Best used executive cars
Check out this list of our favourite premium models on the used car market
The executive car class is prime territory for used car buyers in search of bargains, for a couple of very good reasons. For starters these are cars that tend to represent the best their respective manufacturers can produce at the time they roll off their respective production lines. Secondly, their typically high prices when new mean they often shed value faster than more mainstream models.
So whether you’re looking at a nearly-new purchase or something a bit older, executive models are invariably tempting for drivers who enjoy performance and luxury interiors. They’re also good for those who want something classy on the drive, as it often takes quite a few years before an executive car starts to look dated.
It’s not all good news; there are also very good reasons that expensive new cars tend to drop their value faster than mid-spec models. The running costs are what put many people off, as powerful cars typically use more fuel, have bigger service and maintenance bills, and cost more to repair and insure.
However, as long as you have a realistic view of the possible ongoing costs of owning a used executive car, it’s possible to budget sensibly. Ownership costs can be improved by shopping around carefully and using independent garages to avoid premium franchise servicing costs.
Nobody expects a premium or executive car to be as cheap to run as a family hatchback, and the many enthusiasts of older exec models will attest to the pleasures of driving these high-spec and desirable machines. If you’re tempted to join them, read on for a list of our favourites…
When you’re looking for a quality used executive car, the BMW 5 Series is essentially unbeatable. It’s been established as the top large saloon car in its class for a long time, ever since the first generation was introduced all the way back in 1972. Since then, the 5 Series badge has stood for superb driving characteristics and powerful engines, premium build quality and luxurious interiors. The current seventh generation is no exception and offers used buyers a typically wide range of petrol and diesel engines, including extremes of efficiency or performance with plenty of options in between.
The latest version arrived in 2017 and was facelifted in late 2020, but a properly looked-after 5 Series of any age won’t disappoint.
See the latest prices for used BMW 5 Series models on our sister site Buyacar.
The fact we’ve given our two top slots to a pair of BMWs illustrates just how thoroughly the brand understands what it takes in the executive class. Others, such as Audi, Mercedes and Jaguar, have their fans but as we say in our full review ‘the brilliant 3 Series is the pacesetter for handling and performance’.
Like its bigger brother the 5 Series, it’s fair to say the 3 Series has been the benchmark in the compact exec class since the 1970s, and while competition is tougher than it’s ever been, the 3 Series is still the car to beat. Latest versions come with a wide range of engines, from the 320d, which can return up to 60mpg, to the very quick M340i, but all are thrilling to drive and rewarding to own.
See the latest prices for used BMW 3 Series models on our sister site Buyacar.
Merc’s three-pointed star has traditionally graced the bonnets of more conservative models than its often racier BMW rivals but in recent years the E-Class has evolved to a point where it’s almost as rewarding to drive as the 5 Series.
While it may not have quite as much sporty character, there’s no doubting the depth of quality the E-Class provides. The truth is it offers much of the feel of the range-topping S-Class, and its limo-like comfort is enhanced by a luxurious interior that’s arguably the best in the business.
The current model arrived in 2017 and, just like the BMW 5 Series, was subtly facelifted in 2020. If you want a characterful yet understated executive saloon that offers peerless cruising ability, superlative technology and lavish comfort, the E-Class is a star performer.
It’s possible that Jaguar caught the Germans by surprise when the XE was launched in 2015. Not only did the XE boast stunningly svelte looks, but it drove and handled with a combination of sportiness and luxury that made it a genuine rival to the BMW 3 Series.
The XE was facelifted in 2019 to look even more attractive, with new LED headlamps and bodywork revisions giving the popular Jaguar an extra dose of aggression.
Like the 3 Series, there’s a wide range of power options, from the efficient D180 diesel to the 296bhp P300 petrol that also boasts four-wheel drive.
If there’s a downside to owning this highly desirable Jag, it’s the relatively confined rear seats – blame that on the sleekly tapered styling – and a boot that’s slightly smaller than rivals. In other respects, a used XE is tough to beat.
This electric compact executive model completes Tesla’s march into the automotive mainstream and proves to any doubters that EVs are poised for world domination.
