You’re on your way up the corporate ladder, and you need a compact executive car that befits your burgeoning status. Or, perhaps, you’re coming through the other side, flush and looking to downsize without scrimping on class.
What do you buy? Tough question. Fact is, if you’re after a sporty and luxurious mid-sized sedan in Australia, you’re embarrassed with riches. For any premium brand worth its salt, this is where your bread is buttered, and you develop product accordingly.
We’re not talking about weird niche offerings here, or far-out brand halos. We’re talking about core cars, cars that every premium brand has to absolutely nail.
Here we look at four offerings with the right kind of badges that go about offering the same thing in rather different ways. To be overtly sporty, overtly premium or a balance of both? That is the question…
The reigning king for a long time has been the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, which has been the winner in the sales race for two consecutive generations. Since its launch almost 18 months ago, the current version has been the benchmark for style, luxury and comfort.
At a time when passenger sales are falling across the board, luxury compact sedan sales are going the other way, up 26 per cent this year. Much of this is down to the Mercedes, which has more than doubled all rivals this year, and utterly dominates its segment.
But 18 months is a long time in our fast-paced world, and these same rivals haven’t been idle. Two of the C-Class’ arch-enemies — the BMW 3 Series andLexus IS— have just scored significant updates.
The BMW has had its typical mid-life ‘LCI’ update that brings improvements to equipment and powertrains among other areas, while the Lexus gets a much more competitive turbocharged engine option that addresses the old car’s achilles heel.
At the same time, there’s a new cat in town called the Jaguar XE. This is a car that holds the hopes of the reborn British icon on its flanks, a pitch to make Jag the sportiest marque in the biz and banish memories of the X-Type.
The variants on test? This test pitches the segment-topping Mercedes-Benz C250 against a trio of new contenders for the throne — the BMW 330i, the Jaguar XE 25t R-Sport and the Lexus IS200t F-Sport.
They have much in common. Each costs about $70,000 before on-road costs; each has a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine; each is rear-wheel drive, and the discrepancies in equipment and packaging can largely be separated by a sliver of paper.
But each also goes about its business very differently. There’s the cushy C-Class that fancies itself quite the miniature S-Class. There’s the Lexus IS that appeals to those resisting Euro-snobbery. And there’s the 3 Series as the traditionally sporty choice. The Jaguar clearly targets the latter’s throne, as befits its revitalised brand.
One thing is clear, though. Given the spec levels tested, we’re looking for a compact executive car with a sporting bent — that’s an important distinguisher here — a car you can drive home from work the long way, and unwind your brain by unwinding some corners.
It’s a tough gig to split this quartet, but somebody has to do it. For this test, yours truly was joined by CarAdvice CEO, Andrew, and CTO, Cam. You need executives to test executive cars, right?Let’s get to it.
Before you add options, this quartet is pretty hard to split. Cheapest is the Lexus IS200t F-Sport, at $65,500 plus on-road costs. Next are the Jaguar XE 25t R-Sport and Mercedes-Benz C250 at $68,900. The BMW 330i is $69,900.
Common features to all cars are satellite-navigation, reverse-view cameras and sensors, climate control, Bluetooth/USB/Aux connectivity, keyless entry and exit, push-button start, auto headlights and wipers, and LED daytime running lights.
Each of the cars here also gets collision mitigation (AEB), blind-spot monitoring and lane departure systems. Only the Lexus and Mercedes-Benz come standard with radar-guided cruise control (a $1750 option on the Jag, part of an $1880 package on the BMW).
The Jaguar misses out on two things that the others get, being DAB+ digital radio (it’s a $540 option on the XE) and leather seats (the Jaguar gets faux ‘Luxtec’ material with mesh inserts), though it’s one of only two cars here with Park Assist (the other being the Benz) and an electric steering column (the other being the Lexus).
