Champagne tastes but lemonade money? Have no fear, your cash stretches further than you think, giving you access to any number of luxury and premium badges. All of the cars we’re about to unveil can be parked on your gravel driveway for less than the price of a new Dacia.
Alfa Romeo 166
Why you want it: because it’s the antithesis of a German luxobarge and it has an interior to die for. In full-fat 3.0-litre guise, it has the power to match its catwalk model styling, even if the facelift model is arguably less pretty than the original. It’s the ultimate motoring hipster statement.
Why you don’t: Alfa Romeo doesn’t have the best reputation for reliability, and although the 166 is more dependable than others, it could prove costly should the worst happen. Still, at least the days of catastrophic depreciation are behind it, although few people bought one in the first place.
Why you want it: the A8 still looks fresh today and Audi’s image is as strong as ever. The build quality is class-leading and the interior will remain rock solid even with six-figures on the clock. You can also pretend to be Jason Statham or a star of Ronin as you make your way to the in-laws on Boxing Day.
Why you don’t: because it’s an Audi, so it won’t offer the smooth comfort and joy of an S-Class. Petrol versions won’t be cheap to run, especially the W12, so don’t blow all of that £5k budget on the initial purchase.
BMW 7 Series
Why you want it: the £5k budget will allow you to choose from the very best from some of the earlier 7 Series generations. From Bond to Bangle, the polar opposites of the 7er spectrum.
Why you don’t: the fourth-generation E65 7 Series remains an acquired taste and you’ll need to spend many hours learning the iDrive system. Still, reading a BMW manual is likely to be more entertaining than watching the Mrs Brown’s Boys Christmas special.
Why you want it: the CTS looks good, has a series selection of toys and offers the benefit of rear-wheel-drive. Plus, it’s a Cadillac, which will deliver some much-needed kudos points when top-trumping with the army of office 3 Series drivers.
Why you don’t: you shouldn’t expect European levels of fit and finish or much in the way of fuel economy. Running a 2.8-litre or 3.6-litre Caddy will put you on first name terms with the cashier at the local petrol station.
Why you want it: because you’ll look like you’re starring in your own rap video. It shares many of its components with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and can be equipped with a monster 5.7-litre Hemi V8.
Why you don’t: because you’ll look like you’re starring in your own rap video.
Why you want it: it’s the last truly eccentric big Citroen and it depreciated like a stone, meaning you’ll struggle to find more bang for your French francs. It’s also a guaranteed future classic.
Why you don’t: beyond the fact that this budget is unlikely to stretch to a low-mileage example, we’re struggling to think of a reason why you shouldn’t buy a C6. There are the obvious connotations that come with French cars, but if you’re seriously considering a C6, you’ll be pretending they don’t exist.
Why you want it: it’s an XJ, but even more alternative. You’ll think you’re the coolest person at the dinner party, but for some reason, no one will be sat next to you to hear your story about how Daimler and Jaguar are one and the same. It’s also your ticket to V12-powered luxury at this price point.
Why you don’t: you’ll quickly lose friends and, potentially, money. The former, because of how (un)interesting you’ll be explaining you’re a Daimler owner. The latter, because it’s a Jaguar. The usual financial caveats apply.
Why you want it: because you won’t get a Ford Mondeo Vignale for £5k. The frog-faced Scorpio comes with those staples of 1990s luxury: acres of wood and leather.
Why you don’t: because you’ll have to look at it when walking up to it. As above, frog-face isn’t a looker.
Why you want it: the Honda Legend does more than a passable impression of a German luxobarge and is loaded with standard kit and a solid safety rating. As a bonus, it’s unlikely to go wrong.
Why you don’t: your friends will think you’ve arrived in a bloated Honda Accord. Meanwhile, the image is a bit ‘tea out of a Thermos flask in a National Trust car park’, and it has a drinking habit to rival any Bentley.
Why you want it: the styling is ageing well, especially when you consider that it replaced the S-Type, which looked dated even while it was on sale. All engines are good, but the 3.0-litre petrol is a cracker.
Why you want it: the styling is ageing well, especially when you consider that it replaced the S-Type, which looked dated even while it was on sale. All engines are good, but the 3.0-litre petrol is a cracker. Also, flippy vents!
