Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Jaguar XE
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Outstanding ride and handling
- Great horsepower for your buck
- Though, good looks
- Rear seats are tight
- Small boot
- Optional safety tech
Ever since the middle of the 1990s, I've been captivated by the Mercedes-Benz S Class. It used to be known as Sonderklasse - special class - and teenage me certainly thought it was. The one that caught my attention was the W140. A huge, two-tonne beast when that sort of mass was rare, it was loaded with amazingness and owned the road.
Part of its unique appeal was that that it was properly ugly. When it hove into view it was like a battleship entering Sydney Harbour. And it used almost as much fuel, with the V12 on board.
Over the years, genuine style has invaded the S-Class and today I found myself, for the first time, in an unusually pretty pair of S Classes - the S560 and S63 Coupes. And, astonishingly, it's the first time I've ever driven an S-Class. So with all that baggage I've built up over the years, they had a lot to live up to.
|Engine Type||4.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Mercedes-Benz has the C-Class, BMW has the 3 Series, Audi has the A4 and Jaguar has the one people in Australia seem to forget – the XE.
Yep, the default setting we seem to have when it comes to buying a prestige car is as strong as buying the same brand of milk every week.
There’s a decent choice of milk, but it can sometimes seem that there are only three brands and we tend to zero in on the same one again and again. Same with prestige cars.
But all milk is the same, I hear you say. And I’m inclined to agree, and that’s the difference, cars vary greatly despite them having the same purpose.
The latest version of Jaguar XE has arrived in Australia and while it’s very similar in size and shape to its German rivals there are some big differences, and some compelling reasons to add it to your shopping list.
I promise, there are no more mentions of milk.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Both of these vast vehicles are phenomenally comfortable - this is the kind of car that Mercedes does so well, and has done for decades. The S Class is rarely a disappointment but it's difficult to believe that such a big, heavy GT car can also dance the way the S63 does.
The S560 is far more weighted to being a GT - supremely comfortable with that active suspension, a growly, refined V8 and a cabin full of gadgets and comfort. The S63 is altogether more aggressive, to look at and to drive. Lopping the roof off both of them adds weight but, like any cruiser, also puts you out in the sun, the breeze and into your surroundings. Plus, in the case of the S63, you get more exhaust noise.
They're two very different cars and not just because of the engine. After all these years admiring it from afar, the S63 has delivered on my teenage expectations - fast, smooth and utterly mad.
Is the S Class still the car that springs to mind when you think ultimate luxury? Or has another brand taken its place? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The Jaguar XE is a dynamic, prestige mid-sized premium sedan, for those who are more concerned with engaging driving than cargo space and rear legroom.
The sweet spot in the range is the entry R-Dynamic SE. Buy that one and option the handling pack, and you'll still come in under the costs of the HSE.
Would you pick a Jaguar over a Mercedes-Benz, Audi or BMW? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
The S Class Coupe is obviously related to the sedan but manages a svelte appearance. Slimmer hipped and with a more Coke-bottle shape, the Coupe - if you squint a bit - has a bit of the classic old pagoda about it. Obviously you can't do pillars that slim anymore, but the glass roof takes away some of the visual weight inside and out.
The cabriolet's roof is nicely integrated and looks good when it's up, which isn't always the case.
They all look long, though. It's obvious to see why the cars all run on 20-inch wheels - anything smaller would look hilarious.
The cabin is a fairly sensible re-imagining of the E-Class. The big twin-screen layout of the dash and multimedia system seems a bit more at home here. The chintzy Burmester speakers in the doors let down an otherwise classy cabin, which steers clear of otiose vulgarity in looks and materials.
This freshen up of the XE sees a sharper, wider look for the mid-sized sedan with sleeker headlights and tail-lights, plus redesigned front and rear bumpers.
From front-on the XE looks low, broad and planted, a black mesh grille and the way it’s flanked by much larger air intakes is tough, and the signature Jaguar long bonnet curving down towards it looks magnificent.
The rear of the car has benefited greatly, too. Gone are those overly simple tail-lights, replaced by more refined units with a strong resemblance to the F-Type's.
How much smaller is the XE than its big sister the XF? Well, here are the dimensions. The XE is a mid-sized car at 4678mm long (276mm shorter than the XF), 1416mm tall (41mm shorter in height) and 13mm narrower at 2075mm wide (including the mirrors).
The XE’s cabin has been updated, too. There’s the new steering wheel which has a more minimalist and cleaner design than the previous tiller, the rotary gear shifter has been replaced with an upright trigger-grip device (another functional improvement), and there’s the 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster.
New materials and trims are used throughout the interior. Both grades have premium carpet mats, and aluminium trim around the centre console.
In the SE four types of two-tone leather upholstery can be specified as non-cost options, while another four which are $1170 options in the base grade are available free in the HSE.
The standard cabins of both grades feel luxurious and premium.
