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?...
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.
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.
- Pleasant and fun to drive
- Excellent infotainment system
- Very well equipped
- Firm low-speed ride
- Handling not as precise as some rivals
- Boot is on the small side in the class
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.
- Comfortable ride
- Good infotainment system
- Glitzy-looking interior
- Boot smaller than rivals'
- Dashboard flimsy in places
- Rear head room could be better
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.
- Engaging handling
- Strong performance
- Competent petrol engines
- Diesel engines could be quieter
- Rivals have a bigger boot
- Interior quality still can’t match German rivals
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.
- Agile, enjoyable handling
- Well priced and well equipped
- Comfortable ride
- Tight for rear-seat and boot space
- Interior could be classier
- So-so reliability record
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.
- Good ride and handling balance
- Punchy 35 TFSI petrol engine
- All versions are well equipped
- Distracting infotainment system
- Road noise at speed
- Small boot by class standards
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.
- Comfortable ride – if you stick with smaller wheels
- Spacious and reasonably plush interior
- Quiet at high speeds
- 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
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.
- Vast interior and boot space
- Exceptional value for money
- Classy, high-quality interior
- Some rivals are more fun to drive
- Sluggish dual-clutch automatic gearbox
- Not as quiet on motorways as the Audi A4
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.
- Class-leading interior quality
- Smooth engines
- Entry-level engines are a touch weedy
- A BMW 3 Series is more fun to drive
- You can’t add many options
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.
- Savage acceleration
- Long range between charges
- Surprisingly practical
- Fast charging via Tesla's prolific Supercharger network
- Rivals are quieter on the move
- Handling not as entertaining as petrol rivals
- Some may find the ride a touch firm
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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- Brilliant fun to drive
- Class-leading infotainment system
- Great range of engines
- Ride is rather firm – particularly in M Sport versions
- Not as well finished inside as an Audi A4
- Adjustable lumbar support costs extra
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