Range Rover (2002-2013)
The Range Rover has been ploughing its own furrow since 1970, combining so successfully the qualities of a smart and refined upmarket town car and a hugely capable and capacious off-roader. This third-gen version is wonderfully furnished, handsomely equipped and beautifully proportioned.
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It can pull like a train and glide like a swan, although it comes as quite a shock to discover that the chic, stolid and innovative Rangie can occasionally handle like a boat. It also comes as a shock to learn that something so tough can occasionally be rather fragile. But for £10k, you could put a 2006 174bhp 3.0-litre diesel V6 Vogue SE on your driveway, and for 99% of the time you would want for no more.
Mazda MX-5 (2006-2015)
It doesn’t really matter which version of this diminutive drop-top you choose; from the Mk1 to the latest Mk4, you’ll enjoy driving them all. A £10k budget will buy you a 2012 Mk3 car, and what you’ll get is a quick-steering, sharp-handling roadster powered by a lively 158bhp 2.0-litre engine, enabling 0-62mph in 7.6sec and a blowy top speed of 132mph.
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But the figures tell only half the story. Even this largest of MX-5s feels lithe, and a quick roof-down punt along a sunny country lane will stir your senses, its unburstable quality matched only by its unbeatable charm. Reported problems are few, and there are plenty around. Accept no substitutes; it’s five-star fun in an immensely affordable package.
Mercedes-Benz S-Class (2006-2013)
If you’re after luxury limo comfort and innovative safety aids, the S-Class is for you — and this fifth-generation model adds bulging wheel arches and night-time vision, as well as real dynamic capability. It’s as good to drive as it is to be driven in. Choose wisely and you’ll waft along in the S 320 CDI, with its near-silent 235bhp 3.0-litre diesel engine, and enjoy 34mpg. Live a little, though, and you could bag the 517bhp twin-turbo 5.5-litre V12 S 600 petrol version, which will whoosh from 0-62mph in just 4.6sec.
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Both go, stop and handle beautifully, are wonderfully made and leave nothing out of the equipment list. Our £10k buys a 2007 version of what is almost certainly the best luxury car in the world.
Volkswagen Golf GTI (2009-2012)
The S-Class may be the most accomplished luxury car you can buy at this price, but the Golf GTI must surely be the best all-rounder in the real world. The Mk6 version packs a smooth 208bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine under its bonnet, which means 0-62mph in a swift 6.7sec and a top speed of 149mph. There’s strong grip and accurate steering and the handling is a joy: eminently chuckable, instantly recoverable and immense fun. With such driver appeal, it’d be easy to overlook its practicality.
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The interior is subtly sporting and the boot will handle the weekly shop. It’s refined, comfortable and undemanding. No other hot hatch can match its overall competence. Problems are few. For £10k, you’ll get a 2010 three or five-door, manual or DSG.