To help clear a path through the turmoil of prestige brands, great engines and show-off soft tops, and to aid the fleet operator in helping choose a car that does not cost the company a fortune, we have chosen six of the best.
These are the sort of cars that make employees feel good about themselves, makes them feel wanted, and in turn keeps them from jumping ship to the competitor with the flashier offices and better staff canteen.
For the fleet manager, they are also all pretty safe bets at the end of the lease, being highly prized on the used market, although service and maintenance bills could start to pile up if the driver starts getting carried away.
First up is the Audi TT. With dependable Volkswagen Golf underpinnings, a shape that still turns heads, combined with four-wheel drive backing up 225bhp performance. It looks one of the safest bets here.
The BMW we have chosen is the four-seater 325 Ci Sport Convertible because the Z3 model is in run-out and the new Z4 will not be available until next year.
The S2000 has the benefit of Honda reliability, a fantastic engine, and rarity value. It may not have the badge cachet of some of the other cars here, but it looks hot and is great fun.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK is perhaps the least all-out sporting car here, and is the oldest, but it still has bags of class and sophistication, and the metal roof is usefully secure if it has to be left out.
As for the Lotus Elise 111S, this will appeal to two very specific types of employee: the all-out driving enthusiast or the tax-obsessed, because with its super low emissions it is by far the cheapest here. Fuel economy is the best by miles as well, although bear in mind SMR costs, which look pretty steep.
Most expensive of the selection is the Porsche Boxster, bringing ownership of a top brand to the masses, without compromising on quality. This car really will keep employees happy, with sublime handling and precision engineering. Don't expect cheap servicing or decent spec at the entry price though.
Inchcape Vehicle Contracts
'A minority segment that has remained fairly constant, despite changes in taxation, mainly due to the fact that it tends to be high-level executives driving these cars. Limited growth may occur where employees are offered a cash alternative and can choose their own car, but this will be restricted by increased running costs and the popularity of ECOS schemes, where employers can dictate the type of car run by the employee.'
Zenith Vehicle Contracts
'This sector is particularly buoyant at the moment, with all of these cars being very sought after. The Audi TT, BMW 3-series convertible, Mercedes-Benz SLK and Porsche Boxster are around in sufficient numbers on the used car market now to mean that buyers can be very choosy as far as colour and specification are concerned. Cars with the correct specification and history are making good money on the used market.'
purchasing and database manager
ING Car Lease
'These cars are a fleet manager's nightmare. They want to include them on policies so as not to appear 'killjoys', yet they worry about inappropriate driving and the high risk of theft that comes with these cars. Corporate manslaughter may be on the back-burner but are these cars appropriate to a driver's job, or are they cars to woo back perk drivers into company cars and ensure staff retention?'
general manager sales operations
'Executive sports' used to be an oxymoron but now the sector really is coming into its own. All these cars mix driving thrills with top-of-the-tree residual values, so drivers and fleet managers get to have their cake and eat it. The German cars have stronger executive credentials. Great for individualists, although safety and security factors need extra consideration when putting any of them on your fleet.'
head of LeasePlan Fleetline
'There are very few company car drivers who will be lucky enough to have a choice list like this. These cars are all about power, status, style and fun. The ultimate winner will have to combine all of these attributes along with being able to cope with the traditional wet British weather and the daily traffic grind. Fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions are secondary considerations in this sector.'
Audi TT 225 Roadster
Cope: 'Still very popular and ageing well. A new V6 engine will boost the range next year and provide Audi with more of a challenge to the Boxster and the new BMW Z4.'
Phillips: 'This car handles beautifully and performance is brisk. The seats are comfy and build quality is great. Enough boot space for weekend away and my child seat fitted easily.'
Schooling: 'The extra margin given by four-wheel drive makes it great fun to drive. It's also well equipped, although the rear seats aren't really big enough for adults.'
Harnett: 'Long lead times suggest that the TT is still as popular today as the day it was launched. It comes stacked with standard kit including leather, climate control, xenon headlights and metallic paint. A great package only let down by the fact that boot space is limited.'
Beet: 'The TT has a strong look and is well built. It has smooth interior curves that follow on nicely from the exterior shape, although it is slightly hampered by the rear spoiler. A popular choice, with the type of specification you would expect from a car of this marque.'
Average monthly rental: £536
P11D price: £28,870
Average net price: £23,415
Average maintenance: £2,519
Average RV: £12,335/43%
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £1,715/£3,118
2002 VED bill: £155
Honda S2000 GT
Schooling: 'Who wouldn't be seduced by the sweet howl of an engine that spins all the way to 9,000rpm? Lacks the instant cachet of the BMW or Audi but is the bargain of the bunch.'
Harnett: 'The S2000 is a budget car in a high performance sector. The engine is outstanding and always seems to want to give more. Standard equipment is excellent and you shouldn't have to wait to long to get your hands on one. An under-rated option'.
Beet: 'With 240bhp, the Honda engine is one of the most powerful 2.0-litre non-turbos around. One of the lowest monthly rentals but not the first sports car that would spring to mind and quite a low specification for the price.'
