Ex­ecs in the city

Sporty Jaguar joins suave Mercedes in the not-so-big end of town

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE EDITOR richard.black­burn@news.com.au

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.

JAGUAR XE

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.

MERCEDES-BENZ C200

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.

VER­DICT

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

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