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Best used executive cars (and one to avoid)

For those looking for a good executive car, here are your top 10 best options from the used market, as well as one to steer away from...

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by
Oliver Young
Published14 March 2024

Best used executive cars

Leonardo da Vinci's most famous painting may be the 'Mona Lisa', but the artist first gained attention for his work on 'The Baptism of Christ'. Similarly, while certain car brands have moved away from executive cars in favour of more popular body styles – cough cough, SUVs, cough cough – would a good chunk of them be where they are today without their respective executive cars?  

That said, the class isn't dead – far from it. Many car brands, particularly premium ones, have good reason to stick by their executive cars: for instance, the best-selling BMW of all time is still the BMW 3 Series.

That all bodes well for the used car market, too, where there are plenty of great executive cars to choose from at reasonable prices.

We've compiled a list of our top 10 picks (as well as an executive car to avoid) and, if you can't wait to find out our favourite, it is indeed the BMW 3 Series. 

Our pick: 330e 22.3 kWh M Sport 4dr Step Auto

0-62mph: 5.9 sec
MPG/range: 353.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 19g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 375 litres
Insurance group: 34E

Strengths

  • Great fun to drive
  • Sharp steering and superb body control
  • Intuitive infotainment system
  • Well equipped

Weaknesses

  • Interior not as well finished as Audi A4
  • Lumbar support was an expensive extra
  • Rather firm ride, especially on M Sport models

Our number one pick, the BMW 3 Series, is great to drive and available with a wide selection of superb engines that are extremely efficient. It's supremely competent and wonderfully classy. What’s more, it’s spacious enough for the average family and most versions are comfortable and reliable. Used versions of this latest-generation car are available for less than £20,000, making it all the more enticing. 

Our favourite engine, if it fits into your lifestyle, is the plug-in hybrid (PHEV) 330e. It offers great performance (0-60mph is achievable in just 5.9sec), yet it also has the potential for huge savings in fuel bills, provided you can charge it up regularly and the majority of your journeys are short.

Mid-range Sport comes with all the equipment you’d need and allows you to avoid the overly firm suspension of M Sport.

We found: 2020 BMW 3 Series 330e Sport Pro, 30,427 miles, £19,800

Read our full used BMW 3 Series review

Search for a used BMW 3 Series for sale 

Strengths

  • Class-leading interior
  • Extensive engine choice
  • Very comfortable

Weaknesses

  • One or two rivals are more fun to drive
  • S line ride quality a bit firm
  • Ultra version uses S Line sports suspension

Possibly the classiest car here, the Audi A4 continues to live up to its award-winning reputation and is still one the best executive cars you can buy. It isn’t as lively to drive as the 3 Series, but it still impresses on the road and is good fun – it's wonderfully refined, too. It also has a comfortable ride (as long as you avoid big wheels on S line models), a well-built interior and loads of desirable equipment. It's reliable, too. In short, the A4 is a fantastic all-rounder. 

We’d go for the 160bhp 35 TDI diesel, because it has plenty of low-down punch (so you can tootle around town effortlessly) yet has enough pace to whisk you up to motorway speeds effectively – 0-62mph takes 8.2sec.

Our preferred trim – entry-level Technik – is pretty well-equipped. You get 17in alloy wheels, power-folding door mirrors, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated front seats, front and rear climate control, cruise control, keyless start, parking aids, LED headlights and infotainment features.

We found: 2020 Audi A4 2.0 TDI 35 Technik, 27,347 miles, £19,000

Read our full used Audi A4 review

Search for a used Audi A4 for sale 

Strengths

  • Vast interior and boot
  • Good value for money used
  • High-quality materials

Weaknesses

  • Some rivals are more fun to drive
  • Diesel engines are occasionally gruff
  • 2.0-litre petrols are quick, but rather thirsty

The clue is in the name, it would seem. The Superb is good to drive, can be found with a wide selection of engines and is extremely efficient. What’s more, it’s spacious enough to moonlight as a limousine and every version is extremely comfortable. For the money, there's almost nothing to touch the all-round capabilities of the Skoda Superb

The entry-level S model is fine, but we’d be tempted to spend a bit more money and find an example in SE Technology trim, because it has the best compromise of equipment and price. SE L and SE L Executive add a number of tempting luxuries, while the top-of-the-range Laurin & Klement model will appeal to those who appreciate an upgraded stereo and not having to scrape ice from the windscreen (it has an electrically heated one).

Among the later, post-2018 Superbs, we prefer the 1.5 TSI 150 engine. It's smooth, punchy and economical. The earlier 1.4-litre petrol is similarly refined. Neither of the two 2.0-litre petrol engines is worth the added expense in fuel (unless you do mainly urban driving).

