Best and worst executive cars 2020

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?...


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What Car? team

A good executive saloon needs 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.

Ideally, they should also offer a comfortable ride and be enjoyable to drive. 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, and reveal the car to avoid too. If any of these models 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 What Car?'s free New Car Buying service.

10

Volvo S60

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£36,395

RRP from £39,045 to £50,315

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It might not be the most economical choice, but there's little arguing with this junior Volvo saloon's Scandi-cool styling or strong engines. Every model comes bursting with the latest safety kit, while a great driving position means you'll stay comfy even on long motorway journeys.

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Pros

  • Lots of safety kit
  • Great driving position
  • Classy interior

Cons

  • Overly firm ride
  • Limited rear head room
  • Folding rear seats cost extra
9

Mazda 6

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£24,061

RRP from £24,725 to £34,735

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

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Pros

  • Strong but quiet diesels
  • 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
8

Alfa Romeo Giulia

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£33,244

RRP from £34,995 to £67,195

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Alfa Romeo's latest attempt at an executive cruiser is a very strong effort. The Giulia is composed at cruising speeds and offers very engaging handling when you switch from motorways to countryside B-roads. Its interior quality isn't up with the very best, despite recent improvements to some of the materials, but even the entry level Super trim won't leave you short of equipment.

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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

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£31,547

RRP from £34,255 to £46,175

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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 a little when it comes to interior quality, but a generous equipment list should entice company car drivers.
 

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Pros

  • Agile, enjoyable handling
  • Relative exclusivity
  • Generous equipment list

Cons

  • Tight rear-seat and boot space
  • Interior could be classier
  • Poor reliability record
6

Mercedes C-Class

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£23,276

RRP from £29,370 to £80,017

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The C-Class is one of the big three when it comes to executive cars – the other two being the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series, which feature further up this list. Mercedes's car does a lot well, too, combining strong and efficient engines with a smart interior and lots of toys. However, the ride is rather firm on standard suspension.

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Pros

  • Smart-looking interior
  • Good amount of standard kit
  • Decent finance offers

Cons

  • Firm ride on standard suspension
  • Relatively pricey cash buy
  • Small boot
5

Volkswagen Passat

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£20,166

RRP from £25,985 to £42,330

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

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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

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£22,817

RRP from £24,855 to £40,590

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The latest Skoda Superb is every bit a match for some of the premium-badged cars on this list. It's stylish, it's comfortable and it has a massive amount of space inside. Both the 2.0-litre diesel and the plug-in hybrid iV model combine good performance with sensible running costs.

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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

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£28,178

RRP from £30,760 to £57,625

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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 laid out, 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.

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Pros

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

Cons

  • Entry-level engines a touch weedy
  • All-touchscreen infotainment system
  • Rivals have lower CO2 emissions
2

Tesla Model 3

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£43,545

RRP from £43,545 to £56,545

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 – it's our reigning Large Electric Car of the Year, in fact – but one of the best executive cars you can buy.

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Pros

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

Cons

  • Wind and road noise at speed
  • Build quality could be better
  • Handling not as entertaining as petrol rivals
  • Some may find the ride a touch firm
1

BMW 3 Series

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£27,860

RRP from £31,110 to £49,845

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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.

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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...
Hyundai i40

Not only is the i40 far older than most of its rivals, it's also sub-par to drive and will cost you more to run than most of the other cars here. It might have decent space inside and you can save a bundle with generous discounts, but it simply fails to pass muste... Read our review

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