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It’s time for the final showdown, where the winner of last month’s luxury sedan test goes wheel-to-wheel in a winner-takes all fight against three of the established, premium (and German) stalwarts.

That means our Jaguar XF has returned to battle for the British against the Teutonic might of the establishment: the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

The latter three are the dominant forces in the luxury sedan segment in terms of sales, but the XF is nipping at the heels of the trio of Germans.

So, does the Jaguar deserve more sales than the Audi, BMW and Merc? Or should those in the market for an executive saloon be focusing on the likes of the new-generation E-Class, the strongly equipped 5 Series and technically impressive A6?

The only way to find out is to put them through the same tests we did previously, meaning we’re assessing each of these four cars against five key criteria: pricing; plushness and comfort; space; power; and control.

This time around we’ve got myself, fellow senior editor Mike Costello and CarAdvice CEO Andrew Beecher along for the drive as our resident judges.

Let’s find out which car we think is the best luxury sedan.

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Pricing

Let’s say you’ve got a budget of $100,000 to spend on such a car. There are options aplenty in terms of different specifications and drivetrains, but we took what we could get to try and figure it out under that price point.

Admittedly the Audi A6 2.0TFSI quattro – a new addition to the range for the brand – creeps over that mark in its introductory special edition guise, priced at $106,855 plus on-road costs. Audi assures us, however, that the model is to be added to the range for the MY17 line-up, at a cost of $97,855 plus on-roads (albeit missing some equipment that’s standard on this car: more on that in a sec).

While the A6 is an established model, the all-new Mercedes-Benz’s E200 – priced from $89,900 plus on-road costs – is our second-priciest test car. The car we had was fitted with the Launch Edition pack ($1880) that includes 19-inch alloy wheels and “Macchiato Beige Leather”. It also came with heated front seats ($900) and a tyre pressure monitoring system ($650).

Our BMW 520d was the third-most expensive, priced from $84,755 plus on-road costs. But our test car was a bit higher than that: it had the M Sport package with 19-inch alloy wheels, a body-kit with high gloss trim finishes, M sports suspension, sports front seats, dark headliner (total: $6400) as well as the Professional package, which adds comfort access, anti-dazzle mirrors , lane change warning, seat heaters and a surround-view display ($3000), and a sunroof ($3200).

The most affordable car by list price is our contender from the also-rans, the Jaguar XF 20d Prestige. It costs from $82,800 plus on-road costs, but our car had a few options fitted: a sunroof ($3200), power pack with electronic boot lid and 2x 12-volt rear sockets ($2500), advanced parking assist with parallel and perpendicular parking ($1710), rear cross-traffic alert with blind-spot monitoring ($1420) and lane-keeping assistance with driver drowsiness monitoring ($1060).

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As for inclusions, each car here has satellite navigation, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and push-button start, leather seat trim, leather-lined steering wheel and shifter, and electric front seat adjustment. None have heated seats as standard, and only the Mercedes has the latest in-car connectivity of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. The Jaguar is the only one that misses out on digital radio reception.

There’s plenty of standard safety kit on offer here, too, with all four cars fitted with autonomous emergency braking and lane departure warning, while the Audi adds active steering assistance. The Mercedes-Benz is the only car here with radar cruise control as standard, and that system also includes semi-automated driving with steering assistance. And hey, the Jaguar can park itself. 

As for airbag coverage, the Jaguar and BMW have six (dual front, front side and full-length curtain), while the Audi has eight (adding rear side airbags) and the Mercedes-Benz has nine (with a driver’s knee airbag). All four cars have dual ISOFIX outboard child-seat anchors, and top-tether points, too.

The Audi – even at its higher price – misses out on a sunroof and seat heaters. Both were optionally fitted to the Jaguar and BMW, while the Benz did without the glass part of its lid.

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As for ownership, the Audi A6 is available with the brand’s Service Plan, which spans three years or 45,000 kilometres, with servicing due annually or every 15,000km, whichever occurs first. That program costs $1810 as a pre-purchase option, and the A6 is backed by a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, not to mention three years of roadside assistance (all four cars here come with that).

The BMW Service Inclusive plan costs $1540 for the 5 Series, and covers basic maintenance for up to five years or 80,000km, whichever occurs first (the brand’s models have condition-based servicing intervals, where the car will advise when maintenance is due based on how it has been driven). All BMW models are covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Jaguar’s XF is covered by a three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, and it has handy maintenance intervals: services are due every two years or 34,000km, whichever occurs first. Over five years/102,000km, the maintenance plan cost is just $1100 (note – owners must have the final service at the five year mark if the maximum distance isn’t reached).

Mercedes-Benz’s new E-Class is expensive to maintain in this company: granted that services are due every 12 months or 25,000km, the total over a three-year/75,000km period is $2680. The Benz is covered by a three-year warranty plan.

