Best cars & vans

Best executive cars 2022

Executive cars might cost a little more, but the best ones add a real touch of class to your motoring experience…

‘Executive car’ has become a phrase that encompasses an expansive group of luxury and prestige models. While the German brands continue to dominate, competition is ever increasing. Hyundai sister luxury brand Genesis is competing in the UK market with a new G70 and G90 and there are also plenty of mainstream manufacturers offering saloons, hatchbacks, and SUVs that lay claim to ‘executive car levels of comfort and refinement’ with some justification. Cars such as the Peugeot 508, Skoda Superb and Volkswagen Arteon all offer most of the necessary prestige without the premium badge.

Even without dipping into the SUV and crossover class, there are more body styles available to the executive car buyer than ever. As well as the traditional saloons, there are the usual estate versions on offer and beyond that things start to get interesting. Two-door coupes such as the Audi A5 Coupe, BMW 4 Series and Mercedes C-Class Coupe offer the same range of engines as their saloon counterparts, while looking sharper and having similar tax and running costs. Many also come in convertible guise for open-air motoring.

Then there's the rise of the four or five-door coupe, typified by cars like the Audi A7 Sportback, BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe and Mercedes CLS

Diesel and petrol powertrains are still common, but hybrid drivetrains are becoming increasingly popular, especially for company car drivers. Plug-in hybrid models such as the Audi A6 TFSI e and Mercedes E300 e can really cut your overheads and if you're willing to take the plunge into EV territory, the BMW i4, Polestar 2 and Tesla Model 3 offer sportscar-rivalling straight-line performance, acres of space and super-low everyday running costs.

Top 10 executive cars to buy

  1. BMW 5 Series
  2. BMW 3 Series 
  3. Mercedes C-Class
  4. BMW i4
  5. Mercedes E-Class
  6. Audi A6
  7. Volvo S90
  8. Tesla Model 3
  9. Alfa Romeo Giulia
  10. Jaguar XF

1. BMW 5 Series

Like its predecessors, BMW's Ultimate Driving Machine philosophy remains intact, with engaging rear-wheel-drive handling and excellent performance from the entry 520d to the ballistic M5. But the main thing that sets the latest 5 Series apart from its rivals is the sheer amount of technology on board.

There’s a new 5 Series due out in 2023, but the current one uses plenty of the cutting-edge features from the 7 Series limo. Technology like lightweight carbon fibre-reinforced plastic in its construction, a long list of electronic driver aids, including adaptive cruise and lane keeping, and even remote-control parking from outside the vehicle can all be had on your 5 Series.

Where the 5 Series really impresses is that it manages to be a technical showcase, yet still delivers the efficient running costs business users need. There’s also the spacious Touring model for extra practicality. Go for the 520d, and you get emissions from 126g/km, which will keep BIK costs keen.

2. BMW 3 Series

The previous BMW 3 Series somewhat lost its vice-like grip on the compact executive car segment thanks to tough competition from the Audi A4, Jaguar XE and Mercedes C-Class. But the latest 3 Series is a noticeable improvement over the old one, with driving dynamics still taking centre stage. 

If you want an engaging drive from your saloon, the 3 Series has been the default choice for decades. The new car builds on this by reducing weight by up to 55kg and increasing rigidity up to 50 per cent. Despite being larger than its predecessor, the new 3 Series is even more agile and nimble in the bends.

Ride comfort is up there with the latest Mercedes C-Class, thanks to specially developed damper technology. The 3 Series is exceptionally smooth at motorway speeds with little road noise entering the cabin. 

There are two gearboxes, a six-speed manual (only offered in the 320d) and an eight-speed ZF automatic. The automatic is silky smooth during shifts and the manual is a big improvement over the slightly notchy change of the previous generation. 

Like the 5 Series, the Touring estate model will appeal to those looking for maximum practicality. 

3. Mercedes C-Class

The latest C-Class is the best version of Mercedes compact executive for decades. The C-Class has always been known as one of the more comfortable offerings in its segment and this new one utilises a smaller version of the MRA architecture underpinning the flagship S-Class limousine. 

Couple the smooth ride with the classy, tech-filled interior and the C-Class is an excellent car to rack up the miles in – and this can be done on 68 miles of pure-electric power if you choose the plug-in hybrid C 300 e version.

There are still diesel models available and the C 220 d offering up to 61.4mpg on a combined cycle should be a little kinder on tax. Pure petrol powertrains haven’t been killed off for electrification within the C-Class range either, the C 200 and C 300 may only reach the mid-40s for mpg, but they’re a little cheaper to buy over their diesel counterparts. 

4. BMW i4

The all-electric i4 is BMW’s strongest challenge to the Tesla Model 3 and it has its American competitor beaten in a number of crucial areas. 

The entry-level eDrive40 is priced from a touch more than £50k and for that you get 335bhp, 0-62mph in 5.7 seconds and most importantly, an impressive 367 miles of range. 

Step up to the £63,905 M50 model and there’s 537bhp on tap, a 3.9-second 0-62mph time and a more-than-adequate 318-mile range. 

The interior feels up to date with BMW’s new iDrive 8 infotainment system, which is operated through a large, seamless display that combines a 12.3 inch digital instrument panel and a 14.9 inch centre screen. 

5. Mercedes E-Class

The current E-Class arrived in 2016, and is easily one of the best cars to come from the brand in recent years. The E-Class possesses such a high level of technology, comfort and overall luxuriousness that it could even be enough to make you think twice about the need to step up to an S-Class.

On the outside, it's fair to say Mercedes hasn't strayed far from the standard formula – the design is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and could easily be mistaken for its larger or smaller siblings, the S-Class and C-Class. A sleek estate version, coupe and convertible are available for those wishing to stray from convention.

