Currently reading: Give a little respect: Cars that deserve more love
Plenty of great cars have probably passed you by. We think these are worthy of your attention

There are cars everyone raves about and others only diehard fans covet. These are the cars our writers think should be celebrated more than they are…

Mercedes-Benz S560 Coupe - Richard Lane

The Mercedes-Benz S-Class Coupé flies so far beneath the radar of public perception that you’d swear Mercedes had undertaken some form of adverse marketing. The saloon is everywhere, yet people simply aren’t bothered about the coupé, focusing instead on rivals such as the Aston Martin DB11 and Bentley Continental GT. When the coupé does get some love, it’s almost always the S63 and S65 AMG derivatives, but the model you really want is the S560 – the world-class loper so laid back that it’s practically horizontal.

Details? The glasshouse is almost total and the curvaceous interior similarly vast, so while other marques can only promise a ‘lounge ambience’, this car delivers it. With the most sophisticated suspension options fitted, there’s no finer-riding car – not even the Rolls-Royce Phantom.

8 Lexus ls 400 hero front

Lexus LS 400 - Rachel Burgess

Lexus’s first car shook up the premium car industry in a way that no-one expected. Toyota engineers had six years and a near-unlimited budget to develop a luxury car superior to rivals in most ways. The LS was designed for purpose, sharing no part with any Toyota. It was whisper-quiet, was incredibly smooth and had exceptional build quality. An innovative sandwich steel construction minimised vibration, while design touches such as airflow-enhancing components and flush door handles and windows helped with the unbeatable refinement. Then there was the Nakamichi stereo, around a £7000 option in today’s money, which is still considered a benchmark for in-car sound. All that and it was still cheaper than a six-pot Mercedes E-Class

9 Mazda 323f hero side


Read our review

Car review

The self-proclaimed 'best car in the world' gets a touch more luxury, a heap of new technology and a mild hybrid electrical system, but is it enough to hold off the latest attempts from BMW and Audi?

Back to top

Mazda 323F - Lawrence Allan

When was the last time you saw one of these? The humble 323F, in my view, is the only mid-1990s family hatchback that still looks good – and there was substance to the style. It was marketed as a four-door coupé way before Mercedes kicked off the modern trend, and it even came with pillarless doors. Novel, too, was the super-smooth 2.0-litre V6 that top versions were offered with – showing Mazda’s left-field engineering to be alive and well. With a limited range and Mazda’s small dealer presence back then, it never sold strongly in the UK, sadly.

6 Vauxhall insignia static front

Vauxhall Insignia - Matt Saunders

I’ve got plenty of friends who want a big, second-hand family car to use and abuse – and who know they really don’t want an oversized box-on-wheels SUV or MPV. It’s always interesting to discover if they’re still friends after I tell them to buy an Insignia. This is one of the most underrated cars of the past two decades. Not dynamically, granted, but in terms of how much space, usability and mechanical spec it afforded. You want a ‘normal’ family car with three Isofix points across the back seats and 60:40 second-row seats split to best facilitate right-hand-drive, two-up, front-seat-folded tip runs and flat-pack missions? Then trust me: you want an Insignia.

Back to top

The car had a platform engineered for both Saab and Alfa Romeo, don’t forget. Towards the end of its life, it gained torque-vectored four-wheel drive, adaptive dampers and a 192bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel motor that would allow close to 50mpg on a run and approaching 8.0sec 0-60mph sprints. A 2014 or 2015 Country Tourer wagon in the aforementioned mechanical trim (which also had a bit extra suspension travel for boosted ride comfort) would be my pick.

7 Citroen c1 static front

Citroen C1 - Steve Cropley

It’s always been a wonder to me that the world doesn’t love the C1 more. We keep telling anyone who’ll listen that cheap, 3.6-metre-long, do-it-all cars are on the point of extinction, yet here’s a car with a track record of faithful service in earlier iterations that shows no signs of going away.

The fact that the C1 isn’t rushed in showrooms might just be because it shares nearly everything with the Peugeot 108 and Toyota Aygo, and its appeal is thus divided by three. But in my opinion, Citroën has done well with the C1’s looks. And because the mechanicals and build procedures are Toyota-standard, it’s a really good proposition.

6 Volkswagen golf v5 hero front

Back to top

Volkswagen Golf V5 - Felix Page

Golf GTI fans were vocal in their disappointment of the fourth generation of the hallowed hot hatch. But there was a punchy alternative that, today, is no more than a footnote on the fast Golf tapestry: the V5.

Its 2.3-litre motor, the only narrow-angle five-cylinder under the bonnet of a production car, sounds like nothing else on the road and, with top-spec cars packing 170bhp, is capable of up to 139mph. It’s extremely thirsty, but the V5 is one of the last true Q-cars, and rapidly rising prices show that enthusiasts are finally wising up.

