Audi A6 3.0 TDI quattro SE S tronic
List price when new £39,100
Price today £16,000*
Available from 2011-present
Audi’s luxury saloon has sharp looks, first-rate quality and a powerful yet efficient engine
BMW 530d SE automatic
List price when new £40,220
Price today £15,500*
Available from 2010-2017
For many, the 530d’s pace and plush cabin will be enough, but is it the best car here?
Jaguar XF 3.0D S V6 Luxury
List price when new £39,900
Price today £14,500*
Available from 2007-2015
The XF looks fantastic, and it won our Executive Car of the Year award in 2011
Mercedes E-Class E350 CDI BlueEfficiency Avantgarde
List price when new £37,505
Price today £14,000*
Available from 2009-2016
The old-shape E-Class is at its best with this V6 diesel engine, and also has a great ride
(Guide price for a 2011 example with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing)
A used BMW 5 Series has always been an enticing proposition, but if you can’t quite stretch to the new 530d, the old model is now a distinctly appealing proposition – values have fallen sufficiently to drop decent examples down a starting point around the £15,000 mark, and that sounds like a whole lot of car for the money.
The 530d doesn’t have this chunk of the used car market to itself, mind you – rivals like the Audi A6, Jaguar XF and Mercedes E-Class all bristle with smooth 3.0-litre V6 diesel engines, tonnes of technology and smart looks. Might one of them be a better alternative? The fight’s about to hot up.
What are they like to drive?
Each of these cars has a 3.0-litre diesel engine, and all have plenty of brawn. It’s the 530d which offers the most useful performance, though – when we tested these cars back when they were new, it was quickest in the 30-70mph acceleration test, which is the sort of performance you need when overtaking slower traffic.
Mind you, the Audi and Mercedes were only a tenth of a second slower, with the XF half a second behind them, so none of these cars will leave you hanging.
There’s enough oomph in each to pull out of junctions quickly and safely, too. The A6 is the only one of the quartet with four-wheel drive, which helps boost traction, especially in the wet.
The 530d is alone in having come with a manual gearbox as standard; however, most were specified with the eight-speed automatic option, which is worth having. The A6 and E-Class came with seven-speed automatic gearboxes, while the XF’s unit has only six speeds.
In corners, the 5 Series sadly doesn’t offer to the incisive handling we’ve come to expect from BMWs. Vertical body control is poor and the steering is vague; the car’s slow to respond to it, too. All this is solved with the optional Adaptive Drive system, though, which gives you switchable dampers and anti-roll bars.
It was an expensive optional extra when the car was new, so it’s hard to find, but if you can seek out a car that’s so-equipped, it’ll transform the driving experience. Suddenly you’re back in the Ultimate Driving Machine. Handling is sharp, and the ride is supple
That said, the 530d never feels quite as good as the XF, which is by far the most enjoyable car here to drive. Much of that is down to the steering, which lets you know exactly what the front wheels are doing. The suspension keeps everything under strict control, too. The ride is firm at low speed, but luxuriant everywhere else.
The A6 doesn’t disgrace itself in this company, either. Again, it benefits from the optional suspension package, though here it’s an air suspension system that’s even harder to find than the BMW’s Adaptive Drive. Without it, the Audi can feel a little stiff, but with it fitted, the A6 resist body lean through corners and recovers quickly from one bump to the next. There’s plenty of traction from the four-wheel drive too. It’s a shame, though, that the steering’s so light.
In Avantgarde trim, the E350 CDI has lower suspension than the super-comofrtable SE models, but it’s still every inch a Merc. It’s easy-going, its steering is light and the tight turning circle makes it a doddle to park.
The suspension is cushy enough when you’re cruising, but in town there’s a little too much thud over sharp bumps. There’s a fair bit of pitching and rolling through corners, too.
The BMW is the quietest of the bunch. Road noise is particularly well subdued compared with that in the other cars, and is only noticeable because everything else is so quiet. The tall top gear means that the engine is barely above tickover on the motorway, although it can become a little throaty if you ask it to put in some hard graft.
Jaguar’s diesel engine is almost as hushed as that in the BMW and is a fraction smoother when you put your foot down. That said, there’s a little more engine- and road noise at high speed, but the volume is still pretty low overall.
Larger wheels cause a horrible drone in the Audi, even at low speeds, so find a car fitted with smaller rims. Even with these, though, there’s still too much road noise over the coarse surfaces that are prevalent in the UK, and wind noise is a bit of an issue too.
Curiously, the road noise in the E-Class doesn’t get louder as you gather speed. That means there’s comparatively little din on the motorway, but slightly more than you might expect around town. Wind noise is minimal, though, and the E-Class’s engine is pretty easy on the ear no matter how hard you’re asking it to work.
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