BMW 5 Series 520d SE auto
List price £34,165
Target Price £27,160
The undefeated champ of the large executive car class. Can it continue to fend off newer rivals?
Jaguar XF 2.0d 180 Prestige auto
List price £34,050
Target Price £31,204
Sharp-driving Jaguar has already impressed in V6 diesel form. This 2.0 trades power for lower CO2.
Mercedes E-Class E 220 d SE 9G-Tronic
List price £35,935
Target Price £32,761
Brand-new Mercedes beats its rivals on CO2 emissions and comes lavishly equipped out of the box.
The modern car world moves at such a fast pace that it’s rare for any model to stay at the top of its class for more than a year or two. So, the fact the BMW 5 Series has been king of the executive saloons since its launch in 2010 is truly remarkable.
Could that reign finally be about to end, though? The all-new Mercedes E-Class is the latest pretender to the throne. It certainly has plenty to worry the BMW, not least a jaw-dropping interior, lower CO2 emissions and lashings of standard kit.
Our third contender is the Jaguar XF, a car that’s also well equipped and has handling so sharp it should run rings around its German rivals on a winding road. If it can compete on comfort and interior quality it could easily walk away on top.
Most executive saloons end up in the hands of company car drivers, so we’ve chosen the big-selling four-cylinder diesel versions to keep tax bills to a minimum.
What are they like to drive?
These saloons all have 2.0-litre engines, but the German cars have a bit more power than the Jaguar. The E-Class zipped from 30-70mph in just 7.1sec and the 5 Series took a respectable 8.0sec to dispatch the same sprint. However, the XF needed 8.6sec; hardly shameful, but that shortfall of oomph can be felt when overtaking.
Bigger differences show when you’re driving more sedately. While the 5 Series’s eight-speed automatic gearbox is quick to respond and always picks the right gear, the E-Class’s nine-speed ’box is never quite as slick. The E-Class accelerates promptly whenever you put your foot down, but in the XF there’s often a long pause before anything happens, which can be unnerving when pulling on to a roundabout.
The E-Class is available with three suspension options, although our test car was fitted with the standard Agility Control set-up, which is all about comfort. Its soft, spongy suspension smooths over larger obstacles with ease. You are jostled around a little along patched-up urban streets, but the motorway ride is smooth. Just don’t expect agile handling because the E-Class leans heavily through corners and doesn’t appreciate being asked to change direction quickly. Numb steering that gets quicker the more lock you apply also disappoints.
The 5 Series on test had optional Variable Damper Control (£985), which lets you stiffen or soften the suspension. While the more comfortable setting gives a smooth ride, Sport mode is best for twisty country roads because it immediately tightens up the whole car. It leans less through corners and wallows less over dips.
However, as good as it is, the 5 Series doesn’t slice through corners quite like the XF. The Jaguar’s front tyres grip hard as you turn in to bends and its light but accurate steering allows you to place the car exactly where you want it. With little body sway, the XF feels much smaller and lighter than it is.
The XF also rides remarkably well. It glides over uneven surfaces as well as the 5 Series and stays composed at speed; even nasty potholes don’t cause too much discomfort.
The XF is the least refined, though; its engine is a bit gruff and there’s a fair amount of road and wind noise on the motorway. The 5 Series and E-Class are both far quieter. Their engines are smooth at tickover and when you accelerate. Although the E-Class whips up marginally more wind noise than the 5 Series at 70mph, its tyres generate the least road roar, which is why it was the quietest in our noise tests.
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