Fleet News

Contract hire survey: executive saloons

THE German hegemony in the executive sector has been a long one, with directors continuing to be seduced by the offerings from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

Not that this has deterred Lexus and Volvo, who have both recently launched new challengers into the sector.

Lexus has revised its GS line-up and introduced the world’s first large saloon with hybrid technology.

The GS450h uses a conventional 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine allied to an electric motor which, claims the firm, offers strong operating economy allied to performance more akin to a larger-engined V8 model.

From Sweden comes the all-new Volvo S80, tested here in high-spec V8 All-Wheel Drive guise. Both have high levels of refinement and equipment, but is that enough to overturn the traditional choices?

From Germany we’ve lined up the Audi A6 3.2 FSI quattro, BMW 540i and the newly-fettled, and considerably improved, Mercedes-Benz E350.

Also in contention is the Jaguar S-type, combining storming performance with traditional styling. But the S-type has proved too traditional for some, despite its luxury focus.

SEAN BINGHAM
Director of new business, Bank of Scotland Vehicle Finance

THE 5-series is still the doyen of the sector with excellent ride, spacious cabin and superb handling; but the iDrive takes some getting used to.

The Lexus hybrid offers low CO2 emissions, unrivalled spec (the only one with sat-nav as standard), and legendary reliability. But it is compromised by a lack of steering feel and reduced boot capacity due to the hybrid power pack.

The S80 is comfortable and has plenty of safety features. The Audi’s handling is sharp, but at a slight cost to the ride, though quality is first class. The Jaguar is agile, but a little tight on rear headroom, while the E-class is hard to fault.

ANDY BROWN
Operations director, Inchcape Fleet Solutions

THE A6 is a car which becomes more competitive with each version. Perceived quality is class-leading.

The 5-series is an impressive all-rounder although the iDrive requires effort to master but contributes to the clean uncluttered interior layout.

The Jag is easy to overlook as it appears so similar to the original. It has less room inside than some of its rivals. The Lexus majors on quality, while the legendary dealer service and low tax liability add up to a compelling package. The E-class has received a worth-while upgrade to the interior, chassis and safety systems.

The S80 is a big step forward and has more kit than many.

IVOR JOHNSON
Fleet management and operations director, Leasedrive

ONCE again, the BMW is the class act. Not the fastest, nor the most economical, but the driving experience sets it apart.

The Audi boasts bags of space but is let down by a very firm ride.

The ultra-reliable Lexus would be the A6’s equal but for its high monthly rental, due in part to it being a hybrid.

The Mercedes-Benz performs well against all criteria, while probably the safest car in the group is the latest Volvo S80 – a quality model to be taken seriously.

Least refined and suffering the highest depreciation is the Jaguar, although it is the most powerful car in the group.

DAVID HOSKING
Managing director, Tuskerdirect

THE BMW is a clear winner, offering a good engine, solid quality and strong residuals.

The Jaguar is a delight to drive and relatively frugal to run for a car of this class.

The A6 is the most attractive car and is also well-specced, comfortable and well-built.

The Volvo is a great car let down by its cost of ownership due to lows RVs and high SMR and fuel bills.

The Lexus is too antiseptic, but it excels in CO2 emissions, benefit-in-kind tax and beating the London congestion charge.

Despite the recent facelift, the E-class is beginning to look long in the tooth, nor does it handle as well as some of the competition.

  • AVERAGE LEASING RATES

    WITH strong RVs and a decent level of support the BMW and Audi lead the way, followed closely by the E-class. The Volvo and Lexus are expensive thanks to limited manufacturer support.

  • CO2 EMISSIONS

    THE Lexus tops the table thanks to its hybrid powertrain and also enjoys a 3% BIK tax discount. The rest are all heavy petrol drinkers, and the extra weight of four-wheel drive hits the Audi and Volvo.

  • FUEL ECONOMY

    ONCE again the Lexus is well ahead, although the Mercedes-Benz runs it fairly close. The V8-engined BMW puts up an impressive performance, while the Volvo lags behind the others.

  • RESIDUAL VALUES

    THE BMW and Mercedes-Benz unsurprisingly top the RV chart, retaining an average of 35% of cost new. The Audi and Lexus are close behind, although the Jaguar and Volvo struggle in this company.

  • AVERAGE DISCOUNT

    THE S-type hasn’t proved a match for its German rivals, so Jaguar is the most generous with support – offering an average of 21% off. Lexus is the most stingy due to limited supply.

  • AVERAGE MAINTENANCE

    BIG, heavy cars with lots of power being delivered through the rear wheels (apart from the all-wheel drive Audi and Volvo) means tyre bills are going to be on the high side, particularly for the Jaguar.

    THE VERDICT

    1. BMW 540i SE auto

    VERDICT: The best to drive and with a strong financial case, too – the best RV, lowest SMR bills and decent fuel economy give the 540i the lowest rental.

    P11D price: £38,667
    2006 BIK bill (40%) : £5,413
    2006 VED bill: £210

    RENTAL RATES:
    BoSVF: £695
    Inchcape: £742
    Leasedrive: £692
    Tuskerdirect: £624

    2. Audi A6 3.2 FSI quattro S line Tip

    VERDICT: Runs the BMW close but lacks the driving dynamics and residuals to topple it. Well-equipped, good looking and has the second cheapest rental.

    P11D price: £37,167
    2006 BIK bill (40%) : £5,203
    2006 VED bill: £210

    RENTAL RATES:
    BoSVF: £692
    Inchcape: £737
    Leasedrive: £701
    Tuskerdirect: £639

    3. Lexus GS450h auto

    VERDICT: Not thrilling to drive, but GS majors on quality, refinement, kit and hybrid power. Low BIK tax and no congestion charge, but a high rental.

    P11D price: £37,815
    2006 BIK bill (40%) : £3,176
    2006 VED bill: £150

    RENTAL RATES:
    BoSVF: £758
    Inchcape: £767
    Leasedrive: £809
    Tuskerdirect: £680

    4. Volvo S80 V8 AWD SE Geartronic

    VERDICT: A big step forward over the old model, and the S80 could rise even higher but for lack of support from Volvo, which means the highest rental.

    P11D price: £38,727
    2006 BIK bill (40%): £5,421
    2006 VED bill: £210

    RENTAL RATES:
    BoSVF: £809
    Inchcape: £841
    Leasedrive: £781
    Tuskerdirect: £697

    5. Mercedes-Benz E350 Sport Tip

    VERDICT: Hard to fault as an all-rounder, but the fact that it looks the same as the old version doesn’t help its cause. Third cheapest monthly lease bill.

    P11D price: £38,212
    2006 BIK bill (40%): £5,349
    2006 VED bill: £210

    RENTAL RATES:
    BoSVF: £703
    Inchcape: £761
    Leasedrive: £726
    Tuskerdirect: £646

    6. Jaguar S-type 4.2 V8 SE auto

    VERDICT: Poor RVs hit the Jag hard, despite the performance and comfort on offer. Decent support from the manufacter help bring rentals down slightly.

    P11D price: £38,292
    2006 BIK bill (40%): £5,360
    2006 VED bill: £210

    RENTAL RATES:
    BoSVF: £673
    Inchcape: £767
    Leasedrive: £762
    Tuskerdirect: £659

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