Fleet News

Contract hire survey: premium upper-medium saloons

THE impending arrival of BMW’s new 3-series is likely to focus interest on the choice for user-choosers in this important premium upper-medium sector. How much of a run for its money will it get?

New 3-series won’t have it all its own way

THE premium upper-medium sector is fast becoming the second-most important segment in fleet after the lower-medium arena.

And in the next year, the competition is going to get even fiercer as BMW’s new 3-series starts to appear on choice lists.

BMW will not have it all its own way, though. The A4 was heavily revised at the back end of 2004 and is now a near match for the new 3-series.

During the middle of last year, Mercedes-Benz gave the C-class a revamp and improved interior quality and new engines should keep it competitive.

Jaguar is selling a lot of diesel X-types to corporate fleet customers, which suggests that the purists who claimed no Jaguar should ever be powered by diesel were wrong.

Honda gave its Accord a huge boost in the fleet market with a completely new diesel engine, which allowed it to become a genuine semi-premium manufacturer. The Volvo S40 is the value alternative here, but should not be discounted. High spec and Swedish design are its strengths.

Audi A4 2.0 TDi S Line

P11D price: £22,567
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £894/£1,625
2005 VED bill: £135

Rental Rates

LeasePlan Fleetline £424.13
Lex Vehicle Leasing £435.94
Custom Fleet £409.60
DCSFM £420.27
Lloyds TSBautolease £412.14

BMW 320d ES

P11D price: £23,187
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £867/£1,577
2005 VED bill: £135

Rental Rates

LeasePlan Fleetline £437.88
Lex Vehicle Leasing £391.62
Custom Fleet £413.02
DCSFM £435.87
Lloyds TSBautolease £449.15

Honda Accord 2.2 i-CDTi Executive (17in wheels + sat nav)

P11D price £22,347
2004 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%) £737/£1,341
2004 VED bill £115

Rental Rates

LeasePlan Fleetline £440.49
Lex Vehicle Leasing £472.23
Custom Fleet £420.42
DCSFM £445.61
Lloyds TSBautolease £458.01

Jaguar X-type 2.0d Sport

P11D price: £21,942
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £821/£1,492
2005 VED bill: £135

Rental Rates

LeasePlan Fleetline £419.18
Lex Vehicle Leasing £472.82
Custom Fleet £431.29
DCSFM £413.93
Lloyds TSBautolease £393.52

Mercedes-Benz C200 CDI Avantgarde SE

P11D price: £25,477
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £1,121/£2,038
2005 VED bill: £155

Rental Rates

LeasePlan Fleetline £441.28
Lex Vehicle Leasing £486.94
Custom Fleet £454.44
DCSFM £467.63
Lloyds TSBautolease £455.31

Volvo S40 2.0D SE Sport

P11D price: £21,265
2005 CO2 BIK tax bill (22%/40%): £795/£1,446
2005 VED bill: £135

Rental Rates

LeasePlan Fleetline £422.11
Lex Vehicle Leasing £432.95
Custom Fleet £454.92
DCSFM £437.41
Lloyds TSBautolease £418.45

DEAN WOODWARD, Consultancy manager, DaimlerChrysler Services Fleet Management

THIS is a highly sought-after sector. It can represent the first real remuneration recognition for an employee. If employees are just embarking into this sector, they may be inclined to choose the Accord or S40 for the combination of low P11D’s, good fuel economy and low CO2 emissions.

However, if they are climbing the status ladder the X-type and A4 are likely to be their next ports of call, followed by the 3-series and C-class, which represent the ultimate choice in this list.

But beware – an ascent up this ladder could be thwarted if the wholelife cost performances do not tie in with the fleet manager’s cost limitations. What may be a good employee proposition may not be best practice for the employer. In such cases, a compromise may be the only option.

TRACY McMAHON Pricing manager, Lloyds TSBautolease

THE new BMW 3-series arrives in May and will be competing against the newly revised Audi A4 and Mercedes C-class. BMW has used the same styling as the 5-series and 7-series models, therefore completing the transformation of the BMW range.

The 3-series accounts for around 60% of BMW sales and even outsells the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Vectra. The new 3-series is larger and has more power than the previous model.The A4 and C-class have both received facelifts. The A4 is still a quality car and benefits from a high level of specification and an excellent diesel engine with good fuel economy. The C-class is the classiest of all the vehicles this month and the supercharged engine means more power assisted by the six-speed gearbox.

The Honda Accord has been around longer, but the quiet CTD-i engine is still a huge success.

STEVE JONES Pricing manager, Lex Vehicle Leasing

THE real question in this month’s collection – and a dilemma for middle managers around the country – why wouldn’t you choose the new 3-series? The latest version of BMW’s executive saloon has everything – great looks, class-leading residual values and superb build quality.

So why would drivers choose something else? To prove you’re an individual, to prove you considered the BMW but you chose something else? What do the others have to offer? It varies from Swedish design to classic British styling.

