Supercar stand-ins: affordable alternatives to luxury cars

Do you dream of a Bugatti Chiron or Rolls-Royce Phantom? See our list of affordable alternatives

John Evans
Nov 13, 2018

If you tend to check the balance of your Swiss bank account from the balcony of your Monaco penthouse apartment then choosing a car is easy. For some excitement, you'll probably want the 261mph Bugatti Chiron; if it's comfort, then you'll take a Rolls-Royce Phantom. And for those trips to the supermarket - you'll want a Mercedes G-Class to guard against any wayward trolleys.

For anyone in the real world, picking the best car involves a bit more compromise and a substantially lower budget. But it's still possible to experience the motoring high life for around £20,000 or less.

That amount of money opens the door to a range of used alternatives that might not be as glamorous, but offer much of the character of cars that are four, five, or even ninety times the price.

Bugatti Chiron

No-one knows exactly how fast the Bugatti Chiron can go: it's limited to 261mph because no-one builds road tyres that can handle higher speeds. The £2.52 million hypercar will stop traffic on the rare occasions it's seen on the road, and will accelerate from 0 to 62mph faster than you can say, "Isn't the Bugatti Chiron just a posh Volkswagen?"

Unsurprisingly, there's nothing quite like it, but there are more similarities with the Seat Leon Cupra than you might think...

Latest Seat Leon Cupra deals from £16,290
Finance from £349 per month

Bear with us on this one. It's not too easy to see the similarities between a Chiron and a hatchback, but the Cupra is no normal family car. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 5.7 seconds and it's capable of a top speed of 155mph, which might not be particularly impressive compared to the Chiron but the performance feels lightning quick on a normal road.

It will turn heads too - perhaps not in quite such an admiring way as with the Chiron - with bright colour options, including orange or grey with orange contrasting wheels, tat certainly make the car stand out.

When it was launched the 280 Cupra was the most powerful production car Seat had ever made; much more powerful even than sister car the VW Golf GTI. Fortunately, it has sophisticated underpinnings to help keep the power under control.


Ferrari 488 GTB

While it might seem that Ferrari build this car solely for customers who like to pose on their local high street, the 488 GTB is actually designed for eye-popping lap times on a racing circuit. The twin-turbocharged V8 engine may not howl like Ferraris of old, but it will power the car from 0-62mph in 3 seconds; intakes funnel air through the car to cool it and push it down to increase grip. Even the door handles are designed to direct air into the inlets.

But you don't need to spend the best part of £200,000 to buy a car that's also focused on lap time. A Lotus Elise Cup 250 is built for the track.

There's no power steering, no air conditioning, and no stereo. That's all to save weight and improve the lap time of the Lotus Elise Cup. A power boost to the engine doesn't do any harm either, which means that the Lotus is less than a second slower from 0-62mph than the Ferrari.

The Elise also has its own aerodynamic kit to increase downforce on the car and improve grip in corners. The result is a car that will flick through a series of bends at a serious rate of speed. Fortunately, for the average driver, a traction control system helps to ensure that you don't go beyond the car's limit.


Rolls-Royce Phantom

The upright grille, bonne mascot and stately silhouette of the Rolls-Royce Phantom makes it clear that this car knows its status - at the top of the automotive tree. With options such as a twinkling "starlight" roof that replicates the position of constellations in the sky on the day that you were born, and a ride so smooth that you'll think you're floating.

There's no point even trying to find anything that matches the Rolls, but the cocooning Jaguar XJ is a decent second-best.

Latest Jaguar XJ deals from £12,800
Finance from £535 per month

The Jaguar XJ is not a car that's lacking in presence and style - unless you park it next to a Rolls-Royce

Cars less than five years old now cost less than a new Nissan Qashqai and more recent 2016 models cost from £25,690. These more recent models have an improved dashboard touchscreen with a simpler way of connecting your phone. There's leather throughout, while high-end (and more expensive) Autobiography models come with extras such as massaging rear seats.


