The best luxury cars to buy in 2020

From shabby chic to plutocratic pomp, behold the top ten luxury cars to seek out in 2020

By PH Staff / Thursday, October 22, 2020

It doesn't take long on PistonHeads to find yourself disappearing down a bargain barge wormhole. Be it a forum thread, a classified find or an editorial missive, you're never far from something fast and formerly luxurious.

Much of the appeal of course is based on the breakneck rate at which such cars lose money. Upmarket models are where the industry's insatiable need to keep its wheels turning meets highly fickle customer demand: no one who can afford a six-figure saloon is interested in an old one, so the churn is relentless. Hence the multitude of candidates in the classifieds.

Even the most cursory search throws up some real gems, although we've inevitably saved anything with fewer than four doors for future countdowns. That leaves mostly large saloons – the conveyor of kings and despots through the ages – but not exclusively. Let's get started, m'lud…

Up to £2,500…

  • Jaguar XJ (X350)

Yes, it really is possible to buy an X350-era of XJ for £2,500 in 2020. It's not going to be the very best example out there for the price of a fancy three-piece suit, but it's impossible to ignore the flagship when buying luxury on a tight budget.

That's because, despite its retro look, the model marked a radical overhaul for the XJ in 2003. Aluminium construction reduced weight and increased stiffness, while air suspension provided all the rolling refinement a legion of customers expected from the XJ. Diesel was also seen in the car for the first time, alongside a new supercharged V8.

Of course, more than a decade after production and with huge mileages accrued in silence, many X350s are no longer fault-free. The aluminium can corrode, especially where it meets the steel, and faults are known around the air springs and ECU. Even so, to have so much Jaguar panache for so little money is a splendid place to kick off. There's also the possibiility that the X350 generation might eventually start to appreciate. Certainly it's not going to get any cheaper.

Up to £5,000…

  • BMW 7 Series (E38)

Slowly but surely, the E38 generation of 7 Series is beginning to acquire a following for itself as a collectible BMW. It's not hard to see why. It hails from what many see as a golden era for BMW design – think E39 5 Series and E46 3 Series – the range-topping saloon still assuredly handsome more than 25 years after launch. If, inevitably, somewhat smaller than you remember.

The good looks, fine engines and rewarding driving experience have inched the Bond-approved E38 away from Shed status to something more valuable. Not before time, it might be argued. In 2020, £5,000 buys a nice, presentable, usable six-cylinder 7 Series, or a slightly tattier and older version of the 735/740 V8s. In fact, in terms of residual value, they are beginning to overtake the later, Bangle-designed E65 7 Series as the earlier cars acquire classic status.

Which comes with its own risk, of course, the E38 being a fiendishly complex and expensive model made almost entirely in the 1990s. But with a wealth of specialist knowledge out there, and BMW saloons moving ever further away from this time honoured template, a sensible 7 Series purchase could well turn out to be a savvy move in years to come.

Up to £10,000…

  • Audi A8 (D3)

Though the D3 generation of Audi A8 was not as groundbreaking as the first, it wasn't without merit. Not only did it keep the Audi Space Frame aluminium construction, it also introduced adaptive air suspension, a six-speed automatic gearbox and – perhaps most notably for this rundown – a W12 engine. True, the 6.0-litre unit had been seen in a few D2s towards the end of its life, but this was the first time the engine had been available to UK buyers.

The notion of being able to buy a modern 12-cylinder engine, plus a whole car, for less than £10,000, sounds obscene at a time when such vast engines are the preserve of exotica. But the W12 isn't built to enthrall its driver; it is meant to deliver the bottomless pit of power and torque which makes virtually any forward speed seem plausible. Remember this wasn't even the performance derivative of the A8 in period – the 5.2-litre, V10 S8 was given that job.

