The premium car market is changing. A couple of years ago, this list would have included a Mazda 6, Volkswagen Passat and Volvo S60. Sadly, these saloons have all been discontinued in the UK.
Fear not, though, because Citroen and Genesis have ensured that the market remains, if not exactly kicking, then certainly alive.
These premium cars occupy the middle ground between mainstream four-door saloons and the kind of luxury cars that come with a chauffeur. Popular with company car drivers, they offer a terrific blend of style, practicality, price and performance.
Here’s a list of the best premium cars you can buy, with the results presented in alphabetical order.
Alfa Romeo Giulia
If you weren’t feeling old before today, you will be when we tell you that the Alfa Romeo Giulia has been on sale since 2015. Sure, it’s been updated along the way, most recently at the beginning of 2023, but it’s fundamentally the same car. Yet that’s no bad thing, because the Giulia remains an interesting alternative to the German car you may have been looking at.
Aside from the thunderous Quadrifoglio version with its Ferrari-derived 2.9-litre V6 engine, there is now only one engine and two trim levels available. Both the Sprint and Veloce models are powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor that sends 280hp to the rear wheels. Quality isn’t up to the high standards set by Audi and BMW, but few cars in this segment, if any, are as enjoyable to drive.
We said: ‘The Giulia is not perfect, but it delivers just enough charm and engagement to overcome its faults. And if this really is the last internal combustion car you buy, you might as well choose one that puts a smile on your face, every time you drive it’.
Interior quality is one reason to choose the Audi A4 over its BMW and Mercedes-Benz rivals. It’s a masterclass in precision and sophistication, regardless of whether you opt for entry-level Sport trim, the mid-range S line or the lavish Black Edition.
Standard specification is extremely generous, with the A4 Sport featuring LED headlights, LED rear lights, 17-inch alloy wheels, a 10.1-inch infotainment system, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, Apple CarPlay connectivity, three-zone climate control, heated seats, cruise control and parking sensors.
We said: ‘For drivers who spend their time pounding the motorways of Britain, the A4 is a delight. For those who prefer to take the long way home, the BMW [3 Series] remains the class leader’.
BMW 3 Series
The BMW 3 Series has been the benchmark premium saloon car for more than four decades. Such is the power of its badge, the premium-priced 3 Series even manages to outsell most ‘mainstream’ rivals. Key to its appeal is the way it drives, with the 3 Series retaining its famed rear-wheel-drive dynamics. That said, many buyers opt for the security of BMW’s xDrive four-wheel-drive system.
Petrol, diesel and plug-in hybrid versions are available, along with a choice of trim levels. The entry-level Sport comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, three-zone climate control, ambient lighting, a rear-view camera, folding mirrors, a sport leather steering wheel and a 12.3-inch central instrument display. The mid-range M Sport adds a more sporting flavour, including 18-inch alloys.
We said: ‘The latest BMW 3 Series is a car at the top of its game. It’s practical, packed with tech, quick and efficient… and a great driver’s car’.
Citroen C5 X
Just when you thought Citroen had turned its back on luxury barges, up pops the C5 X, a car that’s incredibly hard to pigeonhole. Citroen says it’s a blend of saloon, estate, SUV and coupe, but we’d add hatchback to that list. A case of five cars in one, then?
Sort of. In truth, if you’re after one of the above, you’d be better off looking elsewhere, but if you want a distinctive and oh-so-comfy family car for easing the pain of a long journey, the C5 X should be on your shortlist. Thanks to what Citroen calls Advanced Comfort seats and suspension, the C5 X is as relaxing as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class or Range Rover. Yes, really.
We said: ‘It takes a lot to prise Britain’s middle-managers out of their Audis and BMWs, so the C5 X faces an uphill struggle. Nonetheless, its blend of comfort, space and unconventional style see Citroen playing to its strengths. If you value serenity over sportiness, it’s an appealing proposition’.
Genesis is the luxury arm of Hyundai, and while the South Korean brand is relatively new to the UK, it has been a major player in the US since 2016. There are two saloons available: the G80 flagship and this, the G70, which is also available as a Shooting Brake (estate car).
