Volvo has never really cracked the top 10 executive car sector but this S90 model looks a more promising contender. Based on the platform architecture of the brand's second generation XC90 SUV, it aims to tempt company customers with what Volvo describes as 'elegant and functional' appeal.
Because this S90 uses the same 'Scalable Product Architecture' as its XC90 SUV stablemate, it also uses many of the same engines too. One change though is the availability of a smaller diesel than you can get in the XC90 - the 190PS D4 unit borrowed from Volvo's smaller S60 and V60 models. Next up is a 235PS D5 twin turbodiesel, also with 2.0-litres and four cylinders, another member of the company's efficient 'Drive-E' engine family. D5 models come with AWD. All S90 executive cars come only with smooth 8-speed auto transmission.
At the top of the range lies a T8 Twin Engine petrol/electric plug-in hybrid model. This delivers a combined 412PS output, with a thumping 640Nm of torque. 62mph from rest is dispatched in under 6s.
This is certainly a more credible full-sized executive car than anything Volvo has brought us to date. The S90 has a proud yet non-aggressive face, characterised by a concave grille - apparently a homage to the Volvo P1800 - that's home to the brand's distinctive 'Iron Mark' logo. The T-shaped 'Thor's Hammer' lights are recognisable from the XC90 and deliver a powerful sense of direction that makes this car unmistakable on the road.
Step inside an S90 and if you've previously tried the brand's second generation XC90 model, it'll all be pretty familiar, though a difference lies with smart air blades that stand vertically on each side of the Sensus user interface. This massive tablet-like touch screen control plays a key role in creating an interior that is modern, spacious and uncluttered. Volvo's clearly put a lot of budget into driving up materials quality and this XC90 gets soft leather and wood with handcrafted details, including diamond-cut controls for the start/stop button and volume control. The boot's huge but if that's not enough for the executive car you're looking for, then the brand is also offered a spacious V90 estate version of this design.
Don't expect Volvo to go threatening Audi, BMW and Mercedes as a top 10 executive car when it comes to sales: it won't be imported in those kinds of numbers anyway. A more realistic objective though for this S90 will be to slot in behind Jaguar's XF as a 'best of the rest' contender in this segment. That's no bad place to be.
A growing number of thoughtful executives are looking for something more interesting as their next management level company car and this S90 is well worth a test drive for those of that mindset. It certainly gives this Swedish brand a much stronger offering than it's ever had before in the executive car sector.Click here to find out more about our Volvo S90 range
Audi's A6 has further sharpened up its act, aware that fresh arrivals in the executive car class are snapping at its heels. Even entry-level versions are now very well equipped indeed, plus there's cutting-edge connectivity across the saloon and Avant estate body style line-up. In short, it still has much to offer.
The A6 executive car range is effectively offered in two parts. 'Proper' A6 models are exclusively diesel powered, while the S6 and RS6 sports models stick with petrol engines. Over the last few years, efficiency has gradually been improved across the diesel range, with the most efficient engine - the 2.0-litre TDI four-cylinder with 190PS - reserved for the ultra-versions. The trio of 3.0-litre six-cylinder TDI 'clean diesel' units kicks off with a single-turbo V6 with 218PS, and is followed by a 272PS variant, also with a single charger. At the top of the range, the 3.0 TDI clean diesel biturbo produces a hefty 320PS. The high-performance diesel is paired with an eight speed tiptronic automatic transmission.
All other engine variants in this executive car are linked to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed S tronic twin-clutch transmission. In the versions with front-wheel drive, a dual-clutch auto is used. Quattro all-wheel-drive is available in conjunction with all engines bar the 2.0-litre TDI, and in versions with 272PS and above, it can be supplemented with a sport differential. Sports suspension lowered by 20mm is standard for the A6 S line and optional for the SE Executive model and the former can be rooted to the tarmac even more firmly by S line sports suspension which lowers the body by a further 10mm. Alternatively, the cushioned comfort of electronically controlled adaptive air suspension is available in conjunction with both specification options. The Audi drive select dynamic handling system is standard.
The S6 and S6 Avant versions of this executive car are powered by a 4.0-litre TFSI V8, with twin turbos helping it to 450PS. That's enough to catapult the saloon through 62mph in 4.4 seconds. The sports differential is standard, as is air suspension, which lowers the body by 20 millimetres. Matt black brake callipers grip the front discs mounted behind the 19-inch alloys. The monster RS6 Avant tops the range, its 560PS V8 jetting it to 62mph in a mere 3.9 seconds and on to a top speed of 189mph.
You'll need to be an existing A6 owner or an Audi sales person to notice the visual differences made to this revised executive car model. Base 'SE Executive' versions get a slightly bolder look courtesy of a revised front apron incorporating more pronounced air inlets with gloss black horizontal struts, more sculpted side sills and a restyled rear bumper now housing a sleeker diffuser at its lower edge. The already more sporting stance struck by the 'S line' and top flight 'Black Edition' models has also been subtly enhanced by a revised radiator grille with a matt black surround and chrome slats flanked by striking side air inlets also fringed with chrome.
What else? Well in recent times, the headlights have been uprated, with bi-xenons as standard for 'SE Executive' models and LED headlights with dynamic 'sweeping' rear indicators for 'S line' versions and above. Matrix LED headlights, incorporating clusters of LED bulbs which can be individually dimmed when sensors detect oncoming or following traffic to automatically divert their beams around obstacles, are optional for all A6 and S6 variants and standard for the RS 6 Avant. The interior includes a wraparound dash with low key but high quality detailing follows Audi's latest design theme. The Avant version features a 565-litre load bay that can be expanded to 1,680-litres. The 'S line' versions used to exclusively feature a black interior but the colour palette these days also extends to a Lunar Silver upholstery and headlining option.
