Best executive cars 2024 – tested, rated and those to avoid

Great executive cars are comfortable, classy and well equipped, yet also cheap to run. Here we name the best 10 executive cars on sale in the UK – plus one we recommend avoiding...

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by
George Hill
Published20 May 2024

In the cut-throat world of executive cars, the best of the best triumph by combining two opposing qualities – luxury and affordability.

The stars of the class have plush interiors and enough soundproofing to keep them super-quiet during motorway driving, yet also have efficient engines – or hybrid or all-electric power – to make them cheap to run as company cars.

Driver enjoyment and comfort are very important here – and are taken very seriously by our expert road testers, who clock up hundreds of miles a year putting cars through their paces. We also expect the best models to have the latest infotainment and safety technology.

Tesla Model 3 and Mercedes EQE driving front

This is a class long dominated by the big German car brands, so our current favourite executive car may well surprise you. After testing every model in the class, our team of experienced reviewers agreed that the best is the Tesla Model 3 electric car. Read on to find out why, and see our full list of the best executive cars you can get in the UK, along with the latest prices by clicking through to our executive car deals pages. 

Our pick: RWD 4dr Auto

0-62mph: 6.1 sec
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 594 litres
Insurance group: 36D
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Fast and reliable charging via Tesla's Supercharger network
  • Long range between charges
  • Surprisingly practical

Weaknesses

  • Fiddly interior controls
  • Handling not as entertaining as the best petrol-powered rivals
  • Windscreen pillars hamper visibility

Tesla knows a thing or two about building electric cars and that’s evident by the Model 3’s long list of abilities.

For starters, it’s great to drive and gets a smart interior packed full of technology, plus a glowing report from Euro NCAP safety testers. The boot is a good size too, with more storage space than the Audi A4 and the BMW 3 Series offer.

The Model 3 also does brilliantly when it comes to the all-important question of range – especially the latest updated version, with the Long Range car officially capable of 390 miles on 18in wheels. Even the cheaper RWD version we recommend can officially cover up to 318 miles between charges.

Factor in strong performance, steering that’s sweeter than that of the rival Polestar 2, competitive pricing and tiny benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax bills, and the Tesla Model 3 is the best executive car you can get.

"The latest Model 3 has seen a real uptick in interior quality. We particularly like the use of fabric on the doors and dashboard." – Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth Tesla Model 3 review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Spacious and sumptuous interior
  • Impressive infotainment system
  • PHEV's class-leading electric range

Weaknesses

  • No air suspension or rear-wheel steering in UK
  • E200 is not particularly sprightly
  • Boot space in PHEV is compromised

The Mercedes E-Class name is synonymous with the executive car, and this latest version helps to build on that. 

Indeed, the E-Class is slightly bigger than its predecessor, so the interior is noticeably more spacious. In the front and back seats there's plenty of head, leg and shoulder room for you to get comfortable. There's also plenty of tech inside to keep your passengers occupied, with all versions offering the ability to download third-party apps such as TikTok or Zoom through the infotainment system. 

Despite the Tesla Model 3 being better for BIK ratings, the E-Class – specifically in E300e form – is the best executive car if you're not ready to go electric. Being a plug-in hybrid (PHEV), it comes with a large 24.1kWh battery and an electric motor, which means you can travel a 72 miles officially on electric-only power. That's significantly farther than the PHEV versions of its closest rival, the BMW 5 Series.

"High-spec models get an extra display for the front passenger; it can run social media apps and take photos, and has a special filter to make sure it's not visible from the driver’s seat." Steve Huntingford, Editor

Read our in-depth Mercedes E-Class review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Plug-in hybrid has an impressive ride
  • Fuel economy and emissions compare well with rivals
  • C300e has a very low company car tax rate

Weaknesses

  • Disappointing interior quality
  • Not as much fun to drive as a BMW 3 Series
  • Some road noise

Many rivals outshine the C-Class in terms of interior quality, but the C300e plug-in hybrid (PHEV) version offers an impressive official electric-only range of 68 miles – almost double the official 37 miles the BMW 330e can manage. That means it makes for a very cheap company car.

In the corners, the C-Class is very composed – especially in C300e form, with its standard rear air suspension. In fact, it strikes a wonderful balance between ride comfort and cornering composure, and does a brilliant job of managing the extra weight of the battery.

"The C-Class's infotainment system is more distracting to use on the move than the 3 Series Touring's iDrive system, which has a physical rotary controller, as well as touchscreen contol; we ’d also prefer some physical controls for the climate control system." – Darren Moss, Deputy Digital Editor 

Read our in-depth Mercedes C-Class review

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Vast interior and boot space
  • Exceptional value for money
  • Very generously equipped

Weaknesses

  • Some rivals are more fun to drive
  • Sluggish dual-clutch automatic gearbox
  • No plug-in hybrid currently offered

Calling a car the Superb gives it a lot to live up to, but Skoda's executive car is fully deserving of its moniker.