Why you want it: this is a luxury car in a very British sense, offering grace, space and pace in abundance. Also, you’ll be able to bore people about your Jag.
Why you don’t: the styling is more hip op than hip hop. Looking after it, mechanically, electronically and in terms of the body, could prove a tall order, too.
Lexus GS 450h
Why you want it: tt’s like a luxury Toyota Prius, albeit one with a 3.5-litre V6 hybrid powertrain and a cabin as well-appointed and comfortable as any German rival. As it’s a hybrid, it also feels very current.
Why you don’t: the cabin isn’t quite as sumptuous as some of its rivals, while the styling is bordering on anonymous. But we’re nitpicking – this is a fine choice if you’re looking for luxury on a budget.
Lexus LS 430
Why you want it: the ‘Japanese S-Class’ is refined and likely to be the most reliable luxury car you can buy for £5,000.
Why you don’t: it has a whiff of the golf club about it and lacks the authenticity of a German or British luxury car.
Why you want it: if you want your life to be one big prom night, or you want to be a prom night driver, you’ll never be short of work. Plus, what other luxury vehicle comes with a full crystal drinks set?
Why you don’t: the cabins of these limos are rinse-down for a reason…
Why you want it: every new generation of S-Class represents the pinnacle of engineering and technology at the time of its release, so you’ll get a glimpse into how the other half lived when it was new.
Why you don’t: depreciation was a problem for its previous owners, but running costs will remain an issue for you to deal with. Also, venture anywhere near London and you’ll be fighting off flag-downs, thinking you’re a posh taxi.
Why you want it: it’s arguably Merc’s best-looking modern four-door, has a better interior than an S-Class of a similar vintage, and has more V8 than any current non-V12 AMG.
Why you don’t: it’s a Mercedes from 2005. You enter into this at your own risk…
Why you want it: can’t find the right Citroen C6? French waft wrapped in wood and leather is just a Peugeot search away. It’s the C6 alternative you never knew you desired.
Why you don’t: it does have a steering wheel not unlike what you’d find in a Peugeot 206. Not very luxurious.
Why you want it: you can afford to live the Porsche SUV dream – some cars are available for as little as £3,500. Good off-road, even better on it – this feels like a proper Porsche.
Why you don’t: cars without air suspension are best avoided and some specialists recommend shunning early cars altogether. Catastrophic engine failure isn’t uncommon and you’ll need to fork out the price of a family hatchback to secure a new motor.
Why you want it: a gilt-edged image comes with proper off-road capabilities to create the perfect luxury SUV on a budget. As acceptable in the office car park as it is on the Boxing Day hunt.
Why it’s not: reading through the list of things to watch out for will give the car you’re considering enough time to rust away.
Why you want it: the 75 felt like a Rover in the truest sense – a fitting last hurrah for this once proud British brand.
Why you don’t: head gasket failure is common on the 1.8-litre petrol engine, so opt for the 2.0-litre diesel or 2.5-litre V6 petrol. Electrical problems could be an issue, too.
Why you want it: what it lacks in outright luxury, it more than makes up for in terms of exclusivity and eccentricity. A delightful cabin and a wealth of standard features will greet you if you take a punt on the last-of-the-line Saab 9-5.
Why you don’t want it: the ride quality isn’t a patch on the other cars featured here and you might struggle to find a fellow buyer who is willing to take on what’s essentially an extinct brand.
Why you want it: Superb by name, superb by nature. Skoda’s flagship model offers space in abundance, supreme levels of comfort and a generous level of standard spec. You’re also backed by one of the best dealer networks.
Why you don’t: to some, the Skoda badge remains a barrier, but it’s their loss. Don’t be surprised if folk start waving you down in the mistaken belief that you’re their minicab ride home from a boozy Christmas do.
Why you want it: it shares its platform with the Bentley Continental.
Why you don’t: it looks like an oversized Volkswagen Passat.
Why you want it: the S80 offers a squishy ride, deep-pile carpets, a super-quiet ride and is very Swedish.
Why you don’t: it’s not as great to drive as a 5 Series and you’ll pass unnoticed in the majority of situations.