Which has the best styling?

Mature, sleek looks are the order of the day in this sector. Which of our trio gets our vote?

If you drive one of these cars, chances are you live in a world of management meetings and financial decision making. Buyers here want grown-up looks and a premium badge – so it’s no surprise that the executive segment isn’t usually a place where manufacturers take big design risks.

There’s always the odd exception, though, and when the previous-generation 5-Series debuted in 2003, it caused quite a stir. Its so-called ‘flame surfacing’ was a bold move – although the initial adverse response quickly melted away, and the outgoing 5-Series no longer provokes the kind of reaction it once did.

Against that background, the all-new sixth-generation car is somewhat conservative. It hardly merits the “exploration of beauty” slogan currently being peddled by the German company’s advertising. If you take the time to study the saloon we think you will end up admiring its clean profile and sleek surfaces, but it’s a slow burner rather than an instant hit.

Smart details such as the striking light clusters provide some glitz, while the chrome window surround is a classy touch that’s standard in SE spec. Alternatively, for £285 you can specify either a matt aluminium or high-gloss finish instead.

As with any big saloon the 5-Series is colour-sensitive, and our testers agreed that it looked best in light metallic shades.

Our sombre dark blue model was helped by its optional 18-inch alloy wheels, which cost £1,410. These fill the arches much more successfully than the standard 17-inch rims.

Parked next to the BMW, the E-Class has a slightly squarer profile, a bluff front end and a somewhat fussy tail. But that prominent bonnet badge helps give it the solid and dependable air you would expect from an executive Mercedes. As with the 5-Series, 17-inch wheels come as standard and the window line is wrapped in chrome trim, yet the E-Class still lacks the presence of the BMW. This is partly down to familiarity, but regardless of how fresh-faced the 5-Series looks in comparison, the Mercedes is a bland choice in a market which includes cars such as the sleek A6 and pretty Jaguar XF.

Audi’s contender has been on sale since 2006 so is approaching the end of its lifespan, but the elegant proportions and a facelift in 2008 mean it has stood the test of time. Mixing the marque’s trademark bold grille with a sharp waistline and smooth curves, the A6 is understated but attractive.

The company’s sporty S line trim injects some extra aggression to the formula by adding a bodykit, 18-inch alloy wheels and LED daytime running lights. But our SE comes with conventional headlamps and smaller 17-inch rims, and looks much less racy.

BMW: 4 stars SMART new 5-Series is well proportioned and oozes quality from every panel gap. Neat touches include the pronounced bonnet creases and jewel-like indicators. The car uses a shortened 7-Series platform, and from some angles it looks like a smaller version of its big brother. Yet from other angles it resembles a large 3-Series.

Mercedes: 3 stars THE E-Class has the air of solidity which we have come to expect from a large Mercedes, but its styling cannot match the BMW’s dynamic edge. Sport trim improves matters by adding deeper AMG side skirts, and the 17-inch alloy wheels are stylish. Avantgarde and Sport variants get distinctive LED daytime running lamps.

Audi: 3 stars The A6 is showing its age. It’s attractive, yet needs the firm’s S line extras to really stand out. Choose the £1,325 adaptive light option and you get R8-style daytime running lamps, while attractive LED tail-lights are standard across the range. The car doesn’t have the visual impact of the 5-Series, but its understated styling still appeals.

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