Doing a full breakdown of all the various spec differences would take a novel’s worth of words, but some notable ones are: The BMW alone offers a standard heads-up display (options on the Jaguar and Mercedes, and not even available on the Lexus), the Lexus alone gets heated and ventilated seats and Mercedes alone offers a powered boot as standard, though you can option one on the Jag.
Of course, these costs are not just before requisite on-road taxes and charges, but also before you tackle the options. The Jaguar has 44 to choose from, a nose ahead of the BMW with 40. The Mercedes has 14. And the Lexus? Just two, in the form of Enhancement Packages that bundle a range of features together.
Our Lexus IS200t F-Sport tester sported the $6000 Enhancement Pack 2, which gives you a Mark Levinson 15-speaker sound system with sub (more on that later), sunroof, automatic high-beam, and a lane departure warning system. Total RRP of our car? $71,500.
This means it, tellingly, remained cheapest car on test, even with some excellent options. Next was BMW 330i, which had a solitary option fitted — a $2245 sunroof. Total RRP the vehicle was therefore $72,145.
There was a jump then to the Mercedes-Benz C250 as tested, given it had the Airmatic Agility Suspension ($1915), the Vision Package with sunroof and HUD for $3454, and the COMAND infotainment upgrade with better screen and Burmester audio system ($2300). Total cost as tested, excluding Canvansite Metallic Paint, was $77,386.
The Jaguar was the priciest car here as tested, with $11,500 of options tested including Sports Perforated Taurus leather faced seats ($2160), carbonfibre veneer ($2150 — taking the mickey here), 19-inch Radiance black wheels ($1800), sunroof ($1800), HUD ($1770), Advanced Parking Assist pack ($1580), electric boot ($850) and infra red reflective glass ($500).
Total cost was $80,420.
BMW sure has made some strides considering you get things like the HUD, active dampers and bigger screen standard, hasn’t it? All told, though, the sky is the limit with options throughout this segment.
So to the cabins. It’s fair to say the Mercedes set a new benchmark when it launched last year, to some eyes bringing a ‘wow’ factor hitherto unseen at such a price point.
And there’s no doubt that at first impression it remains the real crowd-pleaser here, though the glossy black plastic used here doesn’t do it any favours. A “contemporary classic” experience with “amazing” materials, was the general consensus among our testers this time around. You know where your money went.
The tactile silver switchgear is without peer, details such as the circular vents are a class above, the brushed aluminium highlights ditto, the illuminated kick-plates are pure bling and those Burmester speakers are sex appeal personified. Some of the ergonomic oddities are great, such as the DJ-esque rolling volume dial and the seat buttons on the doors.
It’s all built like a Cold War era bomb shelter, too, or as one tester put it: “feels as though it’s hewn from granite”.
On the downside, the user experience from the infotainment system can be momentarily confusing. Like the BMW and Lexus, you get a toggle on the transmission tunnel (though the ‘codpiece’ hand rest behind it is naff) that scrolls through various menus on the floating screen.
By comparison, the BMW’s general layout feels a little dated or, as one person put it, “pre-aged”. It’s austere to say the least — “defiantly plain,” said Cam — but then again the 8.8-inch screen atop the dash with the Professional nav system, and the new standard heads-up display, (HUD) are class-leading, as are the ergonomics.
It’s also made of plastics tougher than Lego, and will almost certainly be in great shape a decade down the track, based on how hardy everything feels. It’s like a faithful labrador that will grow old with you, if you want it to, though those red Sportline plastic trims are nothing but naff and the cheapo steering wheel is a let-down.
The BMW iDrive system has been around for some time, and it feels more intuitive than the rotary dial setup in the Mercedes. The shortcut buttons are better too, though entering an address remains a multi-step process and the voice control is somewhat ineffectual.
The Lexus is the definition of a mixed bag, given it has the least intuitive infotainment here (though the mouse-like toggle is better than the company’s haptic touchpad found on other models) but the best driver instruments — a large screen ahead of the driver, and a dial that moves on rails in spectacular fashion, just like the LFA supercar. This really addresses the lack of a HUD.