There isn’t really an entry-level trim; the Premium model lives up to its name by offering a long list of standard equipment. Opt for this one, and you’re limited to a 2.2-litre diesel engine, but upgrade to the Sport and you can choose between the diesel and a 2.0-litre petrol engine. Genesis stands out in the UK thanks to its impressive five-year care plan, which includes a warranty, servicing and even a concierge service.
We said: ‘Above all, it may appeal to those who simply want something different, instead of the premium German norm. With fixed prices, no physical dealers and every customer assigned their own dedicated ‘personal assistant’, the whole Genesis mindset is refreshingly different, too’.
The Jaguar XE has always been a credible alternative to the Germans, but this stylish four-door saloon has been overshadowed by Jaguar SUVs of late. This is a shame, because following a series of updates, the XE is better than ever. Prices undercut the A4, 3 Series and C-Class, too.
Standard features on the entry-level Dynamic S include 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, LED rear lights, dual-zone climate control, 12-way heated electric front seats, a 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, cruise control, parking sensors and a 3D surround-view camera.
We said: ‘All versions are great to drive, but the Jaguar XE is let down by cramped rear-seat accommodation and a small boot’.
If you’re after the most luxurious and comfortable premium saloon, look no further than the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Little wonder it’s one of the most popular cars in the UK, with fleet and private customers enjoying its efficient engines, upmarket interior and low running costs.
Due to its popularity, the AMG Line trim is now the entry-level model. Highlights include 18-inch AMG alloy wheels, suspension lowered by 15mm, privacy glass, a 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, an 11.9-inch colour display and AMG sports seats in leather. The range includes everything from frugal diesels to fire-breathing AMG models, along with a plug-in hybrid.
We said: ‘There is a Mercedes-Benz C-Class for everyone, so you might want to think twice before spending more on buying that GLC SUV’.
If our list of the best premium cars was ranked in order of styling, the Peugeot 508 would finish at the top. From its blade-like LEDs at the front to the three taillights either side of the boot, the 508 is loaded with neat details within a swooping fastback body.
The inside is as bold as the outside, with clever use of technology and a driver-focused ‘i-Cockpit’ design. Quality is excellent, while the range of engines includes a plug-in hybrid that offers up to 40 miles of electric range. A facelifted version (pictured) is on the way, with fresh styling and improved tech.
We said: ‘The Peugeot 508 is here to show SUV drivers what they’re missing. Not only is it one of the best looking cars on sale today, it also offers a driving experience that few off-roaders can match.’
The Skoda Superb is a bit of a gatecrasher. For a start, it offers the space to rival luxury cars from the next class up, such as the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. It’s also a hatchback in a world of four-door saloons. In truth, it’s a difficult car to pigeonhole, but that’s arguably part of its appeal.
Prices start from around £31,500, but even the luxury L&K edition comes in at £41,000. When you consider the amount of space and equipment on offer, that makes the Superb L&K a bit of a bargain. Highlights include 18-inch alloy wheels, three-zone climate control, a heated windscreen, a digital instrument panel, a heated steering wheel and full LED Matrix headlights.
We said: ‘This is a comfortable, refined and efficient cross-continent cruiser. Still want that pricey German car?’
Volkswagen ended production of the Passat saloon in 2022, and although the estate remains on sale, the Arteon is your best option if you’re after a premium family car with a VW badge (but you don’t fancy an SUV).
It certainly looks the part, with styling that will make sure you stand out in an office car park littered with Audis, BMWs and Mercs. It’s also very well equipped, which helps to justify a price ranging from £43,000 for Elegance trim to an eye-widening £59,500 for the rapid 320hp R model (with the same engine as the Golf R hot hatch).
We said: ‘Although Volkswagen won’t thank us for saying it, the Arteon is essentially a Passat in fancier clothes. Still, whether you opt for the Fastback saloon or the Shooting Brake estate, it’s a very stylish new suit’.