These compact executives blend sleek, sporty style with family practicality. Which diesel makes the best second-hand buy?
With Audi’s new A5 Sportback compact exec imminently arriving in the showrooms, the previous-generation model is looking like a great second-hand buy – especially with prices starting from below £10,000. How does it compare with its premium German rivals on the used market? We pitch it against the BMW 3 Series, Mercedes C-Class and Volkswagen Passat CC to find out.
The 2009-2016 Audi A5 Sportback combines coupé styling with hatch practicality, and now costs between £6500 and £38,000.
We test a 2009 2.0 TDI SE. Meanwhile, you can pick up a 2006-2012 BMW 3 Series from £2000-£21,000, which is a bargain for such a great-driving prestige model. Our 2009 318d M Sport looks the business.
Mercedes’ reputation for style and class is enhanced by the 2007-2014 C-Class Sport, which is available now at £3000-£21,000. We drive a 2009 C-Class C220 CDI Blue Efficiency Sport. And the 2007-2012 Volkswagen Passat CC four-door coupé is superb inside and out, and has a big price advantage over its competitors here, at £3,500-£35,000. We try the 2009 CC 2.0 TDI 170 GT.
The 168bhp A5 Sportback essentially shares its 2.0-litre diesel with our Passat CC, while the Merc’s 2.1-litre kicks out 168bhp, too. The 2.0 318d develops just 141bhp, a discrepancy that is belied by its sprightly performance and only fractionally slower in-gear response at higher speeds. The lightest-weight Passat CC has the most oomph in overtaking situations, while the C-Class’s 295lb ft of torque gives it storming progress at virtually any speed.
On fast B-roads, the A5 isn’t as sporty as it looks, with artificial-feeling steering if plenty of grip. It’s better on motorways, but thumps over poor surfaces at lower speeds and becomes floaty on undulations. The 3 Series M Sport lives up to its racy reputation, with unflappable yet involving grip, body control and steering, no matter how hard you push.
The Sport-spec C-Class boasts standard-fit lowered and stiffened suspension, and while this means bigger bumps can thud through to the cabin, it never loses its composure. Things stay planted on twisty roads, the steering is light and responsive, even if it lacks feel, and the car feels totally settled on the motorway. The Passat CC GT has Adaptive Chassis Control. Its steering remains rather slow in all settings, but body lean is well controlled and the ride only starts jiggling in Sport mode.
From the cabin, the 3 Series is the quietest model here, with the C-Class close behind. The Passat is good for engine and wind noise, but road sound increases on rough surfaces, and the A5 is the least refined inside.
The Audi’s offset, oddly positioned pedals also disappoint, while its dash features overly fussy ventilation controls and a too-complicated rotary-controlled infotainment system. Certain similar interface niggles apply to the Merc, but we much prefer its own rotary-directed stereo.
We also rate the VW’s clear dash and easy touchscreen stereo, if not its fiddly ignition key set-up or push-button parking brake. None comes close to the BMW’s controls, thanks to their clear and intuitive design, although the perfect driving position takes a while to negotiate compared with its rivals’ here. All four cars have plenty of room in the front, and the rear-space champions are the 3 Series and Passat CC. The A5 four-seater has the least head and legroom, but two under-six-footers can be easily accommodated.
1st – BMW 3 Series
2nd – Volkswagen Passat CC
3rd – Mercedes C-Class
4th – Audi A5 Sportback
The biggest and longest, if shallowest, boot belongs to the VW, followed by the Audi’s squarer one with a wide-opening hatchback. Both cars came with split-fold rear seats as standard. BMW earns the booby prize for the smallest, most awkwardly shaped load area on test.
Although all these models can be bought for less than £10,000 now,
the less prestigious Passat CC is the cheapest while the talented 3 Series looks the best value. A comparable C-Class is the most expensive, with the A5 Sportback snapping at its heels. At least these will be worth more come resale time, however.
Running costs are highest in the least efficient VW, putting it in the highest tax bracket here, but along with the Audi (which sits in a slightly lower tax bracket) it’s the cheapest to service. The other two contenders cost quite a bit more for maintenance, but the BMW has the best fuel economy and lowest tax costs.
Dependability studies suggest potential reliability is a mixed bag across the board, with the C-Class scoring highest and the 3 Series the worst. Factor in that the two VW Group cars would have been caught up in the Dieselgate emissions fix, too.
The Audi A5 Sportback comes last here. We love its hatchback practicality, sophisticated four-door coupé styling, superbly punchy engine and standard leather trim, but it’s flawed in too many areas, and not cheap to buy.
High price is also an issue for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, even if you get one helluva a classy car for your cash, with its strong engine, good dynamic balance, roomy cabin and practical load area. The interior lacks that ‘special’ feel and the BMW is more fun.
As compact execs go, the Volkswagen Passat CC makes a better, and better-value, buy. Aside from the fact that the four-seater-only model is not very sporting to drive on B-roads, and both road noise and economy are concerns, the stylish and sleek cruiser is the sprightliest car here with the most comfortable ride. It has a classy cabin, large boot and reasonable maintenance costs, as well.
A fun drive is the BMW 3 Series’s trump card. Cars don’t come much better, thanks to its great dynamics, relaxing ride – if specced with the optional, standard suspension option – cheap running costs, and beautiful fit and finish in the roomy cabin. Its good value outweighs its less stylish looks plus niggles such a small load area and fiddly seat adjustment. It also wins the battle of the badges against its VW runner-up – and that’s all-important in the compact executive class.