The Australian cricket team selectors must have the same problems as we did with this upper- medium diesel leasing panel, when they try to select names from a massive pool of talent. Which top quality choices do you leave out?
Because the selection is so wide and so strong, we avoided making subjective judgements about picking the best six and decided to go for the newest additions to the sector. It illustrates the rate of progress though, when all could easily make a top six list.
It has also meant leaving out such heavyweights as the Volkswagen Passat, Peugeot 406, Volvo S40, Rover 75 and Toyota Avensis. At this price, about the £18,000 mark, we could sneak into the premium sector with bottom-of-the-range offerings from Alfa Romeo (156), Saab (9-3) and Audi (A4). The options that open with this sort of money is huge.
But you could not do such a survey without a top quality opener, in the form of the Ford Mondeo. Fast, fun, well-built and with a superb engine, the Mondeo is one of the finest fleet cars money can buy.
And with the Mondeo comes its arch rival, the Vauxhall Vectra. Now much improved, the Vectra has extremely high levels of equipment and is not nearly so dull as the old model. Its engine could be a weak point, though.
The young pup mantle goes to the Mazda6. It has had some great reviews, particularly for its road manners and styling, but how will the leasing industry find it, concerned with wholelife costs and residuals and not its ability to roar across a roundabout?
The Primera is the eccentric in a pretty conservative sector. Experience with various test cars has proved that people fall equally into two camps: 'I hate it' and 'I love it', which to be fair to Nissan is the reaction it was going for. It is imperative that it can convert enough of the 'I love its' into 'I'll have ones' to make the car a success. Competitive rentals and residuals are essential.
The Renault Laguna has the most powerful engine here at 150bhp, and has some of the best gadgets, but do they always work? Style and flair are not a problem and it could prove to be one of the strongest contenders.
The dynamics of many of the other cars in this survey focus on driver involvement and cornering ability. The Citroen C5 goes the other way, aiming for comfortable wafty cruising with little fuss, and interior space. Flying the flag for the PSA Group here, the C5 uses the HDi common rail engine that for so long many of the other manufacturers jealously eyed. The question is, have they caught up?
Kelvin Collins, marketing manager, HSBC Vehicle Finance
'With the new benefit-in-kind tax system now in full swing these cars are likely to be the biggest sellers. In the past the PSA Group (Peugeot and Citroen) was more likely to head the sales charts but no more. Ford has risen from supplying some of the worst diesel engines in the sector to being one of the best. Such is the demand for diesel that even Honda and Mazda are keen to offer products in this sector.'
Rob Rossiter, remarketing manager, ALD Automotive
'A competitive group which makes the drivers' choice difficult. The cars here are fairly new and combine state-of- the-art diesel engines with fresh styling, bags of space and individuality due to some standard equipment that sets them apart from each other. Many drivers now prefer diesel engines over petrol derivatives, but this sharp increase in volume will see a decline in diesel residual values.'
Martin Phillips, purchasing and database manager, ING Car Lease
'These cars represent an excellent choice of specification, ride and pleasurable driving. The Mondeo set the benchmark, producing a real drivers' car. The diesel technology is state-of-the-art and a million miles away from early oil burners in this sector. However, good as these cars are, those entitled to one are probably on their calculators seeing if opting out would get them into something more prestigious.'
Andy Brown, operations director, Hertz Lease
'This sector has seen the biggest shift towards diesel power since the benefit-in-kind taxation changes were announced. However, it is critical to judge the diesel models on their merits, because there are still good and bad choices to be made, despite the pace of progress in this field. The user chooser and used car buyer will discriminate harshly against the less able or less appealing models.'
David Harnett, head of LeasePlan Fleetline
'In this competitive sector you have to build a car that satisfies a multitude of requirements. The driver of an upper-medium diesel car often covers a considerable amount of miles and he/she requires reliability, comfort, performance and, if possible, an element of individuality. With a number of new models on the market it is interesting to see which of the manufacturers has taken heed of the drivers' requirements.' The cars:
Citroen C5 2.2 HDi SX
Rossiter: 'Plenty of space for all passengers and luggage, and an HDI diesel unit that competes with the best around. Citroen is keen to increase market share, resulting in very aggressive front end pricing, but this is pegged back by poorer residuals than some of its rivals.'
Collins: 'Citroen has tried to replace two cars with one and it has not quite worked. A comfortable cruiser that lacks the sharpness of others. Strong diesel engines will attract buyers, but only at the right price.'
Brown: 'Unashamedly comfort biased and none the worse for it, but loses out on image as a result. The diesel engines are competitive but it looks odd from some angles.'
Phillips: 'Great suspension system creates a magic carpet ride with technological goodies galore. Superb diesel is easy to drive but not very interesting. That said, it makes an excellent motorway muncher and eats luggage for fun. The C5 is not the best looking car and is not the most interesting but it is functional.'
Harnett: 'The hydraulic suspension is excellent and the 134bhp HDI engine is a good middle of the road contender.'
Average monthly rental: £365
P11D price £17,520
Average net price £13,687
Average maintenance £1,781
Average RV £4,234/24%
ING Car Lease: £361.45
Hertz Lease: £364.78
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £694/£1,261
2002 VED Bill: £130
Ford Mondeo 2.0 TDCi 130 Ghia
Harnett: 'Despite being nearly two years old, the Mondeo is still difficult to beat. It has excellent safety features and a strong level of standard equipment including climate control and electric driver's seat. Strong residuals and maintenance budgets give an extremely competitive rental which, together with class-leading CO2, mean the Mondeo is a winner.
Collins: 'Mondeo received rave reviews when it was launched and it wasn't long before it was top of its sector. If it had been available with TDCi technology then it really could have claimed to be better than a Volkswagen Passat.'
