CMI (Robin Brown): “People often ask me for car advice – generally just prior to ignoring it in favour of buying the car they’d had their eye on all along. That’s fine by me because the fact of the matter is that there aren’t any bad cars anymore. Sure, there are cars that are less suitable for some people than others, but there are no true duffers out there.
Recently a colleague asked me for my car recommendations for him and his young family. Two children, a dog – and a wife with whom he shares the car. Immediately my thoughts turned to some of the larger vehicles on offer – MPVs, estates and large family cars that I’ve spent time with recently. Motors such as the Vauxhall Insignia Sport Tourer, Citroën C4 Picasso, Peugeot 2008, Suzuki SX4 S-Cross and Nissan Qashqai all spring to mind.
He nodded his head slowly as I explained the benefits of these cars. Eventually he shook his head and, a little bashfully, added: “No, I need a badge – for the car park.” Sound familiar? In the industry it’s known as badge snobbery – the need to show off to friends, neighbours and colleagues how successful you are by displaying a logo on the front of your car, be it BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Jaguar – or even Bentley, Porsche or Maserati… “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?” sang Janis Joplin. “My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.” It’s a sentiment echoed today on forecourts around the country.
The concept is perfectly understandable – and has been a part of the automotive landscape since houses were built with driveways. Yet among car journalists and others in the industry, a badge means very little. These people are impressed – or otherwise – by the competencies of a car, regardless of the logo on the bonnet. And while some cars made by these manufacturers are more impressive than others, there’s scarcely a single car in the executive class of vehicles that isn’t superb.
This segment is defined by cars such as the BMW 3 Series, a so-called “compact executive” machine. The Jaguar XF, meanwhile, is a truly wonderful “large executive” that has left everyone else in its wake since 2008. The cars made by these manufacturers – along with Audi, Lexus, Infiniti, Mercedes and Volvo – constitute the models generally referred to as executives: large saloons designed to ferry important people around the country in style, comfort and with all the toys you could ever need.
Owning one of these cars needn’t be expensive, however. Executives used to be big petrol-engined behemoths. No longer. All now offer relatively small, efficient diesel engines that will return up to 65mpg and emit under 110g/km, slashing running costs. Those lower CO2 models will become increasingly important in the next five years as the government ramps up benefit-in-kind taxation on more polluting wheelers.
Because owners of cars in this sector tend to be more demanding on a car’s handling ability, executives offer magic-carpet-style soft rides, soaking up long motorway miles in the most comfortable manner possible. A recent drive in an Audi S8 and Mercedes CLS confirmed how refined cars in this class have become, while the Jaguar XF offers the most stunning interior of the lot. BMW models have the most dynamic handling, while the likes of Infiniti, Volvo and Lexus offer something a little different to the Teutonic monopoly.
My advice, if you’re looking for an exec, is to ignore your preconceptions and find the one that’s right for you. They may look similar, but there’s a world of variety under the bonnet and behind the doors.
Find the car that’s best for you…
Executives are built for transporting colleagues around the country; they’re all built to swallow two bags of golf clubs to boot. But the difference between a Mercedes C-Class and S-Class is vast – don’t buy a big car for the sake of vanity.
Small is beautiful
As restrictions on CO2 have kicked in, even executive cars have had to downsize. All are now available with a diesel engine around the 2-litre mark. If you’re going bigger you should have a very good reason – running costs could become crippling in three years’ time.
Ride and handling
Most execs are built primarily to be comfortable, on the basis that they’re designed to do a lot of miles for business purposes. Consider the make of car, the size of its wheels and whether you can live with run-flats in tandem with a stiff suspension.
Execs are designed to be workplaces as much as transport. Satnav, telephone and internet connectivity should be serious considerations. As should the latest safety aids, such as collision warnings, cruise control and accident mitigation.
If facts and figures baffle you, look for a derivative designed for the fleet or business market. It should be easy to find and should tick most of the boxes in terms of running costs and gadgetry. Look for models named Business”.