We've picked out 100 of the finest used cars you can buy, and we'll be featuring them on the site in the coming days. Let's start with a look at the top hot saloons
18 August 2017

While only a small minority of British resident examples will ever make it to unrestricted roads in Germany, ‘bahnstormer’ has long been accepted shorthand for
 a certain type of car: muscular, fast, normally Teutonic in origin and combining pace with proper high-speed comfort.

Top 10 best used 400bhp cars 2017

But for the buying of second-hand cars, the most impressive statistic is likely to be depreciation rather than power output. Pound for pound, nothing sheds value quicker, with both the ‘C5’ Audi RS6 and ‘E60’ BMW M5 today offering compelling value. 

The RS6 always struggled for critical acclaim when it was new, but 15 years of hindsight suggests that its combination of pace and dynamic security was close to the archetype for more modern equivalents. It certainly made a big impression
on me when I attended the original press launch. I best remember the unlikely sight of the speedo needle practically off its dial, the twin- turbocharged V8 engine pulling at a barely diminished rate well beyond the 155mph the car was allegedly limited to. That was a standard 444bhp example; this later RS6 Plus Avant, which we’ve borrowed from Audi’s collection, got 469bhp and an official 174mph top speed. 

The RS6 Avant always outsold the saloon, and it’s definitely the one 
to go for – something reflected in their relative values now. This was once the fastest estate in the world, capable of out-accelerating a contemporary Porsche 911 to 60mph but also moving a family and its luggage in comfort. There’s a compelling British connection
 as well, the mighty engine having been engineered by Audi’s then-subsidiary, Cosworth Engineering. 

What first strikes me in the cabin is how much less equipment top-spec cars had a decade and a half ago.
 The early MMI satellite navigation system provides as much amusement as actual guidance, but the lack of
 kit translates into a corresponding absence of clutter. It’s a revelation 
to see a steering wheel without a single button on its face. The seating position is high, the glassline low and the front pillars skinny by modern standards, meaning visibility is excellent. 

The V8 has a split personality: more than happy to deliver big when called upon to do so, and still capable of delivering a startling level of acceleration that gets me wondering just how much quicker a contemporary RS6 would be. But it’s also an impressive cruiser, the motor’s broad torque curve (with both RS6 and RS6 Plus producing 428lb ft from 1950rpm) giving it effortless quarter-throttle pace. A five-speed automatic ’box was the only transmission option, and this works best when left to its own devices; manually ordered upshifts are slurry and downchanges slow. 

The ride is very firm, even with adaptive dampers, but there’s more steering feel than I remember through the old-school hydraulically assisted system. The handling balance is as relentlessly nose heavy as you’d expect for a car with a V8 engine mounted entirely ahead of the front axle-line. There’s little reward for pushing the RS6 hard through corners – it remains a car that lives for the straights. 

The M5 offers a fascinating contrast. It feels much newer and much more agile, as you would expect, but while the passage of
time has rendered the RS6’s lack of dynamic finesse more forgiveable,
 it has really thrown the BMW’s
 most obvious fault into sharp relief: the presence of what has to be one
of the most infuriating gearboxes ever fitted to a performance car. The fact the SMG (sequential manual gearbox) transmission is also responsible for throwing up many of the huge bills that frequently bite M5 owners adds insult to injury.

Yet while the rest of the BMW isn’t perfect, dynamically
it gets pretty close. This M5 was developed as the company was trying to emphasise some road
car connections to its Formula 1 effort, hence a naturally aspirated V10 that used the same ‘bedplate’ construction technique as the F1 motors. It couldn’t quite match the race engine’s appetite for revs, but peak power of 500bhp arrived at 7750rpm and the redline was set at a dizzying 8250rpm. Exceptional, even in that high-revving age. 

Sadly, the SMG single-clutch transmission was the only option for British buyers; after
much lobbying, Americans
 could also have a manual.
 The seven-speed robo-
box felt crude when the 
car was launched, and
more than 10 years on the 
contrast with lightning-
fast twin-clutchers,
 or even deft modern
 autos, is stark. There’s a lunge-inducing pause in
 upshifts, even with the gearbox in its fastest mode, and although M5 owners insist you do get used to
 it – lifting off to smooth changes – I imagine acclimatisation is similar to persistent pain. 

Dynamically, the gearbox isn’t
 a weak line so much as a collapsed bridge, because the rest of the car
 is pretty much spot-on. The M5
 still looks superb, its muscular
 flanks arguably the high water
mark of Chris Bangle’s design regime at BMW, and the cabin
 feels impressively modern. It’s comfortable and, in the case of
 this last-of-line ‘25th Anniversary’ edition that BMW generously lent us, has a still-respectable toy count. 

But the V10 is the star of the show. There’s actually more low-end torque than I remember, but the motor still feels anaemic and grumbly below about 3500rpm. From then onwards, it just gets better, pulling harder as the revs ascend with a soundtrack that hardens into a good impression of its F1 sister’s as the red line approaches. The chassis is superb, firmly sprung but well damped and with beautifully weighted steering offering rich feedback. The handling balance is near-perfect and actually benefits from the lack of low-end torque, sparing the frequent stability system interventions that many high-output turbo engines need to stay in line under faster progress. 

So are these mile-munchers 
worth the prices being asked of them? The market is starting to realise what a special car the E60
 M5 was compared with its much
less characterful ‘F10’ successor and values have been rising in recent months. It’s definitely a car to buy on condition rather than age, with little difference in value between early and later examples; good ones are around £20,000 – the rarer M5 Touring estate costs a couple of grand more. 