In fact, given you can see sat-nav guidance, media tracks and play with the car settings via said instrument binnacle rather than the central stack and its distant, low-res screen, you’ll likely end up using it almost exclusively like we did. Big bugbear — you have to click OK on the toggle before you can use the reverse-view camera.
The Lexus’ seats are simply stunning in terms of the quality of the leather, the supportiveness of the design and the presence of heating and ventilation (unique here). Ditto the thick carpets that almost massage your feet, the reassuring thud of the doors and the soft-closing windows.
Then again, the Toyota chic buttons and stalks are obvious, the centre stack looks like a cheap mishmash, and the foot-operated park brake is retrograde.
If a sporty driving position is what you value most, then the Jaguar is your next car. You sit low, ensconced by a high transmission tunnel and supported in a bucket seat (coated here in optional, middling-grade leather), with the gorgeous Leaping Cat-emblazoned steering wheel in your lap.
On the other hand, the instruments ahead of the driver are old-hat, the touchscreen-based multimedia system is laggy (though the InControl software is easy to navigate), the climate controls are counter-intuitive (you use the buttons for some adjustment, the screen for others), and the British-accented voice control struggled.
In terms of design, the wraparound dash fits the bill, and there are more Jaguar badges scattered about than you can poke a stick at. But the quality of the plastics and the general fit-and-finish are below par, and prone to squeak and rattle. It simply does not feel as premium as the others. Period.
What about backseat passengers? All of these cars are nominally five-seaters, though each are happier carrying about four adults at a maximum. Given they’re both compact cars (the BMW is the shortest at 4633mm, the Mercedes the longest at 4686mm, and both are 200mm shorter than a Mazda 6) and rear-wheel drive, none are paragons of spaciousness.
Surprisingly it was the BMW — the shortest car here, with the second-smallest wheelbase ahead of the Lexus — that had the best headroom and legroom.
There’s room to slouch for two tallish grown men behind two other grown men, windows that go all the way down, good outward visibility, unsexy but hardy leather trims and plastics that look drab but are built to take abuse. We abhor the cheap plastic seat backs though, which are mirrored on the Jag, and which are rough on your knees.
The Mercedes is the most tactile and well-presented, but the optional dual-pane sunroof really hurts headroom, which is definitively below par in this iteration. Legroom is good, and compared to the Jaguar, it feels like you could swing a cat. That said, much of this space is down to the “mean” rear seat squabs, which are bluff and unsupportive.
Pictured: BMW (top) and Mercedes-Benz (below).
The Lexus is a little tighter again, and harder to see out of on account of the small side windows, though you won’t mind the limited knee room because the seat-backs are so supple. The headroom is acceptable too, and the headlining is the most ‘premium’ here. There are no door pockets, which is a negative.
Least impressive was the Jaguar, which follows through in its definitely sporty aspirations by being the pokiest in terms of space, to the point of growing “oppressive”, according to one of our testers. Note also the way the non-damped ski port merely flops downwards, which might be a small issue but cheapens the overall experience.
One area we don’t always cover, but which in this instance was a must, is the night-time ambience. All cars here have some variety of night-time mood lighting, but not all are born equal.
Pictured: Lexus (top) and Jaguar (below).
In the Mercedes, you can change the lighting colours (burnt orange? Moody purple? The list goes on…) in the doors, behind the switches and even on the puddle lights. The step up here compared to the others is reminiscent of “turning up at one club and realising by comparison that the last one was really underwhelming,” Andrew said. Point.
The Jag has great ice blue backlighting though that reminded me of Tron, which is good, while the Lexus’ system is effective but antiquated like a Soviet state viewed from a flyover. Hop into the BMW and it feels like Bavaria’s globe-makers must have gone on strike.
So when it comes to seats, the Lexus wins by the length of the Flemington straight. The BMW’s layout might be a little bland, but it’s built like a brick outhouse and has the best back seats and HUD up front. If only it had the Jag’s steering wheel it’d be perfect. The Benz is all glitz and glamour, with tactility par excellence.
