Mercedes-Benz S-Class 2014 review: road test
Look at a new Mercedes-Benz S-Class today and you're getting a glimpse into the cars everybody may be driving in five to ten years time.
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The cat has the cream as Jaguar updates its XJ flagship for 2013. The creaminess comes from two new engines, one the same as the EcoBoost motor in the Falcon four, as Jaguar looks for better efficiency and more friends for its global flagship.
The four-cylinder XJ is still not confirmed for Australia even though it's a no-brainer at all levels, but a supercharged V6 takes over as the best bet for fans of the full-sized cat, thanks to a combination of classy performance and efficiency that trumps the V8 that's being dumped,
The two new engines are also going into the XF that's the big mover for Jaguar, together with their eight-speed automatic gearbox, which shows the importance of the change. There are still lots of questions about the XJ update for Australia - with no news yet on the all-important prices for a car that currently starts at $253,600 - but the future is looking better.
A preview drive in Britain shows the XJ rides a little nicer, as well as the potential for a four-cylinder engine that works just as well in the Jaguar as the Falcon. As for the supercharged V6, it's brilliant.
We'll have the full score at the opening of the Australian International Motor Show next month, when Jaguar plans to go public on prices. But the four-cylinder engine should set a new benchmark for the luxury class, not just Jaguar, and force Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz to re-assess their own cars.
"We are maintaining a strong value position," that's all I can say, Jaguar spokesman Kevin Goult tells Carsguide. "To be honest, we still haven't made a decision on the four-cylinder engine. We're waiting to see the reaction from the marketplace." The supercharged V6 takes over in the heart of XJ, where the 5-litre V8 model is currently set from $253,600, so there could be some extra value there.
Any chance could be partly driven by the strength of the Australian dollar, with Jaguar disguising its move - and protecting resale values - by putting any change down to the new engines.
Installing a four-cylinder engine in the XJ is an even more significant move than the similar change to the locally-made Falcon earlier this year. Even if they cannot tell the difference - and most people won't - there are a lot of snooty luxury buyers who would never consider a car without a luxury engine.
But the EcoBoost four - even though Jaguar is not calling it that - makes a powerful case with everything from fuel economy of 9.3 litres/100km during our British preview drive to a useful 177 kiloWatts and 340 Newton-metres of torque. The outputs are not huge, but the 2-litre turbo four gets help in the XJ from the car's lightweight alloy structure and the brilliant eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox. That means it doesn't have as much heavy lifting to do, and there is always a gear to keep it in its best operating range.
The new 3-litre V6 is effectively three-quarters of the outgoing naturally-aspirated V8 - a supercharged V8 continues - developed in-house by Jaguar engineers to produce 250 kiloWatts and 450 Newton-metres. It, too, has been tweaked to the eight-speed auto and to deliver a solid overtaking surge ahead of all-out punch. Impressively, it also returns 9.4 litres/100km in official testing. Both engines will go into the XF and promise even more impressive results there.
So, what does this really mean for luxury cars, and the V8s that have always been so popular in Australia thanks to the Falcon and Commodore? "I don't think you're seeing the end of V8s, but they are downscaling. There will always be a market for top-end performance cars. But the mass volume will be moving down," says XJ program boss, Andy Dobson. The engine changes require a little fine tuning of the suspension, with Jaguar taking the chance to answer customer complaints with softening at the rear end.
Nothing to see here. There is absolutely zero cosmetic change to the XJ, not even badges or paint colours. But Jaguar is working on a number of things for 2014 and beyond, including the three biggest Carsguide complaints in the cabin. They are the over-styled clock, a messy panel join in the centre of the dash, and digital instruments that read grey-on-grey instead of white on black.
The clock goes first and the rest will be improved over time, designer Wayne Burgess tells me at the preview drive of the XJ. But now I'm recalling that Jaguar has had a change of sound system for 2013, switching from Bowers&Wilkins to Meridian. It's been made for financial reasons, although Burgess is talking-up the brand introduced in the brilliant Range Rover Evoque, and that does mean slightly different speakers in the cabin.
Just in case you think Jaguar has gone soft of the styling, here's the official answer from Dobson. "We didn't ask for it. There's nothing that needs correcting. We made a very strong design statement with the car in the first place," he tells Carsguide.
Once again, no change. There is no ANCAP score for the XJ but there is equally no reason not to expect a five-star standard. And it is loaded with all the high-tech stuff you expect in a flagship car to help with everything from parking to crash avoidance and driver mistakes.
Creamy. That's the word that jumps into my head as I set off with the new V6 in the nose. The slow-speed response is creamy, the mid-range surge is creamy, and the suspension gives a creamy ride in both freeway conditions and narrow country lanes. The XJ is obviously familiar, and the downsized engine - although it's really only the number of cylinders, since the supercharger easily picks up the slack - does a brilliant job in all conditions.
The eight-speed auto is a revelation, always picking the right gear for the conditions and - in paddle-shift manual use - shocking me at times. Once, overtaking from around 80km/h, I push on and then realise we're at 110km/h with five gears still to go. Now, about the 2-litre four. I'm a huge fan of the Falcon with the EcoBoost engine, which should be the only engine in the Aussie favourite, and it also works brilliantly in the big cat.
It has more than enough performance for the job and, honestly, no-one who chooses an XJ is ever going to pick it. Until they get to the bowser. It provides easily enough performance to match the traffic, with reserves for overtaking, and the eight-speed also keeps it operating at maximum efficiency at all times and for all jobs.
Turning away from the engines, the XJ update produces a slightly nicer ride but the car is still too bumpy and jumpy over acne-scarred roads and there is room for more improvement for local conditions. To be honest, XJ buyers should be looking at smaller wheels to get tyres with more compliance, instead of slavishly following the trend to the zero-compliance rubber that comes with 20-inch alloys.
Looking around, the rest of the 2013 package is unchanged from the XJ's arrival around two years ago. I've come to accept, although not like, the car's plump rump and the rest of the deal has always worked well. Now we have to wait and see if Jaguar Australia has the bravery to bring the four-cylinder XJ and really give luxury shoppers a reason to move away from the German heavyweights.
|3.0 V6 SC Portfolio SWB||3.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$44,500 – 56,320||2013 Jaguar XJ 2013 3.0 V6 SC Portfolio SWB Pricing and Specs|
|3.0 V6 SC Premium Luxury LWB||3.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$46,100 – 58,300||2013 Jaguar XJ 2013 3.0 V6 SC Premium Luxury LWB Pricing and Specs|
|3.0 V6 SC Premium Luxury SWB||3.0L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO||$39,300 – 50,270||2013 Jaguar XJ 2013 3.0 V6 SC Premium Luxury SWB Pricing and Specs|
|3.0D V6 Premium Luxury LWB||3.0L, Diesel, 8 SP AUTO||$46,100 – 58,300||2013 Jaguar XJ 2013 3.0D V6 Premium Luxury LWB Pricing and Specs|
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