Best buys premium sport saloons: Audi has lead for now - but watch for Merc...
Our choice of the best premium sports saloons on the market right now
Best One: Audi A4
If there isn’t a photo of the current Audi A4 next to the word ‘slick’ in the encyclopaedia, then there really ought to be - it is, possibly, becoming a touch common on our roads, but there’s no denying that the A4 is an exceptionally well-thought out car. Does that mean that it suffers a little from the so-good-it’s-a-little-dull problem that the Q5 SUV has? A touch, yes, but the A4 overcomes that with a sharper, more engaged driving experience. Choose an S-Line model, and carefully pick your wheel and tyre combo, and you have a car that even in front-wheel drive form can swish entertianingly along a favourite road. Quattro models are better yet, and for some reason the Avant estate feels even more enthusiastic to drive. Better weight distribution, perhaps? It’s not the roomiest, but it has a very comfy cabin with truly exceptional build quality. Hot RS4 Avant estate is a proper supercar in practical family disguise.
Best model: 2.0 TFSI 190 S-Tronic S-Line Avant for €52,080 Price range: €39,440 to €102,350. Finance from €319 per month. Co2 emissions: 99 to 199g/km Sum up: Holds the top spot, but new BMW 3 is imminent…
The C-Class has just been given a thorough mid-life update, but you’d be pretty hard-pressed to spot the joins, to be honest. There’s a new 1.5-litre petrol turbo engine with a mild-hybrid boost, the latest 2.0-litre diesel from the E-Class (which is so much smoother and quieter than the old 2.1) and will shortly come with the option of a plugin-hybrid diesel, whose ability to drive around town on slient, clean, zero-emissions battery power could be something of a game-changer where diesel power is concerned. Inside, there’s a new all-digital dashboard, with the same quality levels (and that lovely upward-sweep to the centre console) as before. Space is decent, and the estate model is deeply practical and useful. Coupe and cabriolet models just gorgeous, while hot AMG versions can do serious damage to your blood pressure and your drivers’ licence. Good deals available on run-out versions of the outgoing C-Class while they’re still available.
Best model: C180d Estate AMG-Line for €43,730 Price range: €35,225 to €124,515. Finance from €412 per month. Co2 emissions: 80 to 225g/km Sum up: C by name, A by nature
Another sports saloon that’s had a blink-and-you-really-will-miss-it-there-it’s-gone update in the past year, the Lexus IS300h has recently been granted a faintly revised interior (new infotainment system, really) and some body styling changes that really do stretch the ability of even a Lexus anorak to spot. It remains distinctive and unusual in its looks (a good thing?) and the cabin, even if it hasn’t changed much, is still as terrifically well built as before. The hybrid powertrain is the defining feature. It can be frustrating when you ask for full power (when it drones incessantly) but learn its quirks and it becomes more satisfying, and if you’re in town most of the time, you’ll spend a surprising amount of your commute running on just the batteries. If ever we’re allowed to reclaim VAT on petrol, as well as diesel, expect IS300h sales to sky-rocket.
Best model: IS300h F-Sport for €46,750 Price range: €41,480 to €51,700. Finance from €322 per month. Co2 emissions: 97 to 107g/km Sum up: Makes perfect financial and environmental sense, and good to drive with it
Alfa Romeo Giulia
Previously, an Alfa in this sector would have been the wildest of wild card choices, but the Giulia is good enough in and of itself to move onto the main list. For a start it’s truly gorgeous to behold, which is something we’ve said about many previous Alfas only to be let down badly later on. The Giulia just doesn’t do that, though. Yes, the cabin is too scrappy in quality terms, the infotainment is mostly awful, and the lineup a little limited. All of that goes away when you feel just how brilliant it is to drive. Long-term reliability is still an unknown, but so far the Giulia is feeling as good as it looks. 510hp Quadrifoglio is a true landmark car, more fun and more furious than a BMW M3.
Best model: Quadrifoglio for €99,945 Price range: €39,995 to €99,945. Finance from €439 per month. Co2 emissions: 109 to 189g/km Sum up: Standard version impressive, Quadrifoglio an all-time great
Wild Card: Kia Stinger
This has been burgeoning for some time. Both Kia and its sister brand Hyundai have been sniffing around the premium market for a bit, and we knew for years that both were going to launch models to challenge the German hegemony. We didn’t expect Kia’s first effort to be quite this much fun, though. The Stinger (gotta love that name) is a big, low, sexy-looking fastback with the face from a snake and a tail-happy rear-wheel drive chassis. You can have conventional diesel power, but really you need to get the twin-turbo petrol V6, just for the insanity of it if for nothing else. You’ll spot some cheap Sportage and Optima bits inside, but otherwise this is an entirely convincing BMW alternative, if you ignore the potential for depreciation.
Best model: V6 GT for €66,895 Price range: €52,995 to €66,895. Finance from €538 per month. Co2 emissions: 154 to 225g/km Sum up: Bonkers, but brilliant
Incoming: BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class facelift, Hyundai Genesis G70, Volvo S60 & V60, Tesla Model 3