One of our testers on this four-way comparison was CarAdvice CTO Cam. It would be remiss not to pick the brain of our resident audiophile while playing the same series of diverse tracks on all four systems, across various equaliser settings.
And so we piled four testers into each car after a glass or two of red, and conducted a real-world sound test.
The winner? The Lexus, equipped with the Enhancement Pack 2, part of which comprises a 15-speaker and sub-equipped 835W Mark Levinson premium system.
“Smooth, great flow and crisp,” said Cam. “Deep and smooth bass, best definition, low lows and a musical high range. Well articulated,” he added. Downsides? “Lacks a little bit of ‘welly’ in the low end,” he said.
Next was the BMW and its entry level system, a comparatively humble 100W six-speaker system that nevertheless offers “good definition and very good separation”. “It’s uncoloured, faithful, unwavering… easier to listen to for long period of time,” says Cam. All told, very Germanic.
Given this, we question the need to spec the optional 600W, 16-speaker Harman Kardon system that BMW charges $1900 for. Although…
Keep in mind, to my humble ears all four sound systems sound great, but Cam had the XE in third by a nose. The 380W system by Meridian started strong but faded. It offers a “tight bottom end,” Cam said, but found that there was “fatiguing mid-range”.
Overall, the system proved “sharp, of good quality and not [prone to] over-working,” and offered a sound that was “well contained”. However, it also offered more notable DSP all throughout, and “sounds like it’s sweetened, whereas the BMW sounds more organic”.
The Jag, said Cam rather pithily, “spoils you with sweetness”.
Last, somewhat surprisingly, was the Mercedes-Benz, despite offering on spec the second-most powerful system on test. The aforementioned COMAND package bundles a 13-speaker, nine-channel DSP amp-equipped system by Burmester with, we’d add, the sexiest damn speakers on any car south of a few hundred grand.
“It lacks detail,” said Cam, despite the UX offering the best equaliser adjust of any car here — retro-cool ‘dials’ on the screen that you ape via a rotary dial on the transmission tunnel. Too bad the sound was a little “muddy”. Audiophiles, take note.
Of course, you also must remember that the Mercedes was the quietest car to drive against our Db meter, and the Jaguar is the loudest (with the Lexus second-quietest and the Bimmer a small gap back third), and so at speed this audio dynamic might well shift.
Engines and transmissions
All of the cars use a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine running on 95 RON petrol, sending torque to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission with torque converter and paddles. The exception is the Mercedes, which has seven speeds instead.
But there is a gulf between the best and the worst that’s notable.
With 185kW of power at 6500rpm and 350Nm of torque between 1450 and 4800rpm, the BMW’s revised unit only just pips the Jag and Lexus on paper, but in reality it feels significantly ahead of the pack.
The engine, a revised version of the unit found in the pre-LCI 328i, is easily the punchiest down low, the strongest in the mid-range and the most aurally satisfying of any engine here.
It has the most rapid-fire and intuitive transmission calibration, and in fact it’s hard to think of many better autos in any car, anywhere. The unit is also matched to the most tactile paddle shifters, for what it’s worth.
The fact it manages to be the fastest — 0-100km/h in 5.8 seconds — and yet proved the equal efficiency leader with real-world consumption of 8.0 litres per 100km says much. A better 2.0-litre drivetrain is hard to find, at any level. Fuss free yet brutally effective.
Choosing the next best is tough. Number two in terms of power and torque outputs is the impressive new Lexus. The company’s first turbo offers an impressive 180kW at 5800rpm and 350Nm between 1650 and 4000rpm.
It’s certainly a step up over the old 2.5-litre atmo V6, which was the IS250’s Achilles heel, though it lacks the characterful note of the BMW and gets a touch wheezy at the top end. It has to lug about an extra 185kg in kerb weight over the BMW (1680kg versus 1495kg).
