Currently reading: Top 10 best mid-sized executive cars 2023
The executive car doesn't get much more traditional than the mid-sized business saloon. But these cars can be modern and multi-talented, too

Every corner of the new car market is changing rapidly at the moment - and the mid-sized executive saloon niche, one of the most traditional there is, emphatically proves as much.

Here, as both plug-in hybrid and full electrification spread throughout the segment, the old multi-cylinder diesel engines that we so often used to recommend as some of very the best powertrains in the world are disappearing, as more and more customers retreat from them. 

Where once the majority of the cars in this list came with six-cylinder diesel engine options, now only two do. At the same time, only two cars here now omit some kind of hybridised or all-electric model.

This used to be the class where you'd find more affordable versions of the Tesla Model S - but after the American firm's recent decision to end right-hand-drive production of the car, it can no longer really be considered a viable option for people looking for a daily-use business tool.

So, one way and another, change breeds upheaval. With the old default recommendations gone, and one or two of the new ones to boot, who are the ruling powers among the mid-sized, premium-brand saloon and estate set? Read on to find out.

1. BMW 5 Series

The BMW 5 Series is a long-lived executive grandee with distinguishing strengths across the board. It sets a high standard for perceived cabin quality and makes a very comfortable long-distance tourer in pretty much any engine and trim you might choose. Its best engines also offer first-rate performance and drivability, and very creditably real-world efficiency too – and its rear-driven handling poise makes for plenty of sporting appeal when you go looking for it, without compromising on ride comfort.

A pair of plug-in hybrid powertrains make the car very easy to recommend to both fleet drivers and private owners. The more powerful BMW 545e comes exclusively in saloon-bodied, four-wheel-drive form and mixes six-cylinder richness and pace in with zero-emissions running, but the more affordable 530e can be had in any driveline configuration or bodystyle you might want.

Meanwhile, at the richer but more traditional end of the 5 Series engine spectrum, plenty of reward might be found by opting out of the company car scheme altogether. The current 5 Series M Performance derivative, the M550i xDrive, does a very convincing and appealingly laid-back impression of an M5 super-saloon for a much more accessible price.

On the diesel side, we mourn the loss of the superb 530d, withdrawn from sale in the UK in early 2023 in the face of dwindling demand. Very few modern passenger cars have won more road test comparison exercises in Autocar than it has over the past two decades, and its blend of refinement, pace, drivability, refinement and sporting appeal will be greatly missed. But the frugal, four-cylinder 520d continues for those who still depend on the high-mileage efficiency of diesel.


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BMW 5 Series

2. Mercedes-Benz E-Class & EQE

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the sort of executive option that prioritises driver comfort, on-board luxury, occupant safety and all-round ease of use over outright driver engagement. It is on the cusp of renewal, with the new version due in the UK before the end of 2023.

This car is a luxurious place to sit and, combined with some excellent active driver assistance systems, would go a long way to make long-distance commuting pleasurable. Mercedes offers abundant choice on propulsion, with electrification now playing a leading role, and, at the top of the engine range, six-cylinder options on both petrol and diesel sides continue to be offered before you progress into Mercedes-AMG '53 or '63 territory.  

The entry-level mild-hybrid options offer 154bhp in petrol form and 158bhp for the diesel. At mid-level, the E300e is a full petrol-electric PHEV while the E300de is diesel-electric, with both cars being quite evenly matched for price and performance (although, predictably, the diesel delivers better real-world long-distance fuel economy).There is also, of course, Mercedes' all-electric E-Class alternative, the EQE, to consider if you're ready for a fully electric business saloon. Electric range here is claimed to be as much as 397 miles on a charge, depending on specification.

Whichever version you plump for, the E-Class's character is certainly more laid back and traditionally luxurious than that of an equivalent BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF. It wouldn't be as composed when driven quickly, but it might soothe away motorway miles more effectively.

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Mercedes E-Class

3. Jaguar XF

Some things don't change. On the eve of its removal from production altogether, Jaguar’s XF remains the best-handling car in this segment, for example, just as it has been for more than a decade, combining deft handling characteristics with a supremely comfortable ride. 

The car was made quite a lot more rationally appealing as part of a wide-ranging facelift and price realignment at the turn of 2021, and it now beats most of its premium-brand direct rivals for outright value, if not for the breadth of its model range, the spaciousness of its cabin, or the fuel-efficiency of its engines.

