Five of the most affordable luxury cars that won't break the bank

The pinnacle of top-shelf brands are highly desirable machines, sometimes with waiting lists stretching months or years.

But those same brands also have more affordable models, each leveraging the image created by the flagship but at a more affordable price.

Some nail the brief, perfectly encapsulating the flavour and character of those more expensive models at a more affordable price point.

Ferrari Portofino

Exclusivity is guaranteed with Ferrari because the brand carefully manages how many cars it builds, ensuring demand is hotter than supply.

Besides, at $398,888 even the entry-level Portofino will not appeal to everyone.

Stepping in for the California, the Portofino has big expectations.

The formula is the same – 2+2 folding hard top powered by a twin-turbo V8 – but the execution is sharper, starting with the design.

Quiet achiever

The Portofino's lines and sculpted curves team with a long bonnet and classic proportions for a seductive look. Roof down, it's better.

The 3.9-litre V8 is a detuned version of the heart of the 488, although "detuned" is a relative term, because there's a full 441kW and 760Nm to play with.

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Where the Portofino loses marks is the sound – it drones at low revs and never has the raucous roar of naturally aspirated Ferraris.

Porsche Macan

Despite having more seats and more metal than the sports cars that define the brand, the Macan is far more affordable.

In the case of the regular Macan (there are others, including the S and Turbo) it's a $80,110 proposition. Bargain.

For that you get the same svelte body as other Macans, as well as the superb dynamics that make it one of the most engaging SUVs on the planet.

A grip on the competition

It's not about to upset a 911 in the bends, but the Macan hangs on tenaciously and benefits from excellent balance, in part courtesy of the rear-biased all-wheel drive system.

But if you're one who believes the engine is the heart of a sports car you may be disappointed in the base Macan.

Its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo is borrowed from parent company Volkswagen. There's 185kW and 375Nm for decent performance; 0-100km/h takes 6.7 seconds.

Just not as Porsche-like as some may expect.

BMW M2

Anyone who's driven an E36 M3 or E39 M5 will understand the joys of BMW's M cars.

Yes, the new ones are faster, but the rawness and engagement of those older machines set a high benchmark some would argue hasn't been passed.

Or, at least, it hadn't been until the M2.

Priced from $93,300 it's the most affordable way to get into a genuine M car, but it lacks nothing for excitement and pace.

A sportier finish

Using a detuned version of the 3.0-litre six-cylinder turbo from the M3 and M4, the M2 still has plenty in the way of go – and it's delivered in that luscious, linear way typical of the M breed.

The 272kW and 465Nm teamed with the seven-speed auto gets the baby Bimmer to 100km/h in 4.3 seconds.

Throw in sensational rear-drive dynamics – the M2 is 80mm wider than regular 2-Series coupes to accommodate a wider track and larger tyres – and it makes for a thoroughly engaging sports car.

Mercedes-AMG A45

The AMG legend has been built on loud V8s.

But the performance division of Mercedes-Benz has successfully expanded to include highly desirable four- and six-cylinders.

But the most affordable way to park a new AMG in your driveway is the A45, which utilises the hatchback body of the A-Class (a new model arrives soon) but adds more fire in the form of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo.

Top end details

There's a full 280kW to play with, and it's delivered in a fiery rush of revs.

While it lacks some low-rev oomph – get the turbo huffing and there's 475Nm - the A45 makes up for it with a peaky and punchy top end.

Initial acceleration is helped by the launch control system and slick-shifting seven-speed twin-clutch auto transmission driving through all four wheels, enough to blast to 100km/h in 4.2 seconds.

Lexus RC F

The RC F as the most affordable F performance Lexus in a sporadic range.

At $138,100 it's not cheap, although you do get proper sports car looks courtesy of the daring two-door design with aggressive headlights and distinctive lines flowing from the trademark grille.

Inside, too, are some quality materials and body hugging seats, as well as a superb 17-speaker Mark Levinson sound system. Shame about the clumsy touchpad for the infotainment system, though.

The lion's roar

In a world of turbochargers, the RC F's 5.0-litre engine sticks to a proven formula of natural aspiration – and it sounds better for it.

At low revs it's muted and well behaved, but keep your foot planted and rev it harder and there's one of the most glorious V8 roars you'll hear this side of Mount Panorama.

Performance is only adequate, in part because what the engine boasts in character it lacks in low-rev pull; sure, there's 530Nm, but it doesn't arrive until 4800rpm, by which time you may as well carry on to the 351kW power peak way up at 7100rpm.

Not such a bad thing given the sound emanating from up front.

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