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Premium vs mainstream – which offers value for money?

  • Find out whether an entry-level premium car offers value for money
  • We announce winners from head-to-head challenges
  • Find out how much you will be paying per month in tax for each car

One of the most difficult dilemmas that company car drivers face when picking their next car is choosing between the entry-level premium choice or to opt for the top of the range version of a more mainstream car that has all the latest tech and features.

It comes down to a decision between a premium car which will suggest status or a mainstream car that is loaded with kit and offers more value for money.

To help make your decision that little bit easier, we have put together some head to head challenges, highlighting the pros and cons for either choice, plus our own verdict on which we would choose.

So, without further ado.

Audi A3 Sportback vs Ford Focus

The Audi badge is one which is likely to make your neighbours and colleagues quite jealous. But how does the A3 Sportback fare if you were to compare the entry level SE trim coupled with the company car friendly 1.6 TDI engine against the Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi Titanium Navigator ECOnetic?

Both cars are evenly matched when it comes to power, fuel economy and tax payments with the Audi costing less than 50p more per month.

When it comes to kit, the Audi has a good level of the company car essential standard equipment available, especially as this is the entry model, with DAB Radio, Bluetooth, cruise control, 16-inch alloy wheels, manual air conditioning, and electronic parking brake.

The Focus’s Titanium Navigator ECOnetic trim nears the top of its range and includes a long standard equipment list including all the above equipment bar the electronic parking brake in the Audi, but adds sat-nav and parking sensors.

Audi A3 Sportback 1.6 TDI SE – Figures at a glance

P11D Price: £21,095

MPG: 74mpg

Power: 103bhp

CO2 emissions: 99g/km

BIK tax band: 14 percent

Monthly tax cost (20 percent tax payer): £49.22*

Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi Titanium Navigator ECOnetic – Figures at a glance 

P11D Price: £20,890

MPG: 76mpg

Power: 103bhp

CO2 emissions: 99g/km

BIK tax band: 14 percent

Monthly tax cost (20 percent tax payer): £48.74*

And the winner is: Audi A3 Sportback

Audi A3 Sportback

With so little to split these two we would have to pick the Audi because of its generous SE equipment levels and the low-tax 1.6 TDI engine. If a sat-nav is a must, you can choose one as an option for £495 which will cost just over £1 a month extra in company car tax.

BMW 3 Series Touring vs Skoda Octavia Estate

Skoda is a brand on the up, it has worked hard to shed its previous image and evolve into a mainstream and modern choice for company car drivers. BMW has long been established as a company car favourite and the badge has a certain kudos of authority, seniority and class that surrounds it.

But the BMW badge comes with a steep price tag which may mean your company car allowance many not stretch far up the trim levels. We compare the entry-level BMW 3 series Touring - 316d ES versus the top of the range (and still cheaper) Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI vRS estate.

Estate cars aim to offer the driver more practicality over hatchback and saloon choices so boot space becomes an important factor. The Octavia vRS estate cannot be beaten here with its impressive 610 litres leaving the BMW trailing with 495 litres.

The vRS is the Octavia’s flagship performance trim so it stands to reason that it would offer more in the way of power over the 316d ES Touring, but we were not expecting the gap to be this wide. The Skoda offers 181bhp to the BMW's 114bhp, yet the Octavia's both more economical and with lower emissions.

When it comes to standard equipment the Octavia vRS impresses again and has roof rails, climate control, USB connection, lane departure warning, parking sensors, daytime running lights, stop/start, DAB radio, 18-inch alloy wheels and leather interior touches all included as part of the standard specification list.  

The BMW comes with 17-inch alloys, DAB Radio, Bluetooth, automatic boot opening, air-con, cruise control, Driver Performance Control featuring ECO PRO mode and USB connection.

BMW 316d ES Touring – Figures at a glance

P11D Price: £26,820

MPG: 60mpg

Power: 114bhp

CO2 emissions: 123g/km

BIK tax band: 19 percent

Monthly tax cost (20 percent tax payer): £84.93*

Skoda Octavia 2.0 TDI vRS – Figures at a glance

P11D Price: £24,330

MPG: 61mpg

Power: 181bhp

CO2 emissions: 119g/km

BIK tax band: 18 percent

Monthly tax cost (20 percent tax payer): £72.99*

And the winner is: Skoda Octavia vRS

Octavia VRs

When it comes to this fight the Skoda wins in every way. You’re paying well over the odds for the BMW badge here and we don’t think it’s worth the money.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class vs Mazda 6

The Mazda 6 has been a huge success notching up award wins since it was launched early in 2013. The Japanese manufacturer’s clever SkyActiv technology manages to keep CO2 emissions low while still delivering on performance.

The Mercedes-Benz C-Class is a heavyweight when it comes to UK new car sales (ninth biggest seller of 2012) and is guaranteed to turn heads.

These two cars are very well matched for power and CO2 emissions while the C-Class shines when it comes to fuel economy.

The C-Class only comes in two trims and in Executive SE specification is very well equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, LED Daytime running lights, leather interior, parking sensors, climate control, cruise control and Bluetooth as standard.

So how does the top trim Mazda 6 fare?

Standard kit includes 19-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, Bluetooth, sat-nav, leather interior, heated front seats, premium sound system, reversing camera, heated front seats, parking sensors, tinted glass and climate control.

Mercedes-Benz C200 CDI Executive SE – Figures at a glance

P11D Price: £29,340

MPG: 64mpg

Power: 169bhp

CO2 emissions: 131g/km

BIK tax band: 21 percent

Monthly tax cost (20 percent tax payer): £102.69*

Mazda 6 2.2 Sport Nav automatic – Figures at a glance

P11D Price: £27,440

MPG: 59mpg

Power: 172bhp

CO2 emissions: 127g/km

BIK tax band: 20 percent

Monthly tax cost (20 percent tax payer): £91.46*

And the winner is: Mazda 6

Mazda6

This one is pretty close but the heated seats, sat-nav and reversing camera did it for us. However the automatic gearbox does cause CO2 emissions to go up by quite a margin, if you choose manual you are likely to save more on tax.

It is worth noting that a new C-Class will be arriving in dealerships in the summer and with it comes more technology, running cost improvements and extra interior space so it may be worth holding back, although a price increase is expected. 

*Please note the monthly tax cost does not include any optional extras