Execs in the city
Sporty Jaguar joins suave Mercedes in the not-so-big end of town
ENGLAND versus Germany. It’s a rivalry that has played out on football fields and boardrooms for decades.
Now it comes to the showroom as the Jaguar XE arrives to take on Carsguide’s reigning Car of the Year, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
A mid-size Jaguar was set to tackle the formidable C-Class once before — the uninspiring X-Type, a dressed up Ford Mondeo, fell well short of the mark and was duly dispatched.
This time around, after a positive reception from the world’s motoring media, the XE shapes up as an earnest rival for the car that has swept the awards and starred in the showroom in recent years.
This is no longer a battle of the elite. The C-Class is the country’s second-best selling mid-size car, second only to the Toyota Camry, and the XE could eclipse sales of the Mondeo.
If the muscular XF signalled a turnaround for the Indianowned British brand, the XE could cement its future. First impressions show a strong familial link to the XF, although with its broad-shouldered stance the XE looks a little like a VE Commodore.
Inside, the Jaguar balances old-world leather and wood with new-age graphics and modern technology.
The centre media screen is neatly integrated into the dash and has easy to navigate menus and a logical layout.
The console has Jaguar’s now trademark rotary dial for selecting gears, endowing an uncluttered look.
It gets a head start on the C-Class with mostly leather seating, compared with the artificial hide in the Benz. The front seats are comfortable with plenty of support, multiple electric adjustments and memory settings.
The rear is a different story altogether. The low, sporty profile comes at the expense of easy access, with the door opening sure to collect a few unsuspecting heads along the way. The rear seats are cramped for leg, shoulder and headroom, while the window openings are narrow, adding a slightly claustrophobic feel.
For easy loading of longer objects in the boot, the rear seats fold but the abiding feeling is that the XE is more driver than passenger focused.
From the moment you press the pulsing red start button, the XE’s sporting intent is obvious. It kicks into life a four-cylinder turbo shared with the Mondeo (Jaguar wisely didn’t throw the baby out with the bath water in the split from its former owner).
Jaguar says the turbo is capable of sprinting from 0-100km/h in 7.7 seconds and it feels lively enough by the seat of the pants. It has a power advantage over the Mercedes (147kW to 135kW) but less torque (280Nm to 300Nm). Despite the extensive use of aluminium, it is heavier.
The end result is the C-Class feels quicker off the mark (Mercedes claims 7.3 seconds for the dash to 100km/h). The Jaguar can be slow to respond when asked to kick down.
And despite the fact that the Jaguar’s auto has eight cogs to the Mercedes’ seven, it is thirstier by some margin. The official figure for the Jaguar is 7.5L/100km, the C200’s is 6.0L, a 25 per cent difference.
The engine is also a little noisier around town and the auto can be jerky at low speeds.
On the open road, though, the XE is a joy to drive. The engine sounds rorty in the higher reaches of the rev range
This could go either way. The Jaguar is the sportier drive; the Mercedes fights back with more space and power
and the gearbox in sports mode keeps the power on tap out of corners.
All of that is just a support act to one of the best suspension and steering setups around. The Jaguar is eager to turn into corners, unflustered by bumps and corrugations and quick to respond to driver inputs. There’s a load of grip and the steering feel is impressively sharp and accurate.
For all its sportiness, the XE is also a comfortable car to cruise in, soaking up bumps and potholes with little fuss. It is an impressive car and a worthy challenger to the Benz.
The C200 was a tearaway winner of Carsguide’s 2014 Car of the Year award.
For a tick over $60,000 it gave Australian prestige car buyers something they weren’t used to: value.
Brimming with the latest gadgets — most of them standard — the Mercedes made its rivals look second-rate.
A year on and the C-Class is still great value for money. The XE applies pressure with a better value ownership proposition, more standard technology and a price that undercuts the Benz by $500.
Inside, the C200 has upmarket looking finishes throughout. It’s a darker, more formal look than the Jaguar, with black seat trimmings and great slabs of piano black highlights, offset by silver finished air vents that look like jet engine components. It’s not as cohesive a design as the Jaguar and the centre screen sits proud on the dash — looking suspiciously like an afterthought rather than an integrated design feature.
Face the pair nose-to-nose and the Mercedes looks a bit frumpish. The profile isn’t as sleek as the Jag’s and the rear end looks a little awkward.
That translates into more space for rear passengers. The Jaguar’s legroom is bettered by some small cars but the Benz has family-sized rear space. It’s easier for tall teens to access, too, with a wider rear opening.
Around town, the Mercedes has an edge in refinement. Its stop-start kicks in without the noticeable thump of the XE, while the engine is smoother and less intrusive.
Overall it feels solid and cosseting, soaking up road imperfections without sending any jarring into the cabin.
On the open road, the Mercedes can’t match the Jaguar’s agility. It doesn’t feel as sharp through the corners, the steering is meatier but not as precise and it’s less eager to change direction in a hurry.
It is rock-solid, though, inspiring confidence with predictable responses to driver inputs and nice balance on sweeping country roads.
The Jaguar has the sportier drive and sexier profile, as well as more features and lower running costs. The Mercedes has more space, more efficient power delivery and more composure around town.
If you want style and sportiness, pick the Jaguar. As a family package, the Benz has the edge by a whisker.
Pictures: Thomas Wielecki Location: Flying Fish, Sydney