We found: 2020 Skoda Superb 1.5 TSI SE Technology, 39,963 miles, £15,500

Read our full used Skoda Superb review

Search for a used Skoda Superb for sale 

Strengths

  • Spacious and comfortable interior
  • Classy and refined
  • Well equipped in higher trims

Weaknesses

  • Low-speed ride can be firm
  • Boot opening not as versatile as a hatchback's

The VW Passat is a fantastic all-rounder, blending comfort and efficiency with handling that’s both enjoyable and safe and an interior that's delightfully classy. There’s plenty of room for everyone, too, and a capacious boot; it even looks good, and used prices are really competitive. Reliability is another strong point in this impressive car's favour. 

Diesels dominate the Passat range and most of the cars on the used market are oil burners. The two versions of the 1.6 TDI 120 are impressively economical, but they need to be revved hard to get the best from them. Our pick is the 2.0 TDI 150, which is punchy and flexible enough for overtaking and refined on the motorways. It’s also more economical than the more powerful 2.0 TDI 190.

Entry-level S trim is a little sparse, although it gets air-con and electric windows. We’d go with SE trim: it adds desirable goodies such as automatic lights and wipers, cruise control and parking sensors all round. The only thing to look for might be sat-nav, which came standard on the next-up SE Business trim. GT and R-line trims get progressively more luxurious and, in turn, up the price on the used forecourts.

We found: 2020 Volkswagen Passat 2.0 TDI 150 SE, 49,470 miles, £13,950

Read our full used Volkswagen Passat review

Search for a used Volkswagen Passat for sale 

Strengths

  • Tremendous performance
  • Long range
  • Surprisingly practical

Weaknesses

  • Build quality could be better
  • Ride and handling not up to top ICE rivals

It may be the only fully electric car on our list, but the Tesla Model 3 is a great proposition if it fits into your lifestyle. It's good to drive and well equipped, and even the Standard Plus model, which will be the cheapest used buy, has an official range of 254 miles – or 267 miles if you go for a post-2020 facelifted version. It'll also see off the 0-60mph dash in just 6.1sec, and do it all in a hushed, smooth and suave manner. 

The Performance version goes a few steps further on the acceleration front, shrinking the 0-60mph time to just 3.3sec. Its official range is good – at 329 miles – too. There's also the Long Range and it can officially travel 348 miles before running out of juice. 

We found: 2020 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus, 28,048 miles, £19,198

Read our full used Tesla Model 3 review

Search for a used Tesla Model 3 for sale 

Our pick: 35 TFSI Sport 4dr

0-62mph: 8.4 sec
MPG/range: 51.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 125g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 425 litres
Insurance group: 23E

Strengths

  • Powerful and efficient engines
  • Excellent blend of comfort and agility
  • Classy interior

Weaknesses

  • Rear-seat space limited
  • Boot not huge
  • Firm low-speed ride on some models

It’s rather small next to its rivals here and, consequently, it’s tight on space in the boot and rear seats, but the Audi A3’s fantastic combination of comfort, efficiency and agility might make it worth the sacrifice. And, of course, you get the same fabulous interior you do in all of the different 2013-2020 Audi A3 variants. What’s more, those diminutive dimensions make it one of the easiest cars on our list to drive around town and park. If you don't need the extra space, it makes for a fantastic executive saloon.

Even the entry-level 1.0-litre engine has plenty of pep, coping with motorways without too much difficulty. That being said, we'd recommend the more powerful and refined 1.4 TFSI or, in later cars, 1.5 TFSI engine, if you’re after a petrol-powered car. 

Sport is the entry-level trim and it has more than enough kit, with dual-zone climate control, 17in wheels, DAB radio, a 5.8in colour screen, Bluetooth, a USB socket and a leather steering wheel complete with audio controls.

We found: 2019 Audi A3 1.5 TFSI 35 Sport, 36,905 miles, £15,199

Read our full used Audi A3 Saloon review

Search for a used Audi A3 for sale 

Strengths

  • Keen handling
  • Well equipped
  • Surprisingly low prices

Weaknesses

  • Rivals offer more space
  • Interior build quality
  • Running costs can be high

This suave four-door ticks many desirable boxes. It features a traditional rear-wheel-drive layout, plenty of driver appeal, plus all the style and equipment buyers could want. It’s refined on the motorways and the ride is comfortable. True, there are others that are better finished inside and more spacious, but few handle as sweetly – if you’re after a sporty executive saloon, the XE is up there with the 3 Series as one of the best. 

