UK drivers get a taste for glitzy motoring
YOU only have to look at the number of Audi TTs sold over the past few years – about 10,000 a year in the UK – to see just how popular convertible sports cars have become in the corporate arena.
It’s down to a number of factors but, as a nation, we’ve become better off, more successful in business and more concerned with luxury items.
It also helps that there are some seriously good convertible sports cars out there, that are no longer uncomfortable, awkward to drive and poorly put together. Owning a convertible in winter is not the chore it used to be and even ragtops like the TT, Z4 and Boxster will withstand a fierce winter easily.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK is the only one here that has a full hardtop and it’s a big improvement over its rather effete predecessor.
The new Boxster is a development of a winning car, while the Z4 has managed the same trick over the Z3 as the SLK by beefing up more.
Honda’s S2000 is one for the enthusiasts with its fantastic high-revving engine, while the Lotus Elise is for drivers who like their motoring raw.
Audi TT 1.8T Quattro 225
P11D price: £29,627
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £2,086/£3,792
2004 VED bill: £160
LeasePlan Fleetline £543.76
Lex Vehicle Leasing £497.01
Custom Fleet £545.89
Lloyds TSBautolease £427.72
BMW Z4 3.0i SE
P11D price: £31,452
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £2,145/£3,900
2004 VED bill: £160
LeasePlan Fleetline £572.54
Lex Vehicle Leasing £563.62
Custom Fleet £599.53
Lloyds TSBautolease £572.04
P11D price: £27,402
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £2,050/£3,727
2004 VED bill £160
LeasePlan Fleetline £513.39
Lex Vehicle Leasing £495.41
Custom Fleet £537.59
Lloyds TSBautolease £497.23
Lotus Elise 111R
P11D price: £27,995
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £1,724/£3,135
2004 VED bill: £160
LeasePlan Fleetline £673.85
Lex Vehicle Leasing £561.63
Custom Fleet £653.79
Lloyds TSBautolease £631.93
Mercedes-Benz SLK 200K
P11D price: £27,842
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £1,715/£3,118
2004 VED bill:£160
LeasePlan Fleetline £484.91
Lex Vehicle Leasing £505.73
Custom Fleet £477.26
Lloyds TSBautolease £483.10
Porsche Boxster 2.7
P11D price: £32,320
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £2,275/£4,137
2004 VED bill: £160
LeasePlan Fleetline £625.53
Lex Vehicle Leasing £563.46
Custom Fleet £620.08
Lloyds TSBautolease £608.22
Consultancy manager, DaimlerChrysler Services Fleet Management
This basket of vehicles is clearly aimed at the user- chooser driver or those in the fortunate position of having a high cash allowance.
Their primary attraction will be badge, looks, performance and price. Practicality, economy and wholelife costs are of secondary concern, with drivers choosing for a specific purpose such as raw power or status.
The well-balanced, mid-engine Boxster and Elise both provide the ultimate drive and, for someone wishing to enjoy an exciting open-top driving experience, the SLK, Z4, S2000 and TT will provide this in varying degrees of comfort.
When it comes to price and performance, the S2000 and TT perform well but lack the status in the car park.
The SLK and Z4 have the additional advantage of being sports models from prestige manufacturers. However, with the heritage and breeding of Porsche and Lotus, the driver’s thirst for exhilaration will be quenched.
Pricing manager, Lloyds TSBautolease
The com-petition is fierce in this sector, with some new models really upping an already high ante.
The two most competitive cars here, in terms of a corporate choice, are the BMW Z4 and the Mercedes-Benz SLK.
The Z4 has a more rugged appearance than the Mercedes, possibly appealing to men more than women. The Mercedes comes with a new steel Vario-roof, a clever feature specially created for the SLK. When the roof is up, it is significantly less noisy than the Z4. But the roof does have its downside – it takes longer to operate and removes vital boot space. When it comes to rentals, the SLK is more competitive than the BMW.
The new Porsche Boxster may look unchanged on the outside but has undergone a number of changes, including improved suspension, increased legroom, boosted bhp and many more technical enhancements.
