If you’re in the market for a large executive saloon car, chances are you’ll consider the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series or Audi A6. They’re all high quality, luxurious German-made motorway cruisers, but how do they compare?
Watch the videos below and read on to find out exactly which is the best for you and how they compare in a variety of crucial areas.
Mercedes E-Class vs BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6 – costs
In terms of price, the BMW pulls out a small early lead with entry-level models costing from £31,115 – that’s £1,880 cheaper than the £32,995 Audi. The Mercedes is noticeably more expensive at £35,935 but gets an automatic gearbox and a more powerful diesel engine as standard.
If you specify a 5 Series or an A6 to the same level, they cost £34,165 and £33,825 respectively and all three claim in the mid-60s for mpg meaning low fuel costs. Road tax will, similarly, be low – translating to low company car tax for business buyers.
Mercedes E-Class vs BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6 – styling
The Mercedes E-Class gets off to a very strong start in the styling stakes. To the casual observer, it could easily be mistaken for the luxurious S-Class saloon – just marginally farther away. Pick the sporty-looking AMG Line model and your E-Class will look incredibly posh.
Similar to the E-Class, the A6 looks like its more luxurious brother the A8 but, in comparison the the Mercedes, it looks just a little dull. It’s a pleasing shape and the hexagonal grille leaves you in no doubt it’s an Audi product but it looks a little anonymous against its rivals. S-Line models get extra sporty details but this still doesn’t help it stand out – hopefully the next generation A6 will look more interesting.
The BMW fares better than the Audi with tasteful body sculpting and the iconic ‘kidney’ grilles adding a smattering of visual drama. It’s an older design – especially against the much newer E-Class – but it’s stood the test of time well. A new 5 Series isn’t far away and is expected to have a significant styling overhaul.
Mercedes E-Class vs BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6 – interior
While the BMW has aged well outside, it’s not done so well inside. Build quality is as high as ever from the Bavarian brand but the design feels tired and is too similar to cheaper models in the BMW range. It claws some points back, however, with its iDrive infotainment system which is arguably the best of any manufacturer with clear menu progression and logical controls.
Step into the A6 and it feels a cut above the BMW – the design is more stylish and the quality is equally solid. The climate controls could do with some simplification but the MMI infotainment system is nearly as good as the BMW’s – it’s simple to use because it doesn’t have as many fancy features as in the Mercedes. In addition, the optional Virtual Cockpit replaces the dials with a full screen with Google maps, which make navigating incredibly easy.
The cabin is where the Mercedes pulls out a sizeable lead, however – its interior is among the finest currently on sale. Like the outside, it mirrors the larger S-Class and, when equipped with the second optional screen behind the dials, feels the most modern of the three. The infotainment system isn’t the easiest to use and the piece of plastic surrounding the rear air vents feels incongruously cheap but, on the whole, the cabin is the E-Class’ party piece.
Mercedes E-Class vs BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6 – practicality
The Mercedes scores well here, too. Its 540-litre boot is the largest of the three and its plentiful cubby spaces leave you with loads of storage options. Passengers also get lots of room inside – four six-footers would be comfortable and, of the three, it’s the best should you need seating for five. Installing child seats is also easy thanks to obvious Isofix anchoring points.
Storage in the BMW isn’t quite so comprehensive. The door bins and armrest cubby are small, while the 520-litre boot is an awkward shape making loading objects in tricky. The rear seats are narrowly the most spacious in this group for two passengers but the raised transmission tunnel means it’s not so good with three rear passengers. It’s also disappointing that folding rear seats are an optional extra and the Isofix mounting points are hard to locate.
The Audi sits between the two with its 530-litre boot but, thanks to a wide opening, it’s actually the most usable here. Fitting a child seat is easy and, while the rear is marginally smaller than the other two, there’s still lots of room for two adult passengers. In terms of cubby spaces it lags behind the E-Class but it’ll likely be reasonable for most buyers.
Mercedes E-Class vs BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6 – driving
Many of these cars will be sold as company cars so Audi only offers fleet-friendly diesel engines in the UK. The 2.0-litre unit is smooth, powerful and will be more than enough for most buyers. Entry-level models get a slick six-speed manual gearbox but we’d suggest upgrading to the smooth automatic gearbox and, if you live in rural areas, quattro all-wheel drive is also worth considering. It’s easy to drive with direct controls and plenty of grip but does little to excite the driver.
If you want something sportier, the BMW seems a better choice – provided you fit the optional adaptive dampers because the ride isn’t as good without them. With the fancy suspension fitted the 5 Series feels agile and the controls are faithful to your inputs. The 2.0-litre diesel isn’t quite as smooth as the Audi’s but is still frugal and powerful enough. More powerful engines get an automatic gearbox as standard but we’d recommend it across the range – the manual ‘box is disappointingly stodgy to use.
The Mercedes, however, seems to get the best balance for this segment. It’s the only car to have the option of air suspension and, with it fitted, it rides with a level of comfort and sophistication unmatched by its rivals. The new 2.0-litre diesel engine is very hushed on the move, in part thanks to the standard automatic gearbox. It’s not as sporty as the BMW but its emphasis on absolute comfort is admirable and marks it out in this class.
Mercedes E-Class vs BMW 5 Series vs Audi A6 – verdict
None of these cars will disappoint owners but, in direct comparison, the Mercedes comes out on top. The BMW unquestionably offers the most driver engagement but is let down by its dated cabin and poorly equipped entry-level models. The Audi is an excellent all-rounder and has the most useful boot, but being a jack of all trades means it ends up a master of none.
The E-Class, however, truly feels a cut above the other two. Its cabin is a masterpiece even among such strong competition and its absolute commitment to occupant comfort has to be experienced to be appreciated. The fact it’s also spacious, practical and refined on the move is merely the icing on an already very convincing cake.