With all the tech on the inside, it's almost easy to forget about what's under the bonnet, but with a mid-life refresh in 2020, the E-Class now features a revised engine range with punchy diesel, petrol and plug-in hybrid units. The four-cylinder diesel is particularly refined – something not true of previous E-Class diesels. The inclusion of more environmentally friendly hybrid engine options means that there are some real savings to be had on Benefit-in-Kind and Vehicle Excise Duty rates. The E-Class is so impressive that it has earned the title of both Large Company Car of the Year and Premium Hybrid Car of the Year in our New Car Awards 2021.

6. Audi A6

The current A6 has been around for four years now but it’s still a smart blend of refinement, equipment and low (relative to the competition) running costs. 

The latest model comes with refreshed exterior styling and an updated interior, including Audi's new MMI infotainment system. 

The A6 feels agile on the move thanks to its extensive use of aluminium in its structure – agility is aided further still with the optional four-wheel steering. That said, the steering can't match that of the BMW 5 Series but it remains a precise and good car to drive.

Unlike previous A6s, the ride offers more comfort, but sportier models like the S6 and RS6 Avant firm up the ride with more aggressive suspension and larger wheels. The engine line-up includes a range of purely diesel and petrol powertrains. There’s also a TFSI e 2.0-litre plug-in hybrid and it offers a helpful but not segment-leading 36 of pure-electric range. 

7. Volvo S90

Big Volvos have long been top executive choices, and Volvo is on top form with the S90, which is a fantastic car that’s a genuine alternative to large executive saloons.

Launched more than five years ago, the S90 is still an imposing car thanks to Volvo’s distinctive 'Thor's Hammer' headlights and a bold and upright grille. The interior has been largely taken from that car too, which is great – it's effortlessly stylish, great quality, and a wonderful place in which to sit. The comfy seats help, too.

The powerful T8 plug-in hybrid combines a 2.0-litre petrol unit with an electric motor, delivering 385bhp. It delivers plenty of straight-line performance, but doesn’t challenge a BMW 530e for driving engagement. A 148.7mpg claim will be attractive to those looking to minimise trips to the fuel station, but this will rely on the battery being charged up regularly. 

8. Tesla Model 3

Not only did the Tesla Model 3 win Best Electric Car of the Year at the Auto Express New Car Awards in 2019, it took home Car of the Year as well. In 2020, it continued its success with the Best Compact Executive Car title and the award for Best Premium Electric Car.

In 2022, it still remains one of the very best EVs you can buy. If you think about the industry-leading technology featured on the Model 3 and the way performance, style, and practicality are packaged in an electric car for the first time, the abundance of awards is not surprising. 

With up to 374 miles of range, the Model 3 should quell any range anxiety and will be enough to deal with most lifestyles. The standard version is our pick as it’s the cheapest, is good for 305-mile range and a 0-60mph time of 5.8 seconds. While this is enough to surprise many focused sports cars, the Performance version shoots from 0-60 in an incredible 3.1 seconds.

It’s not just acceleration and range where the Model 3 excels. The quietness of the electric motor and the relatively well-judged damping make for a refined ride, despite the Model 3’s considerable heft. The steering isn’t as accurate as a BMW 3 Series however, and it just comes up short of the German car in terms of sheer driving fun. 

The interior is futuristically minimalist and is a refreshing approach to the clutter of having dozens of buttons, though some might call it dull. There’s plenty of space inside with plenty of headroom in both the front and rear. The big windows also help with the feeling of airiness in the cabin. When coupled together, the front and rear boots total 425 litres - 55 litres smaller than a 3 Series. 

Fans of old-fashioned buttons won’t like the 15-inch infotainment screen which controls every conceivable function on the Model 3. The infotainment system itself is different to most other manufacturer’s designs and takes some getting used to, but it’s intuitive and responsive.

9. Alfa Romeo Giulia

If looking good ranks high on your list of priorities for an executive car, then the Alfa Romeo Giulia should be near the top of the pile. That said, the Giulia is no disappointment when it comes to running costs and refinement either.

UK buyers will have to be happy with an automatic as the manual isn’t on offer on our shores. The pick of the engine range is the 2.2-litre diesel with 187bhp which, most importantly for keen drivers, feels happy to rev. 

The interior is a great improvement over Alfa saloons of old, with good-quality materials and slick design helping give an upmarket appeal – even if it falls just shy of the Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class. Where the Giulia falls down is on practicality – there’s no estate model to challenge the A4 Avant or BMW 3 Series Touring

The Giulia has a 50:50 weight distribution, thanks to aluminium in the chassis and carbon fibre driveshafts. The suspension is double-wishbone at the front and multi-link at the rear, which means drivers can have a great time in the corners. There’s also an exciting 276bhp 2.0-litre petrol version for those that can’t quite stretch to the 503bhp Quadrifoglio super saloon.

10. Jaguar XF

Cast your mind back to the late 2000s and you’ll remember the XF is the car that helped turn Jaguar into a real competitor in the executive car class. The current XF remains a handsome-looking, good-to-drive executive saloon that offers something different from the German norm. The cabin design is smart, and complaints about an outdated infotainment system were settled with the 2021 update introducing Jag’s new Pivi Pro system operating through an 11.4-inch touchscreen.

The XF is poised and agile when on a twisty country road, and the steering is quick and well weighted. There’s plenty of grip, but the XF does suffer from body roll on its soft suspension – although it’s well balanced and has good feedback through the wheel. The standard eight-speed automatic gearbox is responsive and smooth.

While the P300 2.0-litre four-cylinder delivers a good mix of performance and efficiency,  unfortunately, there’s still no plug-in hybrid version.

Still searching for something a bit more premium? Read our list of the best luxury cars and best luxury SUVs of 2021

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