The best super saloons to buy in 2020

The fast four-door has been a PH staple since day dot, with good reason; these are our favourite used buys right now

By PH Staff / Thursday, November 5, 2020

Depending on your perspective, the supersaloon has either existed as a genre for well over 30 years (with the BMW M5 as its first contender) or it has been around for more than half a century, forged by Jaguar with its glorious XK-engined take on the MkII.

Whichever you prefer, it's a category that can lay claim to some of the most iconic performance cars of the modern age. Who knew that four doors and a boot could be so exciting? Whether monstrous 'bahnstormers from Germany, homologation specials out of Japan or prime slices of British beef, the sports and supersaloon has taken on a surprising range of characters over the years given the apparent limitations of the layout. A Mitsubishi Evo and a Bentley Flying Spur are both four-door, four-seat saloons with an emphasis on driver enjoyment, aren't they?

With such history and choice on offer, plus the added impetus of a new BMW M5 and AMG E63 this year, now seemed the time to rundown the current contenders. Just 10 have made the list; goodness knows how many we had to leave on the cutting room floor. We'll leave that discussion to you. For now, our best sporty saloons…

Up to £2,500…

  • BMW 5 Series (E39)

Given the amount of water which has gone under the bridge since 1996, there's surely not a great deal more left to say about the E39 5 Series. For some it's the zenith of the BMW saloon (and the contemporary M5 shares that accolade for M Division models); as handsome as it was dynamic and as fast as it was cossetting. Whatever your requirement of an executive saloon, the E39 had it covered. From launch until further into the 21st century than its rivals would care to admit, the fourth generation 5 Series was the class of the field.

Now, with the 25th anniversary of its launch imminent, the E39 is finally starting to ditch its Shed status and enjoy its time as a genuine BMW classic – bolstered by the fever around that wondrous M5. This money should still get you into one of the more potent straight sixes, which is all that's required to fully appreciate the E39 experience. At this age and price, ownership won't be entirely plain sailing – there are enough Shed articles to tell you all about that – but an E39, on the cusp of both traditional and modern BMW, surely presents an eminently more fixable proposition than the E60 which followed. Just another reason why it's admired so much.

Up to £5,000…

  • Subaru Impreza WRX

Another souped up sedan that's finally beginning to be appreciated. And with good reason, too: for more than a decade, new Impreza Turbos of some description or another were a thorn in the side of every sports car out there, packing enormous all-weather performance into the most ordinary of Japanese saloons. On a British B-road, they were quicker than many more exotic vehicles, with compact dimensions, turbocharged wallop and four-wheel drive. For not an awful lot of money, Joe Public could play at being Burns or McRae. And it was much fun as it looked on the TV – a cult was born.

More than 25 years after the original Impreza Turbo stunned the UK fast car scene – and almost a quarter of a century to the day since Colin won that infamous WRC title – you'll do well to nab a presentable original for £5k. They're simply too collectible. However, there is Impreza entertainment on offer for those willing to consider a less iconic shape. Later Bugeye and Blobeye WRXs use the 2.0-litre flat-four with similar power to the old Turbo on an even stiffer chassis; neither are perhaps Subaru legends, but the driving experience still delivers. Check for noises from the 4WD drive system, prepare to buy a lot of V-Power and avoid the 2.5s. And, most of all, have a lot of fun – it shouldn't be too hard.

Up to £10,000…

  • Jaguar XF V8

You'd forgotten about this one too, right? Although many remember the original Jaguar XFR of 2009 (because it was brilliant) and the later XFR-S (because it was a bit mad), substantially fewer will recall the lower-powered V8 XFs. Combining the sort of bewitching soundtrack only a V8 can provide with a less aggressive focus than the R-badged models, the assortment of 4.2 and 5.0-litre XFs out there present intriguing (and affordable) reimaginations of the traditional Jaguar sports saloon.

