Audi's mainstay in the coupe sector, the TT, was refreshed last summer with the addition of a new 3.2-litre V6 engine and the introduction of an automated manual transmission, called DSG, that really offered the best of both worlds – the slick shifting of an automatic whether in manual or automatic mode, and the fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of a manual.
Chrysler launched the Crossfire, combining American styling with the underpinnings of the last generation Mercedes-Benz SLK in an attention-grabbing coupe body.
Meanwhile, Nissan revived its Z coupe with the introduction of the 350Z, harking back to the Datsun 240Z of the 1970s and its successors.
The TT 3.2 V6 DSG comes in at just under £30,000, while the automatic transmission version of the Crossfire – favoured by most buyers and with lower CO2 than the less expensive manual – is just over £1,000 cheaper on the road.
The Nissan 350Z selected in the high-spec GT form is less than £27,000, but puts itself into the frame by having the styling and performance to turn more heads than the Chrysler and knock the TT off its performance perch.
With the highest P11d value and lowest percentage retained value, its no surprise that the Audi's pence per mile depreciation is highest at 27.37ppm - £16,422 over three years/60,000 miles and roughly £2,000 more than the other two.
It claws back some of this deficit against the Crossfire, with maintenance costs expected to be £420 less than the Chrysler over three years/60,000 miles at £2,598. However the Nissan is expected to be cheaper still at £2,400.
The 215bhp Crossfire and 247bhp TT are closely matched on fuel consumption with 28.0mpg and 28.5mpg respectively on the official combined cycle, while the 276bhp 350Z is perhaps unsurprisingly a distant third on 24.8mpg.
Based on these figures, the Crossfire should cost about £18 more than the TT over 60,000 miles, but the Nissan works about at about £1,200 more expensive at £9,234.
Adding up all the figures, the Crossfire has an advantage of just under £500 over the Nissan in wholelife cost, but all is not well with the Crossfire at the moment. With the highest retained value percentage of the three, the Crossfire has not achieved the level of sales first anticipated.
According to Chrysler, there are a few unsold vehicles in stock and market analysts might review its current predictions.
CAP predicts 48% for the Crossfire, compared with 44% for the TT and 45% for the 350Z. Perhaps in a few months the Crossfire will fall into line with its rivals.
The Crossfire has the highest monthly contract higher cost of the three, while the Nissan's lower P11d value gives it a small advantage in the benefit-in-kind tax stakes, with the TT most expensive.
A 40% tax-payer can expect to pay £325 per month in the TT for the rest of this financial year, compared with £321 per month for the Crossfire and £307 for the 350Z.
So overall the Chrysler wins the pence-per-mile battle, but the Nissan seems to do better in the corporate and personal monthly costs. But choosing a coupe is also based on emotion and driver appeal so the results are not final until the heart influences the head.
Audi TT 3.2 V6 quattro DSG
A user-chooser favourite gets a boost from a new 3.2-litre V6 engine and DSG transmission. But has the TT become too familiar?
Delivered price, standard car (P11d value): £29,547
CO2 emissions (g/km): 235
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 33%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 19
Combined mpg: 31
CAP Monitor residual value: £13,050/44%
Depreciation 27.37 pence per mile x 60,000: £16,422
Maintenance 4.33 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,598
Fuel 13.39 pence per mile x 60,000: £8,034
Wholelife cost 45.09 pence per mile x 60,000: £27,054
Typical contract hire rate: £555 per month
Chrysler Crossfire 3.2 v6 auto
NEWCOMER from across the pond uses proven Mercedes-Benz underpinnings and outlandish American styling. Might be out-horsepowered here though.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £28,322
CO2 emissions (g/km): 240
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 34%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 15
Combined mpg: 28.0
CAP Monitor residual value: £13,700/48%
Depreciation 24.24 pence per mile x 60,000: £14,544
Maintenance 5.04 pence per mile x 60,000: £3,024
Fuel 13.36 pence per mile x 60,000: £8,016
Wholelife cost 42.64 pence per mile x 60,000: £25,584
Typical contract hire rate: £602 per month
Nissan 350Z 3.5 v6 GT
OFFERING more power per pound than its two rivals the 350Z has performance to match its athletic looks. The downside is higher fuel consumption and CO2.
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £26,302
CO2 emissions (g/km): 273
BIK % of P11D in 2004/05: 35%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 18
Combined mpg: 24.8
CAP Monitor residual value: £11,825/45%
Depreciation 24.04 pence per mile x 60,000: £14,424
Maintenance 4.00 pence per mile x 60,000: £2,400
Fuel 15.39 pence per mile x 60,000: £9,234
Wholelife cost 43.43 pence per mile x 60,000: £26,058
Typical contract hire rate: £538 per month
If there is a more magnificent car than the 350Z relative to the amount of money it costs, then I have yet to find it.
