The compact executive sector is flourishing with new models from Audi, BMW and Jaguar. But what else is out there?
The compact executive premium car sector has long been dominated by just three models: the Audi A4, BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. But in 2015, British brand Jaguar has entered the sector with the ultra-competitive new XE – and the incumbents have all responded with new or improved models.
It’s not just these four brands that offer models in the compact executive sector, though. Look further and there are other intriguing cars on sale for around £30,000 and above, all with distinctive looks, cut-above interiors, powerful engines and great mile-munching abilities.
Here, we line up the class icons alongside some of the other executive car contenders to pick 10 of the best premium compact saloons on sale.
Audi has just launched an all-new A4, and it’s excellent. It’s a class standout in terms of refinement, interior quality, onboard technology and value: it’s a huge leap on from its ageing predecessor. Very much now one of the best cars in this class.
BMW 3 Series
BMW rolled out a very mild facelift for the 3 Series this summer – the tweaked headlights and better quality interior are the giveaways. It helps make an already exceptional car even better and more well-rounded. This remains the class leader by some margin.
The DS brand wants to evolve from being a posh Citroen into a premium brand in its own right – hence the facelifted version of the DS 5 losing the ‘Citroen’ branding. A very charismatic and distinctive-looking car with a jaw-dropping interior. The hybrid version is also clever but it remains too flawed overall to challenge the best.
Ford Mondeo Vignale
Ford’s new Mondeo is excellent, but perhaps not premium enough to be a true compact executive contender. Enter the Vignale sub-brand, offering ultra-posh customisation and customer service to help it take on the likes of Audi and Mercedes-Benz. An interesting, leftfield choice.
Ford says that many S-Max buyers are actually displaced 3 Series buyers seeking more space and practicality for their growing families. What draws them? The S-Max’ good looks, quality cabin and excellent driving manners. For this reason, it joins our list as a top-10 choice to consider.
Executive summary: The Infiniti Q50 is a forgotten compact executive contender. It’s Nissan’s successful upmarket brand taking on Europe with a dedicated compact saloon model, and there are several attractions such as a high-quality interior and gadget-packed cockpit. Another non-obvious choice.
Jaguar has hit the nail on the head with the XE. It looks great, drivers superbly well and ticks the real-world targets with its low emissions and strong fuel economy. Only a slightly downmarket interior lets it down: otherwise, it’s more than able to take the fight to Audi and BMW.
Lexus IS 300h
The Lexus IS 300h should be considered by more compact executive drivers than it actually is. OK, it doesn’t drive like a BMW or Jaguar, but it has a brilliant interior, sharp styling and the added draw of an effective, economical, low-emission petrol-electric hybrid drivetrain.
Another class staple and a regular UK top-10 best-seller, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class is rightly popular. It has its weaknesses, not least a clattery diesel engine and sudden ride on large wheels, but it’s among the best-looking cars in this class, has a brilliant interior and oozes Mercedes-Benz integrity throughout.
The Volvo S60 is a great value compact executive car with, in new D3 and D4 guise, an outstanding 2.0-litre diesel engine. It doesn’t quite have the image of BMW and Audi, but the Volvo brand is still strong (and, with the new XC90, growing by the day); really, it’s only a fiddly, dated dashboard and sore lack of interior practicality and boot space that may sour the deal.