Originally it was the 4.2 in naturally aspirated or supercharged SV8 form, then replaced by a detuned version of the XFR's 5.0-litre come 2009. That's what's now available from less than £10k, and mightily tempting propositions they are as well. 385hp and 380lb ft are sufficient for 155mph and less than six seconds to 62mph, accompanied by the sort of ride and handling panache that made the original X250 XF such a hit with all those who drove it. Naturally, with a car once this expensive, it'll pay now to ensure it's been maintained without care for the cost – and to continue in that fashion, too. But V8 Jag saloons aren't likely to come back, so £10k for one of the better ones looks fine value.

Up to £15,000…

  • Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution

If a Subaru Impreza is on a fast car list, so the Mitsubishi Lancer Evo must feature as well. They're just the rules. And although certain variants now carry an enormous premium, the core of the Evo genius – that technology is an enabler to driving fun, not a barrier – can certainly be found in the more affordable models.

For £15,000, there are very decent and standard – or at least standard as far as Evos go – versions of the Evo V and VI available. They will be imported Japanese cars, but we're all aware of the advantages that can bring, and 20 years without any exposure to road salt is certainly something to consider in 2020. Or the money buys something like this UK Evo 8; an entry level car rather than one of the unhinged FQ models, yes, but a sports saloon experience that remains unlike anything else.

That's the Evo charm, in a nutshell. Whatever else you've driven with four doors, even Imprezas, the Mitsubishi will blow you away with its rawness and its poise. Any Evo will cost a lot to run – 'twas ever thus, sadly – and the interior really is that sketchy. But they humbled supercars for year after year for one very good reason: because they were awesome.

Up to £25,000…

  • Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG (W204)

As with previous lists, £15,000 – £25,000 opens up a veritable treasure trove of four-wheeled temptation – and it's no different when it comes to supersaloons. Because while the appeal of an E90 M3 or a Vauxhall VXR8 is plain enough to see, our money would only be going on one car: the original C63.

In a world of staggeringly good four-cylinder AMG hot hatches, E63s with a Drift mode and a G63 that's actually decent (and not just cool), the notion of AMGs that are great to drive isn't so much an exception as the expectation. But the W204 C63 of 2007 was the catalyst for all that, the AMG that boasted a phenomenal engine (of course) but also a chassis that could harness the performance into a cohesive and enjoyable driver's car. It made an RS4 seem a little stolid and ensured the V8 M3's job of claiming top dog status was harder than ever.

A decade and a bit after launch, £15k is your entry point into C63 ownership and £25,000 buys one of the very best, late cars. Ideally you'll want a facelifted model with the interior improvements that came in 2011, and any C63 should most certainly come equipped with a limited-slip differential, be that from the factory or the aftermarket – the experience just isn't quite the same without. But a good one is memorable for all the best reasons, and a modern AMG icon. Just keep plenty in the kitty for consumables – new breed or not, the C63 is still an Affalterbach heavyweight…

Up to £35,000…

  • BMW M3 Competition (F80)

Technically speaking, this should be in a 2021 list, because the most affordable car we can currently find is £37k, but the M3 Competition is too good at this money to ignore. If you'll excuse resorting to a hackneyed cliché, the Comp was the car the turbocharged M3 always should have been; the infectious intensity was retained, albeit with a better lid kept on proceedings than the original. Less than two years after launch, BMW reworked the springs, dampers and anti-roll bars for the Competition – which is as close to a confirmation as you're likely to find that the original was perhaps a little wayward.

Thus configured, and with power boosted to a round 450hp, the M3 came good. Really, really good. It did what good M cars have always done, being equal parts accommodating sports saloon and apex-hunting loon. Given the reception to the very latest cars, opinion of these Competitions is unlikely to waver for a while; sharper than anything from Mercedes or Audi, great to look at and scintillatingly fast, the Competition was the M3 back to its best. In fact, you might only find yourself tempted away by one other six-cylinder alternative…

Up to £50,000…

  • Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio

Has there been a greater shock to the automotive world in the past decade than the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio? Arguably not. Hopes were high, because it's Alfa Romeo, but expectations were realistically pegged pretty low. Alfa hadn't done rear-wheel drive for decades, the front-wheel drive cars had been uninspiring for a very long time and the first interesting Alfa in yonks – the 4C – massively underdelivered on its potential. For the Giulia to have been objectively decent would have, in the eyes of many, been an achievement.