The Audi A6 isn't the most overtly compelling executive car in its class, no matter how persistently its manufacturer tells us otherwise. It doesn't have the instant rakishness of a Jaguar XF, the pure-bred dynamics of a BMW 5 Series or the elegance of a Mercedes E-Class. Still, it's a vehicle that rewards a considered and cerebral approach. What's more, it's one of those cars that grows on you with familiarity, the sheer intensity of care that's gone into making it liveable proving hugely impressive.
So what the A6 lacks in instant impact it more than makes up in depth of engineering. There's a dizzying breadth of talent too; the 'ultra' models offer the sort of efficiency we'd normally associate with a supermini, while the RS6 offers the performance of an old-school supercar. Overall, the A6 is going to appeal to those who love high-tech and low fuss. It remains very Vorsprung durch Technic.Click here to find out more about our Audi A6 range
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class executive car has a reputation for buttoned-down efficiency. It's one continued by this vastly improved tenth generation version which retains a sensible side but dials up the desirability, aiming to offer a smarter, more prestigious approach to the best executive car motoring than its closest German rivals. It does so with efficient engines, astonishing technology and comfort that makes you question the need for a larger luxury saloon.
Those in the top 10 best executive cars claim to be sporty: BMW's 5 Series, Jaguar's XF. Others, like this one, simply don't feel the need to try that hard - unless an AMG V8 happens to beat beneath the bonnet. Almost all E-Class buyers choose a diesel, so will be particularly interested to hear that there's a new one on offer here, the four cylinder 2.0-litre 195bhp biturbo unit you'll find in the E220d most customers are going to choose. The gearbox it comes mated to is new too, a nine-speed 9G-Tronic auto. Rest to 62mph here occupies 7.3s and there's the option of 4MATIC 4WD if you want it. Diesel buyers wanting less poke get a 150bhp E200d variant. While those in search of more performance are offered a 3.0-litre six cylinder unit in the E350d putting out 258bhp and capable of rest to 62mph in 5.9s. As for the petrol alternatives, well there's a 184bhp E200 base variant. And a 279bhp E350e petrol electric Plug-in hybrid derivative.
Handling should be sharper than E-Class buyers are used to, thanks to various 'Direct Control' suspension systems with selective damping. There's also the option of a new 'Air Body Control multi-chamber air suspension' set-up in this executive car that offers the kind of pillowy ride that previously, you could only find on a larger Mercedes S-Class-sized Luxury saloon. A 'Dynamic Select' switch in the cockpit enables the driver to select from four 'Air Body Control' modes: 'Comfort', 'ECO', 'Sport' and 'Sport+'. The additional 'Individual' option allows drivers to configure their vehicle to suit their own preferences.
This tenth-generation E-Class is slightly larger than its predecessor, its wheelbase having grown by 65mm and its overall length by 43mm. In design, it displays hallmark Mercedes-Benz executive car proportions, the elongated bonnet coupled with a coupe-esque roof that flows into a sensual, broad-shouldered tail. The silhouette is characterised by short overhangs, a long wheelbase, large wheels and taut well-defined flanks displaying a more dynamic feature line. At the rear end, broad shoulders above the rear wheel arches lend the E-Class executive car a more powerful character. As usual, there's the option of an estate variant for those wanting it, this derivative offering a huge 1,820-litre boot.
Inside, the centre of the dash is dominated as usual in this class of car by a colour infotainment display but this one's bigger than normal, 12.3-inches in size, and available in two sophisticated forms. In addition, touch-sensitive control buttons on the steering wheel make their first appearance in a car. Like a smartphone interface, they respond precisely to horizontal and vertical swiping movements, allowing the driver to control the entire infotainment system using finger swipes without having to take their hands off the steering wheel. Further controls for the infotainment system are provided in the shape of a touchpad with controller in the centre console, which can even recognise handwriting, and the Linguatronic voice control system. There are also direct-access buttons for controlling functions such as the air-conditioning system or for convenient activation and deactivation of certain driver assistance systems. Plus of course it all feels suitably top ten executive car quality, with leather-covered doors and subtle ambient lighting. High-quality materials include open-pore woods, wood with what Mercedes calls 'a yachting look' and a novel metal fabric.
The Mercedes E-Class executive car puts in an impressive performance. Beforehand it felt like quite an expensive car. Now it feels like one that's pricey but which offers a compelling value proposition. It drives with genuine polish, yet is capable of stepping from cruiser to carouser without breaking a sweat. Operating the car is relatively easy, and you rarely feel as if it's imposing its will on you, unlike certain rivals we could mention. The abiding impression is that this is a very carefully considered vehicle, developed by a company steeped in a proud engineering tradition looking to keep its place as a producer of the best executive car out there.
The latest changes future-proof the E-Class' emissions a little against the constant assault from its key rivals. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this tenth generation model though, is the fact that its appeal has broadened so far. It was once hard to see anybody under the age of fifty contemplating an E-Class. A more dynamic image and a focus on sharper design and driving dynamics has seen that demographic become younger. What's more, all this has been achieved diluting this design's Stuttgart DNA - and without alienating its legacy market. For the best executive car segment, that is the mark of a very special car.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz E-Class range