Vehicle Comparisons

Volvo S90

Volvo S90

Volvo has never really cracked the full-sized executive 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 S90s come only with smooth 8-speed auto transmission. There's also a 190hp T4 petrol engine and a 250hp petrol T5 unit.

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. There's also a more conventional T4 190bhp four cylinder petrol turbo unit.

This is certainly a more credible full-sized executive saloon 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, 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 sales volumes overnight with this car: 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 this sector.

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Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Mercedes-Benz E-Class

The Mercedes-Benz E-Class 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 Executive class 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.

Some full-sized Executive saloons 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. There's a base 184hp E200 petrol variant if you want it but almost all E-Class buyers select a diesel, probably the four cylinder 2.0-litre 194hp biturbo unit you'll find in the E220d most customers are going to choose. The gearbox it comes mated to is 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. Those in search of more diesel performance are offered a 3.0-litre six cylinder unit in the E400d putting out 340hp and capable of rest to 62mph in 4.9s. E400d variants come only with 4MATIC 4WD. There are also a couple of 'EQ Power' Plug-in hybrids, both of which mate a 2.0-litre combustion engine with a 122hp electric motor - namely the E300 de diesel derivative and the E300e petrol variant.

Further up the range, there are various Mercedes-AMG petrol performance variants. The E 53 4MATIC+ derivative uises a 3.0-litre biturbo inline six cylinder engine using the brand's latest EQ boost technology and putting out 435hp. Beyond that, there's the 4.0-litre V8 E 63 4MATIC+ models.

Even on mainstream E-Class models, handling should be sharper than you might expect, thanks to various 'Direct Control' suspension systems with selective damping. There's also the option of an 'Air Body Control multi-chamber air suspension' set-up offering the kind of pillowy ride that previously, you culd 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 saloon 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 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 premium, 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.

Overall, the Mercedes E-Class puts in an impressive performance. Perhaps the most interesting thing about this tenth generation model 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. That is the mark of a very special car.

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BMW 5 Series

BMW 5 Series

BMW's 5 Series is a full-sized Executive segment model that in recent generations hasn't quite been able to achieve the required blend between luxury and driving involvement. This seventh generation version claims a much better balance between these two extremes and adds in smarter looks, impressive media connectivity and a suite of electronic driving aids able to match the best that competitors have to offer.

The main news on the engine front concerns petrol power. The 184bhp 2.0-litre petrol turbo unit in the 520i will be popular, which slots into the range just below the 252bhp 2.0-litre four-cylinder powerplant used in the 530i. Alternatively, there's a 340bhp 540i variant which needs xDrive 4WD to control its prodigious 450Nm of torque. That's more grunt than older versions of the M5 super saloon used to have. BMW is of course planning another one of those for this model generation and this time round, this flagship variant will have over 600bhp. For more eco-minded folk, there's a 530e iPerformance Plug-in hybrid model that mates a four cylinder petrol engine with an electric motor to achieve a combined output of 252bhp. It can reach an all-electric top speed of 87mph.

Most 5 Series buyers though, will continue to want a diesel, probably the familiar 2.0-litre four cylinder unit used in the 520d and the 525d, developing 190 or 231bhp respectively. All 5 Series models must use an 8-speed Steptronic auto gearbox. The alternative is the six cylinder 265bhp 530d which has 620Nm of pulling power. Both these variants are available with optional xDrive if you want it. For the first time, BMW xDrive can be combined with Integral Active Steering, as well as lowered sports suspension.

As for handling, well a step forward was needed here with many commentators reckoning that the previous generation model was too comfort-orientated in its standard guises. This time round, BMW's engineers reckon they've achieved a much better balance of performance and luxury thanks to reductions in weight, revised steering and new double-wishbone kinematics in the front axle.

As before, 5 Series buyers get a choice of saloon and 'Touring' estate bodystyles, both of which offer exterior dimensions that are only slightly larger than those of the previous model.

At the front, twin circular LED headlights flank the familiar BMW kidney grille. From the side, the passenger cell is clearly set back and a flowing roofline plus a short front overhang aim to underscore the car's sporting appearance. Underneath the skin, the same lightweight aluminium-rich 'CLAR' structure that was pioneered n the larger 7 Series model is much in evidence.

Inside, as you might expect, much is borrowed from the latest generation 7 Series, including the optional gesture control system that works as part of the lowered instrument panel and freestanding display. There's more cabin space too, with more elbow and shoulder room, plus extra headroom in the rear and a larger 530-litre boot in the saloon that has a wider opening. Professional Navigation, telephone, entertainment features and vehicle functions can be visualised on the standard high-resolution 10.25-inch screen and controlled not just in the usual manner using the iDrive Controller, but also by means of gestures, voice commands or simply touching the buttons on the touch-sensitive display. There is room for up to three adults on the rear seats, which are also designed to allow room for up to three child seats.

Despite its enormous success over five decades and now seven different generations, BMW's 5 Series remains a car that's often underestimated. That's a little unfair for if properly specified, it can not only be the most efficient car in its class but also the best one to drive, a combination that takes some beating. Bear in mind also that to claim class leadership, it's not only got to manage that but also cover off the build integrity you'd expect in an Audi and the gadgetry and ride quality you'd want from a Mercedes-Benz. An enormous task.

But not an impossible one, as this seventh generation 5 Series proves. True, it's a pity that to really create 'the ultimate driving machine', you've to spend so much on the options list. But even in standard guise, this is a hugely accomplished car, if one requiring familiarity and plenty of mileage over varying roads before its true qualities really begin to shine through. As before, it's quiet and roomy and now it's smarter, cleaner and even better on the balance sheet. A benchmark business BMW then. Just as a 5 Series has always been.

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