A mixed bag of cars make up this year's list of top executive models
ST-Torque Best Buys of 2014 - Executive Mercedes-Benz E200 Avantgarde ($263,888, above). -- PHOTO: ST FILE

A mixed bag of cars make up this year's list of top executive models.

Traditionalists will find the Mercedes-Benz E200 Avantgarde ($263,888) a safe bet. The car still holds its ground when it comes to ride comfort, refinement, dynamism and overall driveability.

After a face-lift last year, it is now sharper-looking, with a judicious application of LEDs accentuating its after-dark presence. Its 2-litre turbo engine is more torquey, with 300Nm available from just 1,200rpm. This makes the E200 more responsive in the city, as well as more efficient, overall.

It is still an alluring buy, despite being as ubiquitous as brown leaves in the fall.

The E200 faces increasing competition from everywhere, and this year's keenest rival is the Lexus ES250 ($230,000). The Lexus offers more space, but not as much go as the E200. It matches the Merc in terms of comfort and luxury, but is somewhat shy of its safety features. It is also a tad thirstier. But in this category, in which size is a definite premium, Lexus offers a lot of car for the money. Buyers seem to concur, as the model is enjoying brisk sales.

A relative newcomer is the Infiniti Q50 2.0 ($218,800). For the first time, the Nissan luxury brand has a design that is more mainstream and less offbeat. Under the skin, it is practically a Mercedes. Its engine and transmission are from the C250, which means it has excellent credentials. The 2-litre turbo, which produces 208bhp and 350Nm of torque from 1,250rpm, powers the rear wheels via a seven-speed automatic gearbox. It sends the Infiniti, which is bigger than the C-class, to 100kmh in 7.2 seconds and a top speed of 245kmh. Onboard, it is snazzier than the C-class, with cool digital instruments, including gauges that chart acceleration and cornering g-forces.

Those who do not want to spend so much on a car might find the Mazda6 (from $157,800) worthwhile. The car does not match the other entrants here in performance, luxury or brand appeal. But it is too regal and stylish to be just another family four-door.

It comes with a slew of gadgets that are all quite uncommon in mainstream Japanese cars. They include Smart Brake Support, which monitors the vehicle in front and warns the driver if the Mazda6 is too close. It even brakes automatically when it senses imminent collision. Related to this is Smart City Brake Support, which automatically applies the brakes to mitigate the severity of front-end collisions at up to 30kmh.

There is lane-departure warning and blind-spot detection too. The Mazda will also dip its high beam if it detects an oncoming vehicle. And it has cornering lights. At the lights, it shuts down its engine and a high-performance capacitor powers the aircon. Clever.