mile LS400, you can expect the IS F to be resolutely reliable long after rivals – cars like the E90 BMW M3 and W204 Mercedes C63 – have gone to the great scrapheap in the sky. But, while your head will give the IS F its seal of approval, your heart can also get in on the act. Under the bonnet, you’ll find a 423PS 5.0-litre V8 that rockets the Lexus from 0-62mph in a mere 4.3 seconds accompanied by a NASCAR-like soundtrack. Sadly, the IS F couldn’t match the handling finesse of the BMW competition. The Lexus lacked adjustable dampers, had slower steering and only came with a relatively dim-witted automatic gearbox. While all that might have mattered back in the day, ten years on Lexus bulletproof reliability is likely to be a bigger selling point, especially when the best (post-facelift) examples fitted with a standard limited-slip differential cost less than £30,000. 

Mercedes AMG C63 Edition 507

The end of the V8 AMG has been looming for years but the arrival of the new four-cylinder C63 AMG hybrid means its days truly are numbered – if you want to try a ‘proper’ AMG, now’s the time. And the W204 vintage C63 Edition 507 looks like an ideal way to spend your money. It’s the real deal with a 507PS (373kW) atmospheric V8 providing a Days of Thunder soundtrack while the rear-wheel-drive chassis is a delight so long as you get a car with the optional limited-slip differential. Okay, so the Black Series is still the model to have, but the Edition 507 gives you 99 per cent of the feeling for significantly less outlay. A little over £44,000 gets you a mint example with the all-important LSD.

Alpina (E39) B10

Like all the company’s models, the Alpina B10 offers a softer, more cosseting alternative to the BMW (the E39, in this case) M5 that shares its body shell. The B10 does without the M5’s high-revving V8, instead it takes the 540i’s 4.4-litre V8 as a base, strokes it to 4.6 litres – bringing power up from 286 to 340bhp – and mates it to a slushy, five-speed automatic gearbox. Alpine also improved the chassis. You got bespoke twin-tube gas suspension struts and ventilated disc brakes all around. These ingredients formed to make a fast saloon that was easier to live with than its M Sport cousin, with lazy, low-down clout and an oily-smooth ride quality, despite Apline’s trademark combo of huge multi-spoke alloy wheels tyred with rubber bands. You get a subtle body kit on the outside, and inside, the B10 gets touches like high–quality leather upholstery, contrast stitching and the Alpina crest on a steering wheel. As a result, the B10 feels more special than an M5, although – with prices starting from £15,000 – you can pick them up for significantly less money.

Bentley Arnage Red Label

The Bentley Arnage is like a stately home with a SpaceX rocket zip tied to the roof: dizzyingly opulent, outrageously quick and capable of landing you bankrupting bills at a stroke. In the Bentley’s day, luxury wasn’t measured by the size of your infotainment screen. Instead, you get thick wool carpets, leather that will last centuries and wood veneer from actual trees. Red Label examples pack Bentley’s classic 450PS 6.75 litre V8 with a mighty 616lb ft – 50% more than earlier BMW-engined cars – that suits the Arnage down to the ground, shifting the plus-2,500kg saloon from 0-62mph in six seconds and onto a 155mph top speed. Tackling country roads, the engine barely breaches tick over as the big saloon rolls, pitches and squats like a super yacht in a swell. While an Arnage can be yours for a mere £15,000, buying the best you can afford will avoid big bills further down the road.

Mitsubishi EVO IX FQ320

The Mitsubishi EVO IX brought performance to the people in a way even its arch-rival, the Subaru Impreza, couldn’t. Mitsubishi followed a familiar formula – fitting a powerful turbocharged 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine and four-wheel drive to stiff saloon-car body. The result was a rally-stage winner and a blue-collar hero in one. But it was its cornering potential that marked the Mitsubishi out from rivals. Its Super AYC (Active Yaw Control) four-wheel-drive system could send torque to the outside wheels for arcing four-wheel drifts that were stark contrast to an Impreza’s understeer. Choose a late FQ320 version of the Evo IX and you get 320bhp, enough to catapult you from 0-62mph in a shade over four seconds. While the Evo looks like (and is just as practical) as an average family saloon – don’t be fooled, fuel economy will often stray below 20mpg and services are needed every 4500 miles. On the upside, clean FQ320s are available for around £35,000, a bargain when rare special editions easily cost triple that. 

D4 Audi S8 Plus

Few cars highlight the wonders of depreciation better than the Audi S8. New, it would have cost its owner more than £80,000, but a few years down the line (and with 50,000 miles on the clock), you can pick one up for roughly half that. The S8 is a do-anything machine – a fast luxury limo with acres of rear legroom and a standard kit list that includes everything from LED headlights to an electronic differential and a 360-degree camera. Power comes from a twin-turbocharged 4.0-litre V8 that, in the Plus model, produces 605PS, getting you from 0-62mph in 3.8 seconds and onto a top speed of 189mph (it would crack 200 with the limiter removed). Quattro four-wheel drive is standard, meaning you can deploy all the S8’s performance, all of the time. While the S8 will never be the sportiest of saloons in corners, its air suspension, double glazing and noise-cancelling stereo make it one of the most cosseting ways to cover ground, incredibly quickly.

Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

The Giulia Quadrifoglio shows how good Alfa Romeo can be with all its cylinders firing correctly. For a kick off, it looks just right. In a world inhabited by the new BMW M3, the Alfa’s Trefoil grille is beautifully discreet, and the shapely lines of the standard car are brought to life by a subtle body kit, quad tailpipes and trademark telephone-dial alloy wheels. There is just as much to salivate over on the spec sheet. Power comes from a Ferrari-derived 510PS 2.9-litre twin-turbocharged V6 that sends its power to the back wheels via a carbon-fibre prop shaft. The bonnet and roof are also made from lightweight carbon-fibre. The Alfa gets from 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and hits 191mph flat out. However, despite being savagely fast, the Giulia is surprisingly tractable and accessible. Okay, so the inside doesn’t have the million-dollar feel of the outside, but you get a proper pair of sports seats and gearbox paddles nicked from a Ferrari. Owing to Alfa’s patchy reliability record, prices are very tempting – just £40,000 is all you need for a car with less than 30,000 miles under its tyres.

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