This class of car needs to be comfortable, refined, spacious for adults, and capable of a bit of driving pleasure when the occasion takes, so which cars make our top?
The mid-size executive class champions premium-worthy quality, long-distance comfort and refinement and adult-occupant-appropriate space, although cars with a dash of performance and handling dynamism inevitably stand out in within it.
These cars spend a great deal of their lives out on the motorway, so refinement is key; but so is the right benefit-in-kind classification. A good plug-in hybrid powertrain is increasingly important to making the case to own & run an executive car as a fleet option, and in some mid-size execs that PHEV version is better than in others.
The office car park status conferred by a desirable premium badge is a vital part of the equation in this chart also. These, then, are our mid-sized executive favourites.
1. BMW 5 Series
BMW’s latest 5 Series is in many ways the quintessential and defining mid-sized executive saloon, having had its reputation honed and refined over the course of a developmental history that's now in its 50th year.
The car sets a high standard in the segment as far as perceived cabin quality is concerned; it makes a very comfortable long-distance tourer in pretty much any engine and trim you might choose; its best engines also offer first-rate performance and drivability, and very creditably real-world efficiency too; and its rear-driven handling poise makes for plenty of sporting appeal when you go looking for it, without compromising on ride comfort.
The current 5-Series M Performance derivative, the M550i xDrive, does a very convincing and appealingly laid-back impression of an M5 super saloon for a much more accessible price, while there's still plenty of driver appeal about a 530d - and plenty of real-world fuel economy and versatility also.
2. Mercedes-Benz E-Class
The Mercedes-Benz E-Class is the sort of executive option that prioritizes driver comfort, onboard luxury, occupant safety and all-round ease-of-use over outright driver engagement. The cabin – updated for 2020 – is a luxurious place to sit and, combined with the car's excellent active driver assistance systems, would go a long way to make long-distance commuting pleasurable.
Mercedes offers abundant choice on propulsion, with electrification now playing a leading role. The entry-level mild hybrid options offer 154bhp in petrol form and 158bhp for the diesel. At mid-level, the E300e is a full petrol-electric PHEV while the E300de is diesel-electric, with both cars being quite evenly matched for price and performance. And further up the range still, buyers can choose from a couple of straight-six diesels; there's also the six-cylinder turbocharged E450 warm petrol option; and only then do you get to the rarefied and expensive levels of the mild-hybrid AMG -53 and full-fat AMG -63 performance versions.
3. Jaguar XF
Some things don't change - and some things do. Jaguar’s XF remains the best-handling car in this segment, for example, just as it has been for more than a decade, combining deft handling characteristics with a supremely comfortable ride.
The XF comes with a choice of three engines: two turbocharged four-cylinder petrols, and a mild-hybrid four-cylinder diesel. There's no plug-in hybrid option, and as yet there's no sign that there will be in future. Four-door saloon and five-door estate bodies remain available; four-wheel drive is standard on the range-topping P300, and optional on both the P250 and D200.
Inside the cabin, perceived quality and digital systems sophistication have both taken sizeable leaps. Jaguar's latest Pivi Pro infotainment system is a vast improvement on the XF's old setup, while the car's fixtures and fittings are much closer to matching the most upmarket cars in this class.
4. Tesla Model S
The very first mainstream electric luxury car is still among the best executive saloons of its size. It now boasts almost 400 miles of the range even on the stringent WLTP cycle, while the prospect of one per cent benefit-in-kind tax might well mean it appears as a high-end fleet option for some.
The Model S is also, to use official terminology, ludicrously quick in a straight-line and can seat as many as seven passengers: something no other car on this list can manage. What prevents it from placing higher are questionable interior fit-and-finish, ordinary and remote dynamics, and the high asking price.
5. Volvo S90 & V90
Sliding in to round out the top half of our order are the Volvo S90 and V90. The striking design of these cars is shared with its Volvo rangemates but it remains a strong selling point so many years after we first saw these cars. Volvo's strong focus on standard safety equipment - a big tick for family-minded buyers - is likewise.
Also strengthening the Volvo’s case are a stylish, spacious and materially inviting interior and comfortable, easy-going on-road performance and handling manners; just what you want in handsome, no-nonsense family transport.