Used luxury bargains
Alfa Brera 2006-2011.
For a variety of reasons (which we'll get to in a minute) some cars that might have been the apple of their new owner's eye as they rolled out of the showroom for the first time, take an almighty financial kicking when trade-in time comes around.
Three years is a long time in politics (ask Kevin Rudd) and it's an eternity for a used car when you see what those same 36 months can do to retained value.
Of course, if you're in the market for a second-hand car, you can use this phenomenon to your distinct advantage. Figure out which cars dump the most value and zero in on them to make the most of your car-buying dollar. Sounds simple and, really, it is.
But what causes some cars to tumble off the fiscal cliff in the first place? According to the managing director of Glass's Information Services (publisher of the Glass's Guide) Santo Amoddio, there are various factors at play.
''Cars that are out of favour, for whatever reason, fall into this category,'' Amoddio says.
There are buyer concerns about fuel consumption and physical size, and some types of vehicles just go out of fashion.
''Some cars are just not on people's radar, either,'' Amoddio says. ''A lot of low-volume models suffer from this; they're not unique enough to attract the enthusiast buyer, and the market as a whole is simply disinterested in them.''
Another problem, he says, is a lack of parts and service back-up, particularly in regional areas.
''Not having a large dealer network is very negative from a used-car purchase perspective,'' he says.
''Then there's what we call the funnel effect. Cars that start higher up the price pyramid, when they come back into the market after three years, there's simply not the numbers of buyers waiting for them.
''If, for instance, you had $150,000 to spend, you'd probably be looking at a new car, not a three-year-old used one.''
So, what are some of the hottest used buys around now?
Truth is, if you have even a modest budget you can get into a variety of cars that probably should be more expensive than they are. And don't worry, if you hadn't thought of them as bargains before … nobody else has either.
Porsche Cayenne - 2003-2007
When sports-car maker Porsche launched its Cayenne SUV almost 10 years ago, there was a huge backlash from the faithful who believed a two-tonne off-roader could never be a true Porsche.
Global sales proved them wrong at the time, but looking at second-hand prices now, maybe there was something to that original expression of displeasure.
The glamour-model Cayenne Turbo is still worth decent money, but the S with its 4.5-litre V8 is available for the low- to mid-$30,000s. True, you're buying an eight- or nine-year-old car here with north of 100,000 kilometres on board, but that's still cheap for something that was near enough to $140,000 brand-new.
The good news is that these first-generation Cayennes are also the best off-road thanks to a low-ratio transfer-case that subsequent models don't have.
And at this sort of money, you could actually contemplate going bush in the thing. Five-star roughing it, we think it's called.
Alfa Brera - 2006-2011
Sometimes, a brand has too much baggage for prices to hold up across the board. If the Brera experience is anything to go by, Alfa Romeo could be a victim of this phenomenon.
Prices have plummeted to the extent you wouldn't bother with the four-cylinder version now; you'd go straight for the lusty V6 with its 191kW and masses of torque.
Against a brand-new price of just on $95,000 when it launched in 2006, that same Brera V6 now commands closer to mid-$20,000s.
Tales of reliability woes abound in Alfa-Land, but at that price, you'd still be able to afford the repairs and servicing. The lack of an automatic transmission didn't help the Brera's cause in the early days (an auto became available in 2007) and neither did the importer chopping $7000 off the sticker after the first year on sale.
That latter fact had the effect of slicing a huge chunk out of the residual value. All of which is good news for buyers of second-hand Breras who will also be getting one of the most dramatically styled cars of the past decade.
Audi A8 Quattro - 2005-2010
Big Mercedes-Benzes suffer no interpretation problems. A Jaguar stands for its own set of values and everybody knows what it means when you roll up in a big Lexus.
But an Audi A8? Er, not so much.
Think Audi, and most people's thoughts turn to the A4 and sexier A5 as well as the high-performance S and RS variants. But the bigger A8 (and S8) just isn't on the radar.
Which probably explains why a car that cost more than $200,000 back then is now comfortably under $50,000 if you shop around.
The petrol V8 seems like the bargain of the lot and if you really look hard, you might even find one at that price with less than 100,000 kilometres on its beautifully made odometer.
The 331kW, V10-powered S8 is an even more tantalising prospect with a new price tag of $260,000 now reduced to closer to $80,000.
Skoda Superb - 2009-2012
The Skoda Superb is another of those cars that just doesn't have a recognisable face in Australia. The Superb is in no-man's land (or no-buyer's land, anyway) purely because not many have even heard of the thing. This is a bit strange because it's actually pretty good. Frankly, it should be making the short-lists of a lot more families looking for a full-size car, because the Superb is huge inside.
The European norm of being a bit narrower than local big cars applies, but the long, long wheelbase means legroom in the rear seat is in the limousine class.
The diesel-engine version is a ripper with the Volkswagen DSG gearbox making the most of the engine's performance. And, just in case you need to move something really big, there's a station-wagon variant that makes most SUVs look cramped. Interior presentation is in line with other VW Group brands (which means good) and there's a feeling of solidity in the Superb.
There's even a V6 version with 191kW and four-wheel-drive, which would make a great set of wheels for the snow bunnies out there.
Prices start in the low-$20,000s, which, even on a kilogram-a-dollar basis, is bargain stuff for a car that's still only two or three years old.
Citroen C5 - 2008-2010
Citroen's C5 was playing off the back foot from the moment it was released in one of its better forms in 2008.
While the Citroen faithful were paying attention, the rest of the market clearly was not. And of those who keep the Citroen candle burning, not many of them were prepared to spend upwards of $50,000 for a brand-new C5, even with the popular turbo diesel engine option.
As a second-hand buy, a four-year-old version about $20,000 is enough to deserve attention. The C5 really has its moments as a car, too.
The turbo diesel engine is frugal and flexible and the interior is a lovely combination of pleated leather and Gallic quirkiness. It's big inside, too, and provided you don't live too far from somebody who could service it, this is tremendous value for money.
Just make sure you get the late (post-August) 2008 model with its vastly better interior and multi-function steering wheel. If you want to be really mercenary, you could go back to a 2005 model and pay less than $10,000.
Mercedes-Benz R-Class - 2006-2012
Mention the Benz R-Class to a group of people, and most of them won't have the faintest idea what you're talking about.
Oh sure, they'll know the E-Class, C-Class and even the ML SUV, but the R-Class? All you'll hear is crickets in the background.
One of the best things about the R-Class is that it's a six-seater (later version got seven seats) which suddenly opens it up as potential transport for bigger families.
That, and a price tag starting at about $30,000 these days, makes it an interesting proposition to say the least, especially considering it was an $80,000 vehicle when it was new in 2006.
The R-Class is also four-wheel-drive, so it's safe and secure, too. The best buy seems to be the 3.5-litre petrol V6 version, but you'll also find the turbo diesel version around for not a whole lot more.
Most second-hand R-Classes for sale can be found at dealerships rather than in private driveways, but don't be put off. Dealers like to turn over their stock sooner rather than later, so deals on a slow-mover such as the R can often be done.