My column for the 2014 Q4 edition of Professional Manager magazine on buying executive cars
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. There just aren’t. Sure there are cars that are less suitable for some people than others – and many cars I believe are overpriced – but no true duffers in this day and age.
Recently a colleague asked me for my car recommendations for him and his young family. Two children, a dog, a wife with whom he shares the car. Immediately my thoughts turned to some of the larger cars – MPVs, estates and large family cars that I’ve spent time with recently. Cars such as the Vauxhall Insignia Sport Tourer, Citroen C4 Picasso, Peugeot 2008, Suzuki S-Cross and Nissan Qashqai.
He nodded his head slowly as I explained the various benefits of these cars – different but all perfect for his needs. 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 little logo on the front of your car, be it BMW, Mercedes or Jaguar – or even Bentley, Porsche or Maserati. “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends,” sang Janis Joplin. It’s a sentiment echoed today on forecourts around the country.
The concept is perfectly understandable and a part of the automotive landscape since houses were built with driveways, yet among car journalists and others I meet 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 car in the Executive segment that isn’t superb.
This segment is defined by cars such as the BMW 3-Series, a ‘compact executive’ and perennial best-seller and favourite of company car drivers and the Jaguar XF, a ‘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 want for in a car.
Owning one of these cars needn’t be an expensive business however. Executives used to be big petrol-engined behemoths. No longer. All now offer relatively small diesel engines that will return up to 65mpg and emit under 110g/km or more and cost. Those lower CO2 models will become increasingly important in the next five years as the government ramps up Benefit-In-Kind on more polluting models, and while the recent era of generous finance and lease packages may be coming to an end, there are some incredibly good deals out there.
Because owners of cars in this sector tend to be more demanding of a car’s handling ability, executives tend to offer magic-carpet-soft rides, to soak up the motorway miles in the most comfortable manner possible. A recent drive in an Audi S8 and Mercedes CLS confirmed how astonishingly 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 offers something a little different to the Teutonic monopoly.
My advice, if you’re looking for an Exec, is much the same as my advice to any car-buyer. Ignore your preconceptions and find the one that’s right for you. They may look fairly similar – buyers in this market tend to be more conservative than in others – but there’s a world of variety under the bonnet and behind the doors.
In the same way that you wouldn’t buy a bottle of wine in Oddbins based on its price, you shouldn’t choose a car for its badge. Wine is far too important to buy on the label; it’s the same for cars.
Finding the Exec that’s best for you
Executive saloons are built for transporting groups of colleagues around the country; famously 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 sensible diesel engine around the 2.0-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.
The Most Toys
Of any car on sale, Execs are designed to be workplaces as much as transport. Factory-fit satnav, telephony and internet connectivity should be serious considerations with a new Exec. As should the latest active safety aids such as collision warnings, adaptive cruise control and accident mitigation.
The Fleet Special
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 Edition or similar.