I have always thought Marin Bikes did a nice job in the lower cost bike ranges. They usually have pretty bomb proof frames that can be upgraded as the cash flow is available.
Also, The best way to get High end bikes at Lower costs is to have a good relationship with a couple of LBS's. I bought my Specialized FSR Stummpy 29 at about Half of retail, I was considering a 26" Giant Anthem XO and they said they had a last years Specialized sitting in one of their other stores. It was a demo that had been ridden a couple of times. It was tricked out with SRAM XO,X9 and Avid Jucity 7's, tubless tires, Reba 29er fork........ End result I got a REALLY high end XC bike that fits me better than the one I was looking at at a Bargin basement price. Just because it has a little dirt on the tires.
This is the 4th. bike I have bought from this shop not to mention the pieces parts and accessories. Anyway a good bike shop is always a good thing to have a good relationship with. They even give me a Jersey and shorts occaionally so I can advertise their shop on charity rides and such!
I intend to die with a worn out body. So look in my casket and say "Damn he had Fun"
2008 Stumpjumper FSR 29er.