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The XF comes with a choice of three engines: two turbocharged four-cylinder petrols, and a mild-hybrid four-cylinder diesel. There's no plug-in hybrid option, and there's no sign that there will be in future. Even so, the car's lowered showroom prices might still appeal to some fleet operators, and the D200 diesel remains capable of a WLTP-affirmed 57.2mpg on the combined cycle.

Four-door saloon and five-door estate bodies remain available. Four-wheel drive is standard on the range-topping P300 but unavailable elsewhere.

Inside the cabin, perceived quality and digital systems sophistication have both taken sizeable leaps in recent years. Jaguar's latest Pivi Pro infotainment system is a vast improvement on the XF's old set-up, while the car's fixtures and fittings are much closer to matching the most upmarket cars in this class.

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Jaguar XF

4. Audi A6

Handsome-looking thing, this Audi A6, isn’t it? While it might bear a remarkable resemblance to the larger Audi A8 limousine and Audi A7 Sportback, to many of our testers here at Autocar Towers the A6 represents the most successful execution of the Ingolstadt firm’s current language.

It’s a technological wonderland too. Audi’s latest dual-screen MMI digital architecture is a particular highlight within the monochrome-cool confines of the A6’s spacious cabin, while the Virtual Cockpit digital instrument layout is as impressive as ever.

To drive it remains refined in the classic Audi sense. Power comes from a range of silken-edged, mild-hybrid petrol and diesel motors, which provide the A6 with a respectable amount of shove even at the entry level. It rides well, too, and is precise-handling, if not involving or poised, through corners.

Two 2.0-litre mild-hybrid petrol options prop up the engine range, and a four-cylinder 50 TFSIe plug-in hybrid with plenty of electric range sits above them. For now, there are four- and six-cylinder diesel options, the latter accounted for by the 339bhp Audi S6 TDI Quattro sports saloon. And, if you've got an even bigger budget, the legendary, V8 turbo-powered Audi RS6 continues on in Avant form.

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So there's still plenty of choice for the A6 customer. Unlike the BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF, the A6 fails to really engage as a driver’s car. To some, its church-like isolation, refinement and tech appeal will be a massive draw, but it’s not quite enough to make it rise to the top here.

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Audi A6

5. Volvo S90 & Volvo V90

Sliding in to round out the top half of our list are the Volvo S90 saloon and V90 estate. The striking design of these closely related cars is shared with their Volvo range-mates, but it remains a strong selling point so many years after we first saw these two in 2016. Volvo's strong focus on standard safety equipment - a big tick for family-minded buyers - is likewise.

Also strengthening the Volvo’s case are a stylish, spacious and materially inviting interior, and comfortable, easy-going on-road performance and handling manners – just what you want in handsome, no-nonsense, executive family transport.

Similarly to the Mercedes E-Class, the S90 has been geared more for comfort than driving appeal, meaning it comes in behind the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF, which excel on both fronts. It's also lately become a pricier option than it once was. The saloon now only comes in big-performing Volvo S90 T8 Recharge plug-in hybrid form. Thankfully, the V90 estate offers greater breadth of choice and remains one of the few new Volvos that can still be bought with a diesel engine, or in a choice of PHEV formats. 

All S90 and V90 PHEVs now have more than 50 miles of electric-only range, which should make them popular fleet options, V90 especially so.

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Volvo s90 top 10

6. Genesis G80 & Electrified G80

Genesis is the nascent luxury car brand of Korea's ascendent Hyundai-Kia group, and the G80 is its mid-sized executive option. Having only been launched in Europe in 2021, the car's available with a four-cylinder petrol engine, or as an all-electric derivative - the initial four-pot diesel model having now been removed from UK sale. There will be no plug-in hybrid, but Genesis will hope that fleet-minded motorists will simply cut out the middleman and jump straight into the Electrified G80.

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Genesis's sales model is the really new thing it offers: one by which you can order a car entirely online, have it delivered to your door, collected for servicing, and then taken away at the end of it all without ever setting foot in a showroom, or dealing with an employee who earns his or her crust on sales commission. 

The G80 itself is more conventional: a roomy, refined, soft-riding, natively rear-driven saloon that's big on on-board technology and perceived quality, even if it may be a bit generic and anonymous to look at. The electric version is equally comfort-focused and little more engaging to drive than the petrol - but it offers good value among its peers, so if space, isolation and material quality are high on your shopping list, it's worth considering.

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Genesis G80

7. Volkswagen Arteon

Volkswagen's extra-desirable executive option, the Arteon, had a facelift in late 2020 and now comes with a choice of fastback saloon or shooting brake estate bodies, although its old 1.4-litre PHEV derivative is no longer offered. 

