The luxury saloon sector may be shrinking locally, but new examples are increasingly capable and specified to the nines. We drive two European luxo sedans, one on the sporty side, the other more pampering.
In the vehicular world that’s subject to the whims of fashion, cars like these are not quite the hot items they once were, at least not in New Zealand and we’ve the rise of the luxury SUVs to thank for that. However, not all succumb to the temptations of high-riding vehicles, and there are those who choose to pilot ever-more competent medium-sized luxury saloons like Jaguar’s second-generation XF and Mercedes-Benz’ fifth-generation E-Class. We’ve been driving the top diesel variants of each range, both packing a 3.0 V6 diesel. In neither case are they new mills, unlike the smaller diesels also available in this pair.
The E-Class, like the S, has long been a repository for new technology, and in the latest version there’s a new widescreen cockpit consisting of a pair of 12.3-inch high resolution screens sitting side by side and creating a display that runs from the centre console virtually to the driver’s door, full of colour, and offering three different views for the main instruments. By contrast, the XF’s dials are less flashy, more traditional. In fact, the XF controls are more simplistic overall; there’s no central controller, just the rising roundel that is Jaguar’s unique gear selector.
Instead, most of the minor functions are relegated to touch screen control. Gear selection in the German car is a little different too; as in S- and C-Class, you choose gear settings from the right wand attached to the steering column. The Mercedes interior is replete with gear, some of it dedicated to autonomous functions, and the car tends more towards the luxury end of the ledger, whereas the Jaguar cabin is slightly more sports oriented, with as much alcantara-type surfacing as leather.
Despite being both medium-sized sedans with Cd figures in the late 20s, their silhouettes are just as different as their interiors. The Mercedes continues with the rounded almost molten look of the C-Class, while the Jaguar is recognisably an evolution of XF form. The headlights look more slimline – both cars feature LED illumination – and there’s a touch more aggression about the XF, perhaps from its bonnet bulge. It has the more raked coupe-style roofline than the Mercedes, despite the insistence of the latter that it too is coupe-esque. In the rear, you’d be hard pressed to pick headroom differences, though the 350d gets a sliding panoramic sunroof where the XF is solid overhead. Both vehicles are roomier than before thanks to wheelbase stretches. The Jaguar is slightly shorter overall, the Mercedes longer and wider than before.
The pair may seem similar technically, in that they both espouse increased use of lightweight, high-strength materials, but this time around the XF gets an aluminium intensive architecture, utilising the same iQ platform as its smaller look-alike, the XE. It’s said to be 28 per cent stiffer, and has a Cd of 0.28, coincidentally. While Mercedes hasn’t gone the whole hog with aluminium architecture, it certainly is more lightweight in design than before, featuring an aluminium bootlid, bonnet, wings, and other panels. However, Jaguar’s approach pays dividends on the scales, where it settled at 1851kg, with 52.5 per cent of weight over the front axle. By contrast, the 350d was 1933kg, with almost 55 per cent forward biased.
V6 diesel muscle
Turning to their 3.0 V6 turbodiesels, the Jaguar’s mill outputs 221kw at 4000rpm, with 700Nm available at 2000rpm. Comparable figures for the M-B are 190kW and 620Nm, the latter from 1600-2400rpm, respectively. With a clear power to weight advantage you’d expect the Jaguar to wallop the Merc in a straight line showdown, and yet sprint times 0-100 favour the German (5.9 vs 6.2sec). It’s hard to get a handle on why exactly the lighter brawnier car isn’t quite as frisky to the open road limit, but one can only suppose the 350d’s fast-shifting 9G-Tronic transmission is responsible.As if that isn’t strange enough, the tables turn for the true show of real grit, with only the Jaguar making it into the threes 80-120km/h (3.81sec) to the 350 d’s best of 4.08sec. Essentially though, there’s nothing much between this pair for pace. Yet that’s not quite the case in day-to-day driving. We found the Jaguar, even in its regular drive mode, is on the case more convincingly than the Mercedes. In town the 350d didn’t seem to fire that enthusiastically until the Sport mode was selected. We played with different modes, but kept returning in the main to Sport. In the Jag we simply dialed up Dynamic and left it there.
There’s no doubting the refinement of the Mercedes however; it’s engine is quieter than that of the Jaguar, or better silenced perhaps. It was hard to pick between them for fuel use, the Jaguar a touch lighter on weight and diesel consumption. With both, the turbos come on stream from 1500rpm onwards, though the German’s is dusted by 4000rpm, the Jaguar reaching 4500 on the acceleration runs. Both have solid brakes, but the 350d with perforated discs had the edge on the Jaguar, a little more power at the pedal.