It's comfortable, well made, generously equipped and great value for money. It’s also very spacious in the back seats (few cars this side of the Mercedes S-Class can match it), and the boot is massive. 

It also gets a good range of engines, including petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid variants, although we think the 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol (badged as the 1.5 TSI 150) is the best option. No matter which version you go for, though, the Superb deserves a place on your shortlist.

"Both the hatchback and estate versions of the Superb have a handy storage cubby on each side of the boot opening. However, there’s a big drop down from the sill to the boot floor in the hatch." Neil Winn, Deputy Reviews Editor 

Read our in-depth Skoda Superb review

Our pick: 250kW eDrive40 M Sport 83.9kWh 5dr Auto

0-62mph: 5.6 sec
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 470 litres
Insurance group: 38E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Brilliant performance
  • Impressive official range
  • Class-leading infotainment

Weaknesses

  • Relatively expensive to buy outright
  • M50 not as sharp as Tesla Model 3 Performance
  • BMW lacks Tesla’s world-beating charging infrastructure

BMW's i4 electric car is fast, comfortable and very hushed at high speeds. Our preferred version is the eDrive40 model, which offers an impressive official range of 367 miles.

Whichever version you go for, the i4 is great to drive and smart inside, making it a compelling alternative to a Tesla Model 3. It’s also a good choice if you prioritise practicality, with its hatchback boot opening and 40/20/40 split folding rear seats.

If you cover a lot of motorway miles, it’s worth bearing in mind that the Model 3 has the i4 pipped, because it grants you access to a significantly better charging network in the form of Tesla's Superchargers – although these days, you can pay to access much of the network with a non-Tesla car.

"The i4’s front seats have the most side bolstering than those in a Tesla Model 3 or BYD Seal, but you have to pay extra for electric adjustment and lumbar support." – Dan Jones, Reviewer

Read our in-depth BMW i4 review

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
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • Ride is rather firm – particularly in M Sport versions
  • Not as well finished inside as an Audi A4
  • Voice command or fiddly touchscreen only way to adjust climate control

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 that with stellar body control and plenty of grip, yet still manages to serve up good ride comfort and relaxing refinement. 

Our preferred version of the 3 Series is the 330e plug-in hybrid (PHEV). It offers strong performance and a decent official electric-only range of up to 37 miles, while promising lower running costs than non-hybrid versions.

The interior of the 3 Series also feels solid and well made (although it’s not quite a match for the Audi A4), and it gets one of the best infotainment systems in the business.

"In its move to modernise the interior, BMW has swept away some buttons on the dashboard. All the climate control functions are now on the touchscreen – a clear backwards step for usability." Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth BMW 3 Series review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

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

Despite being launched in 2015, the A4 is hard to fault in almost any area, so it’s still among the best executive cars around.

As you'd expect, the interior is luxurious and beautifully finished, with practical rear seats and a spacious boot. It's more comfortable than the BMW 3 Series too, although that car offers greater thrills behind the wheel.

Our recommended 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine (badged 35 TDI) delivers gutsy performance combined with good fuel economy. If you’re looking for a tax-efficient plug-in hybrid though, the A4 will leave you disappointed.

"The A4's pedals are offset to the right and there's a space-sapping bulge in the footwell by your left leg. The BMW 3 Series and Mercedes C-Class are not much better for footwell room, though." – Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Read our in-depth Audi A4 review

Our pick: 250kW eDrive40 Sport Edition 84kWh 4dr Auto

0-62mph: 6 sec
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 490 litres
Insurance group: 43E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Tidy handling
  • Excellent refinement
  • Well built and spacious interior

Weaknesses

  • An expensive private buy
  • You'll want to add some options
  • Range and efficiency are good rather than great

It may have a different name, but the i5 is a fully electric version of the new BMW 5 Series saloon.

That's evident by the fact that the two cars have very similar styling. As you might expect, though, it's a different underneath; the i5 is available with single or dual-electric motors and an 81.2kWh battery.

Out of the two versions, the single motor version (eDrive40) is our favourite; it provides quick performance, hushed driving manners and a long official range of 349 miles (although the Mercedes EQE can travel farther). Being based on the same underpinnings as the BMW i7, the i5 also offers a good balance of ride comfort and handling, and it tops the EQE in this regard.

We're also particularly fond of the i5's interior, which has a range of plush materials and a good infotainment system. If it weren't so expensive, it would be higher up this list.

