Car Choice: My coupé runneth over

Hmmm... TT, SLK, 350Z or Z4? James Ruppert helps to crunch the numbers on a quartet of stylish sportsters
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Ian Gardner is driving an Audi TT, which goes back to the leasing company early next year. He has started looking for a new car now, as there are relatively long waiting lists on at least two of his dream vehicles.

He is looking at the new Audi TT, the Mercedes SLK200 and the Nissan 350Z. His budget is about £30,000, but he can be flexible. He has yet to decide whether to finance the new car as contract hire through his company, to buy it through his company, or to buy it privately.

If ever there was a question that needs to be answered by an accountant, this is it. Ian's financial adviser will know exactly what his best options are based on his personal and business circumstances. Just thinking about it can give you a headache.

At the simplest level, though, the act of registering a car in his own name means that he'll be exempt from company-car tax. As Ian is choosing sporty cars that will usually have high CO2 emissions, he will be avoiding a hefty company-car tax bill.

The thing is: can Ian afford not only to buy the car, but also to run it? That will mean swallowing the costs of depreciation, insurance, road tax, fuel, servicing and sundry parts such as tyres and exhausts.

When it comes to working out company-car tax liability, the first thing you have to do is to work out the price (that's the list price including any options, but excluding the cost of first registration and road tax). Then you multiply your tax liability percentage (the car's CO2 emissions in g/km; look on the official website www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk) by the car's price. Then you multiply that figure by your rate of income tax: either 22 per cent (basic) or 40 per cent (higher rate). The final figure is your company-car tax bill. Phew.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

Using his head a bit, maybe Ian should not order a new car according to his own specification - that can take at least three months. If the vehicle he wants is in stock - including the Audi TT and the Mercedes and the 350Z - he may be able to get a deal. I found quite a few Audi TTs available via car brokers and car supermarkets, with discounts; Motorpoint in Derby (08701 254 321) reckoned that they had two 2.0T FSI models in stock at £24,599, which only saves £26 on the recommended retail price.

It will be better, then, for Ian to be patient - and indeed perhaps to consider an ex-demonstrator car that will be used for three months at most and is then sold at below list price. I think he should start ringing around Audi dealers or getting in touch with UK-based brokers.

Ian should then take the same approach when it comes to the other vehicles he's considering. The Nissan 350Z is also available with a modest saving through the Autobytel website, which gets official dealers to offer their best prices. In this case, a 350Z V6 300 at £25,883 represented a saving of just over £600.

When it comes to working out the tax implications for these cars, and for the Mercedes, there are plenty of online calculators that make working it all out a lot easier; Ian could surf along to www.lvl.co.uk.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

There is a new performance coupé on the block, and it's called the all-new BMW Z4. Now, if there was any criticism of the old TT (apart from the fact that it was not the sharpest-handling coupé about), it was that everyone seemed to have one. In some city-centre streets, the area seemed to be teeming with them.

That somewhat took the edge off their undoubted style - and it also explains why Audi have revamped the styling and improved the handling with their latest model. This TT is now more than a match for the BMW Z4, but it is unlikely that the Z4 will ever be quite so, er, common.

Anyway, the Z4 has very rakish and macho styling that is likely to divide opinion quite sharply. For once, owning a BMW may seem like a ruggedly individual thing to do.

There is one problem, however; the retail price for the 3.0 Si SE model is £31,400. Still, it should be possible to get that down to somewhere very close to Ian's £30,000 budget. BMW dealers are not exactly overrun with customers at the moment and they should listen to reasonable offers.

What Ian will get is a coupé that has BMW's usually brilliant engine and more than nimble handling, which taken together should make the Z4 consistently amusing to drive.

CAR CHOICE

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and contact telephone number, as well as details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested as well as your budget.

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