Top 3 used executive cars for £40,000
“Dear Carbuyer, I’m searching for a used executive car with driver-assistance features to make my commute easier. What would you recommend for £40,000?”
The rise of the SUV has meant executive saloons don’t sell as well as they used to, but they remain popular with loyal fans and company-car drivers alike.
The 'executive car' category typically refers to large saloon models such as the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class, which sit beneath full-sized luxury or 'limo' models, such as the BMW 7 Series and Mercedes S-Class.
Executive cars are brimming with tech and equipment, with most getting electrically adjustable, leather-trimmed heated seats and dual-zone climate control. Other luxuries often include seat cooling, a useful feature in the summer, along with a premium stereo system and interior ambient lighting.
As models that come in a higher specification, they’re also likely to have a decent amount of standard safety kit, with features such as a head-up display, front and rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking (AEB), and a lane departure warning system.
Executive cars can accommodate four adults in comfort, with enough room for a fifth person for shorter journeys, and generally have plenty of boot space.
As nearly all modern cars share the same underpinnings and engines, most executive models are available with a selection of petrol and diesel engines, varying from economical four-cylinder units to more powerful six-cylinder engines. Low and zero-emission powertrains are also available in models such as the plug-in hybrid BMW 530e, the hybrid Lexus ES and the fully electric Tesla Model S.
Our reader has £40,000 to spend on an executive car that must have an array of driver-assistance kit to help make their daily commute easier. There’s a varied selection of models available for their budget, all of which offer decent performance, the required tech and a plush luxury interior.
The smooth choice: Audi A6
- For: Plush cabin, strong engines, smooth ride
- Against: Many features optional, screens divide opinion
Audi has a well earned reputation for high-tech luxury and, while some of its models in the past could be rather stiffly sprung, this A6 offers an impressively smooth ride, making it perfect for long-distance cruising.
Optional features to suit your brief include the Tour Pack (adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist), and four-wheel steering, which reduces the A6’s turning circle and gives it a bit more agility at speed. Your budget nets a 1,000-mile 68-plate S line 50 TDI quattro with this kit.
The A6’s cabin takes its cues from the larger A8, which means there’s very little to complain about in terms of materials or build quality. Those who prefer physical buttons and dials may feel the A6’s twin touchscreens are overkill, though.
Average economy in the front-wheel-drive 201bhp ‘40 TDI’ A6 is 62.8mpg, while the four-wheel-drive 282bhp ‘50 TDI’ manages 50.4mpg. If you’d prefer petrol power, the 335bhp ‘55 TFSI’ returns 42.1mpg. Whichever you go for, expect a good blend of agility and long-leggedness, although the steering lacks feel.
See the latest prices for used Audi A6 saloon models on our sister site Buyacar.
The electric choice: Tesla Model S
- For: High performance, futuristic feel, low running costs
- Against: Cabin materials cheap in places, feels heavy
THE Model S shook up the establishment when it arrived. With all the hallmarks of an executive car plus a strong electric drivetrain, the Model S is fast, relaxing, enjoyable to drive and quite cheap to run. Be sure to find a model with Tesla’s Autopilot system, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and lane-change assist.
For £40,000, you can get a 35,000-mile 67-plate 75 model – which provides a sensible blend of range and affordability – with Autopilot and Autopark fitted.
Of these three, the Model S has the most minimalist interior. It’s generally well built, but there are some so-so plastics that you won’t find in the A6 or S90, and you’ll either love or hate the lack of dials and the vast 17-inch central touchscreen.
Over the years, the Model S range has been chopped and changed. Options at this price include the 75 (315bhp, 320-mile range), the 70D (259bhp, 240 miles) and the P85D (470bhp, 305 miles). While all models are great cruisers and incredibly swift, the Tesla can feel its 2,100kg-plus mass under braking.
The sleek choice: Volvo S90
- For: Understated, fantastic seats, assist tech is standard
- Against: Diesels clatter at high revs, lacks dynamism
Volvo designed the S90 with the express intention of taking on executive saloons from Audi and other premium brands, and the result is a car that will happily eat up motorway miles all day long, while also making a reasonable fist of driver involvement.
S90 prices are appealing here: £40,000 will buy a new D4 diesel or T4 petrol, or you can nab a powerful T8 plug-in hybrid on a 69-plate with 7,000 miles. Whichever you go for, adaptive cruise and lane-keep assist are standard.
The S90’s seats are among the most comfortable around, while cabin design and quality are strong, and many will like the inclusion of physical switches for some functions. But the Sensus infotainment system could be more intuitive to use.
Refinement is pretty good with the D4 (187bhp, 50.4mpg) and D5 (232bhp, 43.5mpg) diesels, but they do clatter if worked hard. The T4 (187bhp, 47mpg) and T5 (247bhp, 44mpg) petrol units are smoother, while the T8 Hybrid (385bhp, 166.1mpg) is genuinely rapid. The A6 is more engaging to drive, though.
See the latest prices for used Volvo S90 models on our sister site Buyacar.
Carbuyer’s choice, as picked by deputy editor Ben Hodges
While each of the three executive cars here is an excellent pick, I believe the Tesla Model S has the edge over its two rivals. Despite the drawbacks of EV ownership, the Model S offers the fewest compromises thanks to an excellent real-world range and access to the brand's vast supercharger network.
The Model S is reasonably well built, with Tesla dealers able to cope with most repairs. The interior combines luxury, high-end technology and space, for a futuristic feel. The electric powertrain offers grin-inducing acceleration thanks to instant power delivery, meaning that it has more than enough performance for slip-roads and getting up to speed on motorways. Few brands can compete with Tesla when it comes to driver assistance tech either.
Read our picks for the best large executive cars to buy.