Aston Martin DB11

Placing a large V12 engine under the long bonnet of a two-door car has long been the formula for a successful Grand Tourer (GT) car, which is meant to cross countries effortlessly, and then provide some sporting excitement when you get there. The Aston Martin DB11 is the latest and one of the best, bringing comfort to motorway journeys, sharp changes of direction in corners, plus the style and evocative exhaust note to stir passions. It's a tough test for the Audi S5.

Latest Audi S5 deals from £26,495
Finance from £0 per month

The V6 engine under the Audi S5's bonnet is made up of half the number of cylinders as the Aston Martin, and it's considerably down on power too, but the performance figures are commendably close. Slam down the accelerator and you really know about it, thanks to a four-wheel drive system that boosts grip when accelerating.

Fitted with optional adaptive suspension, the S5 is comfortable too, but it can't match the DB11 in corners, where it's less precise and not as much fun. It's not a bad result for the price, though.


Range Rover Autobiography

At the top of the Range Rover lineup is the Autobiography model, its vast interior crammed with luxury finishes, such as walnut veneers, aluminium treadplates and perforated leather seats; the soft-close doors pull themselves shut; and you can watch TV on the dashboard screen, with sound provided by the Meridian surround sound system.

While you're enjoying the sumptuousness of the interior, you could be propelling the Range Rover up a rocky mountainside, thanks to the design and technology which makes this a thoroughly competent off-road car. A Kia Sorento is, admittedly, not the obvious alternative.


Latest Kia Sorento deals from £17,000
Finance from £531 per month

You can forget glamour and serious off-roading ability with the Kia Sorento, but that's not necessarily a great loss since few tall sport utility vehicles (SUVs) ever make it onto a muddy field, let alone an uncharted swamp.

To have anything close to the Range Rover experience, you'll need to look at KX-3 model, which - like the Range Rover - comes with a panoramic sunroof, powered bootlid, its own big-name audio system (Infinity) and heated leather seats in the front and back (part-leather on the Kia). KX-4 cars add a cooling function and more adjustment to the front seats, as well as extra technology. The result is a car that feels a lot more luxurious than you'd expect of a Kia. It even beats the Range Rover in some areas too, thanks to its seven seats and seven-year warranty.


Tesla Model X

Sensational is a word that you can apply regularly to the top-of-the-range Tesla Model X electric car. The winged "falcon" rear doors; the 2.9 seconds it takes to accelerate from 0-62mph; the 300 mile range between charges; the giant tablet screen in the middle of the dashboard. Its six figure price ... In the areas where it matters, the BMW i3 is a pretty good option for substantially less cash.

Latest BMW i3 deals from £20,995
Finance from £506 per month

The i3's rear-hinged back doors may lack the theatre of the Tesla's wings but they are no less practical, as they make it easy to shuffle into the back or strap children into seats. Performance-wise, the Model X will leave it for dead but the BMW will probably catch up in the corners where its lower weight and nimbleness are in stark contrast to the ponderous Tesla. Early versions of the electric car can't come close to the range of the Tesla, but more recent cars (badged 94Ah) have improved batteries and should manage 120 to 140 miles between charges in real-world conditions.


Mercedes G-Class

The tough design of the Mercedes G-Class has changed very little since its development as a military vehicle in the 1970s, and neither has its prowess off road. It's a good deal more comfortable and powerful, though. Now, the latest G-Class is built as a luxury SUV with utilitarian charm. And its charm that makes the Suzuki Jimny the car that it is too.

Price isn't the only chasm between the Mercedes G Class and Suzuki Jimny. The two vehicles are poles apart when it comes to power and technology too. And yet, if you raced both of them up a slippery hill, either could win. Both machines offer dogged performance on rugged ground, the Jimny making up for its basic setup with light weight and a tried-and-tested four-wheel drive system.


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