Audi’s new facelifted A4 is superbly built and its new 2.0 TDI engine is now Euro IV compliant. Mercedes C-class used to be the big 3-series competitor and, if you can afford the price premium, the latest cars are extremely well put together.

X-type offers a striking alternative with traditional Jaguar styling – the introduction of a diesel engine hit the spot with company car drivers.

Volvo’s S40 is light years ahead of the outgoing model, and in this specification offers every conceivable extra. The latest diesel engined Accord offers a superb package of refinement, performance and build quality – but the non-German badge is the biggest test of just how individual drivers are.

NICK AULD, Trade services manager, Custom Fleet

THE soon-to-be launched BMW 3-series is set to continue to rule the roost in this sector, which has been of growing importance in recent years with the swing to diesel power, fuelled by the skewing of the benefit-in-kind tax table towards oil-burners.

The new 3-series is an evolution, not a revolution, over its predecessor and BMW has improved it without going over the top. I can vouch for the fact that the chassis is absolutely fabulous and the ES specification will appeal to the fleet market with alloy wheels, CD player and air conditioning as standard.

Our second place goes to the Audi A4 and I prefer the A4’s cabin to the much-improved BMW’s. Audi has started to make some serious inroads into BMW’s dominance of this sector and the A4, which is now a really good, solid, well put together offering, is the car that will push the 3-series all the way.

The Honda Accord scores highly in this prestige company due to the excellent new i-CTDi diesel engine and a specification package that is truly outstanding. If you added up the value of a spec that includes climate control, 17in alloys, satellite navigation and the rest, it’s actually the best value-for-money package of the bunch.

DAVID HARNETT Head of LeasePlan Fleetline

THIS panel is not as clear-cut as previous selections. The difficulty is that there is little difference between the vehicles and specification levels. The first to fall by the wayside is the Volvo S40. Although the design is good and the interior excellent, the overall size and feel cannot compete with its peers.

Next comes the Jaguar which, in the Sport derivative is a stunning car. However, the interior and poor engine performance make it struggle to keep pace despite attractive rentals.

Purely because of the appeal of the badge, the Honda is next to go. It is a fantastic car with great styling and a fantastic engine. If it was down to performance alone, it would be higher.

The C-class is a stylish car, especially in Avantgarde SE guise, which makes the specification level class-leading. The only let-down is the engine.

This leaves the Audi and BMW, which is where a lot of drivers in this sector are going to end up.

It is almost impossible to separate them but the Audi has to win due to the look and specification level now available.

The BMW looks a cut above in terms of styling and performance but the Audi delivers in nearly every area.


Great residual values give the A4 and 320d low monthly rentals, while large discounts achieve the same for the X-type. The C-class is not as heavily supported and is therefore the most expensive.


With all these engines of similar size, CO2 emissions are broadly the same. All are also Euro IV compliant. The Accord’s engine is one of the bigger units but still manages the lowest CO2.


For high mileage reps, the official mpgs of these cars is a boon. The Accord is the highest, and we’ve found it also delivers in the real world. The 320d is a good blend of power and economy.


The old 3-series is still returning strong residual values at the end of its life, and the leasing panel sees no reason why the new one will not do the same. The Audi and BMW are on a different level to the others.


The biggest discounts are to be found by Jaguar and Audi, as they seek to take market share from the other premium manufacturers. There’s less discount off an S40 than there is off an A4.


The X-type has the highest SMR costs here, even more so than Mercedes-Benz, which is traditionally expensive. BMW, with its optional Service Inclusive package, looks a bargain.


1. BMW 320d

THE panel rated the 3-series first, ahead of the A4, but by the tiniest margin we’ve ever had. Better residual values and excellent handling are the reasons for it sneaking ahead of the Audi into first place.

2. Audi A4

JUST as Audi promised, it is hot on the heels of BMW in the corporate sector. A great new look and well constructed interior ensure the A4 second place here. The gap to third place was some distance.

3. Jaguar X-type

IT is clear from the figures that Jaguar is putting a concerted effort into fleet with the diesel X-type, and good discounts and decent RVs got it voted third by the panel. Servicing costs are a bit high.

4. Honda Accord

THAT the Accord ranked a close fourth shows just how far the brand has come in the last year with its diesel Accord. Well-specced, with good fuel and tax costs, the Accord is a strong alternative contender.

5. Mercedes-Benz C200

THE C-class suffers in comparison with the other two German brands and last year’s revamp doesn’t appear to have gone far enough for the leasing firms. High running costs hinder it.

6. Volvo S40

IN fairness, the S40 was always going to struggle in this company, but for a driver wanting a very high spec car, the S40 could do a job. But would anyone honestly go for it over a cheaper 320d or A4?

Leave a comment for your chance to win £20 of John Lewis vouchers.

Every issue of Fleet News the editor picks his favourite comment from the past two weeks – get involved for your chance to appear in print and win!

Login to comment


No comments have been made yet.

Compare costs of your company cars

Looking to acquire new vehicles? Check how much they'll cost to run with our Car Running Cost calculator.

What is your BIK car tax liability?

The Fleet News car tax calculator lets you work out tax costs for both employer and employee