Used Car of the Year Awards: Executive cars
With living costs on the rise, getting a good deal on your next car is more important than ever. That's where our Used Car Awards come in. These are our favourite executive cars...
BMW 3 Series
Price from £20,000 Our pick 330e M Sport (Pro Pack)
You don’t write with a ballpoint pen; you use a Biro. And you don’t surf the internet with the help of a search engine; you Google. Sometimes a product or service is so successful that it becomes a verb. Similarly, certain cars end up defining the classes in which they compete, including our winner in this one.
Sporty yet easy to live with, and desirable yet surprisingly obtainable, the 3 Series has proved so popular over the years that every new premium-badged executive saloon tends to be billed as that brand’s 3 Series.
True, the actual 3 Series is no longer our class champion as a new car, having been beaten
by the Tesla Model 3. However, that’s largely because new executive saloons tend to be run by company car drivers, whose benefit-in-kind tax bills will be much lower if they go for a fully electric vehicle like the Model 3.
This is obviously not something used car buyers have to worry about, though, and that shifts the balance back in the 3 Series’ favour, given all of its other virtues.
For starters, its interior is classier than the Model 3’s, feeling both plusher and more solidly constructed. And while the Model 3’s enormous, 15.4in touchscreen looks flashier than the 8.8in equivalent in the 3 Series (enlarged to 14.9in as part of a 2022 facelift), the latter infotainment system is easier to use on the move, because the screen is backed up by physical controls that don’t require you to take your eyes off the road.
In addition, while the Model 3 is good to drive, the 3 Series is even better. It feels incredibly stable through corners, with more grip and barely any body lean, and its steering is as accurate as it is sharp, inspiring real confidence while adding to the sense of agility.
There isn’t a bad engine in the line-up; the petrol range encompasses everything from the rev-hungry four-cylinder unit in the 320i to the monstrously powerful twin-turbo straight six
of the M3, and the diesels are as punchy as they are frugal. But we reckon the best model of the lot is the 330e, because it’s fast, super-smooth and capable of outstanding fuel economy. To get one of these, expect to spend around £20,000.
Best budget buy
Audi A4 (2015-present)
Price from £10,00 Our pick 2.0 TDI 150 Sport
While the current Audi A4 isn’t as good as the equivalent 3 Series overall, it’s stronger in some areas and can be bought for around half the price.That’s because it’s been around for four years longer.
No, it won’t have you raring to take the twisty route home at the end of a long day in the office, but it’s a very comfortable choice – particularly if you buy one on 17in or 18in alloy wheels and in Technik or Sport trim.
Refinement is another strong suit; the A4 is brilliant at shutting out wind and road noise when you’re cruising. Plus, you get to relax in an interior that’s crafted from high-quality materials.
Of the engines that are out there in big numbers, we’d recommend the 2.0 TDI 150 diesel.That said, if you come across a good example fitted with the short-lived 3.0 TDI 218, snap it up, because this combines six-cylinder smoothness with efficiency worthy of a four-cylinder model.
Best for luxury
Audi A8 (2017-present)
Price from £27,000 Our pick 50 TDI Sport
Big luxury saloons like the Audi A8 are notorious for losing their value quickly. But while that’s obviously bad news if you’re buying new, it’s potentially great news if you’re looking to bag yourself a used bargain.
Okay, the A8 is the most expensive of our executive recommendations, but not by much when you consider that it cost around twice the price of the others when new.And not when you realise what you’re getting for your money.
The beautifully finished interior has acres of space, especially in long-wheelbase L versions. The A8 offers a smoother ride than its BMW 7 Series and Mercedes- Benz S-Class contemporaries, too, soaking up all but the most pronounced of bumps.
Refinement is also excellent; even our preferred diesel engine is turbine-smooth.The only real downside of choosing a used A8 is that it will continue shedding value faster than smaller alternatives.