Air and steel beneath
Another area where this pair differs slightly is their approach to corners. The Mercedes makes use of air suspension, whereas the Jaguar has steel underpinnings, wishbones up front and an Integral link set-up at the rear. The latter separates suspension components for better control of lateral and longitudinal forces, and its dynamic superiority is almost immediately apparent during cornering duties for the camera. After a number of passes in the Mercedes, its best speed was immediately bettered by almost 10km/h in the Jaguar, despite it having smaller contact patches, not that the body control was unduly different between the two. Torque vectoring by brake helped settle the Jaguar in the turn, and minimised understeer. Where the two vary the most is at the helm. The Jaguar’s steering is well weighted, it turns in with alacrity, and once settled it almost dances through the bends, the weight balance nicely divvied up north-south. Climb in and try the same thing in the Mercedes and despite quicker steering (2.3 turns lock to lock vs 2.6 in the Jaguar) it takes more effort to make it change direction, and in the Sport modes the added heft draws attention to itself, building as speed through the corner rises. Security and stability are fine once turned, but there’s nothing like the delicacy displayed by the Brit.
Both, however, ride in sublime fashion, the Jaguar slightly firmer but with beautiful smoothness over every imaginable type of surface, adaptive damping giving a plush ride in the Normal setting, and firm, controlled but not nervy progress in the Dynamic set-up. It has a terrific mix of ride and handling prowess, just like the slightly smaller XE.
If you’re after waft, you get more of that in the Mercedes with its air suspension, though it is sometimes upset by short, sharp bumps in the way the Jaguar isn’t. Seats contribute differently. Both are said to be sports offerings, but the Mercedes pews are simply plush and enveloping whereas those in the Jaguar are a touch brittle, and not brilliantly shaped so you tend to move around on them more than in the 350d’s. It’s the same scenario for rear seat passengers. The air pump in the Jaguar decompressed overnight too, unlike the Mercedes’ system.
Safety still sells
Finally, spec differences; the Mercedes gets more gear, much of it safety oriented but at added cost. As mentioned, both have LED headlights, and they share keyless entry and pushbutton start. The E-Class debuts haptic steering wheel controls so you can change things like infotainment settings without your hands leaving the wheel. Or you can do it by the Comand controller with your left hand. Either way, your eyes aren’t always on the road, so we suggest setting active cruise control when doing any of this. That prevents unforeseen eventualities. Not in the Jaguar however, which has conventional cruise, active being extra. While there’s a sizeable difference in up-front price between this pair, the Jaguar costing $131k, the Mercedes $146,300, you need to add a $4100 active safety package to better match the E 350 safety spec (includes adaptive cruise, active lane keeping, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert).
That said, the evaluation E goes for $149,800 thanks to its optional AMG line pack. The performance brakes, sports seats and wheel, upper dash in Artico, AMG body styling and sports pedals and mats account for the extra. Moreover, it comes standard with nine airbags, a powered boot lid, DAB+ digital radio, head-up display, sunroof and the list goes on. Its party trick is Drive Pilot, enabling it to change lanes autonomously; you merely indicate and it does the rest. It also lane keeps and has a partial self-steering function to help you negotiate corners.
If you’re a lane change coward, and tend to wander about in your own lane these functions might be handy. We turned them all off. Personally, I find active cruise a godsend in city and heavy traffic. The rest of the active stuff? Meh. The two share 360-degree park cameras, auto emergency braking, driver fatigue alert, heated front seats, paddles on the wheel, comfort entry, powered steering column adjustment, split folding activated by boot levers, stop-start, fancy interior trims and sound by Burmester and Meridian, both top shelf electronics firms. Expect further E-Class models before year’s end (E 300, E 400) and a V8 XF is also on the cards.
For us, the Jag looks better on the outside, the Merc in the cabin, but the Brit drives a little easier and steers more naturally, and while not so well specified costs rather less, which means it gets the edge on the E 350d.
|Model||Jaguar XF Sd||Price||$131,000|
|Engine||2993cc, V6, TDI, 221kW/700Nm||Drivetrain||8-speed auto, rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel Use||5.5L/100km||C02 Output||144g/km|
|Model||Mercedes-Benz E 350 d||Price||$146,300|
|Engine||2987cc, V6, T/DI, 190kW/620Nm||Drivetrain||9-speed auto, rear-wheel drive|
|Fuel Use||5.6L/100km||C02 Output||147g/km|