Top 10 best mid-sized executive cars 2023

Open gallery Close News by Matt Saunders 11 mins read 25 May 2023 Follow @TheDarkStormy1 Share

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.

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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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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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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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