As with much else on this list, a car once so costly and now so cheaply bought won't be without issue – and that's without factoring in the fuel cost. Check everything works, obviously, including the MMI, and ensure that engine has been properly cared for. A smaller V6 or V8 would probably do the job just as well, sure – but where's the luxury in that?

Up to £15,000…

  • Maserati Quattroporte

It's easy to forget nowadays, but the arrival of the fifth generation Quattroporte in 2003 was quite a surprise. During the 1990s the four-door Maserati had been a quirky luxury offering that only appealed to those who lived and died by the Trident; its 21st century equivalent could hardly have been more different. With a howling V8, smart good looks and a more traditional billing as an opulent saloon, the Quattroporte finally looked a valid alternative to the usual suspects.

It still does, in fact, especially when £15,000 buys one of the more desirable, automatic Quattroportes. This proved a better fit for the package than the original DuoSelect automated manual, and is worth seeking out. While not short of problems – from subframe rot to Skyhook damper failure – the QP 5's popularity means a good support network is available. And it's always easier to excuse a car that costs this little and looks this good.

Up to £25,000…

  • Porsche Panamera

With Porsche's four-door now in production for more than a decade, there's a treasure trove of options lurking in the classifieds. Though time hasn't exactly been kind to the way the Panamera looks (it wasn't particularly kind on the morning of the first day) there's no denying the return value of a 500hp Turbo available for £25,000.

That doesn't mean the model hasn't improved with time – the latest version is one of the world's premier luxury saloons, largely thanks to a very Porsche-like process of painstaking evolution – but that doesn't mean the original car didn't earn its own laudable achievements. The idea of building a front-engined saloon in the Porsche mould was considered risible, until the manufacturer actually did it. Alongside the Cayenne, the Panamera proved that its engineers were capable of just about anything.

Naturally it won't be as capacious or as cossetting as some of the alternatives, but it still covers ground in a way that few cars of its weight or dimensions could ever claim to better. The combination of four-wheel drive, PDK transmission and instant turbo V8 performance redefined expectations for luxury saloons. With the intensity of something like a BMW M5 and the fit and finish at near Bentley calibre, it's no surprise that the Panamera proved popular despite a face only a mother could love.

Up to £35,000…

  • Mercedes-Benz S65 AMG (W221)

Choosing the S65 AMG as the S-Class representative is like choosing a Brazilian striker to front your football team. Frankly we could have plucked a model from any era at any price and it would not look out of place. The S-Class is that dominant. It's simply a case of choosing whether or not to go retro and restrained or more contemporary and flamboyant. An icon of the past, or one to be revered in years to come…

At £35,000, the choice is pleasingly vast, with lovely versions of the classic W116 and W126 on offer. Even allowing for some recent appreciation, the groundbreaking W140 of the 1990s is well within budget. If you really wanted, most W222 S-Class can be bought for £35,000 as can a S500 V8 petrol or S500E six-cylinder hybrid.

But we're suckers for big engines in big luxury cars, so with this amount of money it would have to be an W221 S65. For the best in executive excess, it's hard to beat. With 6.0-litres, two turbos and enough torque to pull the Bundestag (probably), the S65 existed purely to satisfy anyone who deemed the hugely fast S63 not imperious enough. Unsurprisingly, there weren't that many of those people, and a shrinking buying audience alongside profligate emissions ensured its demise. Which is all the more reason to take the plunge now. This allowance ought to buy a car less than 10 years-old and with around 60,000 miles. Prepare to be amazed.

Up to £50,000…

  • Aston Martin Rapide

It's no coincidence that British carmakers prop up this list and top it off. The UK car industry truly excels in two areas: making things go quick round a track and making things which look at home when parked in front of Blenheim Palace. The Rapide is the most sporting of the domestic crop and is as much a 2+2 DB9 as a dedicated luxury car. But we defy you to sit in one and feel short changed. It's pure class, and for £50,000, approved used versions of the 470hp original are now available with fewer than 25,000 miles. Forego the dealer backing and examples of the much improved, more powerful Rapide S sneak in on budget too, which is a heck of a lot of cachet for – relatively speaking – not much money.

