Top 10 best executive cars (and the ones to avoid)
The stakes are high in the executive car class; it's one of the most hotly contested in Britain, with some of the most demanding customers. Want to find the one that ticks all the boxes? You're i...
A good executive saloon needs to combine two opposing qualities: luxury and affordability.
The best have efficient engines that make them cheap to run as company cars. Yet they also have plush interiors and enough soundproofing to keep them 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 names the cars that are best to steer clear of.
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10: Jaguar XE
Taking on the big 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.
10: Jaguar XE - interior
It's let down a little when it comes to interior quality, but a generous equipment list should entice company car drivers.
Our pick: 2.0-litre D180 SE
9: Mercedes C-Class
The C-Class is one of the three main choices when it comes to executive cars, the other two being the Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series – both of which feature further up this list.
9: Mercedes C-Class - interior
The C-Class does a lot well, too – it has a superb interior, most engines emit little CO2 and you get plenty of toys as standard. The entry-level C220d diesel makes the most financial sense and pulls strongly from low revs.
Our pick: C220d SE
8: Volkswagen Arteon
The Arteon is a very stylish choice, mixing the practicality of an executive saloon with the svelte looks of a coupé.
8: Volkswagen Arteon - interior
We like its strong range of engines, of which the mid-level 2.0-litre diesel is our recommended choice, as well as its huge boot and generous standard kit.
Our pick: 2.0 190 TDI Elegance
7: Volkswagen Passat
Next to some of the cars on this list, the Passat looks like a bit of a bargain.
7: Volkswagen Passat - interior
It gives you a spacious and practical interior, an economical 2.0-litre diesel engine and a reasonably large boot, and all for a tempting price. It also has low CO2 emissions, and therefore tax, making it a popular choice with company car drivers.
Our pick: 2.0 TDI 150 SE
6: Alfa Romeo Giulia
Alfa Romeo's latest attempt at an executive cruiser is a very strong effort.
6: Alfa Romeo Giulia - interior
The Giulia is composed at cruising speeds and offers very engaging handling when you switch from motorways to countryside B-roads. Its interior quality is a little below par, but our recommended Super trim won't leave you short of equipment.
Our pick: 2.0d 200 Super
5: Audi A3 Saloon
Rather than being just a stretched version of the popular A3 Sportback family hatchback, the A3 Saloon has been engineered to be more comfortable and economical in order to appeal to the junior executive market.
5: Audi A3 Saloon - interior
The result is a superb car that offers low running costs and is excellent to drive. The 2.0-litre diesel engine we recommend for business buyers offers solid performance, too.
Our pick: 2.0-litre 35 TDI Sport
4: Audi A5 Sportback
The A5 Sportback is closely related to the A4 saloon, a former What Car? Car of the Year, so it should come as no surprise to find that it's very good indeed.
In fact, with its class-leading interior quality and strong range of engines, the A5 Sportback makes a great executive choice.
4: Audi A5 Sportback - interior
It's also pleasingly practical, and our favourite Sport specification gets you everything you'll want, including sat-nav and leather seats.
Our pick: 2.0-litre 40 TDI Sport
3: Skoda Superb
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.
3: Skoda Superb - interior
The low CO2 emissions of the Superb's 2.0-litre diesel engine make it a great choice for company car drivers, and it combines good performance with sensible running costs.
Our pick: 2.0 TDI 150 SE Executive
2: Audi A4
The A4 is hard to fault in almost every area, and that's why we named it our overall Car of the Year in 2016. As you'd expect, the interior is luxurious and beautifully laid out, with practical rear seats and a spacious boot.
2: Audi A4 - interior
Go for our recommended 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine (badged 40 TDI) and you'll enjoy prodigious performance and reasonable fuel economy, too.
Our pick: 2.0 40 TDI Technik
1: BMW 3 Series
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 a comfortable ride and relaxing refinement.
1: BMW 3 Series - interior
Add to all that a user-friendly infotainment system, plenty of space front and rear and a superb driving position, and it's the undoubted class leader.
Our pick: 320d Sport auto
So what about those you should avoid?
The hybrid version of the Q50 is refined and sporty, but truthfully there's very little reason to buy one. By the high class standards measured here, it's just not up to scratch.
Infiniti Q50 - interior
What's more, Infiniti is leaving Europe next year.
Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport
The Insignia Grand Sport isn't a bad car, but in a market with such strong competition, it's let down in too many areas to be listed among the best.
Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport - interior
If you're after a top-notch executive daily, this isn't it.