Luxury car What we were looking for: A car to meet the expectations of those with blue rather than red blood in their veins, but that will still keep the bean-counters happy.
The contenders Best buy under £50,000 Audi A8 2.8 FSI SE List price £49,995 Target Price £44,219 Best web price £40,297 (www.autobytel.co.uk)
Best buy £50,000-£100,000 Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI List price £54,702 Target Price £51,124 Best web price £49,054 (www.carfile.net)
Best buy over £100,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom List price £269,500 Target Price £269,500 Best web price na
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The winner is… Luxury car Mercedes-Benz S320 CDI List price £54,702 Target Price £51,124
Mercedes' S-Class diesel remains the epitome of affordable luxury motoring, but does so without cutting corners.
Just occasionally, we get pangs of guilt about calling the Mercedes S-Class a luxury car. The phrase implies that it's a frippery, something you could do without, when in reality many models lead extremely hard-working lives. So, maybe it would be more accurate to call it a luxurious car, acknowledging both its craftsmanship and its usefulness.
That's especially true of the S320 CDI, which is a model bought through need rather than to flatter the ego of its owner. From the efficiency of its 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel engine to the comparative strength of its second-hand values, this is a car that just makes sense.
It's not even in the top road-tax band (although it is in the highest company car tax bracket, because of the 3% loading on some diesels) and, with things as they are, we reckon you shouldn't have too much trouble improving on the £3500 discount we managed.
Return to its best When the current S-Class was launched we said this was Mercedes-Benz back to its best: the finest materials, scrupulous attention to detail and total focus on what buyers of the finest saloon cars expect. The ambience in the cabin is calm and soothing, with an imperious air-sprung ride and a virtual absence of external noise that allows owners who prefer to sit in the back to work or listen to music unhindered. A long-wheelbase option is available for an extra £4000, but there's really no need to go to such lengths: the standard car is more than roomy enough.
In our opinion, it's far better to be behind the wheel. The new BMW 730d might be better to drive than the S320, but not by as much as you might think. They have the same amount of turbodiesel torque propelling them with almost indecent vigour, and ultimately the S-Class is the faster of the two.
With a seven-speed ZF automatic gearbox assisting the V6 engine, the Mercedes is a model of refinement, and far more agile than a five-metre car has any right to be. Invariably, you arrive at journey's end in fine shape.
The gadgets Naturally, being the flagship model from a German manufacturer, there's no end of technology on offer in the car to add to your comfort, safety and well-being — and, during the course of this year, more safety upgrades will be added. So, in giving class honours to the current S-Class, it's only fair to point out that an even better one is waiting in the wings.