Here are 20 of the best sensible saloons to buy in 2021
Four-door saloons may have had their heyday, but there are still some cracking ones about
“The Skoda Superb, the third generation of Skoda's giant, range-topping saloon, now more giant and range-topping than ever. Spun off the VW Group's ubiquitous MQB platform, the Superb is 3cm longer and 5cm wider than it’s not-very-small predecessor, with more space inside.
“No pun needed: the Skoda Superb is excellent. Every inch an Audi A6 rival. Honest.”Advertisement - Page continues below
“The A4’s done enough to remain among the very best in class, if not jumping unequivocally to the top of it. Thing is, it’s tricky for us weird and nerdy folk who ‘like cars’ to get hot and bothered about the A4 because it’s such a wantonly, deliberately sensible and carefully judged piece of kit.”
BMW 3 Series
“In the automotive woodland, the 3 Series is one of the great oaks. You can name them: Golf, 911, Range Rover, S-Class. And 3 Series. They’re what define the landscape. The unchanging cars, the ones by which we all orient ourselves.
“No-one was expecting BMW to screw it up and as you'll have gathered that hasn't happened. Not a bit of it.
“There's a new life and sharpness to the powertrains, and the handling is tighter than ever. Yet it's also quiet and refined.
“The hygiene factors are all there in abundance too. It's good to sit in, roomy enough, well-equipped and not costly to own.”Advertisement - Page continues below
“Love driving? Don’t need acres of room in the back? Look no further, because this car – for your needs – is the best in its class. No small feat when that class is full of talent such as the BMW 3 Series and Alfa Giulia, but Jag’s ability to make a car ride supply while slapping a big grin on your face borders on witchcraft.
“If only there was more interior room and a greater array of engines – some sonorous six-cylinders, basically – and it might top the class without caveats or clauses.”
“On first impressions the new C-Class appears to strike a good balance between the BMW 3 Series’ dynamism and Audi A4’s refinement and quality. But given our first go in the Mercedes was so brief, in cars that weren’t to UK spec and we don’t yet know how much they’re going to cost, we’ll wait until we can get all its rivals together in comparable specs before we pass definitive judgement on where the new C-Class Benz lands.
“It ought to be a close-run thing, though, because there’s a lot to like about the new C-Class. It’s packed with S-Class-grade tech, rides and handles astutely, has a comfy cabin and the electrified 2.0-litre diesel engine especially is one of the best around.”
Alfa Romeo Giulia
“The Giulia, no matter how it’s powered, is a very good looking and capable small sports saloon from Alfa. It’s the first compelling rival to the Germans from Alfa in over a decade. It’s got real character and dynamism that makes us car types smile. Yes, there are some Italian idiosyncrasies, and it'll cost more per month than the usual German suspects, but it’s an Alfa, so what were you expecting? Such is the price of swimming against the tide.
“The Giulia in general and the Quadrifoglio in particular was bang-on right from the start. Fast and furious when you want, but liveable the rest of the time. And such a lovely object.”
“The 508 will always be a slightly oddball choice, when you could have a default low-spec premium saloon. Or a crossover. But it has appeals - not least of which is that it does stand out. It’s oddball in a stylish way, and has a splendidly different cabin.
“Dynamics are competent if slightly imperfect, but hey, when you get busy with the steering it’s still night-and-day more adept than the crossovers that are brutally displacing the mainstream saloon-hatch’s territory.”Advertisement - Page continues below
Tesla Model 3
“Posed against po-faced competitors, Teslas are invariably the quick ones, the efficient ones, the fun ones with Fart Mode and the lucky ones least dependent on a haphazard charging ecosystem. Even a basic version with a single rearward motor and only Chill/Sport acceleration settings develops 235bhp and punches to 60mph faster than a £55k Jaguar F-Type.
“While the angry frog styling won’t be to all tastes, the interior is a real love/hate arrangement and the driving dynamics aren’t all that memorable once you’ve stopped swallowing your tongue every time you nail the throttle, it’s easy to see why the Model 3 has become a global standard-setter for EVs.
“This is the future we were promised – a car with sentience, a sense of humour, and a fresh take on the old norms.”
