Looking for a high-class executive saloon or big hatchback that soothes and stimulates in equal measure?
The best of the bunch are comfortable cruisers, entertaining on B-roads and pure pleasure to drive. They carry up to five adults ?and all their luggage ?in comfort, and boast a classy image. That鈥檚 a lot to ask of a sub-£5000 car ?but we鈥檝e found 10 contenders.
10. Volvo S40
Ford Focus-based Volvo S40 exec isn鈥檛 large, so the rear consequently feels a bit cramped, but it鈥檚 still a smart, fun-to-drive and safe little saloon. The 2.0-litre diesel is renowned for being reliable, and the T5 balances out its thirst with great performance and noise.
We found: 2008 D3 SE Lux, 90,000 miles, full service history, £3970
9. Citroën C5
This executive saloon lacks the cachet of its German rivals, but the Citroën C5 is still big inside, comfortable ?especially on the oil-based suspension of the Exclusive ?and well built. Its wafty demeanour is better suited to motorway cruising than fast corners, and the button-laden dash is rather confusing, yet we love its high-spec feel.
We found: 2.2 HDi Exclusive, 69,000 miles, full service history, £479
8. Toyota Avensis
Toyota Avensis shrugs off its safe-but-dull image with an impressive reliability record, great kit levels and ?thanks to its soft suspension ?an agreeable, if unexciting, drive. A more comfortable and dependable exec than its Lexus IS cousin.
We found: 2.0 D-4D TR, 82,000 miles, full service history, £4890
7. Audi A4
Among the most desirable execs around, the Audi A4 boasts responsive handling, neat design and a high-quality cabin. Most of its great petrol and diesel powerplants are impressively efficient, too. Only the firm ride and high used prices count against it.
We found: 2007 2.0 TDI SE, 79,000 miles, full service history, £4995
6. Seat Exeo
Essentially a rebadged and updated version of the A4 above, the Seat Exeo is a heavy depreciator that consequently represents even better value than its Audi cousin. Has a solid engine line-up and lots of kit; only a slightly cheaper-feeling cabin dents its appeal.
We found: 2010 2.0 TDI SE, 89,000 miles, full service history, £4500
5. Mazda 6
Rear headroom is a little tight due to the swooping roofline, but otherwise Mazda 6 hatchback is hard to fault. It鈥檚 great fun to drive and has superb road manners, even if the ride is on the firm side, and build quality is typically robust. It鈥檚 frugal and reliable, too.
We found: 2009 2.2d TS2, 80,000 miles, £4495
4. Honda Accord
Enjoyable to drive and comfortable, the Honda Accord blends a well-made cabin with plenty of equipment to elevate it above some of its more humdrum exec competitors. Its refinement makes it a great cruiser, and reliability is great. This variant was always better regarded than its successor, too ?just beware that diesels tend to wear their clutches quite quickly.
We found: 2007 2.0i VTEC EX, 62,000 miles, full service history, £3949
3. BMW 3 Series
BMW鈥檚 3 Series usually tops any executive car comparison, for good reason. The saloon is exciting and involving to drive, with an extensive engine line-up, and is better value than the equivalent Audi, even if there are other options at this price. Stick with a petrol, though; there are question marks over diesel reliability.
We found: 2006 318i SE auto, 70,000 miles, £4495
2. Ford Mondeo
One of the class鈥檚 most involving cars to drive, the Ford Mondeo makes a lot of sense second-hand as there are plenty of higher-spec models available. We love that it鈥檚 comfortable, roomy, well-equipped and cheap to maintain, while the 2.0-litre diesel suffers from relatively few serious faults compared with some rivals. Only the model鈥檚 rather humdrum image and occasionally cheap-feeling cabin lets it down.
We found: 2008 2.0 TDCi Ghia, 86,000 miles, service history, £4466
1. Volkswagen Passat
With an upmarket image that means it looks at home in any situation, the Volkswagen Passat is very enjoyable and comfortable, with a high-quality cabin and classy styling. It鈥檚 neither as cheap as the Mondeo nor quite as much fun to drive, though, and the main downside is the uncertainty resulting from the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
We found: 2009 2.0 TDI Sport, 81,000 miles, full service history, £4795
Execs to avoid鈥?/h2>
Painfully anonymous, cheaply built and anodyne behind the wheel. In fact, you have probably never even heard of the Cadillac BLS鈥?/p>
It鈥檚 doubtful you鈥檒l remember the Magentis from the days before Kia was credible. Plenty of kit, but not much else ?and it isn鈥檛 even especially cheap.