But the Quadrifoglio wasn't decent – it was superb. In a most un-Alfa like way, the Giulia just didn't have a weak link. The 2.9-litre V6 was powerful and responsive, the chassis was adept, the car looked great… it really was the consummate Alfa supersaloon that we hardly dared dream about. There was even a slightly iffy interior to remind us it was still an Alfa in other regards.

A few years after launch and with a facelift just launched, there's never been a better time to see what all the fuss is about. Early, high-mileage cars are now on offer from £35k; at nearer to £50,000, one of the final pre-update Giulias is available with 20,000 miles or less. It says much of just how good the Quadrifoglio was from the get-go that precious little has changed with the revision. In a market so dominated by the Germans, any kind of outside influence was welcome; that the interloper was from Alfa, and was one of the best saloons the sector has ever seen, still seems hard to reconcile. Don't believe us? Go try one for yourself.

Up to £75,000…

  • Alpina B5

If a BMW M car seems a little obvious, Alpina has been on hand for decades now to offer a more refined, less overt alternative. Over the years that offering has diversified to include SUVs, diesels and estates, but nothing really says 'Alpina' like a big BMW saloon on multispoke wheels. Nothing says Alpina quite like a B5.

Once upon a time, the automatic and turbocharged fast BMWs were Alpinas, while those with high revving engines and some kind of manual came from M Division. Now, through a combination of customer demand and government legislation, BMW has been forced to take a leaf out of the Alpina textbook, offering forced induction and torque converters throughout the four-door range. Which, if anything, makes the Buchloe bruisers more appealing than ever; if you're going for a comfy, fast, luxurious sports saloon, where better to buy it from than the brand with umpteen years experience?

Alpinas remain rare, though, so unearthing a B5 like this one is notable. At little more than £60k after two years and 24,000 miles, it's already worth two-thirds of its value when new. With 608hp from the 4.4-litre twin-turbo V8, you'll never want for more performance. Or comfort. Or refinement. In fact, such is the completeness of an Alpina saloon, you'll probably never want for much more car. They really are that good.

Up to £100,000…

  • Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S

Another one that pushes the price threshold, and another that's well worth the outlay as well. Even if, like almost every AMG V8, the GT 4-door is going to depreciate. Where to is anyone's guess, though there is one guarantee: the miles that pass on the way to eventual bargain basement territory will be very entertaining ones indeed.

To label this car a GT 4-door might seem a little disingenuous given it shares more with the E63 than the GT coupe, but this is far more than just a smartly suited E-Class. There's more power, for starters, and if ever 640hp could feel conservative it's here; in addition, there's another layer of chassis ability that isn't quite there in the other '63; the GT's limits are even higher and its sense of occasion greater.

Logically and objectively, the GT's appeal is a hard one to explain, chiefly because the E63 is such an achievement already. But objectivity be damned; half a dozen miles in a GT like this one will have you convinced of its superiority, because it's AMG at its mesmerising best.

Sky's the limit…

  • Jaguar XE SV Project 8

Those of an especially patriotic disposition could well put Jaguars in almost half these saloon price categories; after all, who does it better? There isn't an XJR here, for example, or the MkII mentioned right at the beginning, or even a bargain basement S-Type R…

Despite what some might see as omissions, the Project 8 is most certainly here, and had to feature without question. The uber XE has never had the easiest time of it – £150k is an awful lot to ask when the rest of the range ends £100,000 below that – but to experience the Project 8 for any amount of time is to understand where the engineering resource has gone. No XE – no Jaguar full stop – has ever driven with the such indefatigable reserves of composure, finesse and quality. The 8's ability to combine everyday civility with motorsport focus is quite the achievement.

That the chassis was so ably supported by six hundred rampant, rousing V8 horsepower made for an experience that, if not quite perfect, was memorable nonetheless. Those looking for a four-person alternative to a GT3 RS will be disappointed; anyone wanting the most exhilarating experience that four doors and four seats can offer need look no further. A Touring is the one to have, if you can find one of the 15 which were built…

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GT 63 image credit | Harry Rudd

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