Against the clock the Lexus was two-seconds slower from 0-100km/h than the BMW, partly due to some throttle lag even in Sport + mode. Around town, however, under more moderate application, the Lexus is relaxed, refined and linear, and equalled the BMW’s fuel use.
The new eight-speed automatic transmission with paddles is no match for the BMW’s brilliant unit. It can be programmed to hold lower gears and shift more quickly in its racier modes, but in urban use there’s the odd hesitation and sluggish ratio change.
The Jaguar’s 2.0-litre engine is familiar — it’s the same engine the company has used for a few years now, and its origins are Ford — given it’s simply a bridging unit until Jaguar’s Ingenium engine family grows to accommodate a petrol in a few years time.
With 177kW at 550rpm and 340Nm between 1750 and 4000rpm, its outputs are good for the class, though its 0-100km/h sprint time merely bisects the BMW and Lexus, at 6.8s (the XE weighs 1535kg, again fitting between the Bavarian and Japanese offerings).
Belying the power and torque curves that would suggest otherwise, the Jag fails to feel effortless like the BMW, and forward momentum — fast though it is — is accompanied by a rather tinny note (from tailpipes surrounded by a diffuser that frankly looks unfinished) with a distinctive whine, and offers a laggy character under hard throttle.
Ditto the eight-speed automatic, which is actually the same basic ZF unit as the Bimmer’s, but which sports a different calibration. It lacks the crispness of the BMW’s, and the surgical precision in choosing the perfect ratio, no matter the task at hand. Good, not great.
One area where the Lexus and Jag were equals was fuel consumption which, after our test route, we equal at 8.0L/100km — 0.5L/100km more than the factory claim, and to the BMW. We know that sounds improbable, but that was the finding.
Trailing the field in term of outputs is the Mercedes, which offers what now appears a paltry 155kW at 5500rpm and 350Nm, crucially on tap from a super-low 1200rpm through to 4000rpm. But the Benz is also the lightest car here, at 1480kg.
Mercedes tells you it offers the second-best 0-100km/h sprint time here, at 6.6s. But you can feel the power deficit here, which isn’t too surprising. The C250, despite the sporting pretensions, is more cruiser than bruiser.
It’s a faithful companion in everyday driving, with a relatively effective seven-speed transmission (in Australia with its low speed limits, the difference between seven and eight speeds is purely academic). Still, the column shifter that is too easily mistaken for an indicator remains little short of hateful. How do you like suddenly finding yourself in Neutral on a highway while changing lanes?
But under dynamic driving, it feels the most strained here, and perhaps that’s why its fuel use suffered under heavy impetus, moving out to 8.8L/100km after hovering well below this on easier extra-urban routes for most of the journey.
The winner here is the uncompromising and almost without flaw BMW 330i. The Lexus’ engine is sweet and smooth but has to lug significantly more mass. The Jag’s engine is punchy but aurally disengaging, and matched to a less decisive gearbox than the BMW. And the Mercedes is smooth and pliant, but ultimately lacking herbs.
If you like heading out to your favourite piece of winding tarmac to blow off some steam, then the BMW and Jaguar are your weapons of choice. Each amplifies the ‘sports’ in ‘sports premium’. We’ll focus on these two just for the next few paragraphs.
As a side note, we’ll mention here that for the dynamic testing we ran the cars in their sportiest modes — with adaptive dampers if fitted (you can also spend an extra $1850 for an advanced Adaptive Dynamics system that monitors body movement 500 times a second on the Jaguar), and all four with their adjustable engine/gearbox/steering systems set to hardcore.
Much has been made of the Jaguar XE’s dynamic nous, and in many ways it’s indeed as nimble as the cat mounted on its grille. It certainly imparts the sportiest feeling, with its coupe-like driving position — legs almost straight ahead, wheel in lap, seat like a cocoon.