Brown: 'A great all-rounder, this car is far better than its mass-market badge suggests. The common-rail engines are very effective.'
Rossiter: 'Ford has hit the jackpot with this common rail diesel unit, putting the icing on the Mondeo cake. Excellent ergonomics assist to make this one of the jewels in Ford's crown.'
Phillips: 'Quick, frugal and the benchmark as far as a driver's car goes. Numbers are swelling so exclusivity does not comes as standard, and at a glance it is not clear what trim level you are driving.'
Average monthly rental: £382
P11D price: £18,090
Average net price: £14,353
Average maintenance: £1,541
Average RV: £4,771/26%
ING Car Lease: £377.15
Hertz Lease: £374.82
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £716/£1,302
2002 VED bill: £130
Mazda6 2.0d TS2
Phillips: 'Its CO2 is higher than its rivals, MPG not as good and others are quicker, but none are this gorgeous. The car looks thousands of pounds more expensive: a real head-turner with a BIK-friendly price tag.
Harnett: 'The Mazda promises much but does not deliver. A fantastic looking car but the driving dynamics and general performance disappoint. The rental is uncompetitive, meaning the 6 will not be top of wish lists.'
Collins: 'Mazda clearly had more than an eye on Mondeo when it penned the 6. Its styling is good and is dynamically not far short of the benchmark. Those wanting to be a little more individual look no further.'
Brown: 'Billed as the start of a new beginning, we have not driven the diesel yet but Mazda has got its act together and all the early signs are positive. The petrol Mazda6 rides and drives well and has distinctive looks.'
Rossiter: 'Much improved design should help Mazda improve its market share, which is crucial if the car is to succeed. Plenty of performance and good reliability are other attractions, but CO2 is a bit high.'
Average monthly rental: £373
P11D price: £17,240
Average net price: £13,912
Average maintenance: £1,510
Average RV: £4,601/26% Rental Rates
ING Car Lease: £370.62
Hertz Lease: £379.96
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £766/£1,394
2002 VED bill: £150
Nissan Primera 2.2 Di SE
Rossiter: 'The most radical looking car with some unique standard features. This is another car that needs to improve market share to succeed. The engine is unrefined in comparison to some, but fuel consumption is among the best.'
Phillips: 'Nissan's bold exterior design does not do the fabulous interior justice. However, the inside is an excellent place to be and the drive is good.'
Harnett: 'Despite an abundance of gimmicks and extras the Primera falls short of its competitors. The rentals are competitive but CO2 is high and it lacks the desirability that would make it a true winner.'
Collins: 'Primera has shaken of its boring image with a stylish, innovative interior and reversing camera. Diesel technology falls some way behind the best.'
Brown: 'Interesting styling, if not attractive. Some clever features like the central console but the reversing camera is a gimmick. Diesel is easy-going but being over 2.0-litres causes extra tax burden. Dark interior is a must as the beige will get scruffy quickly.'
Average monthly rental: £359
P11D price: £16,945
Average net price: £13,380
Average maintenance: £1,629
Average RV: £4,422/26%
ING Car Lease: £343.32
Hertz Lease: £359.71
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £671/£1,220
2002 VED Bill: £130
Renault Laguna 2.2 dCi Dynamique
Collins: 'Stunning exterior not matched inside, but nonetheless a fine car with refined dCi technology and top performer in the safety stakes. Chassis is set up to deliver comfort rather than sporting prowess. Runs Mondeo very close.'
Brown: 'Quality issues early on but well equipped and a popular choice, particularly in diesel form. The 1.9-litre version is the optimal choice if you are paying tax on the fuel.'
Rossiter: 'The first car to gain a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating, which should appeal to the safety conscious. It also boasts the most powerful engine here, making the overall package one of the best around.'
Phillips: 'Top safety rating with lavish equipment levels. Early cars' technological wizardry had the odd hiccup but seems sorted now. Definitely blessed with the coolest key plus the emotive starter button – very chic.'
Harnett: 'The Laguna is an attractive car with a solid engine and is a worthy contender. It has the comfort for motorway driving and close on the heals of the Mondeo. Still has a little way to go though.'
Average monthly rental: £377
P11D price: £17,910
Average net price: £13,687
Average maintenance: £1,781
Average RV: £4,880/27%
ING Car Lease: £382.92
Hertz Lease: £374.15
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £709/£1,229
2002 VED bill: £130
Vauxhall Vectra 2.2 DTi Elegance
Brown: 'Still struggling to recapture the affection held for the Cavalier, the second generation Vectra is quiet and refined but not as much fun to drive as the Mondeo. Styling is bland and engine not up to scratch.'
Rossiter: 'Offers class-leading features and Vauxhall is keen to make up for lost ground on Ford. The engine does not deliver, but styling will attract many. An improved engine could take it to the top.'
Phillips: 'Opinion divided on the Vectra but this combination of engine and specification works well apart from the bonkers indicators. Vectra is now in the game.
Harnett: 'The new Vectra is an improvement on the old model. It has grown up considerably and residuals reflect this. Let down by the engine which is noisy and outdated. Once resolved, the Vectra will challenge Mondeo.'
Collins: 'As one of the new kids on the block Vectra should be ahead of the game, but it is not quite where it should be. The diesel power unit is much more refined than in the old car, but to be nearer the best it needs common rail.'
Average monthly rental: £367
P11D price: £17,420
Average net price: £13,943
Average maintenance: £1,387
Average RV: £4,900/28%
ING Car Lease: £359.44
Hertz Lease: £373.94
2002 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £766/£1,393
2002 VED bill: £150