The Rapide's appeal, beyond those forehead-slapping good looks, is wrapped up in its capacity for connecting its driver to something traditional – its glorious old school V12 – while not sacrificing on the conveniences of a modern saloon. There really is nothing like the four-door Aston to drive: the hydraulic steering is lovely, the ride and handling compromise spot on, and the noise unsurpassed. All the attributes that made cars like the DB9 and DBS so enjoyable, only with space for a couple of extra passengers. Small ones, yes, but passengers nonetheless. And anyway, the Rapide might not have looked so stupendously lovely if Aston had made it bigger. Couldn't have that.

Up to £75,000…

  • Range Rover (L405)

There are several SUVs which could be considered serious pretenders to this list, but only one with the heritage to actually make it into the running. The reasoning is simple: for half a century the Range Rover has made it onto the driveways and into the garages of people who could easily have acquired any luxury saloon in the world. But they chose Land Rover's flagship instead, and we all know why.

No car commands a niche like the Range Rover, combining imperious off-road ruggedness with the opulence of a limo. It is slower than most of the cars on this list – but none can claim to convey you about town in greater comfort, and in the L405's case, few can claim to offer its occupants quite the same feeling of innate goodness which comes from sitting in any of its heated seats either. No wonder it's been constantly imitated over the years.

For £75,000, you get your pick of the older, more collectable cars, although anyone pursuing luxury for its own sake would be advised to buy as close to the car's build date as possible. Fortunately, the ultimate in modern Range Rover driving – the SVAutobiography – is available the money. It's a veritable feast of luxuriant leather, cool metal and V8 fury – and helpfully cheaper than when it was new. It'll eventually depreciate to half this price again, more than likely; but what a wonderful way to do it.

Up to £100,000…

  • Bentley Mulsanne

According to the employees of Crewe and Goodwood, there are only two luxury carmakers in the world. We might have picked any number of cars from the former, but we went with its most recent relic. For those who deemed the 21st century Continentals too nouveau riche, the Mulsanne was a return to traditional Bentley values: the 6.75-litre V8 was in residence, powerful as a tyrant and smoother than cashmere, the passengers drowned in expensive materials and the miles passed by unheralded. It was, and still is, a truly superior automobile.

For those of not in line to inherit any land during out lifetime, the Mulsanne's propensity to depreciate has only served to make it more enticing. Amazingly, early and well used examples now cost from £50k; at this more generous budget – though still less than half the new price – buyers can pick up an even more powerful Mulsanne Speed with little more than 10,000 miles from a Bentley dealer.

True enough, the manufacturer has exceeded even itself in recent years and the latest Flying Spur could justly claim to be one of the world's premier four-door models. But even with every possible caveat associated with running a Bentley with an engine fit for a cruise liner, the appeal of the outgoing Mulsanne undeniable. Embrace it while you can…

Sky's the limit…

  • Rolls-Royce Phantom VIII

The reinvention of Rolls-Royce during the 21st century has been a remarkable feat to witness. What were once stuffy, unimaginative barges almost indistinguishable from contemporary Bentleys have become the pinnace of modern luxury. Even BMW's triumph in reviving Mini pales into insignificance when compared to the introduction of the Phantom in 2003. It was a triumph of techology and tradition; peerlessly at ease with looking back, even while it surged effortlessly forwards.

Lost in the noise around the Cullinan, the Phantom VIII has quietly but very effectively updated the recipe. A new platform, a reworked V12 (reworked to deliver a proletariat-scattering 664lb ft) and a sumptuous interior overhaul have once again ensured its status as, broadly speaking, the very best luxury car in the world. What's more, even Rolls Royce can't escape the ravages of depreciation; early Phantom VIIIs, with insignificant four-figure mileages showing, already have £100,000 off. Happy shopping.

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