Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Jaguar XF
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Beautiful to look at
- Fantastic drivetrain
- Properly luxurious
- The cost
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
- Not really a five seater for long trips
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|
If a Jaguar owner fell through a wormhole from 2003, the company they bought their car from would be almost unrecognisable. Back then, it was a bewildering mess making an odd assortment of cars, yet to emerge into the light after Ford's confused and debilitating period of ownership.
Why 2003? Fifteen years is a nice round number and pre-dates the arrival of the brand-saving XF.
Today, Jaguar has three SUVs, and the gorgeous F-Type, the XE, its second-generation XF and the big XJ. It has three SUVs (the F-Pace, E-Pace and I-Pace) because without them Jaguar would be a niche manufacturer before long, because big sedans, formerly the brand's trademark, are continuing their gentle decline. Oddly enough, one of the market segments contracting even faster than sedans is wagons.
So what better time to launch into a draining pool from the three-metre board than now? Jaguar has bravely taken that risk and brought us the puzzlingly named XF Sportbrake.
|Engine Type||3.0L turbo|
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.
With that iron fist wrapped in a velvet glove wrapped in bubble wrap engine, excellent ride and gorgeous looks, the XF Sportbrake ticks all the boxes. Apart from the entry price and options prices, there are few objective reasons not to buy the car. It's just as good as any of its German competition and arguably the prettiest of the lot.
Should Jaguar have taken the dive? Given the XF Sportbrake is a luxury wagon done right, yes.
So you've decided you want a prestige wagon? Is it the Jaguar for you, or do you need a German machine to lug your load?
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.
The second-generation XF is a very pretty car. A few carmakers have a had a crack at that four-door coupe idea, but Jaguar's Ian Callum got it right first go. You might expect the wagon to be a bit dumpy but it's far from it. That's not to say wagons can't be good looking - many are better-looking than the car they're based on (the weirdly proportioned Golf wagon being the exception to the rule). The XF sedan just looks right.
Anyway, the Sportbrake is basically the same until behind the B-pillar, with the roof continuing on to steeply raked tailgate glass. Obviously the lights are different back there but it's a nicely integrated job, it doesn't look like a dodgy extension. Rolling on the optional 20-inch wheels it looks amazing - low, long and well-proportioned. Unfortunately, it's more than vaguely hearse-like in black (the only First Edition colour).
Inside is standard XF, with the obvious exception of the rear seats and the big open load area. With this First Edition's glass roof the cabin seems infinite. Either way it's big and comfortable, although fit and finish could be a bit tighter.
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.
Front and rear passengers enjoy plenty of space. Storage includes a not-quite-big-enough-for-a-phone tray ahead of the rotary dial gear selector and a pair of cupholders. Those in the rear have plenty of space, except for the middle seat occupant who must straddle a stout transmission tunnel. The rear armrest holds a pair of cupholders and the doors have slim pockets.
The boot holds 565 litres with the seats in place and "up to" 1700 litres with the seats down - that latter figure does not feel like a VDA number.
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.
Over the years the XF has edged its way upmarket and is now playing with the Germans in the big luxury segment. And as is now customary for Jaguar, the Sportbrake is available in First Edition guise. First Editions are available for a model's first year of production and are usually based on the top-spec (in the Sportbrake's case, that's the 30d S) with a few extra bits and pieces to make things interesting.
While the 30d S retails for $123,450, the FE weighs in at $137,300. For that you'll waft out of the showroom with 19-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, a huge panoramic glass roof with gesture-activated roof blind, around-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, 11-speaker Meridian-branded stereo with DAB, sat nav, head-up display, electric gesture-activated tailgate, keyless entry and start, rear air suspension, auto LED headlights, auto wipers, leather trim and a space-saver spare.
Jaguar Land Rover's 'InControl' media system is presented on a whopping 12.3-inch screen and, as ever, is steadily improving but goes without Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The sound is, as you might expect, pretty good.
Our car had a few options fitted. 'Active Safety Pack' (see below), carbon-fibre trim ($3470), driver and passenger memory pack ($3210, including perforated leather trim), 20-inch wheels upgrade ($2790), cold-climate pack ($2540), illuminated metal treadplates ($2110), privacy glass ($950), 'InControl Protect' ($630), configurable interior lighting ($540), nets and rails ($390 and $320 respectively), extra power socket ($240) and 'InControl Apps' ($100). Most of it is cosmetic and/or unnecessary and took us to $158,950.
And there is still a plethora of boxes to tick.
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.
With all that power and torque, the XF Sportbrake cracks 100km/h from rest in 6.6 seconds.
The air suspension means you can tow up to 2000kg with a braked trailer.
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.
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.
There's no getting away from the size and heft of the Sportbrake. Where a four-cylinder sedan comes in under 1600kg - not bad for an almost five-metre-long car - up here at the top it's well over 1800kg. With big wheels and a long wheelbase it's not going to win any wards for manoeuvrability, with a big turning circle and a length that's challenging to shopping centre car parks.
The 3.0 V6 twin-turbo is a fantastic unit. It can be a bit noisy when cold but it's super smooth and with all that torque it crushes overtaking with little need for advanced planning. The Sportbrake wafts along, lazily turning over in traffic and keeping the vibe calm.
Despite those big wheels, the ride is excellent. Even when in Sport mode, it's a rare bump or surface that will cause drama. It's very comfortable and very quiet, almost to the level of the XJ limo.
If you do fancy a bit of amusement, the V6 and well-sorted chassis are ready to play. In reality, Sport mode is where both myself and my wife left the car the whole time we had it. Both of us found the steering a little too light and preferred the more lively throttle response. The XF features torque vectoring using the brakes and coupled with a well-judged stability and traction control system, it delivers a good impression of a sporty sedan.
But the XF is best when you keep it relaxed. Both in town and in the cruise, it's a lovely, quiet place to be and a relaxing, undemanding drive.
Only a couple of things were annoying - the light steering we've already covered. The heated windscreen was more reflection-prone so the head-up display could be hard to see in some lighting conditions. And sometimes it beeped for no apparent reason, which I eventually traced to the blind-spot warning.
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.
For child seats you've a choice of three top-tether anchors or two ISOFIX points.
Our car had the $4360 Active Safety Pack, which adds blind-spot monitoring, reverse cross traffic alert, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise and driver-attention detection. If you were to ask me, this little lot should be standard at this level.
Despite that, the XF scored a maximum five ANCAP stars following assessment in 2015.
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.
Jaguars are offered with a three-year/100,000km warranty with a matching roadside-assist package. You can purchase a five-year/130,000km service plan for an oddly reasonable $2200. Even more reasonable are the service intervals - 12 months or 26,000km (!).