If an employee wants to make an impression as well as get a huge amount of pleasure from driving, the 350Z is the ideal choice.
Proportionally, it is near-perfect for a modern sportscar: long nose, deep chunky sides, low side windows reaching down to a long tail and fancy big alloys. The only disappointment is the clumsy door handles.
Inside, the centre console is nothing special but the steering wheel and the dials recessed in metal cowls are in keeping with the car's radical body.
The electric and heated leather seats are supportive and comfortable, as bucket seats go, while the boot is deceptively large.
But the best bit is the engine. The 276bhp 3.5-litre V6 goes through two of the most wonderfully tuned exhausts and the noise is stupendous – barking, howling and roaring with rabid glee.
To use one of the most hackneyed motoring journalism clichés, there's no need for the radio with this engine as a soundtrack. It turns heads and ruffles feathers. You're inspired to drive round town in a gear too low with the windows down to hear it – sad and boy racer-ish, but I don't care.
The accelerator pedal is extremely sensitive, which means this car takes some mastering to drive smoothly and quickly, while the gearbox is firm but precise. The Brembo brakes are also superb, pulling the car to a sudden stop from whichever extreme bout of acceleration you are embarked on.
And should the driver get too carried away, the ESP kicks in early and viciously, although it is too nannyish for some.
Dare I say it, but the TT is becoming anonymous. It is popular, and so many have been sold, that driving a TT is not going to make the driver the crowd-pleasing draw the other two cars here will, although that's the way some like it.
Despite being around for five years, the TT still looks pretty, and in 3.2 V6 DSG guise has finally got an engine deserving of a rather under-praised chassis.
Only when 247bhp is being transferred through is four-wheel drive quattro drivetrain do you realise how often much of this system is left redundant in most of the other TTs.
There is still masses of grip, and even in torrential rain, the ESP and quattro combines to make this as safe handling as it is possible to be.
It means that for a driver looking for a fast coupe, who doesn't want a trip to the corner shop for milk to turn into a race, the TT is a better option than the Nissan.
The DSG gearbox is excellent as well, providing smooth automatic shifts in the blink of an eye. Although it can be shifted manually, it's a gimmick that most drivers give up on after a day or two.
The dual clutch gearbox can also be used in Sport mode, but not many will be driving hard enough to use it. It's fine for flat out track driving, but it will not change up until the redline and it gets rather ludicrous driving down the high street in second at 4,000rpm.
The TT still delivers inside. Some complain that the thick pillars, low roof and high, dark dash can make it too gloomy and the fact that a radio cassette comes as standard and a CD player is a £200 option is very tight, even by Audi standards.
But it is finely made and individually styled, and still commands a loyal following.
I really should have got in the Crossfire first. Unfortunately, it was the third car tested and there was the 'after the Lord Mayor's show' feel about it.
Personally, I don't really like its appearance as I think it looks contrived and the designers have tried too hard with its American art deco design cues.
Having said that, this car turns heads like no other, and at least one of the Fleet News team fell hopelessly in love with the car. We had to wrench the keys off him when it was time to go back. So I accept I'm in the minority when it comes to this car's attractiveness.
And really, the vacuous Crossfire is all about looks. People will buy this car solely on its appearance and ability to make a fashion statement. They certainly will not buy it for its performance, handling or interior build quality.
The 215bhp 3.2-litre V6 just doesn't sound beefy enough, and whines too much. But that's mostly because Chrysler hasn't tried to make this an all-out performance car.
Cruising about being showered in envious stares is what this car is about. Acceleration also feels poor when compared to the other two cars on test here, despite a 0-62mph time of 6.5 seconds, and the handling can't come close to the other two cars, although the auto gearbox is very smooth.
The interior gets shown up next to the TT. But high specification helps to soften the feel of cheapness in the cabin. The leather seats are electrically powered and heated, there is cruise control and a CD player, and the car comes with a custom-fit three piece luggage set.
Out of the three, the Crossfire is the car for employees who don't really like driving, but love posing.
ALTHOUGH it just misses out to the Chrysler Crossfire in the pence-per-mile stakes, the Nissan 350Z would be our first choice. What it loses out to the Crossfire in costs it more than makes up for in charisma and overall value.
The Crossfire's lacklustre performance for the money, and cheap-feeling interior let it down and allow the TT to steal second place. The Audi feels more sophisticated and its DSG offer the benefits of auto without sacrificing performance.