We’d opt for an example bearing the 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel – it feels usefully quicker than the lower-powered version, yet is almost as economical and efficient. The petrol models are smoother and quieter than the diesels, so they're even more pleasant to drive, but fuel economy suffers. If you can afford the bills, the 237bhp 2.0-litre petrol is worth a look.

All XEs get plenty of equipment, but of the earlier cars, Prestige models feel a little bit more premium than entry-level SE, making it our choice. With later cars, even the now-entry-level S trim is kitted out, making it a recommendable option, too. 

We found: 2020 Jaguar XE D180 S, 31,498 miles, £18,188

Read our full used Jaguar XE review

Search for a used Jaguar XE for sale 

Our pick: 2.0 Turbo Veloce 4dr Auto

0-62mph: 5.7 sec
MPG/range: 38.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 167g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 480 litres
Insurance group: 34E

Strengths

  • Good to drive
  • Well equipped
  • Strong performance

Weaknesses

  • Awkward boot opening
  • Disappointing interior quality
  • Rear seat space

Few executive cars are as stylish and fun to drive as the Alfa Romeo Giulia is. It’s actually very comfortable, too, with a supple ride in most versions, and you'll get plenty of equipment. All versions come with a punchy yet efficient range of engines. But it's its quick steering and eager handling that'll please the keen driver here. Few others in our top 10 can match it.  

If you do lots of miles, you’ll need the cheaper running costs of one of the earlier diesel models. While it is a slightly noisier engine than you’ll find in some of its rivals, it isn’t overly so and the eight-speed automatic does a good job of quietening things down at a cruise.

The standard Giulia comes with plenty of equipment, but, of the early cars, it’s the Super version that we would recommend, because it has a slightly better interior and part-leather seats that give it a more premium feel.

As an alternative, if you can afford the extra money both to buy and to run, or if your annual mileage is a little lower, we do love the 2.0 280 Veloce model, as well as the Giulia QV performance car. Keen drivers will adore them, although Giulia reliability can be a little mixed. 

We found: 2020 Alfa Romeo Giulia 2.0T Veloce, 21,200 miles, £22,662

Read our full used Alfa Romeo Giulia review

Search for a used Alfa Romeo Giulia for sale 

Strengths

  • Impressive fuel economy
  • Strong but quiet diesel engine
  • Excellent infotainment system

Weaknesses

  • Firm low-speed ride
  • Not as much fun to drive as some rivals
  • Rear head room for taller passengers

Reliability and quality are the hallmarks of the Mazda 6; it feels beautifully built inside and has a great reputation for long service and dependability. But it isn’t a one-trick pony; it’s also great to drive, with sharp responses and punchy engines, and it’s remarkably fuel efficient. If you want a smart executive car that shouldn’t let you down, the 6 ticks those boxes.

Our favourite engine is the earlier 2.2-litre diesel with 148bhp, because it has enough power to make it a relaxing cruiser.

A lot of examples feature the SE-L trim, which comes with some useful options such as front and rear parking sensors. Whichever trim level you choose, you will get a DAB radio, Bluetooth, cruise control, 17in alloy wheels, a leather gearlever and steering wheel, USB connection and, on 2015 cars onwards, a 7.0in touchscreen.

We found: 2019 Mazda 6 2.2 SE-L Nav+, 47,167 miles, £11,511

Read our full used Mazda 6 review

Search for a used Mazda 6 for sale 

Our pick: 35 TDI Sport 5dr S Tronic

0-62mph: 8.4 sec
MPG/range: 57.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 127g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 465 litres
Insurance group: 31E

Strengths

  • Class-leading interior quality
  • Powerful and efficient engines
  • Practical for a four-door coupe

Weaknesses

  • Not as involving to drive as some rivals
  • Rivals have more kit as standard
  • Reliability average

Stylish, efficient and classy: the Audi A5 Sportback is ideal for those who hanker after all the looks of a coupé but need some of the additional practicality of an executive car. Rear occupants won't have quite as much room to stretch out in compared with the regular Audi A4, but that's the sacrifice you have to make for the sleeker looks. Watch out for a firm ride on S line models with the sports suspension. 

Presuming you're looking at earlier models, the 187bhp 2.0 TDI Ultra 190 is the one we’d look for, as it’s economical, punchy enough and refined. Sport is our favourite trim. It adds different 17in alloy wheels, sports seats, LED interior lighting pack and sat-nav for not a huge amount more money than you’ll pay for entry-level SE trim.

We found: 2019 Audi A5 Sportback 2.0 TDI 35 Sport, 36,512 miles, £18,900

Read our full used Audi A5 review

Search for a used Audi A5 for sale 

Infiniti Q50

The Infiniti Q50 is thirsty, noisy and odd to drive, due to its vague steering. And, despite all of that, it isn't a bargain either. Read our review