Which is the best used family saloon for under £10k? We put an Audi, BMW, Mercedes and VW to the test
- Audi A5, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and VW Passat CC from 2009 tested
- All four models tested can be found with average mileage for less than £10,000
Junior executives; family saloons; rep mobiles: there are plenty of terms for this calibre of car.
No matter what name you put to this category of vehicles, they - on paper - come with long-mileage comfort, plenty of space and premium badge appeal.
But what happens when seven years takes its toll on these small execs? We've got our hands on four models built in 2009 to help you decide which second-hand stylish saloon is best for you.
Second-hand rep mobile showdown: From left to right: Audi A5, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Volkswagen Passat CC
The four cars in question are the Audi A5, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Volkswagen Passat CC.
All are comparable diesel version, around 2.0-litres, with middling specification.
While they would have set you back in the region of £30,000 in 2009, today they can be found for as little as £7,000.
Here are the contenders:
USED JUNIOR EXECS ON TEST
Audi A5 Sportback (2009-2016)
Model tested: 2009 2.0 TDI SE
Price now*: from £9,000
Pros: Cool styling; hatchback practicality; comes with leather as standard
Mercedes-Benz C-Class (2007-2014)
Model tested: 2009 C220 CDI Blue Efficiency Sport
Price now*: from £9,500
Pros: Stylish and classy; spacious and practical; excellent performance, ride and handling
BMW 3 Series (2006-2012)
Model tested: 2009 318d M Sport
Price now*: from £7,750
Pros: Prestigious badge; superbly made cabin; quick, alert and always a treat to drive
Volkswagen Passat CC (2007-2012)
Model tested: 2009 CC 2.0 TDI 170 GT
Price now*: from £7,000
Pros: Great looks and cabin; strong performance; good luggage space; the most for your money
*Price based on similar models with average mileage (70,000)
To begin at the beginning, Audis normally score well for their cabins but the A5’s media and vent controls are too complex for easy operation.
The C-Class does better, though it too could do with being simpler; the Passat beats both for ease of use, but the 3 Series’ controls leave the others standing.
Audi tends to have the best interiors, but not in this case
The Mercedes dashboard controls are too complicated
Even in this older version of i-Drive, the BMW wins the cabin battle
The Passat has an easy-to-navigate selection of controls but quality is down on the BMW
It’s also one of the better options for rear-seat space, along with the Passat, with the A5’s swoopy styling costing it in terms of headroom out back.
Audi responds with one of the best boots, though – only the Passat’s is bigger, while the 3 Series’ is both the smallest and the least usably shaped.
BMW’s interior is the most hushed on the move, however. You won’t feel short-changed here by the C-Class, either, nor by the Passat, but in that order they all leave the A5 behind.
The swooping roofline of the Audi A5 takes up a lot of rear headroom
Only the BMW has a more refined drive - the Mercedes is almost as hushed on the move
The BMW has the smallest and least practical shaped boot
The Passat, in terms of total capacity, has the biggest boot of all four cars here
Which is most accomplished on the road?
None get left behind in the other sense, as all manage to dish up strong all-round performance.
The BMW 318d has 141bhp, which is well short of the 168bhp all the others boast; it’s barely any slower, though, but the VW Passat is the lightest of the others and so it’s the most urgent when overtaking.
The Mercedes C-Class has the biggest engine, at 2.1 litres, and with loads of torque it pulls effortlessly more or less whenever you ask it to. This Sport model comes with lower, stiffer suspension, too, so it’s a willing playmate on B-roads – and even though you do feel the odd bump, its ride is always very settled.
The Passat, with adaptive suspension on its side, manages to handle well and only rides untidily in Sport mode, while the Audi A5 has bags of grip but feels lumpy on bad roads and steers without any real feel to it.
That leaves the 3 Series to take the dynamic crown with a combination of eager steering, absorbing suspension and confidence-inspiring body control that makes it a thoroughly entertaining car to drive at any speed.
The strong value retention of the Audi makes it hard to recommend over the others here as a used buy. Owners who bought new made a wise investment in terms of return on their initial outlay
The Mercedes C-Class is also too expensive to win our test, though it should prove to be the most reliable
Cost to buy and run
Comparing like for like based on the cars we have here, the Passat gives you the most for your money – though it’s highest on running costs. Both it and the A5 cost less to service, however – and the 3 Series has the least solid reputation for reliability.
The C-Class is the most reliable, but it’s also the priciest to buy. It’s likely to hold its value best, along with the A5, but if you’re going to be doing a lot of miles the 3 Series’ fuel economy is the best of the group.
The Passat CC (now just called the CC) is an unsung hero of the VW range - it has a massive boot, great looks and decent driving dynamics
But the BMW 3 Series is the winner here. Huge sales means there are plenty on the market - driving the price down - and the cabin and drive are second-to-none
Cars & motoring verdict
The A5 and C-Class are the first to fall, in that order, as they’re both expensive – and while the Merc is very classy, the A5 isn’t as good as its styling permits you to expect.
The Passat CC comes second, with a good blend of ride and handling skills to go with its lively performance.
But we had the most fun aboard the 3 Series – and though it has the worst boot here, it has a great cabin, a high-value price and a badge you can boast about.
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