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?

Words By What Car? team

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What are they like inside?

The CitroΓ«n DS5’s charm offensive is at its strongest inside, with an aluminium centre console, brightly coloured dials and a cockpit divider that runs down the centre of the ceiling. Thankfully, all this drama hasn’t compromised functionality, because the important controls are easy to operate.

You sit higher up than in the other three cars, with a good view of the road ahead, and the pedals line up reasonably well with the steering wheel. In all, it’s the best driving position of the four; the seat and wheel are easy to adjust, and the DS5 is the only car here that was fitted with lumbar support as standard (it was an option on the other cars). The seats are comfortable, although there isn’t much lateral support.

All three German cars are blighted by badly offset driving positions. The pedals in the BMW 3 Series are set too far over to the right, but otherwise it’s tough to fault. All-round visibility is good, the centre console is usefully angled towards the driver and the seats are comfortable and supportive. Adjusting the angle of the seatback is tricky, though, because you have to pull a handle and shift your weight back and forth.

The Audi A4’s more conventional rotary seat controls make it easier to fine-tune your driving position, and there’s plenty of adjustment in the steering wheel, too. However, some of the buttons are poorly labelled and rear visibility is restricted.

The Mercedes C-Class is the most disappointing. The pedals are even more offset than its German rivals and the driver’s seat always feels as though it’s tilting forward, even in its flattest setting. What’s worse, though, is the foot-operated parking brake which makes hill starts tricky.

What’s more, the C-Class’s dashboard lacks the deep, ingrained class you might expect from an executive saloon. Everything feels solid, but the dreary colour scheme and sombre design disappoint.

By contrast, the DS5’s dashboard has plenty of soft plastics, and even the front door pockets get flock lining and mood lighting. The metal-rimmed heater controls also impress, and the use of different-coloured and -textured materials throughout does wonders for the sense of quality. The tiny buttons on the face of the stereo are the only real disappointment, because they’re cheap and flimsy.

The BMW’s cabin is much more conservative, but is even classier. Its dashboard is made of dense, soft plastics, and most of the switches and knobs also have a solid action; some of the stereo and heater controls feel a bit lightweight. We also wish the fit was better, because some of the interior panel gaps on our test cars were surprisingly uneven.

The A4’s dashboard is more impressive. It has tight-fitting panels and matches the 3 Series for overall quality, even though some of the switches and knobs aren’t as well-damped as those in the BMW.

The BMW also has by far the most front headroom, though the only car here that tall drivers are likely to feel cramped in is the CitroΓ«n. That’s mainly because its seats don’t slide back as far as those in the other three cars, but the panoramic glass roof also eats into head space. The Audi has even less headroom but, on the positive side, it has masses of legroom.

It’s a similar story in the back, because the 3 Series again has the most headroom, with the Audi offering the least. The Mercedes and CitroΓ«n both provide rear passengers with similar amounts, but knee room in the DS5 is very tight. The optional massaging front seats fitted to our test car made things even worse than in a standard DStyle model.

As the only hatchback here, you’d expect the CitroΓ«n to have a more practical boot than its saloon rivals. Sure enough, it provides the best access, with a tall and wide aperture. The boot’s shape also makes the DS5 the best car for carrying square items, such as suitcases. However, the CitroΓ«n’s boot has the highest lip, which makes it tricky to lift heavy items onto the boot floor.

The other three cars have similar-sized load bays which get narrower towards the rear seats. However, all four cars managed to swallow both our small and large pushchairs with the rear seats in place. A set of golf clubs wasn’t a problem, either.

The Audi and CitroΓ«n both came with split-folding rear seats as standard, giving you the option of carrying even bigger items. However, this handy feature was optional on both the Merc and the BMW.

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