With cool, contemporary styling, a minimalist, high-tech interior centred around a huge 15-inch touchscreen, engaging handling and mind-bending acceleration available from its instantly responsive electric motors, the Model 3 has all the elements of a credible compact executive designed to take on the BMW 3-Series, Merc C-Class and Jaguar XE. It’s not all perfect, as Tesla has yet to quite master the build quality the Germans can muster, and the ride quality isn’t as plush either. However the novelty value of driving this high-performance EV definitely makes such things easier to overlook.
Range shouldn’t be an issue for most drivers, as even the standard Model 3 can do up to 250 miles on a charge, and the Long Range option gives you almost 330 miles.
See the latest prices for used Tesla Model 3 models on our sister site Buyacar.
The A4 is a long-term challenger to the BMW 3 Series that’s never quite managed to usurp its more characterful rival, although plenty of drivers prefer the looks and feel of the VW Group’s premium contender.
You can’t argue with the Audi A4’s build quality or fail to be impressed with the depth of its technology, but due to its platform sharing with mainstream VW models like the Passat, the Audi A4 lacks some of the BMW’s sparkle from behind the wheel.
Even if you opt for quattro four-wheel drive, the A4’s traction and handling are impressive rather than exciting.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a sensible, superbly screwed together executive car with loads of the most cutting-edge tech and a superbly sophisticated cabin, you won’t go far wrong with an A4.
See the latest prices for used Audi A4 models on our sister site Buyacar.
‘Thor’s Hammer’ is the nickname for Volvo’s latest headlamp design and while the Swedish firm’s latest compact exec model can’t smash its rivals to pieces with a rumble like thunder, the S60 isn’t an option to be overlooked lightly.
That’s especially true on the used market, where Volvo’s image can mean especially attractive prices compared to German rivals.
You wouldn’t pick an S60 over a 3 Series if you want the best in driving dynamics but for classy family transport, the Volvo is really rather good. The exterior design is handsome in an unpretentious sort of way, and the beautiful interiors feature cool, contemporary design that have become a Volvo trademark.
Diesel engines were ditched from 2018, so the options are petrol and hybrid for newer models.
See the latest prices for used Volvo S60 models on our sister site Buyacar.
Volkswagen plays second-fiddle to Audi when it comes to badge appeal but the VW Arteon is definitely worth a look if you want a stylish and competent executive model with modern tech and plenty of space.
The Arteon’s predecessor was the Passat CC but VW wanted to move away from the Passat’s prosaic roots with a ‘four-door coupe’ model to target rivals like the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and Audi A5 Sportback.
The Arteon is certainly a good-looking car and a strong performer, but the relatively conservative interior and a drive that lacks sparkle make it a less desirable option for many.
That said, a decent range of efficient engines, lots of tech and beautiful fit and finish mean the Arteon is a genuinely rewarding option for buyers who value competence over badge snobbery.
Anyone wedded to the idea that only the Germans can make desirable executive models will never contemplate parking a Kia on their drive.
However, those who overlook the Kia Stinger will be missing out on one of the most surprising luxury GT cars of recent years. The flagship Kia saloon offers eye-catching swoopy styling that’s closer to a Porsche Panamera than anything you’d typically associate with the Korean company. It’s a strong performer too with a powerful 365bhp 3.3-litre V6 engine option and genuinely engaging rear-wheel drive handling, while the luxurious, leather-clad cabin is stuffed with tech.
The best part? If the Stinger looks great value when new – and it does – wait until you see how little you need to pay for a used example.
See the latest prices for used Kia Stinger models on our sister site Buyacar.
Toyota’s luxury brand Lexus is a watchword for impeccable luxury and peerless build quality, even if it’s never quite managed to match the best European rivals for driving appeal.
It’s a leader when it comes to bold styling though, and the Lexus ES model’s impressive waterfall grille design is sure to make the right impression when parked on your drive.
Unlike most rivals, the ES favours efficient hybrid petrol power over diesel options, and a cosseting ride over dramatic handling, and as such it’s a great proposition for drivers looking for something upmarket and a little different.
Lavish specifications and super customer satisfaction levels that easily beat those of BMW and Mercedes also suggest this Mercedes E-Class rival is worth a look, especially when used prices are extremely favourable.
See the latest prices for used Lexus ES models on our sister site Buyacar.
Best automatic cars
Average speed cameras: how do they work?
What is a V5C? Here’s everything you need to know about the logbook