"The i5's touch-sensitive ‘interaction bar’ features haptic controls that are surprisingly easy to use. It’s used to adjust various functions, plus it lights up to tell you that the car is charging, for example, or warn you not to open your door in front of a cyclist." – Lawrence Cheung, New Cars Editor

Read our in-depth BMW i5 review

Our pick: 168kW Premium 77kWh 4dr Auto

0-62mph: 7.4 sec
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: N litres
Insurance group: 36E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Quiet on the move
  • Super-fast charging speeds
  • Long warranty – and not just on the battery

Weaknesses

  • Rear headroom isn't great
  • Interior quality is nothing to write home about
  • Tesla Model 3 is more efficient and has a longer range

Like many of the other models on this list, the Ioniq 6 is an electric car, which means it'll cost you very little to run if you choose one as a company car.

Better still, the Ioniq 6 has a smart interior, is good to drive and quiet on the move, and has a charging speed of up 220kW, so if you can find a fast enough public charger you won't be waiting around ages before you can hit the road again. Once charged up, the rear-wheel-drive RWD version we recommend is officially good for a range of up to 338 miles.

Performance in RWD form is quick enough (0-62mph in 7.4sec) but no match for the fastest electric models. There's also a four-wheel-drive version that manages 0-62mph in 5.1sec if rapid acceleration is your thing.

"The two front seats are separated by a large, flat centre console that’s said to have been designed so that you can easily prop a laptop on it –to catch up on emails while the car charges, perhaps – and recycled materials feature throughout." – Doug Revolta, Head of Video

Read our in-depth Hyundai Ioniq 6 review

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
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

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

Like the Audi A3 family hatchback, the A3 Saloon is tidy in the bends and very comfortable to drive. It also comes very well equipped, and gets many features that you would normally expect to find in much more expensive rivals.

There’s also a good range of petrol and diesel engines, but no plug-in hybrid option. Of the engines which are available, the 148bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged unit (35 TFSI) is our pick for its gutsy yet fuel-efficient nature.

However, if your budget can stretch to it, we’d recommend going for the bigger Audi A4. It’s a lot quieter and has a classier and more practical interior.

"Regardless of which trim you go for, the Audi A3 Saloon provides a good driving position, and there’s plenty of seat adjustment, including four-way lumbar adjustment, to help you get comfortable." Steve Huntingford, Editor

Read our in-depth Audi A3 Saloon review

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And the executive car to avoid...

Genesis G70

While it comes well equipped, most of the the G70's key rivals are quieter, better to drive, more practical and cheaper to run. Read our review

FAQs

What is an executive car?

An executive car usually refers to a large, upmarket saloon which is particularly adept at travelling long distances in great comfort. Traditionally the executive car market had been dominated by the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Jaguar XF and Mercedes E-Class, but today other car brands are getting in on the act. Today, the class includes cars as diverse as the Hyundai Ioniq 6, Skoda Superb and Tesla Model 3 – through to the smaller Audi A3 Saloon.

Executive cars are typically medium or large saloons, but can also include large, sleek hatchbacks. Hallmarks of an executive car include an upmarket interior, plenty of technology, smart yet understated styling and smooth engines. Many executive cars have petrol or diesel engines, but an increasing amount are plug-in hybrids due to the company car tax advantages they bring.

What’s the difference between an executive and luxury car?

In many ways, executive cars are the smaller, less expensive siblings to a full-sized luxury car. Certainly they have many of the same upmarket features inside. The main difference between the two types of car is that luxury cars are generally larger, offering more space for passengers to stretch out. 

However, executive cars are usually better to drive – simply because they’re more likely to be driven by their owners, rather than luxury cars which are better to be driven in.

Is an executive car better than a luxury car?

Whether you should choose an executive car or a luxury car will typically depend on your budget. Most drivers wouldn’t feel short-changed by choosing an executive car, especially as for the most part they’re more fun to drive and not large enough to make parking a chore.

Choose the right executive car, such as the BMW i5 or Mercedes E-Class, and you’ll enjoy levels of refinement and comfort that aren’t far off those of some luxury models. Of course, if you want the ultimate in status and opulence, a luxury car is the only way to go.

Which is best, BMW or Mercedes?

Right now, we think the Mercedes C-Class and E-Class make for slightly better executive cars than the BMW 3 Series and i5 – but the margins are small.

When it comes to reliability, things are more clear-cut: the 2017-2021 BMW 5 Series and current 3 Series finished second and third in our 2023 survey of the most reliable executive cars. The 2014-2021 Mercedes C-Class and current E-Class were the top-performing Mercedes in eighth and 12th place respectively. In our 2023 list of the most reliable car manufacturers, BMW placed 12th and Mercedes 24th out of 32 brands.

Does Audi make executive cars?

Audi has made executive cars since 1968 when it launched the Audi 100. Today the Audi A6 takes up the mantle and is available as a saloon or in Avant estate guise. As well as these more traditional executive models, the high performance Audi S6 offers a more sporty – if slightly underwhelming – drive, whilst the Audi RS6 Avant provides genuine supercar performance.

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