Additionally, its electro-assisted power steering is the best here, as is its gorgeous steering wheel. The whole setup, in terms of feel-and-feedback and weight, is as perfect as perfect can be. “90 per cent Porsche,” Andrew said. He’s spot on.
But it’s actually the BMW that is the most rounded dynamic package. Its steering is almost a match for the Jaguar’s, being only a smidgen less ‘connected’, and its overall handling abilities — body control and chassis balance mid-corner — are just sublime.
The immediacy with which the 330i changes direction, the sharpness of its turn-in, the feeling of alacrity and the way it almost dances on its tyres, is everything you’d expect of the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’. It also nudges out the XE, which is in-and-of-itself outstanding with its sports suspension and double wishbone/integral link suspension setup.
The 330i also offers a better ride compromise. Put both cars in their sportiest modes, with their engine, transmission and (notably in the case of the Bimmer) dampers primed, and it’s the German that really balances the requisite sharpness with comfort and composure.
It’s that little bit more compliant than the XE, it rounds off and irons out imperfections better without ever feeling anything less than tied-down. It also refused to bottom-out at a point where others did, and yet ‘settled’ better than all of them, and never felt at all ‘squirrelly’ under hard braking.
Having Adaptive M Suspension as a standard feature improves the post-LCI 3 Series markedly, and we commend BMW for doing this important spec upgrade.
The immediacy, linearity and aural accompaniment of the 330i’s TwinPower engine and eight-speed auto are also crisper and more theatrical than the XE’s drivetrain that, in essence, is similar, but feels 10 per cent more breathless and sounds 20 per cent worse.
The Lexus is the car that really straddles the line between sports and comfort — Lexus wants it to be properly dynamic, and in the grand scheme it is, but really, the company is all about comfort. Right?
Its pretty cushy, with some sidewall on its 225/40 R18s to cushion road joins and corrugations. Like the BMW, it didn’t bottom out on our rapid ascent section, and it generally blends suppleness with pleasant quietude.
Its electric steering has ample resistance, but also feels disconnected and not as ‘alive’ in your hands as the Bavarian and the Brit, and while it stays flat and planted and turns in well,you do feel its surplus of weight mid corner. It’s not as nimble as the former pair.
The new 2.0 turbo engine is such a huge step up on the wheezy old V6, though its uninspiring note and its propensity to run out of a little huff at the higher end had some impact, while the gearbox is unintuitive but not as crisp and proactive as the BMW’s, which is borderline telepathic.
The Mercedes is, of all the cars here, happiest in C-for-Comfort mode. And that’s ok, because the C-Class is unashamedly about comfort and luxury, rather than dedicated sportiness. But given this is a test of four sports-focused variants, it also matters in this context.
S mode brings out the brittleness and firmness in the car’s dampers, with the 19s thudding into bumps without any real gain in terms if body control — which is middling — to be yielded. The steering gains resistance but feels more detached than any here, diluting engagement.
As the spec sheets suggest, the engine lacks punch compared especially to the BMW, though its lightness lends a semblance if alacrity.
The C-Class, though, is not a car you really want to drive hard, and won’t inspire you like the BMW and Jaguar, and even the Lexus at times, if you do. Yes, it’s dynamic in the grand scheme, but not here, not in this company.
The tables turn in everyday driving, however. Dial these cars to comfort and the Mercedes becomes a highly desirable companion.
Firstly, on our highway test loop, it was the quietest car on smooth- and course-chip roads at 100km/h alike, recording 62.8dB/68.1dB respectively. This beat the Lexus (62.9dB/68.3dB), BMW (64.3dB/70dB) and Jaguar (65.2dB/71.2dB).
The Benz is also relatively supple despite those 19-inch rims, and its combination of breezy steering, good suspension travel, cabin tactility and its general ‘hush’ on the road make it a lovely place to wile away the hours. It was my pick for the drive back to the city with the team, put it that way.
Cam’s pick, for reasons that should be obvious, was the Lexus and its magnificent sound system. But Lexus, to its credit, knows more generally what its buyers want, and largely delivers.
