Fleet News

BMW 525d vs Mercedes-Benz E270 CDI vs Renault Vel Satis

BMW

Review

Diesel is a must for low tax bills when you are running an executive express as your company car. But while the number of diesels in the executive car sector has grown over the last few years, the traditional saloon has been in decline.

Alternative vehicles such as MPVs have taken a share of this market, while estates are now becoming as popular as saloons in the premium sector.

The BMW 5-series has long been seen as the best driver's car in the sector and in 525d form offers a balance of performance and economy. It also represents a safe investment for a fleet with predicted low depreciation.

The new kid on the block is the E-class from Mercedes Benz, with an even more impressive record than BMW on depreciation, and available with the five-cylinder 2.7-litre common rail diesel engine in the UK for the first time.

However, if you know a driver who is bored with the German hegemony in this sector – and Renault claims there are some – we present the iconoclastic Vel Satis, with a six cylinder 3.0-litre common rail diesel and high-specification Privilege trim.

Volume manufacturers have always suffered with executive cars when it comes to depreciation. The Vauxhall Omega, Peugeot 607, Toyota Camry and Nissan QX are some current examples.

Badge snobbery in the UK helped kill off the Ford Scorpio and the Renault Safrane, but Renault is taking a different route with the Vel Satis – deliberately quirky – and is trying to keep control of residual values by not including the car in dealer sales targets.

Renault is only offering the Vel Satis through a select band of premier dealers, too, who have been specially trained to deal with executive car customers. However, the market analysts remain to be convinced of the desirability of the Vel Satis to a used car buyer two or three years down the line.

Our running cost figure shows the Vel Satis costing more than four pence per mile more than the ageing BMW 5-series for depreciation and nearly six pence per mile more than the new E-class. It will be up to Renault and real used car buyers to prove CAP, Glass's and the others wrong.

The Renault does hold a small advantage over its German rivals when it comes to servicing, maintenance and repair, though, with Mercedes seeming keen to match BMW with the new E-class and no thought to any other manufacturer out there.

The Mercedes wins out through a combination of its extraordinarily low depreciation and fuel costs. The power output of the 2.7-litre engine is almost on a par with the 180bhp Vel Satis, but its 314lb-ft of torque dwarfs the 258lb-ft figures of the other two – yet it is considerably more frugal, sipping fuel at 9.33ppm, while the BMW and Renault cost roughly 11ppm and 12ppm respectively.

This has a knock-on effect on emissions, with the Mercedes coming out considerably cheaper than its two rivals for company car tax – costing a 40% tax-payer £2,412 this year, compared with £3,136 for the 525d and £3,357 for the Vel Satis.

Contract hire rates seem to favour the 5-series, which hints at a run-out strategy coming into play by BMW or that some leasing companies are not so optimistic about Mercedes' maintenance costs compared with our own figures. Meanwhile the Vel Satis looks pricey on £667 per month. Be different if you must, but be aware that it comes at a price.

BMW 525d se auto

An old-timer now, but still has what it takes to be at the top of executive choice lists. Superb driving dynamics combined with diesel thriftiness and supple ride. Does it really have anything left to prove?

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £28,000
CO2 emissions (g/km): 216
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 28%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 15
Combined mpg: 34.9
CAP Monitor residual value: £10,950/39%
Depreciation (27.20 pence per mile x 60,000): £16,320
Maintenance (3.95 pence per mile x 60,000): £2,370
Fuel (11.09 pence per mile x 60,000): £6,654
Wholelife cost (42.24 pence per mile x 60,000): £25,344
Typical contract hire rate: £560 per month

M-B E270 CDI Classic auto

The 2.7-litre common rail diesel goes into the E-class in the UK for the first time with the latest model. A strong contender in depreciation against the 5-series, but can it challenge on dynamics?

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £28,710
CO2 emissions (g/km): 180
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 21%
Graduated VED rate: £150
Insurance group: 15
Combined mpg: 41.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £13,325/46%
Depreciation (25.49 pence per mile x 60,000): £15,294
Maintenance (3.95 pence per mile x 60,000): £2,370
Fuel (9.33 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,598
Wholelife cost (38.77 pence per mile x 60,000): £23,262
Typical contract hire rate: £591 per month

Vel Satis dci Privilege auto

Ploughing its own furrow in the executive sector, the Vel Satis combines avant garde looks with superb attention to detail, comfort and practicality. Is it enough to make it a credible alternative?

Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £27,070
CO2 emissions (g/km): 232
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 31%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 15
Combined mpg: 32.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,875/29%
Depreciation (31.43 pence per mile x 60,000): £18,858
Maintenance (3.33 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,998
Fuel (11.91 pence per mile x 60,000): £7,146
Wholelife cost (46.67 pence per mile x 60,000): £28,002
Typical contract hire rate: £667 per month

BMW 525d SE auto

THE 525d, sitting next to the E270, is finally starting to show its age, looking low, flat and square. And although the cabin feels dark, boxy, enclosed and uses dated LCD displays that cannot hold a candle to the Mercedes, the driving experience is still the best here.