In our view the estate body adds to the car's visual appeal, although the removal of the petrol-electric powertrain weakens the rational argument to choose one, at least for some. Conventional turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol engines are on offer, though, with as much as 316bhp in the case of the Volkswagen Arteon R, and there are also 148bhp and 197bhp 2.0-litre diesels.

The Arteon has limited dynamic appeal whatever the contents of the engine bay. Its dynamic character is characteristically reserved, as big Volkswagens have so often been over the years. But as a roomy, alternative modern executive option that'll cost you less than some, it's worth considering.

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Volkswagen Arteon

8. Lexus ES

Gone is the old Lexus GS from UK shores. In a bid to boost its sales volume on the continent and here in Britain, Lexus has replaced its old rear-driven saloon with this more sensible ES - the firm’s best-selling four-door saloon in markets other than ours.

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Lexus would be likely to argue that the ES’s biggest draw card is the fact that it’s only available as a hybrid here in the UK, coming in the form of the ES 300h. It's based on the same TNGA GA-K architecture as the latest Toyota RAV4 and Camry (whose short-lived tenure as a UK car is now over), meaning there’s a 2.5-litre four-pot up front and it is supplemented by an electric motor for a combined output of 215bhp.

Lexus gave the car a design update in 2022, adding new headlights, some new driver assistance systems and an updated infotainment system. Some suspension revisions were intended to bring greater rigidity to the car's chassis, and feel to its steering, too.

Around town is where the Lexus is most in its element. Here, its hybrid powertrain is at its smoothest, while the ability to run for brief periods on electricity alone means it achieves decent fuel economy as well. 

Does it hold a candle to the likes of BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes in terms of outright desirability or dynamic appeal? Not really. Not even in F Sport trim, which is best avoided. While the ES is comparably comfortable and impressively solid-feeling, it lacks the usability of its German rivals, and its infotainment system is borderline infuriating to operate at times. 

Being front driven, the car also lacks the natural rear-drive balance of the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF, and its powertrain doesn't respond keenly to being worked hard.

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Lexus ES 300h

9. DS 9

The big, luxurious French limousine returns in the shape of the DS 9, the Stellantis group's latest bid to force its way in among Germany's premium-brand elite. Sort of.

In fact, being based on the same model platform that underpins the Peugeot 508, this car isn't as big as it might be - at least in some respects. Second-row leg room is fairly generous, but for cabin width and boot space, the DS 9 is a little way off mid-sized executive class standards.

The car leads with the material richness and artful flourish of its cabin, to accompany the glitzy flash of its exterior chrome. It was launched in 2021 with a choice of conventional petrol and plug-in hybrid power, but is now only offered as a PHEV. The E-Tense 250 model is the more affordable front-wheel-drive version and the E-Tense 4x4 360 is the twin-motor, four-wheel-drive range-topper, with its 5.6sec 0-62mph sprinting and 39 miles of electric range.

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Comfort and refinement in the car are quite good - although the lower-powered PHEV offers only lukewarm performance, and neither stands out for driver appeal. In the raw, meanwhile, the Chinese-made big DS is just a little bit too derivative-looking and lacking in wow factor to do the job of a flagship saloon quite as it should.

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10. Maserati Ghibli

The Maserati Ghibli is a relic of a time, a decade or so ago, when its maker's expansive mood made it eye a much larger piece of the global luxury car market. The Levante SUV was the biggest component part of that growth effort, of course, which faltered long before the rest of the global industry hit rocky times later in the decade. But the Ghibli was once key, too, pitched as Italy's extra-special answer to a Jaguar XF or Mercedes E-Class, complete with a diesel engine option and fleet-compatible running statistics.

Soon due to be phased out of production, the car comes with a choice of four-cylinder hybrid and more Maserati-typical V6 or V8 petrol power. We've yet to test either of the bigger-hitting engines, but the hybrid - designed to combine diesel economy with V6 petrol performance - didn't disappoints with its responsiveness.

Unfortunately, the hybrid lacks much in the way of sporting character. It doesn't rev keenly, or sound enticing. In addition, the Ghibli's cabin is curiously tight in the second row, as well as a little antiquated-looking in its layout and equipment specification, and the car doesn't handle with much keenness, or ride with particularly great comfort or isolation.

It's an alternative to a more obvious German executive option, certainly - but, in our experience so far, not nearly as appealing an alternative in practice as you might think. Here's hoping the latest V6 and V8 versions prove to be better.

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Maserati Ghilbi

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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