Best buys: Executive saloons

Mercedes-Benz E-Class rises above the rest, offering improved performance and styling

King of the executive saloons:  the Mercedes-Benz E-Class might just be the best  car that you can buy at the moment, offering gorgeous styling and strong performance from its engine

King of the executive saloons: the Mercedes-Benz E-Class might just be the best car that you can buy at the moment, offering gorgeous styling and strong performance from its engine

 

The best one: Mercedes-Benz E-Class

This might just be the best single car that you can buy in the real world (assuming your definition of real extends to pricey German saloons and estates. Oh, and a coupe now too).

For years, decades even, the E-Class laboured behind the likes of the BMW 5 Series (which was always sportier and racier) and the Audi A6 (which has long been more stylish) as the roomy, sensible, slightly dowdy option in the exec saloon class (mental AMG version excepted). All. Change.

This E’s new styling is a vast improvement, a little too close perhaps to looking like a scaled-up C-Class, but deeply handsome and appealing all the same. The cabin is even better, with gorgeous styling, great detailing and the option of a full-width digital screen for the instruments and infotainment.

The new 2.0-litre diesel engine is refined, smooth, and has decent performance, and if the handling isn’t quite as sharp as it could have been, then comfort levels are simply exceptional. Best bought in roomy, good-looking estate form. All-Terrain model is an Audi Allroad rival.

Best model: E220d Estate AMG-Line for €57,730

Price range: €47,975 to €95,675. Finance from €349 per month.

Co2 emissions: 80 to 225g/km

Sum up: As good as it gets.

BMW 5 Series: a bit of a disappointment if we’re being honest. The new Five’s styling, inside and out, is too similar to that of the outgoing model, and its performance also feels a little flat
BMW 5 Series: a bit of a disappointment if we’re being honest. The new Five’s styling, inside and out, is too similar to that of the outgoing model, and its performance also feels a little flat

Worthy contender: BMW 5 Series

There’s an undeniable whiff of disappointment about the new 5 Series, engendered largely by the fact that its styling, inside and out, has cleaved so closely to that of the outgoing model.

It does, in general, look better each time you see it, but there’s no denying it’s predictable. Cabin quality is truly excellent, though. To drive, it’s also a little behind the best.

BMW has, successfully, chased the comfort and refinement of the Mercedes E-Class, and it is more refined and more comfortable than before. But it’s also lost some of the old sporty aggression of previous Fives, and that’s a shame.

The core 520d is also a bit less enticing than before, with performance that feels a touch flat. A 530d, with its six-cylinder diesel, is a much more invigorating prospect, and has muscular performance with little emissions or consumption penalty. Plug-in hybrid 530e is an interesting choice for urbanites, while the incoming new M5 has 650hp and switchable four-wheel drive.

Best model: 530d M-Sport for €73,960

Price range: €51,950 to €88,850. Finance - price on application

Co2 emissions: 46 to 172g/km

Sum up: Still excellent, but not what it was.

Volvo S90 (picture) and V90: Volvo has upped its game with these two models and is now fully capable of challenging the German giants
Volvo S90 (picture) and V90: Volvo has upped its game with these two models and is now fully capable of challenging the German giants

Worthy contender: Volvo S90 & V90

It really is quite remarkable that we can discuss the big 90-series Volvo in the same breath as an E-Class or a 5 Series, not least when you consider that its immediate predecessor, the likeable but flawed S80, was dynamically and in image terms nowhere near the German cars.

The S90 (and the even-better looking V90 estate) have changed all that at a stroke. You can go for a very, very Scandinavian look, with blonde wood and pale leather, and the S90 wears that well. It’s an exceptionally comfortable long-haul car, helped by the Pilot Assist system which will take over some steering and braking duties for short bursts.

We prefer the R-Design models, though, which have more hip-hugging seats, more aggressive styling and a genuinely good ride and handling compromise. In fact, the steering (whisper it) is better in some respects than that of a 5 Series, notably in terms of weighting and road feel. T8 plug-in hybrid arrives soon, Cross Country semi-SUV is a touch pointless when the standard car can be had with all-wheel drive.

Best model: V90 D4 R-Design for €51,650

Price range: €43,900 to €67,050. Finance - price on application.

Co2 emissions: 104 to 139g/km

Sum up: Scandi noir with happy ending.

Jaguar XF: not as pretty as it used to be but it’s the best car in its class to drive, trumping BMW, Mercedes and Volvo
Jaguar XF: not as pretty as it used to be but it’s the best car in its class to drive, trumping BMW, Mercedes and Volvo

Wild card: Jaguar XF

The problem with the Jaguar XF is that it’s just not as pretty as it once was. Okay, so coming from the gloopy, ill-judged old S-Type was always going to lift the styling of the first-gen XF, but this edition just seems a touch too anonymous for its own good.

Perhaps its the similarity with the smaller XE, or perhaps we’ve become too used to Jaguar’s current styling language. The cabin suffers similarly – it’s just too plain, not distinctly Jaguar and, if you go for a basic one, could have come from a Hyundai.

And the 2.0-litre diesel is too noisy. So why are we recommending it? Simply because, and by quite a long chalk, it’s the best car in its class to drive. The XF’s combination of light-but-sharp steering, smooth-but-composed springs and dampers, body control reading from a list headed “iron fists in velvet gloves” and general sense of agility mixed with long-range comfort really is quite something. V6 diesel has the refinement and performance you crave, Sportbrake estate is coming soon, as are new 2.0-litre turbo petrols.

Best model: 3.0D R-Sport for €74,780

Price range: €49,280 to €76,980. Finance from €445 per month.

Co2 emissions: 104 to 144g/km

Sum up: The enthusiasts’ choice.

Coming Soon: Audi A6, Audi A7, Mercedes-Benz CLS, Jaguar XF Sportbrake