Versus the competiton:
Little things mean a lot.
In the fiercely competitive luxury car market, automakers must keepthemselves attuned to the finest details, for in this league the buyers areespecially discerning. Two cars see minor changes that make for a bigdifference in their make-up. The Mercedes Benz E-Class gets an 8-cylinderoption, while Jaguar’s XJ6 gets a long-wheelbase version of its venerablesedan platform. Here’s a look at two posh motorcars.
With sheet metal as stylish as that of the mid-sizedMercedes E-Class, you wonder why they need to advertise at all. The front issensuously shaped, with fenders that bulge into the hood over the round headlamps. The grille plays counterpoint to the massive lights, with finehorizontal chrome bands, crossed by a singular horizontal bar that intersectswith the famed three-pointed star. The look is arrestingly elegant and fresh.
What’s under the hood is especially fresh. Although the E320 is powered bya 217-horsepower 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine, the E420 sports adouble-overhead-cam aluminum V8 engine. With 275 horsepower and 295foot-pounds of torque, this engine squirts to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds. Andunlike some past Mercedes engines, this one has good power down low. It buildsstrongly as the speed climbs to extra-legal velocity. There’s a slightcommotion to keep you informed of what’s going on.
If there’s anything that’s disappointing, it’s the light feel of this car.Unlike previous E sedans, this one doesn’t have that bank-vault solidness atspeed. Where you once felt a hunkered-down feeling at speed, this car answersback with a light, delicate feel that’s more Asian than German. Some mightfind this a radical change in character.
That’s not to say this car handles poorly. Quite the contrary. It handlesroads with grace and poise, delivering the typical firm but not punishingride. But that extra quotient of character that’s been a hallmark of Mercedeshandling is missing. Yet it’s still available in the line’s other cars.
Safety is still of top concern to Mercedes. For 1997, all Mercedes,including the E-Class, have a front-seat-occupancy detection sensor. If achild of 26 pounds or less sits in the front seat, a sensor deactivates thepassenger side air bag. Also standard is traction control, anti-lock brakesand door-mounted side air bags.
Inside, all occupants are treated to the fine seating that ensures hours oftravel without back pain, despite a seat cushion that was firm and unyielding.
The center console is decorated with a finely polished wood. The controlsare simply set, yet their function takes some learning. The dual climatecontrol is much easier to use than previous units. Other luxury amenitiesinclude memory seating positions, built-in garage door opener and a Bose soundsystem specifically designed for the E-Class.
The base price for this heavy dose of Germanic civility is $49,990, withthe test vehicle’s bottom line fetching $52,450.
W ith the current E-Class, Mercedes marks a change in attitude, one thatmarches to style as well as substance.* Jaguar XJ6L
Even though the British have handed over Hong Kong to the Chinese and thesun has finally set on the Empire, there are still remainders of greatness.One of these is the Jaguar XJ6L.
What Jaguar has wrought is a sedan fit for a king and his corgis. With a5-inch stretch in wheelbase, the car boasts more rear legroom and betterheadroom than the regular XJ6. With a length just over 202 inches, this car isno midget. But it still manages to look long and lean, with a sporting stancethat’s rare for cars in this class. Motivating this fine car is an inline,double-overhead-cam, aluminum 6-cylinder engine that produces 245 horsepowerat 4,800 rpm and 289 pound feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. Powered through afour-speed automatic transmission with normal and sport modes, this car movesout with a subdued growl quicker than you can say, “Hail Britannia.”
Jags re famous for their adept balance of luxury and agility, and this caris no exception. The steering has power assist, yet never feels numb, withgood information telegraphed about what the wheels are doing. There is no bodylean in corners and stops are short and swift.
Inside, it’s the usual fine leathers and acres of polished wood. Somehow,it looks a lot more natural here than in almost any other competitor, with afinesse that screams refinement. Also unchanged are the fussy controls thatflank the Jag’s steering wheel. Once you get used to them, you’ll enjoy howthey work, but be sure to read the owner’s manual first.
The long wheelbase helps this car immensely, endowing it with a spaciousfeel that resembles a rolling palace on wheels.
But these British cars have always had a reputation for being somewhatunreliable. Thanks to Ford’s ownership over the last four years, the qualityproblems seem to have been greatly diminished to the point that you now usethe words quality and Jaguar in the same sentence without being laughed at.The last XJ6 I drove (sometime in 1990) seemed junky and overpriced. Itrattled and left me wondering who would buy one. This one was solid andwell-built, leaving me lusting after the mere thought of owning one.
But owning one means saving your shekels. The regular XJ6 starts at$54,400. The long wheelbase commands $59,500. The test vehicles optionsincluded a $350 convenience package (integrated garage door opener,three-position memory system and electrochromatic mirror) and a $2,000All-Weather Package (traction control, heated front and rear seats). Theengine requires premium fuel at a rate of 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway. Testmileage was 16 mpg.
Little changes, big difference in cars. While Mercedes tries to add stylishto its list of attributes of strength and speed, Jaguar adds solid to its listof attributes, which includes stylish. Either will make your heart swoon. Butat this price, that’s a given.