Mercedes-Benz S-Class VS Jaguar XJ
- Fantastic V8 engine
- Brilliant interior
- Jekyll/Hyde chassis
- Very heavy
- Service costs
- Characterful supercharged V8
- Agile handling with great ride
- Individual looks
- Options pricing
- InControl software a bit ordinary
- Too much in-cabin chrome
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|
As a child, my parents - who aren't car people - would see a Jaguar and point. It didn't matter if it was an XJ, Daimler Double Six or a Mark II, there was a great deal of mystique around these bastions of Britishness. It also didn't matter that these weren't necessarily good cars. The Seventies and Eighties saw the brand slide into a funk while being passed between owners like hot potatoes.
Somehow, the brand survived its brush with Ford's useless Premier Automotive Group strategy which only came good towards the end as Jaguar's management woke up and put in place a change in direction that produced the Ian Callum-designed XF. Riding high on that design, Jaguar then promptly introduced the very pretty Jaguar XJ.
It has been on sale for ages, but with the addition of a few bits and bobs to stay competitive, it's as compelling as ever. Most importantly, the performance-focused R has kept its unique supercharged V8.
|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.
It might be old and facing German competition bursting with advanced technology, but the XJR is still a car you can buy with heart and head. But mostly your heart. It goes like stink, has a much better interior than the Quattroporte and is more interesting than just about anything this big or this grand.
It's also a better car than the Maserati Quattroporte if you want to get on with the driving yourself and is far prettier than the Porsche Panamera. It's a wonderful thing and even more wonderful that Jaguar continues to build it. Long live that supercharged V8 and the XJ is a great home for it.
Is the XJ your cup of Earl Grey or are you more interested in a Maserati espresso (sorry) or a Porsche stein (sorry, again)? 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.
The XJ has a marvellously exaggerated length, with a rear overhang redolent of Jag's sporting coupe and roadster pair of the time of its launch, the XK. There's nothing else in the segment like it, with the three Germans - Mercedes' S-Class, Audi's A8 and BMW's 7 Series - having gone all Hugo Boss and and in the latter two's case, almost shrinking violet. The only credible Japanese alternative, the Lexus LS, looks like a Lexused 7 Series. The XJR is a more emotional car, like Maserati's Quattroporte.
The R adds an aggro grille, 20-inch wheels with low-ish profile tyres, a bootlid spoiler, red brake calipers and vents in the bonnet. Bits and pieces get the black gloss treatment and there are V8 and R badges, as well as a rather large leaper on the bootlid. Capping it all off are four exhausts poking out from the bumper and distinctive vertical taillights.
Inside remains largely unchanged. The cabin is big and luxurious, leather-lined and very, very comfortable. The front air vents have to be modelled on the de Havilland Comet's integrated jet engine intakes and, again, the dash design stays away from the horizontal lines of its obvious competition.
There is probably a bit much chrome for my liking, particularly on the centre console and around the rotary dial shifter, which reflects sunlight into your face during the day.
The lovely 'Riva Hoop' - a band that sweeps from door to door across the top of the dash - is a great touch and remains a defining feature in the cabin. The last update brought an Audi-like digital dashboard, including maps, but it's not nearly as slick as the German. The graphics for the dials are good (and quick) but the maps are a bit so-so.
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.
It might be over five metres long, but the Jag's cabin isn't as gigantic as that might suggest - luckily, if you want space, the XJ L has it. The SWB version is roomy enough, though, just not palatial. You can fit five people, but the big transmission tunnel will limit the size of that fifth.
Front and rear passengers have a pair of cupholders each, with rubber bubbles to help hold smaller cups in tight. The front and rear doors have pockets but aren't really for bottles.
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.
As is expected at this level, Jaguar was not mucking about with price or specification - the XJR starts at a mildly terrifying $299,995, which is very close to the rather more tranquil Autobiography long-wheelbase relax-o-mobile.
Standard are 20-inch alloys, a 20-speaker stereo, power everything with three memory positions, four-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, front and rear parking sensors, heated and cooled front and rear seats, sat nav, LED headlights and DRLs, leather everywhere, auto wipers and (LED) headlights, electric boot lid, heated steering wheel and a space saver spare.
The Meridian-branded stereo is an absolute cracker, powered by the improved but still laggy 'InControl Pro' system. Oddly, it's all crammed into an 8.0-inch touchscreen when there is seemingly room for the larger (and better-performing) 10.0-inch screen. The software is far superior than the version that preceded the last update, but the screen is hard to use, as targets are placed right in the corners and are hard to hit.
A long list of options are available, some of which should probably be included in the big sticker price - DAB+ ($620), premium paint is a splutter-worthy $2060 (although, to be fair, the vast majority of the 19 colours are free), adaptive cruise with queue assist ($2200), adaptive headlights a further $2620 and 'Parking Assist', which adds side sensors and a front camera, a further $2780. Reverse cross traffic alert, blind spot monitoring and forward collision warning cost yet another $1460. Ouch.
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.
Jaguar's lovely 5.0-litre V8 with supercharger continues under the XJ's long and shapely bonnet, delivering a walloping 404kW and a tyre-shredding 680Nm. The sprint to 100km/h for all 1875kg of XJR is completed in an impressive 4.6 seconds, which was very competitive at the car's launch in 2009.
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.
The combined cycle figure for the V8 is listed at 11.1L/100km but fully expect to see the 16.1L/100km we got, especially as you try and fail to tyre of the monstrous power delivery and lovely (if muted) V8 roar.
Luckily, even if you're belting it, the 82 litre tank is a generous size and you'll cover a fair amount of ground.
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.
Indecently quick, surprisingly agile and heaps of fun. While the first descriptor applies purely because of its size, the next two shouldn't when you're in command of 5.13 metres of motor vehicle. As with the Audi and now the 7, the Jag has a lot of aluminium to help keep the kilos off and good gracious, it has worked.
The R is based around the short wheelbase version of the XJ for perhaps obvious reasons. Even so, it appears to be the shorter-again XF's because this thing turns in like a demon. No, it won't stay with the dearly-departed XF-R but it does a mighty fine impression of one, just with a better ride quality.
Rear seat passengers should be prepared to feel a lot of wheelslip, especially when in Dynamic mode, as even the fat Pirelli P-Zero's struggle for purchase when the right foot hits the carpet. The V8 rumbles rather than bellows, but the rears cheerfully spin up until the computers and active differential rein things in. Traction control off and you've got a proper tyre-smoker if you're not playing by the rules. Jag's engineers are clearly hooligans at heart.
As always, ZF's eight-speed transmission does an incredible job of marshalling the horses in a rearward direction and when you're not after a bit of sound and light, have achieved a tremendous amount with the damping. When in normal mode, the car glides along, so much so that the lady of the house wasn't so sure it was a sporting sedan.
Once she was apprised of dynamic mode (you have to cycle the button through winter mode first, for some reason), her only complaint was that it was too long and the steering wheel too big for this type of car. I was persuaded of the latter, especially after stepping out of an Audi S3 which has a tiny wheel. Long story short, the XJR is now 'her' car (to be more accurate, the XFR is, but that hasn't arrived yet, so...), as it felt smaller than it was when not parking and she's a sucker for a torquey V8.
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.
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.