Best executive cars 2021

A good executive car need to be comfortable, classy and well equipped, yet also cheap to run. So, which models hit all their targets, and which should be avoided?...


Author Avatar
by
What Car? team

Best executive cars

Executive saloons need to combine two opposing qualities: luxury and affordability. The best have efficient engines that make them cheap to run as company cars, or even utilise electric power. Yet they also have plush interiors and enough soundproofing to keep them super-quiet on the motorway.

Comfort and driver enjoyment are also important. Plus, they should have a user-friendly dashboard layout and come equipped with the latest infotainment and safety technology.

Here we count down our top 10 buys, and reveal the executive car to avoid. If any of the models on the list take your fancy, just click on the relevant link to find out more or see how much of a discount you could get by using our free New Car Buying service.

10

Mazda 6

What Car? Target Price from

£24,290

RRP from £24,990 to £32,370

See new car dealsSave up to £700 with What Car?

The latest Mazda 6 offers strong but quiet diesel engines and plenty of room for passengers, plus Mazda's infotainment system is one of the best around. Only the fact that the 6's low-speed ride is rather firm and the handling less precise than you might expect stops it finishing higher on this list.

Read new car review

Pros

  • Pleasant and fun to drive
  • Excellent infotainment system
  • Very well equipped

Cons

  • Firm low-speed ride
  • Handling not as precise as some rivals
  • Boot is on the small side in the class
9

Mercedes A-Class Saloon

What Car? Target Price from

£24,939

RRP from £26,195 to £45,445

See new car dealsSave up to £1,575 with What Car?

All A-Class Saloon drivers will appreciate its comfortable ride, sophisticated infotainment system and attractive interior, while company car users will find the low tax bills of the plug-in hybrid A250e version seriously enticing. The rival Audi A3 Saloon has the edge on quality, though.

Read new car review

Pros

  • Comfortable ride
  • Good infotainment system
  • Glitzy-looking interior

Cons

  • Boot smaller than rivals'
  • Dashboard flimsy in places
  • Rear head room could be better
8

Alfa Romeo Giulia

What Car? Target Price from

£33,905

RRP from £35,710 to £68,055

See new car dealsSave up to £2,244 with What Car?

Alfa Romeo's latest attempt at an executive car is a very strong effort. The Giulia is composed at cruising speeds and offers engaging handling when you switch from motorways to B-roads. Its interior quality isn't up with the very best, though, despite recent improvements to some of the materials.

Read new car review

Pros

  • Engaging handling
  • Strong performance
  • Competent petrol engines

Cons

  • Diesel engines could be quieter
  • Rivals have a bigger boot
  • Interior quality still can’t match German rivals
7

Jaguar XE

What Car? Target Price from

£29,378

RRP from £29,660 to £40,180

See new car dealsSave up to £383 with What Car?

Taking on the German brands in the executive car market is a big task, but Jaguar has made a good go of it with its junior saloon, the XE. It's offered with a strong range of engines and rewards keen drivers with excellent steering and sharp handling. It's let down when it comes to interior space, but the equipment list is generous.

Read new car review

Pros

  • Agile, enjoyable handling
  • Well priced and well equipped
  • Comfortable ride

Cons

  • Tight for rear-seat and boot space
  • Interior could be classier
  • So-so reliability record
6

Audi A3 Saloon

What Car? Target Price from

£24,703

RRP from £25,760 to £46,730

See new car dealsSave up to £1,805 with What Car?

Like the hatchback on which it's based, the A3 Saloon is tidy in the bends, comfortable and well equipped. However, the bigger A4 is worth the extra if you can afford it, because it’s quieter and has a classier and more practical interior.

Read new car review

Pros

  • Good ride and handling balance
  • Punchy 35 TFSI petrol engine
  • All versions are well equipped

Cons

  • Distracting infotainment system
  • Road noise at speed
  • Small boot by class standards
5

Volkswagen Passat

What Car? Target Price from

£21,798

RRP from £27,600 to £40,135

See new car dealsSave up to £6,409 with What Car?

Next to some of the cars on this list, the Passat looks like a bit of a bargain. It gives you a spacious interior, an economical range of engines and a reasonably large boot, and all for a tempting price. Just bear in mind that the closely related Skoda Superb is bigger and cheaper still.

Read new car review

Pros

  • Comfortable ride – if you stick with smaller wheels
  • Spacious and reasonably plush interior
  • Quiet at high speeds

Cons

  • Diesel engines can be gruff and aren't RDE2 compliant
  • Big wheels produce too much road noise
  • Less versatile than hatchback rivals, despite big boot
4

Skoda Superb

What Car? Target Price from

£23,726

RRP from £25,645 to £42,035

See new car dealsSave up to £3,072 with What Car?

Speaking of which, the latest Superb isn't just better than the Passat, but many premium-badged cars, too. It's very comfortable and has a massive amount of space inside. What's more, both the 2.0-litre diesel and the plug-in hybrid iV model combine good performance with sensible running costs.

Read new car review

Pros

  • Vast interior and boot space
  • Exceptional value for money
  • Classy, high-quality interior

Cons

  • Some rivals are more fun to drive
  • Diesel engines sound a little gruff
  • Automatic gearbox can be a tad jerky in traffic
3

Audi A4

What Car? Target Price from

£28,997

RRP from £31,110 to £57,885

See new car dealsSave up to £3,650 with What Car?

Recently facelifted, the A4 is hard to fault in almost every area, which is why we named it our Car of the Year back in 2016. As you'd expect, the interior is luxurious and beautifully finished, with practical rear seats and a spacious boot. Go for our recommended 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine (badged 40 TDI) and you'll also enjoy prodigious performance and good fuel economy.

Read new car review

Pros

  • Class-leading interior quality
  • Smooth engines
  • Well-equipped

Cons

  • Entry-level engines are a touch weedy
  • A BMW 3 Series is more fun to drive
  • You can’t add many options
2

Tesla Model 3

What Car? Target Price from

£40,990

RRP from £40,990 to £59,990

The Model 3 is great to drive, packed full of tech, fast (ridiculously so in Performance guise) and surprisingly practical. Factor in a competitive price, especially given its sheer pace, and it’s not only a great electric car, but one of the best executive cars you can buy.

Read new car review

Pros

  • Savage acceleration
  • Long range between charges
  • Surprisingly practical
  • Fast charging via Tesla's prolific Supercharger network

Cons

  • Build quality could be better
  • Handling not as entertaining as petrol rivals
  • Some may find the ride a touch firm
1

BMW 3 Series

What Car? Target Price from

£32,102

RRP from £32,595 to £50,900

See new car dealsSave up to £3,315 with What Car?

For many, the 3 Series remains the de facto executive car, and it's easy to see why. The latest version is the best-steering BMW of recent times and matches this with stellar body control and plenty of grip, yet it still manages to serve up good ride comfort and relaxing refinement. Add to all that a spacious interior and the tax-efficient plug-in hybrid tech of the 330e model, and it's the undoubted class leader.

For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here

Read new car review

Pros

  • Brilliant fun to drive
  • Class-leading infotainment system
  • Great range of engines

Cons

  • Ride is rather firm – particularly in M Sport versions
  • Not as well finished inside as an Audi A4
  • Adjustable lumbar support costs extra

And the executive car to avoid...
Vauxhall Insignia 2021 front tracking

The Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport isn't downright bad, but no matter what your priorities, there are plenty of executive cars that are better. Read our review

Spinner