As cars that must live in the shadow of more illustrious brethren go, the Mercedes-Benz C43 AMG is up there. It is, for many, the compromise model; the one you buy if you couldn't afford the proper one. Maybe that's a little unfair, though. The C43 is a likeable car in its own right, its four-wheel-drive and blown six giving it a character that's slightly different to the 63's. Where the more powerful car is all muscle, the C43 feels leaner, lighter and more forgiving.
Granted, as Mr Sheehan found when he drove it last month, it's less adjustable and ultimately less exciting than the 63. But the flipside is that it offers a more accessible way into AMG performance while still delivering a healthy slice of enjoyment thanks to its pace, grip and snorty exhaust note.
Problem is - and there's no way to sugar-coat this, so we'll just come right out and say it - it costs £50,995. A not-inconsiderable sum of money for a car that isn't quite the top-end package, and probably one that puts it out of reach for quite a few buyers. So for those of us who aren't quite as flush with cash, can we find anything that does what the C43 can - but for half the price?
The search for a four-wheel-drive performance saloon starts, predictably, with a trip to Audi, and this rather clean-looking S4. The ad boasts of a full main-dealer history, while the grey-over-red-leather colour scheme is certainly eyecatching. It's done 25,000 miles, too, which is well below average. Trouble is, this generation of S4 was always criticised for its lifeless steering and uninvolving chassis, making it potentially even less invigorating to drive than the C43. Surely, then, we can do better...
Ditching the requirement for four-wheel drive brings you to the doorstep of a rather nice looking BMW 340i M Sport - but then we realised that this 640i M Sport Gran Coupe, at the same age and with only 1,000 miles more on the clock, could be had for exactly the same price. Bargain, no? Mind you, as lovely as it is, even we have to admit that a four-door luxury express is pushing it as a rival to a two-door executive coupe. This is a trade-off winner for another day.
So is transpires our half-price hero comes from a company that's had its fair share of negative headlines this week. But for all the troubles JLR's experiencing at the moment, they still make some very desirable cars; among which the XE S has to stand out as one of the most underrated - a fact we discovered when we took one out for a drive last year.
While the XE S doesn't have the might of the M3s and C63s of this world, it is nevertheless a wonderfully deft thing to drive, with beautifully judged damping, endlessly communicative steering and excellent balance.
Power, lest you've forgotten, comes from the same supercharged, 380hp 3.0-litre V6 we like so much in the F-Type; that's enough to make the XE S good for the 62mph dash in 5.1 seconds, a few tenths less than the C43 (as you'd expect given the Merc's traction advantage off the line). In the real world though, you wouldn't think the rivals are very far apart at all in performance terms.
And then, of course, there's the way the XE's engine sounds - 'more purposeful and authentic' than the C43's, or so we said in our review. What's more, while the XE isn't the most spacious saloon in the world, its extra pair of doors do at least make it more practical than the C43 Coupe - while, we'd contend giving very little away on looks.
The example we found is just outside its warranty period - which could be a concern if Jaguar's reliability rep is anything to go by - but it's covered just 9,000 miles, so it should at least feel like a new car to drive. It's been fitted with a heap of options, too, including a panoramic roof, two-tone leather, heated seats and a heated steering wheel - just the ticket in this chilly winter weather.
What's more, it comes in Firenze Red, the XE's launch colour and one which looks rather smashing when it's polished up on a sunny day. Makes a change from grey, black or silver, doesn't it? Okay, so you'll have to live without the C43's four-wheel drive traction. But what you're getting in its place is a car that's at least as exciting to drive as the Merc, if not more so; one that offers the adjustability and excitement the C43 lacks - and one that's a little more left-field, too.
This example's barely been used, and should the recent expiry of the manufacturer warranty put you off, at this price, you can easily afford to extend it or add an aftermarket equivalent. As half-price heroes go, then, this is one of the most tempting we've yet featured - frankly, even though it's three years older, we'd find it hard to lay out more than fifty large for a brand-new C43 knowing it was lurking in the classifieds.
SPECIFICATION - MERCEDES-AMG C43 COUPE
Engine: 2,996cc biturbo V6
Transmission: 9-speed auto TCT, four-wheel drive
Torque(lb ft): 384@2,500-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.7 secs
Top speed: 155mph (electronically limited)
Weight: 1,750kg (EU, with driver)
SPECIFICATION - 2015 JAGUAR XE S
Engine: 2,995cc, supercharged V6
Transmission: 8-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 380@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 331@3,500-5,000rpm
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,635kg (kerbweight)
MPG: 34.0 (NEDC combined)