If you’re one of those drivers who like to keep an eye out for rare and expensive cars on your daily commute there are two things you will have noticed. One is that the sheer number of luxury sedans on the road is quite mind boggling. It seems that almost every tenth car on the road (at least in a metro like Mumbai) is designed in Germany and carries a price tag upwards of Rs 30 lakh. Seeing a BMW on the road today is as passé as spotting a Honda Accord five years ago. People have the money and they want to spend it. However there is a problem – the 5 Series/E-Class/A6 just don’t have the same levels of exclusivity anymore. And that brings me to the second thing you will have noticed – the steadily rising number of Jaguars on the road. Now what’s interesting about this is that while the average starting price point for the German cars is about Rs 45 lakh, the Jag XF S diesel is almost fifteen lakh more expensive. This huge price difference is because the German cars are assembled in India. They also offer smaller and more affordable four-cylinder diesel engines while the Jaguar XF was a CBU only available with only a six-cylinder diesel motor or a V8 petrol. Despite the massive price gap Jaguar has been selling quite a few XFs and that number is only going to increase with the much more affordable XF 2.2.
You first realise the Jaguar XF is something special when you fumble for the switch to the interior cabin lights. As you’re blindly feeling for a switch the lights turn themselves on. How? The XF has a touch sensitive switch that just needs your hand to brush along it to switch the lights on. How cool is that? About as cool as those air vents that automatically rotate themselves open when you ask for ignition. Or as breathtaking as watching that rotary gear selector whir out of the transmission tunnel when you switch the car on. The aluminium and wood trim cabin is a beautiful reminder of Jaguar’s classic roots and modern identity. Build quality feels right up there and you get a rich touch screen display that supports navigation. The best way to describe the exteriors would be athletic and aggressive but beautiful. The XJ-inspired face with the big chrome grille turns plenty of heads and that strong, almost Aston Martin (designer Ian Callum also worked on two of the most memorable Astons from the 90s – the DB7 and the Vanquish) rear will keep those heads turned till the XF is a spec in the horizon. Overall the XF 2.2 is almost untouched from its bigger six-cylinder sibling save for the wheels, single tail pipe and missing S badging. It’s still a very emotive car and everything about the exquisitely detailed design makes this one of the best looking luxury cars money can buy.
Modern Audis however make very clever use of their LED lighting technology to make their mature designs seem very striking. The next time an Audi’s stunning LED shroud headlamps turn you into a deer on the road pry your eyes away from the lights. You will then notice a solid, sophisticated design with no fussy details anywhere. Lines flow into each other, composing strong shoulders and a very taut rear. Their interiors are also extremely well built and are the most logical and easy to use. But that’s purely a matter of taste and while I’m a fan of Audi’s MMI, Halley prefers using BMW’s iDrive. Space at the rear is generous with an excellent driving position. Audi usually makes the interiors of choice but after sitting in the Jaguar the Audi feels, well, a little mundane.
The 5 Series on the other hand has a smoother and more flowing design unlike the sharper A6. The car you see here comes with the M sport kit – ignore the sharper bumper and flash alloy wheels and you have a stock 5 Series. Unlike the Audi and Jag the smaller-engined 5 Series gets a smaller infotainment screen in the dash. The seats while sporty are also the hardest of the four. The problem is that BMW interiors look and feel the same across their range. The X6, X5, X3, and 5 Series all have very similar looking cabins and it would be nice to have some individuality. Also despite being such a large car, rear legroom is about on par with the Jag but not as much as the other two.
The W212 Mercedes has been around the longest of this lot and it’s starting to show. The exteriors are still relatively fresh and the signature angular four headlamps and pontoon rear haunch (both dropped in the upcoming 2013 model) still look unique and the car doesn’t look out of place at all in this company. The issue is in the interior which is starting to feel old. The level of kit, the feel of the materials, it’s all falling a little behind. The E is one of the most popular chauffeur driven cars (and taxis) worldwide. The result of course is a roomy and comfortable rear seat which is the best of this lot, although the A6 comes close.
Engines and performance
The diesel engine under the hood of the XF is the same unit from the Freelander 2 and it’s an engine we are quite familiar with. The 2179cc four cylinder diesel is good for 190PS and like any self respecting modern diesel, massive amounts of torque – 450Nm to be precise. Torque peaks at 2000rpm while the power maximises at 3500rpm. The new 8-speed torque convertor automatic ensures great driveability and efficient high speed cruising thanks to the tall 7th and 8th gears. The diesel sounds loud and clattery from the outside but excellent sound deadening keeps the cabin quiet and well isolated. The gearbox is smooth but it’s not as quick as the other 8–speed box in the BMW. Nevertheless you can ask for a quick downshift by using the steering mounted paddle shifters, a feature the BMW sorely lacks. Power delivery is strong and linear and the XF hits 100kmph in 8.53 seconds making it the quickest accelerating car here. We could only test for mileage in the city where the Jaguar returned 11.81kmpl and we expect the figure to go up significantly on the highway thanks to the gearbox.