4 Citroen c4 cactus hero side

Citroen C4 Cactus - Jim Holder

For everyone else there was bigger, faster and better. For Citroën, there was an existential moment of realisation that the brand’s heritage didn’t just give it licence to be different – it demanded it was. The resulting car was a shocking shift away from what nigh-on everyone else was offering, from its wacky Airbump external styling to the deep and comfy ‘lounge seats’ in the front. Its makers declared it a car to love or hate. To be first on your shortlist or last. In that regard, it succeeded. The pity was that it sat last in too many buyers’ minds. Citroën is still different today, and in that regard the C4 Cactus fulfilled a role, but the resultant rowing back on some of the more extreme aspects of its purpose to deliver wider appeal still feels like a loss.

Back to top

3 Honda jazz hero front

Honda Jazz - James Attwood

Clearly, Jazz owners don’t overlook this Japanese hatchback: they love it. They’ll buy one, look after it and then buy another, with nary a furtive glance at other models. The trouble is that, well, they’re Jazz owners: somewhat elderly and more concerned with practicality, reliability and value than driving dynamics, style and so on. But give Honda its due: it’s not easy to build such a loyal customer base, and it has done that by listening to them. While other firms aim to go upmarket, the Jazz delivers exactly what its buyers want and nothing more. For that, if nothing else, it should be appreciated more.

2 Alfa romeo stelvio hero front

Back to top

Alfa Romeo Stelvio - Kris Culmer

The Stelvio hasn’t been a surprise smash hit for Alfa – partly, I suspect, because the Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon is more appealing to its traditional customers, while premium SUV drivers know it’s not German. But just look at that uniquely handsome front, with its triangular grille, and those well-balanced proportions. While the V6-engined, four-wheel-drive Quadrifoglio is mega, even the regular 2.0-litre turbo petrols and 2.2-litre diesels are very enjoyable. Added to that, the interior is appealing and has a comprehensive, BMW-style infotainment system. You can get some serious deals on the nearly new market, too.

5 Suzuki ignis hero side

Suzuki Ignis - Matt Prior

If you’re in the market for a small hatchback or SUV, the Ignis should come higher up buyers’ lists than it does. Suzuki’s small, practical, slightly tall hatchback gives most people all the height they’ll need but none of the inefficiency they don’t.

Our tests show Suzukis tend to return seriously impressive fuel economy figures and, in the Ignis, the very-mild-hybrid system really works to add pep and reduce fuel bills. It’s as spacious as a supermini, drives better than most cars of its size and, with pricing from £12,250, starts at less than virtually all superminis and seriously undercuts small crossovers. I even think it looks good.

Back to top

1 Fiat 124 spider hero front

Fiat 124 Spider - Mark Tisshaw

The 124 Spider is the Alfa Romeo that became a Fiat when Alfa decided it could only sell cars made in Italy. So the deal to twin the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 with a reborn Alfa Spider was switched to include a Fiat. And the 124 Spider is a better car than the MX-5. There, I’ve said it. It doesn’t look better, nor handle quite as sweetly. For me, it comes down to the turbo. The MX-5, especially with the 1.5-litre engine, always felt gutless. The 124 Spider with its 1.4-litre Multiair engine felt an even more rounded driver’s car for it. It offered the chance of more laugh-out-loud fun in more scenarios. Sometimes just putting your foot down is all you want to do. In terms of power and torque, Fiat got the overall package spot on with the 124 Spider.


2021 Mercedes-Benz S-Class: new interior tech detailed 

2020 Mercedes GLA: prices for hot GLA 35 revealed 

2021 Mercedes-Benz EQS previewed in new official images

Join the debate

Add a comment…
hackjo 26 July 2020

I nominate the Lexus GS300h

disliked by the press because 1. It's a Lexus and 2. It doesn't have a "sporty" bone in its body.

But - outstanding refinement and build quality, whisper quiet and smooth hybrid power train, luxurious and comfortable interior and 50mpg with just £20 per annum tax.

All the hallmarks of a superb, class leading executive car but for the fact that modern reviewers want Nurburgring handling, eleventy-million gears and race car performance.

Riley 1.5 26 July 2020

Citroen C1

I owned a Citroen C1 from 2008 until late 2011 and it was certainly cheap to run, with only the front wiper cap needing replacement at a cost of £1.67. The new model seems to have got pricey for the higher spec models, but I also feel it loses out to the Aygo because of Toyota's 5 year warranty. Since car manufacturers seem determined to kill off small cars, I really should buy one before they disappear completely or become too expensive.

spqr 26 July 2020

Mazda 323 saloon

The Mazda 323 was also available as a saloon in some markets as well as having the V6. That really was a 4 door coupe a decade before Mercedes-Benz tried the CLS. I used to own one in Cyprus that was an ex-Japanese market version with a sports auto and a rorty exhaust. Not fact but fun. As for the Insignia being engineered for Saab and thus being "worthy of respect", as Proper Top Gear pointed out in their tribute to Saab the Swedish engineers changed everything on the Insignia, from the sat nav to the fascia, the seats to glasshouse, the wheelbase, the toe-in, the suspension etc. Practically the only things that remained were the bulkheads! So, engineered for Saab? Yes, that is what GMC intended but it was not good enough for Saab so it is still as dull as ditch water. And my G30 530i will do 55mpg "on a run" in silence without resorting to a filthy noisy smelly diesel.