“DS argues it’s a premium brand: Louis Vuitton on wheels. And we can at least agree the world definitely doesn’t need any more firm-riding schports saloons – ‘comfort’ is the new ‘Nürburgring lap time’ if you want to stay sane in the twenty-twenties. Here is where the 9 starts to find its niche. Because it’s the least sporty saloon car money can buy, it will have a rare-groove appeal for anyone disillusioned with modern obsessions over alloy wheel size and brittle damping uber alles.
“Now the engineers have turned out a squishy, polite hybrid saloon, it’s going to be up to the marketing and advertising sorts to actually convince you it’s high time – for the first instance in a generation – to drop 40 grand-plus on a big French car, not a Lexus ES or a Volvo S90.”Advertisement - Page continues below
“The E-Class is an extremely well-executed piece of kit. It exudes a mature attitude. It feels grown-up and dignified. The engine range is superb, and it’s a hugely comfortable and stressless mode of long-distance transport.
“Its chief problem is that the BMW 5 Series in particular is pretty much as spacious and well-mannered these days, but it enjoys an extra verve and sense of poise about its chassis that leaves the Mercedes a little flat-footed.”
“More of an A8 than it’s ever been, the A6 is a superbly quiet and refined thing. That said it isn’t quite as complete a car as the superb BMW 5 Series, which remains the class benchmark. Still worth a look, mind.”
“It’s a cracking looking car, the S60, and it does everything pretty well: it drives sharply given its FWD core, it’s comfy and cosseting inside, and there’s a shedload of tech on board.”
“The XF’s class-leading dynamics are preserved, while the new interior is in a different world compared to the outgoing car. Whether it’s enough to reverse the model’s drift towards market indifference is moot, but much of the freshness that makes the electric I-Pace so appealing has been imported here. The XF is as spec-sensitive as ever, but get it right and this is a stealthy, unexpectedly left-field Q-car, regardless of its missing cylinders.”
BMW 5 Series
“The best car in its class? Quite probably. It’s certainly the most rounded. While an E-Class majors on comfort, an XF on sportiness and an A6 on styling creases, this latest BMW 5 Series combines them all into one package. Especially if you’ve got clicky with the aesthetic M Sport options.
“We’d steer clear and keep our Five subtle, though. Passers-by will turn a blind eye on the outside, but inside you’ll be sat smug, comfortable and – when you’re in the mood to prod it into a sportier mode – grinning. The fact BMW’s brought a brand new V8 option to the UK, one which sits below the full-strength M5, says a lot about how true this car’s stuck to its driving machine roots.”
“An astoundingly complete vehicle, one that manages to conjure up a truly contemporary vision for automotive luxury without over-dosing on technology. The second-generation Mercedes user interface is as easy to operate as it is beautifully designed and rendered, every detail masterfully managed.
“But this is also still a car, and whether you’re behind the wheel or sitting behind the person doing the driving, the experience is deeply satisfying.”
“The Volvo S90 does things differently from its German rivals, which is exactly why we like it so much. It’s an incredibly relaxing way to travel and quite cool too, even though its powertrain doesn’t quite live up to its billing.
“Pity you can only get the plug-in hybrid nowadays – the resulting high entry-price is bad news for private buyers, who may be better served by a normal petrol or diesel engine and will therefore be tempted to look elsewhere.”
“A big, important barge of a thing relatively few will buy, and a technical achievement few have the resources or engineering might to match or surpass. It’s the Audi A8 – the cleverest Audi of all. And so it should be, because if you really want to see what a manufacturer is truly capable of engineering, you look at its flagship.”
There’s genuine pleasure to be had from steering the Panamera now, not just sitting back and letting all that horsepower punt you up the road. The Turbo S is stand out excellent, a real alternative to other super-saloons. The E-Hybrid, now more potent, looks compelling too.
And as a range it’s more handsome, less flabby in the flanks, more chiselled front and rear. It now legitimately does the job Porsche needs it to do, spanning a broad spectrum of rivals and able to tackle them on multiple levels.
Tesla Model S
“There's no denying the Model S is a mightily impressive achievement - and from a company whose only previous credit was a Lotus Elise-based roadster. A usable amount of range, decent handling and plenty of tech-y appeal, the Model S has made the mainstream manufacturers sit up and take notice.”
“The Taycan can absolutely entertain on the right road and is a delight to cruise in - a GT with the heart of a sports car. More importantly, it’s a proper Porsche that just happens to run on electricity.
“Truly, this is great news for anyone that loves fast cars. Electric cars are coming whether we like it or not and the performance/range/handling balance is only going to improve from here.”