The steering and pedals all feel connected to what is happening at the tyre end and the engine, the smallest here, feels responsive and delivers plenty of torque when needed, although the more expensive 530d would be the better option if all out speed is the main consideration.

The 525d turns in incisively with superb balance under extreme conditions, without so much as a wobble, allowing the driver to press on with confidence. Our test car came fitted with standard wheels (a rarity for a BMW press demonstrator) and offered a supple ride, while grip did not suffer from not having oversized wheels and low profile tyres.

Having said that the 2.5- litre engine sounds slightly less refined than BMW's 3.0 litre unit, and does not stand out as being the best unit on test here.

Admittedly it has the least power of all the three cars on test and in return you would expect some kind of fuel economy advantage. The 525d fails to deliver on this score and is only marginally ahead of the bulky 180bhp Vel Satis.

Boot space is also very poor next to the E and Vel Satis, and rear passenger legroom cannot get close to Renault. But a lot of that does not matter when you factor in the joy of driving the 5-series. The 5 is still alive.

At a glance
For

  • Superb handling
  • Strong image
  • Faultless driving position

    Against

  • Showing its age
  • Cramped interior
  • Lacking in boot space

    Mercedes-Benz E270 CDI Classic auto

    The E-class is a very handsome car in an imposing, rather than stunning way. The interior is the best here, with detailed digital readouts, pretty dials, undulating console and a top notch quality feel.

    Massive bootspace shows how packaging has developed since the 5-series was born. The engine is fantastic with gargantuan pulling power and although it sounds a little rough on start up, with the sort of off-beat burble that only comes with five-cylinder units, it soon quietens and can only be heard in the cabin under all-out acceleration.

    Gearbox changes come and go with eerie smoothness, and with minimal difference in fuel economy and emissions – drivers can choose the automatic gearbox with some degree of satisfaction.

    The steering offers the best balance of ease and feedback a big Mercedes saloon has ever had, although the drive-by-wire brakes have a weird feel with progressive stopping difficult to judge. Awesome power, but BMW brakes are easier to live with.

    Also, the Mercedes' traction control is too intrusive, cutting power quickly. It would have been a more satisfyling drive with a little less intervention from the electronics.

    Our photo session with these three cars took in a road with speed humps, and the Mercedes took these in its stride. The car quickly smothered the bumps without drama, and without the noise from the rear suspension that accompanied the Vel Satis on the same road.

    The E-class is also right up there with the 5-series in the handling stakes, too. It is fun to hustle the E270 along your favourite B-road with precision and roll-free cornering. Comfort? Fuel economy (41mpg)? Power? Style? Tick the E-class box.

    At a glance
    For

  • Performance, economy, emissions
  • Peerless ride quality
  • Low running costs

    Against

  • Drive-by-wire brakes
  • Interfering traction control
  • Too understated?

    Renault Vel Satis 3.0 dCi Privilege auto

    If Picasso had designed a car, it might well have looked like the Vel Satis and its edgy modernity certainly turned the most heads while the three cars travelled in convoy for our photoshoot.

    Despite some lovely designer touches, its major problem is that it is priced at a level putting it head-to-head with two of the greatest cars on the road today.

    Compared to the mighty 5 and E, the Renault's steering feels overly light, the suspension crashy, the body pitches and rolls, and the brakes are poor.

    But to compare the Renault dynamically with the 5-series and E-class is to miss the point. We never expected it to offer the same kind of driving experience, and Renault knows it will not persuade any committed BMW or Mercedes fan to hand over their keys for a Vel Satis key card.

    The interior is a work of art, the swanky seats are wonderfully comfortable and there's lots of space, and it gets more equipment as standard than the other two, such as electronic parking brake, automatic lights and wipers. Although road tester Steve Moody complained that the engine was weedy in comparison with the other cars and the transmission indecisive, he was in a minority. There is more than ample power on offer and after the electronics have 'learned' there is someone behind the wheel with a more relaxed driving style, the Vel Satis is happier to allow you to ride the wave of torque in the higher gears.

    We still think most drivers will prefer the conventional executive saloon as exemplified by the 5 and E, but the Vel Satis is by no means unpleasant.

    At a glance
    For

  • Interior styling
  • Passenger/luggage space
  • Low SMR costs

    Against

  • Challenging exterior styling
  • Fuel economy
  • Depreciation

    Verdict

    The Vel Satis is not a bad car and against other manufacturers' efforts would have done much better. But against the E and 5, it is outclassed on dynamics. As an alternative it has much to offer, and its unconventional looks and driving experience are much easier to live with than its high running costs.

    The 525d is still a great car, despite the fact it only has a year left of its life, and illustrates just how far ahead of the competition it has been, but the E270 CDI now claims the crown. It is a big, dynamic executive cruiser with plenty of class. It will have to make the most of its time on the throne though. The new 5-series will be gunning for it next year, and it should be a fierce battle.

  • CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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