The A6’s 1968cc engine is essentially the same engine found under the hood of the Passat, A4, Q3 and Q5. It uses balancer shafts in the crankcase that help keep vibes and noise down to a minimum. The result is one of the smoothest and most refined engines on test. Power output stands at 177PS (4200rpm) while 380Nm of torque is produced between 1750 and 2500rpm. Unlike the other three cars here power is sent to the front wheels. Another stand out feature is the use of a CVT (or Multitronic as Audi calls it) gearbox. While CVTs are usually considered inferior, the Audi unit gets the job done but isn’t as enthusiast-oriented as the BMW unit or even the Jaguar’s. Performance is adequate with 100kmph coming up in 9.3 seconds while the car max speed is 214.6kmph. The A6 is the most efficient car here returning an overall 15.45kmpl which just edges past the BMW’s 15.35kmpl
BMW’s 2-litre diesel displaces 1995cc and produces identical torque to the Audi. Power is similar too at 185PS. They seem very similar on paper but the BMW engine is far more eager to please. It revs faster and throttle response feels sharper too. The biggest advantage the BMW pulls over all the other cars here is the 8-speed transmission. It offers very quick shifts but stays smooth and discreet when you’re pottering around town. However when you do make a request for a lower gear the transmission quickly obliges. The BMW is the second quickest to 100kmph taking 8.58 seconds while it tops out at 209.2kmph. The BMW diesel mill however is the loudest engine here and while it may be down to better dampening the other cars sound more refined and silent inside.
The E220CDI uses a 2143cc engine which despite being on the higher side in terms of capacity produces the least amount of power. 170PS is generated at 3000rpm while the Merc edges the other two Germans out in the torque category by 20Nm for a total of 400 but it is still 50Nm down on the Jag. The already low power output is further hit by the sluggish gearbox. Performance is adequate but the gearbox takes time to react. In this company the Merc is the car that’s best driven sedately. Despite producing the least power the Merc can only come up with a best figure of 14.3kmpl.
Ride and handling
Perhaps it’s the dynamic design or the fact that the engine produces more power and torque than the other cars but you tend to have pretty high expectations of the Jaguar in the ‘fun to drive’ department. The steering immediately feels very nicely weighted and the ride has a faint but recognizable stiff feel to it. It handles bumps and potholes well and has great high speed stability but the ride isn’t as cosseting as the A6 or the E Class. When you start to push the car you’ll discover the steering while feeling nicely weighted doesn’t offer the feedback you get from the BMW and the car doesn’t turn in as quick or feel quite as agile as the 5. It’s not an all out enthusiast car this, but it can be quick if you need it to be.
The A6 on the other hand focuses more on comfort. It features Audi’s drive select system that lets you set the suspension to Dynamic, Comfort Automatic or Individual mode. In Comfort mode the steering feels feather light while the ride gets noticeably well, comfortable. This car is by far the easiest and least stressful car to drive in city. Switch it to dynamic mode and the suspension stiffens up but the front wheel drive architecture and CVT don’t really give the car a chance to take the challenge right up to the Bimmer. Now the F10 generation BMW went softer than its predecessor and ditched its delicious hydraulically assisted steering for an electronically assisted unit but it still feels sharp and involving. Ride quality is sharp but not uncomfortable. Oh, and the 5 comes with run flat tyres which we will always maintain are a bad idea for Indian roads. The E-Class is the opposite story having gone from very soft to slightly stiff. The previous generation W211 rode brilliantly but was too soft and wallowy when pushed. The new car has firmed up and the steering feels pretty good too. It’s quite good to drive but the experience is let down by a slow gearbox. Also with the suspension having been tuned for India our Es just don’t ride as smoothly as the cars sold abroad.
The E-Class was a fantastic car when launched and it won a quite a few of our tests. But age catches up and the car struggles to keep pace with its younger competition. The upcoming refresh should take care of most of our complaints and will be worth the wait. If waiting is not an option then we suggest you look at the BMW 5 Series. It’s the best driver’s car here but there’s more to it. The car has great presence and gives you plenty of features. The downside is that it isn’t as spacious or as comfortable as its rivals, which brings us to the A6. The Audi is the least enthusiastic, but is comfortable, easy to drive and comes loaded with features. The top end Navigation variant costs a whopping Rs 60 lakh on road but is stuffed with features like those dazzling full LED headlamps (a Rs 3 lakh option), a reverse camera, the Jukebox sound system and MMI touch pad. If you think you can manage without those toys the price gets as low as Rs 50.95 lakh on road in Mumbai for the Premium variant. And that makes it fantastic value which is why it grabs the second spot. Which brings us to the Jag. One look at it and objectivity dissolves into pure desire. This is one car that could entirely sell based on its looks. But thankfully there’s substance under the skin. The car drives well; it’s quick and fairly efficient too. The beautiful interiors sacrifice no functionality and while it’s not as spacious at the rear it’s far from cramped. The JLR dealer base is constantly growing and Jaguar have just released information that XF sales grew by a massive 37 per cent in January this year – a sign of things to come. The best news however is that being locally assembled has made the XF far more affordable and it now costs just about a lakh more than the equivalent E-Class. There was a time when the cat could only purr but now it can finally roar.