Best executive cars

Last updated: Oct 24, 2013

The best executive cars are some of the most desirable models on the road. But in this competitive class of car, it's not enough to just look good and have a premium badge on the bonnet. The best executive cars are also extremely comfortable, quiet and relaxing to drive, powerful but economical with low levels of CO2 emissions. They also have luxurious interiors and all the latest gadgets.

It's not easy to combine all those qualities in a reasonably priced machine, but there are manufacturers who manage it. And here are the ten best models they produce:

BMW 3 Series saloon

The BMW 3 Series has been our pick as the best executive car for two years running, and the current car is certainly the best 3 Series ever. With its accurate steering, excellent engine options and lots of grip the car is great fun to drive, but BMW haven’t let the side down on comfort either. The great driving position, classy interior and quiet ride mean motorway trips are no problem. It’s not a particularly cheap car, and options are expensive, but the standard equipment includes alloy wheels, air-conditioning and cruise control. Fuel economy of 68.9mpg in the 320d diesel model cements the BMW 3 Series as the best all-round executive car. Read more.

Key points

4.9 / 5
Price 
£23,555 - £43,685

Audi A4 saloon

If you’re looking for a stylish, practical and quality executive car, the Audi A4 is a great choice. It comes with a range of petrol and diesel engines and lots of equipment as standard including climate control, alloy wheels and parking sensors. Even tall adults can ride in the rear of the A4 in comfort, though the suspension can be a bit too firm in S-Line and TDIe models. It’s good to drive, though not as much fun as the BMW 3 Series, and high performance S4 and RS4 models are available for thrill seekers. Read more.

Key points

3.9 / 5
Price 
£24,385 - £40,385

Volkswagen Passat saloon

For buyers looking for a car to drive every day on the motorway the Volkswagen Passat is a very solid choice. The suspension is very smooth and comfortable, and the soundproofing inside means it’s very quiet, too. The diesel engines available are great, with our pick for efficiency being the 1.6-litre BlueMotion which manages 68.8mpg and 109g/km emissions- though it can feel a little slow. Alloy wheels, air-conditioning, USB and aux-in are standard on the Passat, and the big boot means it’s a very practical and discreet saloon car. Read more.

Key points

4.2 / 5
Price 
£20,375 - £27,885

Mercedes C-Class saloon (2007-2014)

High quality materials, lots of technology and a smooth ride mean the Mercedes C-Class has a real premium feel- although it is priced slightly higher than its BMW and Audi rivals. The interior is first-class and full of equipment, including climate control, a leather steering wheel, cruise control and parking sensors. The impressive C220 CDI diesel model will do 64.2mpg but can still accelerate from 0-62mph in 8.4 seconds, but all the available engines manage to balance performance and economy very well. It’s not very exciting to drive, but for someone looking for a relaxed cruiser the Mercedes C-Class is a fine choice. Read more.

Key points

4.1 / 5

Audi A5 Sportback hatchback

The Audi A5 combines the practical and comfortable saloon with sleek coupe looks, for buyers looking for something a bit different from the BMW 3 Series or Audi A4. As with the smaller Audi it gets a great range of engines and lots of standard equipment, though it is a bit more expensive. It’s not the best to drive, and the ride is quite firm, but the A5 has loads of space inside and with the optional leather seats it’s very luxurious. The 2.0-litre TDI diesel model will get over 60mpg, so fuel bills don’t have to match the higher price. Read more.

Key points

4.0 / 5
Price 
£26,780 - £43,940

Audi A3 saloon

Those looking for a smaller car would do well to consider the Audi A3 saloon. It's the most stylish model in the A3 range and has an impressive line-up of economical engines – especially the 1.4-litre TFSI Cylinder on Demand engine that has CO2 emissions of just 109g/km and will do 60mpg. The interior is first class and it comes with plenty of kit as standard. And, while the A3 saloon is smaller than many rivals here, there's still plenty of legroom and a decent sized boot. Read more.

Key points

4.0 / 5
Price 
£22,825 - £34,725

Lexus IS saloon

Rather than offering a range of diesel engines like the other cars in this list, the Lexus IS is only available with a petrol or hybrid engine. The 300h hybrid is efficient, returning 65.7mpg, but it feels slow and the automatic gearbox is very noisy. Go for the faster engine option, a 2.5-litre V6 petrol, and economy falls through the floor. The Lexus IS is expensive compared to the BMW and Mercedes rivals but is fairly well equipped, offering digital radio, automatic headlights, alloy wheels and climate control as standard. Being a Lexus, it should be as reliable as they come, too. Read more.

Key points

3.9 / 5
Price 
£26,495 - £38,495

Mercedes CLA-Class saloon

Based on the Mercedes A-Class, the CLA-Class is a small saloon with sleek coupe-style looks and lots of high-tech safety equipment. Despite being a smaller car the boot is fairly big and running costs are kept low by efficient - if loud- engines and an aerodynamic body. It’s not very fun to drive, though, and doesn’t represent great value compared to the other executive cars here - equipment is lacking and the rear of the car feels too cramped. It’s hard to recommend the CLA-Class over its rivals above but it is definitely a stylish and economical executive car. Read more.

Key points

3.5 / 5
Price 
£24,775 - £42,270

Volvo S60 saloon

The Volvo S60 is designed to compete with the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class, and it certainly feels like a high quality product. It’s a very comfortable car, more so than its rivals, and there is plenty of room inside for four adults. It’s incredibly safe and reliable too, and great value compared to the German rivals. Climate control, 16-inch alloy wheels, daytime running lights, cruise control, Bluetooth and sat-nav are all standard on the Volvo S60, and the most frugal engine will return over 60mpg- overall it’s a bit of a bargain, but is hampered by a small boot and not being as good to drive as the BMW. Read more.

Key points

3.4 / 5
Price 
£20,675 - £35,395

Citroen DS5 hatchback

Citroen’s DS brand is aimed at a more upmarket customer than their cheaper models, and the DS5 competes with the premium cars like the BMW 3 Series. Although it doesn’t quite manage to live up to those cars the DS5 is a good choice for someone looking for something a little different. The interior is fantastic, with optional plush leather seats and neat details like aircraft-style switches above the driver’s head. It’s a comfortable and relaxed motorway cruiser, and the hybrid model can achieve economy over 70mpg, but it’s not as good to drive as the BMW 3 Series or Audi A4. Read more.

Key points

2.2 / 5
Price 
£23,260 - £33,700

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