Mercedes C-Class - the rivals it must beat

* Which cars does the new C-Class have to beat? * Competition from BMW, Audi, Lexus, and Jaguar * Traditional executive saloons; and new, smaller rivals...

Mercedes C-Class - the rivals it must beat

The Mercedes C-Class will face one of the toughest line-ups of executive saloons ever seen when it reaches showrooms in June 2014. Not only will it have to beat established rivals from Audi, BMW and Lexus; it will also have to take on smaller contenders offering a premium feel and ultra-competitive emissions and tax bills, with a little less space on board.

Here are five of the C-Class's likely rivals.

BMW 3 Series

The C-Class's traditional nemesis stole a march on the outgoing Mercedes by offering much-improved efficiency, even when fitted with an automatic gearbox. It's no longer the most refined executive saloon, but the BMW still delivers strong performance, excellent fuel economy and fine handling. Its cabin is nicely finished and well built, too, and there's enough space in the rear for a couple of six-footers.

The 3 Series was our executive car of the year last year, but that doesn't mean that it's without flaws. It's particularly annoying, for example, that you have to choose the expensive adjustable suspension to make it ride and handle sweetly.

Audi A4

Audi's traditional executive saloon is also due for replacement soon – and it shows. The A4 is keenly priced and it continues to hold its value well, so ownership costs are pretty decent. Its 2.0-litre turbodiesel engines are strong (the 134bhp 2.0 TDIe is our pick) and on the whole, the cabin stays quiet when you're cruising along.

Audi is unusually generous with standard equipment, too; even basic SE trim gets 17in alloys, three-zone climate control, cruise control, rear parking sensors, and automatic headlights and wipers.

However, the A4 is nowhere near as involving to drive as the 3 Series, the ride is brittle over Britain's pock-marked roads and the dashboard is looking cluttered these days, especially when compared with the smaller A3. 

Lexus IS

Diesels dominate the executive saloon market, but the Lexus IS takes a different approach: it's only available with a petrol engine or as a petrol-electric hybrid. Either way, you'll be buying a car that's a long way from being the best in the market to drive, but the IS scores in other areas.

In particular, the hybrid manages some pretty low CO2 emissions figures that make it a cheaper company car option than its diesel rivals; it sits several bands below even the frugal BMW 320d ED, for example. Lexus also has a strong reputation for reliability and dealer service, too.

It's not the enthusiast's choice, then, but the IS300h is a strong owner proposition.

Audi A3 Saloon

One of the new crop of smaller executive models, the A3 saloon takes many of the same qualities as our 2013 Car of the Year, the A3 Sportback, and applies them to a small saloon shape. There's nothing radical about it – and it transmits its power through the front wheels, a definite restriction in a class dominated by rear-drive machinery – but the end result is still a car that manages to embarrass much of the established order.

The cabin is as beautifully built as the A3 hatchback's, the engines are smooth and refined, and if you go for the 2.0-litre diesel model, fuel efficiency, CO2 emissions and the tax bill all look appealing compared with, say, a BMW 3 Series'.

True, there's not quite as much space in the back of this car as you'll find in conventional-sized execs but with so many buyers spending the vast majority of their time in the car on their own, you can see the A3 Saloon's appeal.

Jaguar XE

You can't buy a Mercedes C-Class-sized Jaguar yet – the firm's smallest model is the larger XF – but the British brand is gearing up for a major assault on the market with the new XE that will appear in 2015.

Beyond the name, there are few details, although Jaguar is already claiming that the new 3 Series rival will be 'the most advanced, efficient and refined sports saloon in its class'.

It will be based on a new set of lightweight chassis parts that will enable the cleanest editions of the rear-wheel-drive car (four-wheel drive will be an option) to emit less than 100g/km of CO2. The engines will be a new family of petrols and diesels, made at Jaguar's factory in the Midlands.

Full details are due later this year.