Best prestige cars of 2012

11 December 2012
, CarsGuide
Best prestige cars of 2012
The 911 has always been a terrific driver's car, but this one also makes a commendable commuter.

The action has covered every size and price class, with everything from a totally-new brand - Infiniti - through to the update this week of the Mercedes-Benz E Class into what amounts to a new model.

We've seen huge price cuts on the Rolls-Royce Phantom, the local arrival of the landmark McLaren MP4-12C to rival Ferrari, and the introduction of an all-new 3-Series BMW which is softer than ever before.

On the personal front, I have spent time at the wheel of everything from the outrageous Lamborghini Aventador to an Audi A1 prototype that points to a range-extender hybrid future, and even the disguised prototypes of the Lexus IS that will hit the road in 2014. Not to mention the all-electric Smart car built by Benz and the Active E from BMW that runs on the mechanical package for the upcoming i3 city car.

It's been a lot to sample and a lot to digest, especially putting it into context and bringing it back to the Carsguide mantra - Real cars, on real roads, for real people' - when the pricetags are out of the reach of most ordinary Australians.

But there are people who can afford these cars, so here are my five favourites from 2012:

1. Porsche 911 + Boxster

A new 911 doesn't come along every day, or even every decade, which makes the new car a landmark. But it's the way it drives, and things like the extra cabin space and kid carrying capacity, which make it memorable for me. The 911 has always been a terrific driver's car, but this one also makes a commendable commuter. And the trickle-down of the new 911 technology has already hit the baby Boxster - as well as the upcoming Cayman coupe - making it a relative bargain with so much 911 stuff for a lot less money. Yes, the new Porsches are expensive, but there are times when it is worth it.

2. Jaguar XF EcoBoost

$68,000 for a Jaguar? Not bad. The British brand has sharpened its prices through 2012 but it's the addition of a four-cylinder petrol engine - did I mention the EcoBoost Falcon? - that makes the latest package in the XF so attractive. The turbocharged engine has more than enough go for the job and I even found it ticks the boxes for Jaguar's flagship, the XJ limousine, during a day out in Britain. Of course, there are always R-fast cars if that's your dream.

3. Audi S Q5

For me, the twin-turbo V6 spreading through the Audi range is the best diesel engine on the planet. It sounds like a thumping V8, provides explosive V8 punch, yet sips fuel and is refined and quiet. I was ambushed by Audi during the Le Mans race weekend, when I was dropped into an A5 like none before it, and now the engine is also fitted to the Q5 SUV. Toyota says diesel sales are falling in Australia, as it would with its commitment to hybrids like the Prius and Camry, but this Audi diesel has almost everything going for it.

4. Mercedes-Benz SL63 AMG

The new Boxster was my rave vave until I jumped into the master blaster Benz. Yes, it's a selfish two-seater with a monster pricetag, but the hotrod SL is incredibly competent and proof that it's worth spending more for some AMG magic. A just-on-dawn fun run in the ultimate SL in France showed what the car can really do, apart from the inevitable head-turning impact at an upscale hotel or restaurant. It even shades the C63 AMG Black Series, and that's saying something.

5. Lexus IS

People who like driving, and I do, usually head to the BMW catalogue when they can afford their first prestige car. But that was before the limp new 3 Series - although the M3 next year could prove me wrong - and the upcoming Lexus compact. The Japanese maker has always played safe with its starter car, but now it is appealing to people who want more than just a badge. I've only driven the IS 250 and 350 on a press preview in California, but I predict they will be among the Australian prestige stars of 2013.