Well look, if you end up in the back of the S Coupe, it's not a riot of space. Obviously it has back seats (the SL doesn't even squeeze a jump seat into its considerable length) but they're for occasional, if luxurious, use.
The boot is a reasonably decent 400 litres, obviously the cabriolet loses a few litres with the roof folded. Front and rear passengers will both enjoy a pair of cupholders and the whopping long doors will each hold a bottle.
Mid-sized sedans have a tough job on their hands when it comes to practicality – they need to be small enough to park and pilot in the city but big enough to carry at least four adults comfortably along with their luggage.
I’m 191cm tall and while space up front for me is plentiful, space behind my diving position is limited. Headroom in the second row is getting tight, too.
The small rear doors also made entry and exit a bit of a challenge for me.
Boot space is also not the best in the class at 410 litres. I’m being kind. See, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class has a cargo capacity of 434 litres, while the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4 have 480 litres volumes.
Up front you’ll find a USB and a 12-volt outlet, but if you want the wireless charger for your iPhone or Android device you’ll need to option it for $180.
Price and features
One thing hasn't changed in nearly 20 years - the S isn't cheap. Available in coupe and cabriolet, the S560 starts at $314,900 for the former and $336,900 for the latter. Step up to the S63 pair and you'll pay from $370,500 for the coupe and $399,900 for the cab. If you're super keen for something spectacular, the twin-turbo V12-powered S65 is available for between $508,900 and $520,500, and features Swarovski crystals in the headlights, for some reason.
As you can imagine, there's quite a bit to cover, so for both cars I'll stick to the edited highlights. The S560s roll on 20-inch alloys, has a 590-watt 13 speaker sound system, digital TV, auto parking, active cruise control, panoramic glass roof, Nappa leather, active seats and power-closing doors.
It also comes standard with a heating pack that not only heats the seats but the steering wheel and centre console. In the cabriolet you also get the 'Airscarf' neck heater.
Both cars also feature's Mercedes' Magic Body Control with curve function. More of that wacky feature later.
The S63 AMG is a step up in power, price and spec. One notable change from the S560 is the loss of 'Magic Body Control', which is replaced with mere air suspension. The 20-inch alloys are 10-spoke forged units, the brakes higher performance composites with red calipers, while an AMG sports exhaust brings the noise.
Naturally, both are swathed in high-quality leather and feature dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled electric seats that adjust in every direction, deep carpets, keyless entry and start, fully digital dashboards and just about every gadget to which you can point your imagination.
Entertainment and sat nav are via Mercedes' 'Comand' system, which is displayed on a massive 12.3-inch slab of glass at the top of the dashboard. The 13-speaker Burmester-branded system is predictably impressive and with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you only have to use the basic software for the radio or various car controls.
There are two members of the Jaguar XE family: the R-Dynamic SE which lists for $65,670, before on-road costs, and the R-Dynamic HSE for $71,940. Both have the same engine, but the HSE has more in the way of standard features.
Coming standard on both cars is a 10.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights with auto high beam and direction indicators, metal treadplates with R-Dynamic branding, dual-zone climate control, ambient lighting, digital radio, sat nav, proximity key with push button ignition, reversing camera, Bluetooth connectivity and power front seats.
The R-Dynamic HSE grade adds more standard features such as a second touchscreen below the 10.0-inch display for climate control, swaps the 125W six-speaker stereo in the SE for an 11-speaker 380W Meridian system, also adding adaptive cruise control, and an electrically adjustable steering column.
The only other difference is that the SE has 18-inch alloy wheels while the HSE has 19-inch rims.
It’s not incredibly good value as far as standard features go and you’ll have to option privacy glass, wireless charging, the head-up display and a 360-degree camera on both grades.
Engine & trans
All four coupes and cabriolets ship with Daimler's formidable 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8. The S560 scores 345kW/700Nm to drive the rear wheels through Benz's own nine-speed automatic. With all of that available, the S560 will crack the ton in 4.6 seconds and make a wonderful racket on the way.
Moving on to the S63, the same engine delivers a massive 450kW/900Nm. The run from 0-100km/h is dispatched in just 3.5 seconds and if I thought the S560 made a good noise, the S63 with its standard sports exhaust makes a better one. Again, Mercedes' nine-speeder is along for the ride.
There’s one engine for both the R-Dynamic SE and R-Dynamic HSE – a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four cylinder making 221kW/400Nm. Drive is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The four-cylinder felt strong and all that torque arrives low in the rev range (1500rpm) for good off-the-line acceleration. The transmission is also excellent, shifting smoothly and decisively.
It’s a shame the V6 isn’t offered anymore, but 221kW is a lot more power than you’ll get for this money in a BMW 3 Series or Mercedes-Benz C-Class
The lower-powered 560 drinks 98RON at the rate of 8.5L/100km for the coupe and 9.9L/100km for the heavier cabriolet.
The S63 ups the ante with 9.9L/100km for the coupe and an identical 9.9L/100km for the cab.
