Lexus RX450h SE
Target Price 41,600
The Lexus RX450h isn't just about assuaging your guilt over buying an SUV. Yes, its green credentials are more impressive than those of any other big SUV, but it's a damn good car, too.
The new RX is bigger inside than the old model. There's now plenty of space for five, and the luggage room to match.
Being a Lexus, every model comes loaded with enough kit to satisfy the most demanding gadget fanatic, even if you buy the entry-level version. Step up to SE-L and you're buying some serious luxury.
It has some serious performance, too, since the Lexus proves that green doesn't have to be slow. With 295bhp, it takes just 7.9 seconds to accelerate from 0-60mph. However, it's a shame that the ride isn't more comfortable, or the handling sharper. You'll have a lot more fun in a BMW X5, and travel more comfortably in a Land Rover Discovery.
Neither rival can offer the clever hybrid technology that has gone into the Lexus, though. The combination of petrol and electric power makes the RX exceptionally efficient, with average economy of 44.8mpg, while carbon dioxide emissions of 148g/km are lower than those of a 1.4-litre Ford Focus. That makes the Lexus RX450h a truly remarkable car.
Audi A8 2.8 V6 FSI SE
Target Price 43,825
Luxury cars with petrol engines don't always make sensible buys, but the Audi A8 2.8 V6 FSI is different. The FSI engine is exceptionally efficient, returning 34mpg and emitting just 199g/km of carbon dioxide. Combine that with a low list price and you have an enticingly tax-efficient package for company car drivers. The A8 is spacious, well built and good to drive, too. Look no further for a clean limo.
BMW 335i Coup SE
Target Price 31,693
Don't order a BMW M3 until you've driven one of these. You'll have nearly as much fun for a fraction of the price of BMW's super-coup.
The heart of the car is a superb twin-turbo six-cylinder engine, putting out a massive 302bhp. It sounds great, and propels the 3 Series to silly speeds in no time at all.
The chassis is a good foil for the engine, with exceptional agility and a firm but comfortable ride. There's also enough space for four adults, making the 335i a surprisingly practical choice.
Resale values are strong, and running costs are surprisingly modest for such a quick, petrol-powered car.
Jaguar XF 3.0D S V6 Luxury
Target Price 34,776
There's something about the Jaguar XF that lends a sense of occasion to every journey.
Take the way it looks for a start. Modern, distinctive yet definitely a Jag. The cabin pulls off the same trick, with a gear selector that rises from the centre console and air vents that swivel open as the engine stars.
The way it drives will really have you hooked no other executive saloon is so much fun to drive. Push the right pedal into the carpet and the Jag also leaps forward as if you'd trodden on its tail. All this with 42.0mpg and just 179g/km of CO2.
Few cars feel, or are, as special as the XF.
Land Rover Discovery 2.7 TDV6 XS
Target Price 32,385
The Discovery 3 has been around for a while now in fact, the Discovery 4 is just around the corner. Even so, this is still our favourite big SUV.
No other SUV is so good at being all things to all people. Its as relaxed and comfortable as any executive saloon on the daily commute, yet the Disco is just as happy lugging around the whole family, thanks to the spacious seven-seat cabin. Come the weekend, it will tow a horsebox, speedboat or caravan anywhere you want to go. As a do-anything,
go-anywhere machine, the Discovery has yet to be beaten.
Porsche Boxster 2.9
Target Price 33,704
For pure driving pleasure, there's little to touch the Boxster: everything feels so right.
The steering is close to perfect, thanks to a steady stream of feedback and near-ideal weighting. Think about changing direction and the Boxster shifts course it's almost instantaneous in its responses.
The 2.9-litre model isn't as quick as the Boxster 3.4 S or a 911 Cabriolet, but it's fast enough for most of us and sounds wonderful. It also keeps the price down to 34k.
If we're being really picky, it's a shame that options are so pricey and that dealers aren't more willing to talk discounts. Otherwise there's little to complain about, and so much to enjoy.
Porsche Cayman 3.4 S
Target Price 44,372
If the Porsche 911 is too expensive, don't think buying a Cayman means settling for second best. It might not have the iconic name, but the Cayman S is the best Porsche you can buy.
Yes, a 911 is quicker, but isn't 5.3 seconds to 62mph fast enough? More importantly, the Cayman handles better than its famous big brother. With the engine in the middle of the car rather than hung out over the rear axle, the cornering balance is improved.
Quite simply, this is the best performance car for less than 50,000.