The low-order, nine-component, primitive equation model of Lorenz (1980) is used as the basis for a comparative study of the quality of several intermediate models. All the models are intermediate between the primitive equations and quasi-geostrophy and will not support gravity-wave oscillations; this reduces to three the number of independent components in each. Strange attractors, stable limit cycles, and stable and unstable fixed points are found in the models. They are used to make a quantitative intercomparison of model performance as the forcing strength, or equivalently the Rossby number, is varied. The models can be ranked from best to worst at small Rossby number as follows: the primitive equations, the balance equations, hypogeostrophy, geostrophic momentum approximation, the linear balance equations, and quasi-geostrophy. At intermediate Rossby number the only change in this ranking is the demotion of hypogeostrophy to the position of worst. Caveats about the low-order model, and hence the generality of the conclusions, are also discussed.