Our launch program contained some...er...spirited driving, which would explain the mid to high-teens fuel figures.
Jaguar says that the XE will use 6.9L/100km of premium unleaded petrol when driven on a combination of open and urban roads.
After my time with it the trip computer was reporting an average of 8.7L/100km. Not bad considering the test drive would have been thirsty work for the four-cylinder turbo engine.
Let's start with the S560. That smooth V8 rumble is all you'll ever hear if you just slot into drive and go for a leisurely spin. The nine-speed automatic continues to be a revelation to me - in the GLC63 it's good and here, once again, it's excellent, finding the right gear for the occasion and riding the fat torque curve. Other nine-speed autos are not very good at all.
The test route for the S560 played to the strengths of the car. It had some lovely winding roads, which brought the trick suspension into focus - the Magic Body Control with curve function is hilarious. While the active suspension works hard at all times to ensure the ride is smooth and drama free, the Curve mode (no, really) actually leans the car into corners.
Those of you who remember the video game Wipeout 2097 will be big fans of Curve mode. As you approach a corner, you turn the wheel and then the car leans into the bend. This isn't active damping reading the road, it's the outside suspension lifting the car and the inside lowering it, so the car feels like it's gliding, like a hovercar. It's wild but oddly calming. Mercedes reckons it's great for those who get car sick. As I didn't have my wife on hand to test this theory - she chucks at the first sign of a corner - I couldn't verify this claim. That will have to wait.
The S63 AMG is a completely different proposition. The air suspension is more than up to the job of helping smother the effects of the car's considerable weight, meaning that no matter what you're up to, the car feels reasonably light on its feet. It never feels small, though, commanding the respect of the driver and plenty of space from other road users.
And boy, do you need some space if you kick the S63 into Sport mode. In true AMG style, the electronic reins relax and the big luxury coupe cheerfully kicks off. The tail will wriggle under an unsympathetic right foot, that signature V8 roar, crackle and hiss filling your ears. The S63 is always the harder-feeling car, but it delivers with a more sporting drive than the S560.
Being the generous soul I am, I volunteered to return the S63 to its home for the evening rather than consign it to the back of a truck. On the back roads I took to reach the highway, it was rock solid - fast, predictable and a lot of fun. Once I found the boring straight bits, it turned into a supremely comfortable cruiser, ticking along in ninth at the legal limit (and being Melbourne, it was very much the legal limit), dispatching overtaking with barely a flex of a toe.
The active cruise took the stress of keeping away from the State Revenue Office's clutches while being quiet and utterly pleasant.
The launch took place on twisty country roads snaking away from the coast in Northern NSW, but I was only a few corners in before it became darn clear the R-Dynamic HSE was talented dynamically. Impressively so.
The HSE I tested was fitted with the $2090 'Dynamic Handling Pack', which adds bigger front brakes (350mm), adaptive dampers and configurable settings for throttle, transmission, chassis and steering.
Steering which felt a tad heavy in town became the XE's secret weapon as the roads curled through the hills. The confidence the steering, delivering great feedback and accuracy, gives the driver can’t be overstated.
This combined with the XE’s excellent handling and powerful four-cylinder engine makes it a clear dynamic standout among its competitors.
A comfortable ride even, on potholed roads, but flat handling regardless of how hard it was pushed through corners amazed me.
Sure, optional adaptive dampers were fitted to our test car, but considering the work out they were getting without skipping a beat, their response was impressive.
Following this I dropped into the seat of the red R-Dynamic SE you can see in the images. While this wasn’t fitted with the handling package the HSE had, the only real difference I could feel was in the comfort – the adaptive dampers were able to produce a more composed and cushioned ride.
Handling, however, felt sharp, sure and the steering gave me the same confidence I experienced in the HSE.
The S-Class coupe comes loaded with eight airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, forward and reverse AEB with pedestrian detection, reversing camera, crosswind assist (I know, right?), traffic-sign recognition and reverse cross traffic alert.
The S-Class Coupe does not have an ANCAP or EuroNCAP rating.
The Jaguar XE was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2015. Both the R-Dynamic SE and R-Dynamic HSE come with AEB, lane keeping assistance, rear cross traffic alert, traffic sign recognition and automatic parking.
The HSE adds blind spot assist which will steer you back into your lane if you’re about to change lanes on top of somebody else; and adaptive cruise control.
The lowish score is due to the need to option safety equipment – it’s becoming the norm for advanced technology to be included as standard.
Mercedes offers a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assist for the duration.
The company also offers both service plans (where you pay up-front as part of the vehicle purchase) and capped-price servicing on the coupes. Servicing over three years is in the order $2500.
The Jaguar XE is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty. Servicing is condition-based (your XE will let you know when it needs a check-up) and there’s a five-year/130,000km service plan which costs $1750.
Again a low score here, but that’s because of the short warranty compared to the five-year coverage which has become an industry expectation and while there is a service plan there’s no service-by-service price guide.