The best used Q cars to buy in 2021
Keen on maximum speed and minimum fuss? Here's the top ten used buys for you…
By Matt Bird / Thursday, November 18, 2021 / Loading comments
We live in extroverted times, you’ll agree. With attention spans shrinking by the Instagram Reel, anything on four wheels is expected to grab people’s attention immediately or fall by the wayside. Hence the rise in ‘big’ everything: grilles, wheels, exhausts, attitude. How else will anyone notice?
Here we celebrate the opposite. Q cars, as we all know, that hide their performance light under a bushel. Which makes its own statement, in fact, if you ever clock one. Just because you aren’t willing to shout about latent potential doesn’t mean it isn’t there, which has always been a laudable outlook. It’s created some truly memorable performance cars over the years, too: think Lancia Thema 8.32, Lotus Carlton, early BMW M cars and AMGs, Jaguar XJRs and so on.
As ever, we’ve gone for a broad spread of available options, proving that not every Q-car is a V8 saloon (although plenty are). We have four, six and 12 cylinders, all with at least 250hp, as well as hatchbacks and SUVs alongside the traditional four-doors. We’re fairly confident you’ll find something here that takes your fancy, from little more than Shed money to £50k. Or, of course, feel free to submit your own selections in the usual place…
Up to £2,500…
- Vauxhall Vectra V6
A Vauxhall Vectra? Sounds like a mistake. Nope, the Vauxhall is here, and for very good reason – if a Q car is all about understated performance, what could be more understated than an unpopular car? Nobody expects to see a Vectra 13 years after production ended, leave alone find one with 250hp from a turbocharged V6.
You read that right: it wasn’t just the infamous VXR that used the Saab 2.8-litre engine towards the end of the Vectra’s life. Though 30hp less powerful, the non-VXR V6s were still capable of 150mph. Furthermore, offered only in Elite trim, there wasn’t even a semblance of sportiness to the look; the V6 turbo was just another boring Vectra on some snazzier wheels. Only the keenest would see the ‘V6 Turbo’ badge on the boot.
Now, a big, powerful engine made the Vectra fast, but it didn’t suddenly transform the car into a BMW-beater, so they remain cheap. Very cheap. Which is ideal for us, as it’s hard to think of anything much faster for less. This one has covered just 60,000 miles, and while the chunky exhausts aren’t really welcome in a Q-car countdown, precious few are going to be looking at a Vectra anyway. Not even this ‘ABSOLUTE INTERNET BARGAIN’. Not until it overtakes them, that is…
Up to £5,000…
- Mazda 6 MPS
Would the Mazda 6 MPS have been more successful with a sportier look? Maybe, maybe not. But as a competitor to flagship German sports saloons, the 6 Mazda Performance Series had to stand out. And to drive, the 6 could compete – it was a great turbocharged, four-wheel drive saloon. It’s just that nobody knew, the 260hp Mazda looking for all the world like a diesel minicab. When trying to persuade people out of their 330is (or perhaps even Imprezas), the super subtle approach of the MPS may not have cut it.
For a cheap, fast, rare, Japanese performance hero, though, the 6 looks more than intriguing 15 years later. Its power-to-weight ratio would make it competitive with a new hot hatch, a manual gearbox is welcome, and the modest look at least ensures the Mazda hasn’t aged as badly as it might have.
Perhaps one day the MPS will enjoy the appreciation of its more revered Subaru and Mitsubishi rivals, but for now it looks a bit of a bargain: this one is a little more than £5k with 50,000 miles, with the current owner for the past half a decade. It’s also been undersealed and passed its most recent MOT without an advisory, both encouraging signs. Nobody else will know what a Mazda 6 MPS is, but no bother – you’ll have bagged a Q car bargain.
Up to £7,500…
- Audi S4 (B6)
Audi is the master of an inappropriately large engine in an innocuous-looking car. The original Audi V8 looked like nothing special yet packed a four-valve-per-cylinder V8 of up to 4.2-litres and 280hp; there was that S8 and S6 era with V10s; the Q7 got the world’s only V12 diesel – and we’ve not even mentioned the W12 yet. All were properly quick, but the casual observer would never know why.
So, obviously, the four rings had to feature here, not least because some of those heroic engines have ended up extremely affordable. In the grand scheme of Audi engineering high-jinks, the 4.2 V8 was not a legend, not until it evolved into the RS4 and R8 engine that is. But just about squeezing it behind the grille of the B6-era A4 was an inspired move by Audi, offering V8 swagger in its smallest S-saloon for the 21st century. Audi would revert back to the six-cylinder layout in time – and nobody is denying the RS4 was the better car – but bang for your buck is order of the day here. And a V8-powered Audi repmobile is hard to beat on that score.