Pricing manager, Lex Vehicle Leasing
I know what you’re thinking – you’ve never seen a more unlikely bunch of fleet cars, but actually this is a fast growing sector in contract hire.
With more freedom to choose, a significant number of drivers are looking at cars that give them real car-park kudos.
For many people their choice of car will come down to looks, badge and the opinion of the motoring media, but there are more practical considerations.
The more specialist the car, the less dealers and the less fleet-focused the manufacturer. The Boxster and the Elise are superb sports cars, and dynamically the pick of the bunch, but tracking down your nearest dealer, and getting the car serviced on the day you’re available, could be a challenge.
The other four cars are capable, and maybe more importantly are backed up by a big network of franchised dealers. In terms of picking one out, all four hold up excellent residuals and performance way in advance of saloons with a similar price point.
My advice on picking one out? Arrange a test drive for each car, take a photo outside your local pub and spend the long winter nights making your mind up.
Trade services manager, Custom Fleet
THIS is not your typical fleet choice list but the rise of the user-chooser means this class of car cannot be ignored in fleet terms. Because they are all so atypical, appeal is dependent on individual choice.
The new Mercedes SLK comes top. It has a wider general appeal than its predecessor with improved overall performance and has the lowest list price and best holding costs, all of which combine to make it £146 a month cheaper than the rapid Lotus Elise, our back-marker from a fleet perspective.
The Audi TT roadster offers a fantastic open-top driving experience and is our second rated car, but is still £68 a month dearer than the SLK. For sheer all-out driving fun, the Honda S2000 is only beaten by the Elise but is far more useable.
The BMW Z4 styling doesn’t appeal to everyone and is a massive £122 a month costlier than the SLK – but is a much quicker car. The Porsche Boxster has lost some of its prestige appeal due to its ubiquity and has quite horrendous SMR costs.
The costliest to run in every aspect is the Lotus Elise, which is completely impractical as a fleet car but excellent fun.
Head of LeasePlan Fleetline
ThE SLK wins this category. It has reliability for low maintenance costs, the Mercedes badge for class-leading residuals and the technology that gives a fantastic coupe and convertible in one car. The competition is varied. The upgraded Boxster is an improvement on an already legendary car.
However, the initial price and lack of standard options is always going to raise question marks despite the excellent wholelife costs.
The Z4 is a vast improvement on the Z3 and the SMI pack helps keep maintenance costs in check. The starting price is expensive and the residual, although strong, is not in the same bracket as the Mercedes.
The S2000 could be a genuine rival to the SLK. The handling is now much better but the look is not as fresh as the other models in the category.
The TT’s engine is good and the styling still turns heads but it is a becoming much more common sight on the roads, which means its appeal is reducing.
On performance and excitement alone, the Elise would win but practicality and reliability factors mean the Elise needs to be a second car for occasional and weekend use.
How the panel voted
1. Mercedes-Benz SLK 200K
The new SLK was the resounding winner from our panel, who agreed unanimously that it was the best choice. A hard roof, great looks, strong residuals and decent fuel economy made it unbeatable.
2=. Audi TT 1.8T Quattro 225
The TT is getting long in the tooth, but it’s such a classic design that it is still desirable. Joint second is a good effort for a car whose residuals are starting to suffer. It is still the darling of corporate drivers.
2=. BMW Z4 3.0i SE
When totted up, the Z4’s scores from the panel were all over the place, which reflects its love-it or loathe-it styling. But there’s no denying it’s a great drive with a great engine and solid costs.
3. Honda S2000
Honda’s S2000 doesn’t quite have the same brand strength as the German cars, which is reflected in its attractiveness to corporate customers. It’s also more of an edgy, high-revving car.
4. Porsche Boxster 2.7
The Boxster came fifth, surprisingly, but the panel concerns itself mainly with running costs. For some drivers, it will be a case of hang the cost – it has to be a Porsche. And why not?
5. Lotus Elise 111R
Not really surprising that the little Lotus comes a resounding last. This is motoring stripped bare and won’t cosset the pampered executive. But, on the right road, it is the most fun here.