This class of car needs to be comfortable, refined and display some form of driving pleasure when the occasion takes, so which cars make our top ten?
25 January 2019

The mid-size executive class champions quality, economy and comfort, with the odd dash of handling dynamism thrown in for good measure.

These are the cars that will spend a great deal of their lives out on the motorway, so refinement is key. A bit of badge appeal won’t go amiss here, either. These are our favourites.

1. BMW 5 Series

BMW’s latest 5 Series is the quintessential executive saloon, which is no doubt a result of its 46-year history.

It sets the standard in the segment as far as interior quality is concerned, and also makes for a supremely comfortable long-distance tourer.

It may not be quite as engaging as, say, a Jaguar XF, but this is forgiven when you consider where cars of this type spend most of their time. The tech on board is a notch above, too. The true well-roundedness of the 5 Series earns it top honours here.

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Our Verdict

Volvo S90

Sweden guns for Germany’s big-hitters with a new full-sized executive saloon, but Mercedes and BMW set the bar high for driving dynamics


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2. Mercedes-Benz E-Class

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class champions driver comfort over outright engagement. The cabin is a luxurious place to sit, and goes a long way to softening the blow of long-distance driving.

The new 2.0-litre diesel engine hustles the E-Class along at a respectable pace, although excellent refinement is its trump card. Its character is certainly more laid back than that of a BMW 5 Series or Jaguar XF, and it won’t be as thrilling if driven in a more spirited manner.

Cabin space is abundant, though, and entry-level models benefit from a strong amount of toys as standard.

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3. Tesla Model S

The very first mainstream electric luxury car is still among the best saloons of any powertrain persuasion, and now boasts almost 400 miles of the range, even on the stringent WLTP cycle.

The Model S is also, to use official terminology, ludicrously quick in a straight-line and can seat seven passengers – something no other cars on this list can manage. What prevents it from placing higher are questionable interior fit-and-finish, ordinary dynamics and the high asking price, but what a stellar effort.

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4. Jaguar XF

Jaguar’s XF is undoubtedly the driver’s car in the segment, combining deft handling characteristics with a supremely comfortable ride.

It is hamstrung only by its range of Ingenium four-cylinder diesel engines, which can be gruff on start-up, particularly in the cold.

The XF isn’t as quick as Jaguar claims, either. Still, cabin quality is strong and there’s a decent - if not generous - amount of space available for rear passengers. Were it not for the slightly lacklustre engines, the XF would be a strong contender for the number one spot.

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5. Audi A6

Handsome-looking thing, this A6 is isn’t it? While it might bear a remarkable resemblance to the larger A8 limousine and A7 Sportback, to many of our testers here at Autocar Towers the A6 represents the most successful execution of Ingolstadt’s new-age design 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 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 a respectable amount of shove even at the entry level. It rides well, too, and is impressively agile through the bends. But unlike the BMW 5 Series of Jaguar XF, it fails to really engage as a driver’s car. To some, its church-like refinement and tech appeal will be a massive draw, but it’s not quite enough to see it rise to the top here.

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6. Volvo S90

Sliding in at sixth place is the Volvo S90. Its striking design is shared with its V90 and XC90 rangemates, as is the strong focus on standard safety equipment - a big tick for family-minded buyers.

Also strengthening the Volvo’s case are a stylish cabin, spacious interior and comfortable on-road manner.

Similar to the Mercedes E-Class, the S90 has been geared more for comfort than driving thrills, meaning it comes in behind the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF, which excel on both fronts.

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7. Alpina D5 S

At more than £60,000 the Alpina D5 S isn't the cheapest mid-size saloon you can buy, and you can certainly get your hands on versions of the BMW 5-Series – upon which it's based – for much less money.

However, the people who question an Alpinas asking price are usually those who are yet to drive one, and that's very much the case here. The twin-turbo diesel D5 S will accelerate to 62mph in less than five seconds, so it's quick, but what separates these cars from the crowd is their ability to achieve 50mpg and true rolling opulence on the motorway one moment and, thanks to Alpina's chassis tweaks, plentiful driver satisfaction and dynamic finesse on B-roads the next.

Those in need of the ultimate non-M 5-Series should look to the petrol-powered V8 B5 BiTurbo, though the D5 S offers much of the same capability for considerably less outlay. It's an esoteric Bavarian gem.

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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.

Lexus would likely 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. Its based on the same TNGA GA-K architecture as the latest Toyota RAV4, meaning there’s a 2.5-litre four-pot up front, which is supplemented by an electric motor for a combined output of 215bhp.

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

Does it hold a candle to the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes in terms of outright desirability, though? Not really. While its comparably comfortable, its cabin lacks the polish of those of the Germans, and its infotainment system is infuriating to operate at times too. Being front-driven, it also lacks the natural rear-drive balance of the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF.

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9. Skoda Superb

The Skoda Superb is big on many things: size, interior space, comfort and value for money.

In a class largely populated by upmarket rivals, the Superb undercuts the vast majority as far as initial outlay is concerned, although it doesn’t quite boast the same levels of badge prestige.

Still, buyers will be drawn to the Superb’s comfortable and refined drive, as well as its cavernous interior. Real-world fuel economy isn’t quite as good as Skoda would have you believe, mind.

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10. Maserati Ghibli

While the Ghibli may command the most badge prestige of all the cars included in this top 10, that extra appeal does come at a rather serious price.

Still, your money will get you a sumptuous, if a little poorly finished, cabin, and the flagship S model’s V6 is Ferrari-derived; which makes for a nice pub fact.

Despite this, the Ghibli doesn’t offer as engaging a drive as its exotic name might suggest, and it does lag behind the established names in this segment as far as standard equipment is concerned.

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