Yes, it’ll use a lot fuel and, no, it probably won’t be the most reliable car in the world. But when estates like this are available for just a few thousand pounds it’s easy to see the temptation. What once qualified as big wheels and an in-your-face Audi grille would now blend into any car park. But the best part of 350hp would always ensure this Avant wasn’t any old Audi wagon – even if it looks it.
Up to £10,000…
- Jaguar XF SV8
Britain has a rich tradition of Q cars, playing well to our diffident nature. We’re the country that prides itself on not making too much of fuss (even when the situation calls for it), and so it makes sense that some excellent under-the-radar heroes have been from British companies.
The Jaguar XF SV8 is a Q-car hero of (fairly) recent times. Everybody knows the XFR and the later, madder XFR-S, but many fewer are aware of the SV8 that predates both. Partly that will be because it wasn’t on sale for long (its 4.2 supercharged V8 was soon replaced by the 5.0-litre) and partly it’ll be because the SV8 was incredibly subtle. The only giveaways to the 420hp potential of its V8 were some larger (very lovely) wheels and a tiny SV8 badge on the back. Otherwise, it was just a XF. It was a Q-car masterclass, because the SV8 was both fast and great to drive, but nothing about its exterior suggested as much. Which is pretty cool.
In best big Jaguar tradition, the XF SV8 has depreciated ferociously, too. Unfortunately its rarity and cult appeal hasn’t translated into classic status just yet. You’ll struggle to pay more than £10k for one, which isn’t a lot for a car this good. This SV8 is approaching 100,000 miles but looks very good for them – where better to rack up another 100k?
Up to £15,000…
- Mercedes-Benz S600 (W221)
There’s no way a list like this would be complete without some kind of Mercedes ‘bahnstormer. Though AMG is of course the performance division, Mercedes hasn’t been shy in equipping its saloons, estates and SUVs with enormous engines and very little performance intent. For maximum Q-car kudos, that’s the kind of car we’re after. Newer AMGs tend to be a bit OTT, too…
A decade and a half ago, an S600 made power and torque that would show up one or two AMG flagships today. A 5.5-litre, twin-turbo V12 churned out a mighty 517hp and 612lb ft. This was back when a pair of 500hp+ S-Class flagships were made; the 6.2-litre, S63 V8 drove and sounded a bit better, for the pinnacle in unassuming speed and absolute luxury the S600 was the king. Which is why a V12 S-Class of some description or another continued for so long, and why it was given such a grand farewell in 2019.
Today a bomb disposal expert would call a twin-turbo, V12 S-Class well into its teenage years a little risky. The issues that can arise tend to be complex, and expensive to fix. But you also won’t struggle to see the reward, with what was once one of the best cars in the world available for supermini money. This privately advertised car is just £12,000 with lots recently spent, this one gives the game away a tad with Brabus badges but would still do the job, and this S600 looks ideal – an import in a muted colour combination, nobody would guess it’s any more than a S320 diesel. Which is exactly the point…
Up to £20,000…
- Range Rover Sport Supercharged
There might be some grumbling about this one. After all, the Range Rover Sport is all too well known as one of the more overt performance SUVs out there, a fact played up to by some owners and even Land Rover itself – witness the success of the SVR. But subtle and very fast ones are out there, with both generations featuring a supercharged V8 model that wasn’t a driver-focused flagship. And 510hp, even in a Range Rover Sport, means plentiful performance. Especially when everyone else will assume it’s a diesel.
First introduced to the L320 Range Rover Sport with the 2009 facelift, the 5.0-litre V8 is the same that’s defined more than a decade of fast JLR product – and which still sees service in the Jaguar F-Type and F-Pace. Nobody probably needs reminding of its strengths, but the engine delivered everything you might expect of a big V8: ample power, momentous torque, and a rousing soundtrack. Which is probably why everyone still likes it so much.
Later L320 Sports mated the 5.0-litre to the eight-speed auto, though you’ll do well to find one of those as they weren’t available for long before the L494 era. Still, the six-speed cars ought to be brisk enough, with 140mph potential. Take the Supercharged badge off this 2011 car and nobody would be any the wiser, not until you thundered past at least.
