What Car? Car of the Year awards 2010 - Executive contenders

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Best buy less than £25,000
Volvo S80 1.6D DRIVe SE
List price £22,728
Target Price £20,647

That you can hand your dealer little more than £22,500 and walk away with an exceptional executive car is a big enough surprise; factor in the S80’s rock-bottom running costs, and you’ll be reaching for the smelling salts.

On paper, the 1.6-litre 107bhp diesel engine might look underpowered, but it’s perfectly capable. It’s refined, too. No, you’re not going to set any speed records, but with average economy of 57.7mpg and CO2 emissions of just 129g/km, you can’t complain. Besides, once you’re at motorway speeds, the Volvo is a great cruiser.

Company car drivers might want to rub their eyes and have another look at the numbers. You can own an S80 1.6D DRIVe and pay less in tax per month than for a Ford Mondeo. The Volvo’s lower list price and a tax liability of just 18% make it easier on your salary, and cheaper to run, than our favourite Mondeo, the 2.0 TDCi Zetec 5dr.

You’re probably thinking that there must be a catch somewhere, such as a specification level that Scrooge would be proud of. Not so. Our favoured SE trim comes with dual-zone climate control, an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, alloy wheels and stability control.

You also get a well-designed cabin that can carry four in supreme comfort. This S80 really does provide business class travel for economy money.

Volvo S80 performance
0-62mph 11.7 seconds Top speed 118mph
Running costs
Economy 57.7mpg CO2 129g/km Insurance group 18

What the testers thought...
You’d never guess how little the S80 costs when you’re sitting inside it. Big, comfortable seats and classy materials make it feel every inch the prestige executive saloon. Iain.Reid@whatcar.com


Best buy £25,000–£30,000
Mercedes-Benz E220 CDI Blue Efficiency SE
List price £27,970
Target Price £26,506

THE E-Class has always been a bastion of refinement, and this latest model shows Mercedes also knows how to make a striking-looking saloon. The sharp styling gives the car a more contemporary look than Es of old, but underneath it’s as comfortable and sure-footed as you’d expect.

You don’t need to spend megabucks to reach the sweet spot in the range, either. The entry-level SE trim is well judged for the company car driver, with climate and stability controls, alloy wheels, parking sensors and a classy interior all as standard.

However, what helps cement the E-Class as the best bet at this price is the environmentally friendly diesel engine. Merc’s clever Blue Efficiency technology helps make it leaner and greener than the old E220 CDI – economy is up 8.5mpg and CO2 is down 28g/km. This drops the E-Class six company car tax bands to the 18% rating.

We wouldn’t blame you if you went for the optionl five-speed auto ’box (£1458) – it’s slick, well suited to the car’s relaxed character, and keeps resale values up – but we prefer the standard six-speed manual. It’s more efficient, cheaper to buy and has lower emissions, so it’s the sensible choice for company drivers.

Yes, some rivals have more engaging handling, but for the money, the Merc is an unbeatable mix of class, cost and comfort.

Mercedes E220 performance
0-62mph 8.6 seconds Top speed 143mph
Running costs
Economy 53.3mpg CO2 139g/km Insurance group 33

What the testers thought...
Initially, we weren’t wowed by the E-Class, because our first car had firmer sports suspension. When we tried the more supple SE model, though, everything fell into place. Ivan.Aistrop@whatcar.com


Best buy more than £30,000
Jaguar XF 3.0D V6 Luxury
List price £34,636
Target Price £32,214

Our Car of the Year from 2008 is back on the attack with an all-new 3.0-litre diesel engine to help it stay ahead in the £30,000-plus price range. True, it’s a lot of money, but then you are getting an awfully talented car for your cash.

The Luxury label isn’t misleading and helps explain the XF’s price. Chunks of real wood and lots of leather take care of the cabin ambience, while an automatic gearbox, touchscreen sat-nav, iPod integration and parking sensors are all included.

We’ve opted for the less powerful of the two 3.0-litre diesels; while the other is noticeably faster, it isn’t worth the £3000 premium. Our engine is still powerful and feels well suited to the car’s fluid handling – and handle the XF certainly can.

In fact, it goes down a road far better than any saloon weighing this much has a right to. The suspension feels a little firm around town, but it never jars, and at higher speeds you’re left with a supple ride and well-weighted steering.

The XF’s sloping roof does have a small impact on rear headroom, but only passengers standing more than six-foot tall will have any real concern. Otherwise, the XF is a wonderfully relaxing place to sit, with little wind or road noise to disturb the calm, while the engine growls away pleasantly up front. There are few finer cars to drive or to be driven in.

Jaguar XF performance
0-62mph 7.1 seconds Top speed 149mph
Running costs
Economy 42.0mpg CO2 179g/km Insurance group 43

What the testers thought...
The XF has been around for two years now, but its theatrical pop-up gear selector, pulsing starter button and rotating air vents still bring a smile to my face.Barnaby.Jones@whatcar.com


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