The RS6 is cheaper, but harder
 to find in unmolested condition. The occasional sub-£10,000 examples in the classifieds are mostly in “properly brave” territory considering the size of bills that the transmission and turbos can throw up, but £15,000 can land a cared-for car with a comprehensive history. 

Of course, any ’bahnstormer
will be expensive to run, eating consumables and guzzling fuel
at a frightening rate: putting £70 
of petrol in the M5 had the trip computer showing just 190 miles to empty. These are risky investments – but hugely rewarding ones too. 

BMW M5 

Built 2005-2010
 Price range £12,000- £25,000 We’d pay £18,000 One we found A low-mileage, four-owner example for £19,980 that its seller calls “the best in the country”. Keen to sell to an enthusiast.

See BMW M5 for sale on Pistonheads.

Audi RS6 

Built 2002-2004 Price range £8000-£20,000 We’d pay £15,000 One we found A tidy, 89,000-miles, unmolested example with loads of service history, receipts and four nearly new tyres for £12,950.

See Audi RS6 for sale on Pistonheads.

Eight more great 'bahn finds:

Mercedes E55 AMG/E63 AMG 

Built 2003-2009 Price range £9000-£16,000 We’d pay £12,000 
One we found A two-owner E55 AMG with a stellar service history, 66,000 miles on the clock and a £13,995 asking price.

See Mercedes-Benz E-Class AMG for sale on Pistonheads.

The first real modern AMG saloon, with chassis finesse to match the potency of the V8 engine. The earlier supercharged 5.4-litre engine in the E55 is more effortless, whereas the E63’s naturally aspirated 6.2 lives to rev. 

Volvo V60 Polestar T6 

Built 2014-2015 Price range £27,000-£30,000 We’d pay £28,000 One we found Used examples are rare, but top money (£29,945) gets you a late car with a high spec, low miles and a Volvo service history.

See Volvo V60 Polestar for sale on Pistonheads.

Rare, but worth seeking out, the early V60 Polestar was a limited edition using a turbocharged straight-six engine that gives impressive performance. 

Jaguar XJR 

Built 2013-present Price range £35,000-£55,000 We’d pay £45,000 One we found A 7000-miler from 2015 still in warranty, with seemingly every option ticked.

See Jaguar XJR for sale on Pistonheads.

The current XJ has always been
 an oddity: a driver’s car in a luxury segment. It’s even more true in the R, with performance and handling that might intimidate some. Rare in the classifieds, so be patient. 

Porsche Panamera 

Built 2009-2016 Price range £28,000-£100,000 We’d pay £29,000 One we found A Panamera 4 serviced every year instead of the standard two. 2010, 44k on the odo and £29,950.

See Porsche Panamera for sale on Pistonheads.

Early examples of the just-replaced first-generation Panamera are starting to look attractive, especially the petrol-fired V6 and V8 versions. The Turbo variant, with 493bhp and 516lb ft on tap, is hugely fast. 

Audi S4 

Built 2009-2015 Price range £13,000-£35,000 We’d pay £14,000 One we found £14,250 will get you a 2011 car with 79,000 miles, full leather and a full service history.

See Audi S4 for sale on Pistonheads.

Another ’bahnstormer that is conspicuously cheap at present, 
the S4 is powered by a 329bhp supercharged V6 of almost legendary tunability. Indeed, it’s not hard to give it pace to rival the much pricier RS4. 

Jaguar S-Type R 

Built 2001-2007 Price range £7000-£15,000 We’d pay £9000 One we found A 54-plate, two-owner, 91k-mile example with most options ticked. Yours for £9995.

See Jaguar S-Type R for sale on Pistonheads.

The S-Type’s bug-eyed retro styling was never popular and lesser versions have fallen into outright bangerdom. With 390bhp and 399lb ft, the supercharged R is fast but supremely civilised. 

Mercedes C63 AMG 

Built 2008-2015 Price range £18,000-£35,000 We’d pay £20,000 One we found Loads of kit is offered on a £19,950 car from 2008 with 66,000 miles.

See Mercedes C63 AMG for sale on Pistonheads.

Strong prices continue to ref lect the C63 AMG’s desirability thanks to its hugely charismatic 457bhp, 442lb ft 6.2-litre V8. Most cars in the UK are coupés, but saloons and estates are worth seeking out. 

BMW M3 

Built 2000-2006 Price range £7000-£20,000 We’d pay £10,000 One we found £10,990 gets you into a highly specced 99,000-miler that has spent most of its life in the care of the same garage.

See BMW M3 for sale on Pistonheads.

One of the great ‘M’ cars, although the market is split between overpriced garage queens and borderline wrecks. Manual coupés are the most desirable. 

Chasing a classic motor? Read our used car buying guides here

Our Verdict

Audi RS6 Avant

Performance behemoth sheds two cylinders. Is that progress for the mighty Audi RS6?

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Comments
1

18 August 2017

Apparently the injectors on the V10 lock open filling the cylinder with fuel.   Just think of 9 cylinders pushing against one that's filled with petrol and you'll see why they busrt engines.

 

BMW.   Great when they're running, but terrible when they're not.   Too unreliable.

 

If you buy one of these M5 V10s and you get this fault you've destroyed your engine.   Where does that leave you?   And what are BMW doing to help you?   Answers on postcard or stuck down envolope...

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