Up to £25,000…
- Volvo V60 Polestar
The Volvo V60 Polestar had cult hero written over it before anyone even clicked an Ohlins damper. Thank the Rebel Blue paint and the UK’s obsession with a fast Volvo for that. Just a few years on from launch, however, and the 350hp V60 looks a real curio – anything that’s Polestar badged and vaguely resembles a Volvo today certainly doesn’t have a turbo straight six in it.
The V60 wasn’t perfect, held back by a chubby kerbweight and lazy automatic, but it was likeable: the smart looks and lusty 3.0-litre ensured that. It’s kept them valuable, too, aided by the rarity, with c. £25k still the entry point for a Polestar. For this list, the V60 has always ticked a lot of boxes – in any colour other than Rebel Blue, of course. The exhaust was loud and wheels big, sure, but to the layman it could have been a much humbler T3.
The bodykit of this Polestar perhaps gives the game away a little, but black ensures it still runs under the radar. At £22,400 after 65,000 miles, it’s not the cheapest way into a family-friendly Q car, but it might be among the most interesting.
Up to £30,000…
- Maserati Quattroporte GTS
Bet you’d forgotten about this one. When Maserati had to replace the much-loved Quattroporte 5 at the start of the 2010s, it had a tough job on its hands. But it threw plenty at the task; most importantly for this collection of cars, that included a 530hp, turbocharged V8 flagship, the GTS.
Many are excited by the prosect of a new 580hp Quattroporte Trofeo, but seem to have forgotten that a car within 50hp of it (using the same engine) is available for £100,000 less. No, seriously. The QP may no longer be as adored as it once was – and this price range is prime bargain barge territory – but the fact remains that a 530hp Maserati luxury saloon is available for i30 N cash. Look, it says so on the numberplate and everything.
Plus, of course, it’s not just any V8 – it’s that Ferrari V8. Yes, it’s a cross-plane, wet-sumped version, but it remains a derivative of the F154 and it’s assembled by Ferrari. Which means this Maserati has 190mph potential, and is therefore the perfect £30k Q car. Because it’s a Ferrari-powered saloon that looks like something Infiniti might have made. At the moment it’s the only one on PistonHeads, too – a Q-car full house!
Up to £35,000…
- Skoda Superb Sportline
Proof that the Q-car concept is alive and well in new cars, the Skoda Superb 280 has been shocking the outside lane of the M40 since 2015. Either as a hatch or wagon, the 280 could pass for any old 1.4-litre or diesel Superb, yet had performance not too far behind that of a contemporary Golf R – not least because it shared so many of the important bits.
Offered only with an automatic gearbox and all-wheel drive, the Superb fulfilled a lot of key Q-car requirements: unassuming, rare, and fast in all conditions. Sure, Skoda blunted the throttle response a bit to preserve fuel economy, and you won’t be breaking any commuter lap records on the comfort-bias chassis – but there’s still more performance here than most people will be expecting.
Today the early cars are available for a chunk less than £20,000; for maximum Q-car kudos though, this one’s an estate, in primer grey as well. Sadly a facelift and WLTP robbed the Superb of a few precious horsepower, but the difference is too marginal to worry about.
Up to £50,000…
- BMW M760Li xDrive
Go big or go home, right? And as far as Q-cars are concerned, bigger is more often than not better. Step forward, then, the BMW M760Li xDrive. Big car, big name, big engine, big depreciation – big everything.
It’s the Q-car jackpot, really, and a fitting finale for the list. Launched at the Geneva motor show in 2016, the M760 essentially crammed the Rolls-Royce Ghost powertrain into a BMW, with a 6.6-litre twin-turbo V12 producing 600hp and 590lb ft, the latter from just 1,500rpm. Not only was it massively faster than any other 7 Series, the M760 had the accelerative edge on the Rolls-Royce thanks to the xDrive – 0-62mph took just 3.9 seconds. Yet it looked like almost any other 7 Series, save for some small badges, silver accents and extra exhausts. BMW has many a great a Q-car in its archives, and the M760Li was another masterclass in supersaloon subtlety.
Nothing quite depreciates like a big BMW either, another skill in the M760 repertoire. In fairness it was no worse, really, than any comparable V12 Mercedes or Audi, but it looks savage in isolation. At launch the flagship 7 Series cost £132,310; this very one cost its first owner more than £155,000 just five years ago. Now, fewer than 19,000 miles later and with a recent major service at BMW, it’s yours for… £51,850. Hopefully going a tad over budget can be excused for a saving of more than £100,000. After all, it’s not going to lose that much again…
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