And so, it’s the most cosseting of any car here, and might just round off road bumps and cobbles (Elwood in Melbourne’s leafy south is overrun with them) better than the other three here. Its nigh-on as quiet as the Benz, and its seats are more plush.
For a car that’s amazing at tearing up the corners, the 330i is also commendably quiet, though its run-flat tyres let in more droning than they do in the Benz. The Bimmer always errs to firm, but its rarely jittery and always predictable in the way it handles sharper bumps.
By comparison, the Jaguar’s dampers let more intrusion from cobbles and co. into the cabin, while its front apron also scraped the tarmac more readily. This, alongside the general cabin ambience, detracts greatly from the ‘premium’ part of the ‘sports premium’ equation.
Here is one area where the Jaguar is a star. The British-Indian brand is leaping for the jugular at dealer level to conquest buyers out of their German offerings.
The Jaguar XE 2.0 petrol’s service plan allows you to pay $1350 up front in exchange for five-year/80,000km of servicing, which is cheaper than many mainstream car. The intervals of 12-months/16,000km are decent too.
The Lexus has service intervals of 12-months/15,000km, and the first visit is free. Also in its favour is the company’s lauded Encore aftersales plan, that gives you free loan cars or service pickup/drop-off services, invites to fancy events and an extremely wide-ranging roadside assist program.
You can tell these two are the conquest brands, given their aftersales provisions. Jaguar’s service costs are genuinely great for a luxury car.
Both the BMW and Mercedes-Benz also allows you to pay for a fixed service term in advance, roll it into your finance and transfer it if you on-sell the car — just like the Jaguar.
Both of the Germans have intervals of 12-months and 25,000km, which kills most cars on the road. The Mercedes will cost $1980 for three years cover, while the BMW costs $1240 for for five years of very basic servicing or $3465 for its advanced Plus program that covers a much wider scope.
The BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Jaguar all have warranty terms of three-year/unlimited kilometres, while the Lexus’ covers four years or 100,000km.
The Jaguar XE and Lexus IS200t, while conceptually similar, are very different cars, and in a weird kind of way offset each other.
The Jag’s dynamic abilities are simply great, in particular its steering, complemented by the coupe-like driving position. You could also speak volumes of its ‘cool’ factor that offsets its lack of some equipment, and its outstanding servicing plan.
But its cabin is a little dour, frankly. This is an area where the Lexus most certainly isn’t, at least in terms of its seats, its instrument display and the serene quietude on road. Its new drivetrain is still middling, as are its dynamics, but it’s a faithful and rewarding car — more so than ever.
But neither is quite sufficient to overtake the BMW or the Benz. Which of this remaining pair is best? Well that depends on which question you most need answered.
The Mercedes still has the most visually arresting cabin. The Lexus’ magnificent seats notwithstanding, the Benz remains the car you’d be most excited to clamber into after a series of tedious management meetings.
The Stuttgart marque’s entry is also the cushiest here in urban duties — at least on the Airmatic system — and let’s never underestimate the importance of its ‘driveway appeal’, given it still looks supreme from most angles.
By comparison, the BMW’s cabin is austere. But then again, the Bavarians have added an array of equipment, there’s good space and it all feels as hardy as a 19th century Polar explorer. And any cabin quirk is forgiven when you’re driving it.
The Bimmer also remains the absolute benchmark for balancing ‘sports’ and ‘premium’. Its steering is the second-best here, but in any other handling metric it reigns supreme. The addition of adjustable dampers also makes it more comfortable than ever before.
The Mercedes, then, makes an immediate impact. But the BMW grows on you, and if we’re valuing highly a car’s dynamic nous here, then you might reasonably argue that this latest update makes it the pick in this very specific context. Were it a test of different spec levels, the result may well have been different. The Germans reign.
Click on the Photos tab for images by Tom Fraser.
Thanks to Foxeys Hangout winery on the Mornington Peninsula for letting us use their site for hero shots.