Cope: 'The S2000 sells in much smaller numbers than the Audi and BMW and is more of a choice for the enthusiast, with a VTEC engine that redlines at a stratospheric 9,000 rpm.'
Phillips: 'If you want a sexy car that's easy to drive, very reliable and that you won't end up parked next to then this is it. Emotive starter button adds to appeal and the child seat fitted easily. In the power band it's a hoot to drive.'
Average monthly rental £509
P11D price £26,815
Average net price £21,928
Average maintenance £2,247
Average RV £11,340/42%
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £1,711/£3,111
2002 VED bill £155
Mercedes-Benz SLK230 Kompressor
Harnett: 'The SLK is a number of years old but is still extremely desirable. The ability to have a coupe and convertible in one is unique in this sector. A well built solid car that is comfortable rather than inspiring.'
Beet: 'One of the best in this selection with a high standard specification, the SLK is a relatively low cost way to acquire an open top Mercedes-Benz and the perceived exclusiveness that comes with the brand.'
Cope: 'Now six years old, the SLK is still very much in demand, although the arrival of the new SL does make it appear quite dated. A new model is due next year.'
Phillips: 'Every woman in the office loved this car with many choosing it as their favourite, which must say something. The folding metal roof is a thing of beauty and offers huge security benefits. Handling and performance are good but in this group outclassed.'
Schooling: 'Strays a bit too far out of sports territory for some tastes in the way it insulates you from the road. Nevertheless it performs more than adequately. The impressive roof adds to security.'
Average monthly rental £536
P11D price £28,350
Average net price £26,827
Average maintenance £2,769
Average RV £10,345/36%
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £1,871/£3,402
2002 VED bill £155
BMW 325 Ci Convertible
Phillips: 'The sensible choice thanks to great looks, useable rear seats, decent boot, superb build quality plus lowest rental. It's not a sports car like the others but is fun to drive. Only problem is getting someone to let you out of a junction.'
Schooling: 'Defines the executive convertible class with superb engineering, bags of driver appeal and the advantage of being a genuine four-seater. A very shrewd choice.'
Harnett: 'A great car and due to the BMW name it will be eternally successful. Residuals are very strong and maintenance costs are better than average. It is let down by mediocre performance compared to its rivals plus you can expect to pay £1,200 for metallic and leather.'
Beet: 'The BMW has one of the highest monthly rentals, but that is unlikely to put anyone off. Although it faces competition, it is still high on the list of status symbols. Looking slightly tired, as the style hasn't changed enough over the last five years.'
Cope: 'These cars are in short supply and are still very desirable, but must have leather and a full dealer history to ensure maximum resale. Sport spec has given a popularity boost.'
Average monthly rental £551
P11D price £30,320
Average net price £24,575
Average maintenance £2,372
Average RV £13,264/44%
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £1,934/£3,517
2002 VED bill £155
Lotus Elise 111S
Beet: 'The new version looks incredibly sporty and has increased power. The list of comfort features is low but then this is not your everyday A to B model.'
Cope: 'More than any of the other cars featured, values of the Elise are very mileage dependent. The trade prefers low mileage examples that have been kept as second cars. Although the latest models now feature carpets and air con, it would take a real enthusiast to live with the Elise on a day-to-day basis.'
Phillips: 'My daughter's middle name is Elise in honour of this car. Spartan interior and noise makes it a true sports car. Who would put themselves through a three-year/60,000-miles contract despite its BIK tax-busting emissions?'
Schooling: 'Hugely enjoyable in small doses but not a choice for anyone doing serious mileage. Despite competitive price, high running costs push rentals up. Cheap on CO2 tax – but how relevant is that in this territory?'
Harnett: 'There is no doubt that on performance the Elise takes a lot of beating. However as a 20,000-mile-a-year car it is entirely impractical – this car should be a second car or one that is covering minimal mileage.'
Average monthly rental £589
P11D price £27,995
Average net price £24,647
Average maintenance £4,304
Average RV £10,269/37%
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £1,047/£1,904
2002 VED bill £140
Porsche Boxster 2.7
Cope: 'The Boxster has been mildly facelifted for the 2003 model year. Used examples are readily available, so it is vital that cars have leather, air conditioning and 17-inch or 18-inch alloy wheels.'
Phillips: 'The interior is bland until your eye catches the steering wheel badge. It's quick but not as fast as you'd think. Two boots give some practicality – but best of all it's a Porsche.'
Schooling: 'Accepting that £30,000 is cheap for a Porsche, your heart says 'yes' and your head can say 'yes' too, since you can run one of these for the same lifetime cost as a Vauxhall Omega.'
Harnett: 'A very desirable and superbly finished car. Unfortunately the £31,630 price only tells part of the story. To reach an adequate level of spec the true cost will be closer to £36,500. The TT and BMW are better options.'
Beet: 'The Porsche comes with a list of optional extras that far outweighs the other models. At over £30,000 it's still not a cheap option, but if it's the prestige of the brand and the joy of ownership that you are after, then this is the model for you.'
Average monthly rental £620.16
P11D price £31,450
Average net price £26,827
Average maintenance £4,577
Average RV £16,559/53%
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £2,145/£3,900
2002 VED bill £155