Best and worst executive cars of 2021

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

A good executive saloon needs to combine two opposing qualities: luxury and affordability.

Best executive cars

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, you can check out What Car?'s free New Car Buying service to find out how much of a discount you could get.

10. Volvo S60

Volvo S60 driving

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.

Find out the What Car? Target Price as well as the pros and cons in the next slide >>

Volvo S60 (cont.)

Volvo S60 interior

What Car? Target Price from £39,045 £36,017


Lots of safety kit
Great driving position
Classy interior


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

09. Mazda 6

Mazda 6 2.2d SE-L Nav+ auto

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.

Find out the What Car? Target Price as well as the pros and cons in the next slide >>

Mazda 6 (cont.)

Mazda 6 2.2d SE-L Nav+ auto - interior

What Car? Target Price from £24,725 £24,061


Strong but quiet diesels
Excellent infotainment system
Very well equipped


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

08. Alfa Romeo Giulia

Used Alfa Romeo Giulia

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.

Find out the What Car? Target Price as well as the pros and cons in the next slide >>

Alfa Romeo Giulia (cont.)

Alfa Romeo Giulia - interior

What Car? Target Price from £34,995 £33,244


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

07. Jaguar XE

LT Jaguar XE nose

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.

Find out the What Car? Target Price as well as the pros and cons in the next slide >>

Jaguar XE (cont.)

Jaguar XE interior

What Car? Target Price from £34,255 £31,629


Agile, enjoyable handling
Relative exclusivity
Generous equipment list


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

05. Mercedes C-Class

Mercedes C-Class

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.

Find out the What Car? Target Price as well as the pros and cons in the next slide >>

Mercedes C-Class (cont.)

Mercedes C-Class - interior

What Car? Target Price from £29,370 £24,187


Smart looking interior
Good amount of standard kit
Decent finance offers


Firm ride on standard suspension
Relatively pricey cash buy
Small boot

05. Volkswagen Passat

Volkswagen Passat saloon 2019 LHD UK plate front tracking

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.

Find out the What Car? Target Price as well as the pros and cons in the next slide >>

Volkswagen Passat (cont.)

Volkswagen Passat Estate GTE 2021 RHD dashboard

What Car? Target Price from £25,985 £20,166


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

04. Skoda Superb

2019 Skoda Superb front

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.

Find out the What Car? Target Price as well as the pros and cons in the next slide >>

Skoda Superb (cont.)

Skoda Superb 2021 RHD dashboard

What Car? Target Price from £24,855 £22,817


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


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

03. Audi A4

Audi A4 35 TDI Sport S tronic

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.

Find out the What Car? Target Price as well as the pros and cons in the next slide >>

Audi A4 (cont.)

Audi A4 Avant interior

What Car? Target Price from £30,760 £28,178


Class-leading interior quality
Smooth engines
Well equipped as standard


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

02. Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3 2019 RHD front cornering

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.

Find out the What Car? Target Price as well as the pros and cons in the next slide >>

Tesla Model 3 (cont.)

Tesla Model 3 2019 RHD dashboard

What Car? Target Price from £43,545


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


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

01. BMW 3 Series

BMW 3 Series front three quarters

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.

Find out the What Car? Target Price as well as the pros and cons in the next slide >>

BMW 3 Series (cont.)

BMW 3 Series Saloon 2021 dashboard RHD

What Car? Target Price from £31,110 £27,860


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

Find out the executive car to avoid in the next slide >>

Hyundai i40

Hyundai i40 saloon front

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 muster in too many areas to be recommendable.

Related cars

BMW 3 Series

2019 - present

Brilliant to drive and a fine all-rounder. A superb buy.