Executive car contenders

* 17 categories of awards * All the winning models featured here * What Car? Car of the Year 2011 revealed...

Executive car contenders

What Car? Awards 2012 website

Best buy less than 30,000
BMW 5 Series 520d SE
List price 28,045
Target Price 26,681

Every businessman understands the importance of efficiency, and executive cars dont come much more efficient than the BMW 520d SE. Under its bonnet sits a 2.0-litre turbodiesel producing 181bhp and 280lb ft of torque. Thats more than enough for lively acceleration and good in-gear flexibility.

The 520d also features planet-friendly technology such as radiator grilles that open and close to keep the engine at the optimum temperature, brake-energy regeneration and an engine stop-start system.

This makes it cleaner and greener than any major rival. Average fuel economy is a whopping 57.6mpg, while CO2 emissions of 129g/km give it a lowly 18% company car tax rating.

You have to spend extra on Variable Damper Control to give the Five the ride and handling it deserves, but refinement is peerless and the cabin is classy and user-friendly.

For similar money the Mercedes E220 CDI Blue Efficiency offers gutsy performance and an extremely cosseting ride. However, its more expensive to run and has a noisy engine.

BMW 5 Series review

0-62mph 8.1 seconds Top speed 141mph
Running costs
Economy 57.6mpg CO2 129g/km
Insurance group 32
Best buy 30,000-40,000
Jaguar XF 3.0D V6 Luxury
List price 35,900
Target Price 32,558

For this budget you can have six-cylinder versions of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class or, if you want to stand out from the crowd, Infinitis all-new M30d. However, our money would go on Jaguar XF.

For starters, the XF has stronger emotional appeal thanks to its gorgeous looks, funky interior and stunning handling.

Just as importantly, it ticks the sensible boxes because running costs are competitive, its refined and comfortable, and the slinky styling doesnt compromise practicality.

Were particularly keen on the lower-powered 3.0-litre diesel engine: acceleration is lively and it averages over 40mpg. True, the S version provides an extra 34bhp and a noticeable step up in performance, but its not worth the 4000 premium.

We also see little point in upgrading from the entry-level Luxury trim because it brings powered seats, sat-nav, an auto gearbox and parking sensors.

Next year, the competition will be tougher with the arrival of the new Audi A6. However, it will need to be special to topple the XF.

Jaguar XF review

0-62mph 7.1 seconds Top speed 149mph
Running costs
Economy 42.0mpg CO2 179g/km
Insurance group 43
Best buy more than 40,000
Audi A7 Sportback 3.0 TDI 245 quattro SE
List price 48,000
Target Price 47,307

We could quite easily have put a more expensive 5 Series or XF in here. However, people spending this sort of money want something different, and thats exactly what Audi is offering with its new Audi A7 Sportback.

The A7 will be a comparatively rare sight on the roads because prices start on the far side of 40k. Whats more, unlike most of its rivals its a hatchback rather than a four-door saloon.

The cabin is one of the companys best, which means its stylish and beautifully made, while under the skin theres an all-new platform that features multi-link front and rear suspension and, in most versions, a 40:60 rear-biased four-wheel-drive system.

These mechanicals give the A7 a beautifully balanced feel, plus theres loads of traction and grip. The A7 is incredibly comfortable and composed at motorway speeds.

The one black mark is reserved for the steering, which is disappointingly vague. However, our favourite engine the 3.0-litre turbodiesel is as refined as it is frugal, and the A7 generates very little wind or road noise.

Audi A7 Sportback review

0-62mph 6.3 seconds **Top speed 155mph
Running costs
Economy 47.1mpg CO2 158g/km
Insurance group tbc
Tester's view**
As a lover of black T-shirts and heavy metal, I dont consider myself a typical Jaguar fan. However, Im a keen sportsman and respect any hat-trick. So, when the XF notched up its third What Car? Executive of the Year Award last year, I was deeply impressed.

With the arrival of the new BMW 5 Series, though, I knew the XF would have its work cut out to continue that winning streak. After all, our favourite Five will average close to 60mpg way more than any XF.

Naturally, I enjoy driving executive cars, but what I love about them is that they have to satisfy heart and head. On the one hand, they need the right image, and must convey besuited execs in comfort and refinement. On the other, the sums have to add up.

Its a tough gig for any car.
Andy Pringle Content editor