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Used test – business class: Audi A4 vs BMW 3 Series vs Citroen DS5 vs Mercedes C-Class

Buying a used Audi A4, BMW 3 Series or Mercedes C-Class might seem obvious if you want an executive car. But is the CitroΓ«n DS5 a worthy left-field alternative?

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Our Verdict

Of all the cars here, the CitroΓ«n DS5 is probably the one you’d want to take home most of all, on first acquaintance. Those avantgarde looks are refreshingly different to the three-box designs of the other three cars here, and that fantastic interior only continues its desirability inside.

The problem comes once you get moving. Yes, the DS5 is as quiet as you could hope for; had it matched that solitude with comfort, it’d be a very strong package. But the ride is jarringly firm over even the slightest bump. Strangely, it also manages to feel sloppy over larger undulations. And the DS5 isn’t even much fun to drive as a payoff, thanks to its vague steering. Throw in the poor gearbox and vague clutch, and driving the DS5 becomes an experience you’d rather forget.

Lack of comfort in an executive car is unforgivable which is why the CitroΓ«n must take last place. It’s also a chink the Audi A4’s armour, because at high speeds it can feel rather firm. For all that, though, the A4 does offer a smooth engine and a fantastic interior. It also handles tidily, even if the experience is dampened somewhat by its overly light steering, and it has plenty of space, too

But the A4’s considerably more expensive to buy than any other car here, and it has one of the worst reputations for reliability here. Combined with its firm ride, those factors contribute to its third place finish here.

However, comfort is certainly not lacking in the Mercedes. In this SE trim, it wafts along beautifully, and efficiently too, using very little fuel in the process, despite its engine being the punchiest here. It’s also the car with the best reputation for reliability here, and it’s one of the cheapest to buy; on the basis of those two facts alone, it’s worth a look.

True, you will have to live with rather a lot of engine noise, while wind and road noise aren’t exactly banished either. Elsewhere, the C-Class is competent, if unexceptional; its interior is decent enough, if rather drab, while interior space is about average.

However, if you want a car that’ll give you that little extra spark, you’ll have to choose the BMW 3 Series. It matches or betters the Mercedes in many areas, with a more interesting interior, better handling – even without the optional adaptive suspension package fitted – and a far quieter engine.

Yet the 3 Series is barely any more expensive than the Mercedes to buy, and a lot cheaper to maintain; what’s more, while its reliability isn’t quite up to that of the C-Class, it doesn’t fall to the level of the A4 or DS5. And if you can find an example with the optional suspension fitted, you’ll have by far and away the best-handling and -riding executive car you can buy for the money. And probably the best car overall, for that matter.

Read our review of the latest BMW 3 Series

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Also consider:


1st – BMW 3 Series

For Low running costs; reasonable prices; lively engine; classy, practical interior

Against Wind noise; ordinary to drive without adaptive suspension

Verdict The best all-rounder here, though the perfect specification is hard to find

Rated 4 out of 5

Read the full used BMW 3 Series review

Find a used BMW 3 Series for sale in the What Car? Classifieds


2nd – Mercedes-Benz C-Class

For Gutsy engine; excellent ride; best reliability reputation; low prices

Against Noisy engine; dreary interior; boring handling

Verdict It’s noisy and a bit dull, but the C-Class is also cheap to buy and reliable

Rated 3 out of 5

Read the full used Mercedes C-Class review

Find a used Mercedes C-Class for sale in the What Car? Classifieds


3rd – Audi A4

For Smooth engine; secure handling; well-built interior

Against High-speed ride; poor reliability; expensive to buy

Verdict A decent all-rounder, spoiled by its cost and a reputation for expensive bills

Rated 3 out of 5

Read the full used Audi A4 review

Find a used Audi A4 for sale in the What Car? Classifieds


4th – CitroΓ«n DS5

For Quiet on the move; practical boot; stylish interior

Against Punishing ride; worst economy; tight rear legroom

Verdict It’s hard to recommend an executive car that rides as poorly as this

Rated 2 out of 5

Read the full used CitroΓ«n DS5 review

Find a used CitroΓ«n DS5 for sale in the What Car? Classifieds


Specifications: BMW 320d Efficient Dynamics

Engine size 2.0-litre diesel

List price when new Β£28,080

Price today Β£10,500

Power 161bhp

Torque 280lb ft

0-60mph 7.7sec

Top speed 141mph

Fuel economy 68.9mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 109g/km


Specifications: Mercedes-Benz C220 CDI SE

Engine size 2.1-litre diesel

List price when new Β£28,270

Price today Β£10,000

Power 168bhp

Torque 295lb ft

0-60mph 8.6sec

Top speed 139mph

Fuel economy 64.2mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 117g/km


Specifications: Audi A4 2.0 TDIe 163 SE

Engine size 2.0-litre diesel

List price when new Β£27,575

Price today Β£11,000

Power 161bhp

Torque 280lb ft

0-60mph 8.9sec

Top speed 133mph

Fuel economy 64.2mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 115g/km


Specifications: CitroΓ«n DS5 2.0 HDi DStyle

Engine size 2.0-litre diesel

List price when new Β£25,900

Price today Β£8,500

Power 161bhp

Torque 251lb ft

0-60mph 8.7sec

Top speed 127mph

Fuel economy 57.6mpg (Official average)

CO2 emissions 129g/km

Price today is based on a 2012 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

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