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Plushness and comfort

Each of these cars has a level of plushness and luxury in their respective cabins, but there’s one vehicle here that is heads and shoulders above the rest.

The Mercedes-Benz E200 doesn’t look like a base model inside: unless, of course, it was a base model limousine with a price tag north of $200,000. That’s how good the interior is.

The dual 12.3-inch screens ahead of the driver; the sumptuous leather trim; the black head-lining; the beautiful dark wood finishes and chrome trims on the dashboard and doors – it all adds up to the most premium cabin here. All three judges (and the photographer!) agreed on that. But we all also agreed on the fact the small plastic engine ignition button looked cheap compared to the larger metal push-button in the smaller, cheaper C-Class.

We also didn’t love the media system. The big screens and Mercedes-Benz’s COMAND system take some learning: firstly, the one in front of the driver is controlled by two touch-capacitive pads on the steering wheel, which are not easily adapted to; and secondly, the codpiece over the top of the rotary dial between the front seats seems to make things more confusing than they need to be – and it obscures the driver’s view of some controls.

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Each tester found the interface and menus (upon menus, upon menus!) confusing to navigate when compared to the simplicity of the rotary dial selection strategies in the Audi and BMW.

Indeed, the Audi’s MMI system – while not the latest version, but still with the touch interface that allows you to input information by drawing on top of the rotary dial – was easy to use, and we liked the hide-away media screen: it should stop it from getting dusty.

BMW’s iDrive media interface was superior to all rivals. It just makes perfect sense to toggle, click and twist the little dial to get it where you want it. Brilliant.

The Jaguar’s lack of a rotary dial and its reliance upon the InControl touchscreen system meant it didn’t have the same premium feel to its media controls: there is a level of inherent control over the system when you can use a dial rather than try and wait for a less bumpy section of road to touch the right part of the screen. Its screen was a little slow to load, too.

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As for each of the stereos in these cars, Jaguar’s 11-speaker system offered decent bass and clarity – the best of the four cars on this test, in fact. The BMW was the best for bass – EDM or heavy music fans will appreciate that – and while the Audi had good clarity, there wasn’t enough meat to the noise. The Merc’s system was the loser here: it wasn’t as crisp in the high spectrum, nor as solid when bass notes hit.

Back to the presentation of each of the interiors of these cars…

The Mercedes smashes most elements out of the park: the piano black between the seats is a bit naff, and our test car had a loose-fitting carpet section on the transmission tunnel.

But aside from our gripes with the usability, the middle screen doubles as a display for Apple CarPlay, and the screens offer good resolution. One thing our judges liked was the configurability of the driver’s screen – you can choose between different layouts and themes, including a retro look. Neat. Shame the prominent speaker covers look a tad old school, too.

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Further, the Mercedes-Benz’s surround-view camera system proved to be the best of the four cars here, and perhaps the best of any car on the market. There is surprising clarity from the forward, rear and side-view cameras; the Audi had front and rear cameras with multiple available angles, too, but they were grainy in resolution; the BMW’s camera was rear only, but with an optical display of the front and rear sensors; and the Jag’s parking display was similar to that in the BMW – rear camera of fine quality, and optical display for front and rear sensors.

All four have luxurious elements: the automated vents on the XF are plush as, as is its cream leather trim; the BMW’s seats are sumptuously bolstered and offer excellent adjustment and comfort; and the Audi’s simple but technical design is Teutonic class all around – and it has a digital dash component that is in fact better than the Merc.

The centre graphic on the dash cluster is bright and clear, and the menus are simple to learn. The fact you can get Google Maps up on the dash adds even more cool factor.

The BMW has part digital dials, but it is certainly showing its age in terms of presentation. The 5er’s replacement has been revealed, and the new interior looks better than the one you see in the images here, but still not stunning by class standards.

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Other ways in which the BMW shows its age is that it lacks seatbelt height adjustment (though the nearly-new Jag doesn’t have that either!), and the general presentation is quite aged, including the overly lacquered look of the wood trim sections. It falls short on storage, too: more on that in the Space section below.

The Audi has been around a little while – not ages, but there are elements that have aged, like the two-stage fan control buttons: you have to press a button to control the fan flow every time, why not just a separate toggle? But hey, this specification of A6 also had a quad-zone climate system, allowing those in the back to set their own temperature areas.

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The lovely suede fabric inlays on the doors complement the metallic finishes on the Audi’s dash, but the black leather and black head-liner means it feels luxurious but austere and a bit clinical rather than homely and lavish.

Other little things – like the fact it’s the only car here without electric steering adjustment, and its slim-rimmed steering wheel (the others have chunkier tillers – the BMW’s M Sport one was a highlight for our judges) – also count against its plush-factor.

The light and airy award for this test goes to the Jaguar. With its light-on-light trim finishes, it felt quite inviting – but when we delved a little deeper into the cockpit presentation and finish, there were a few bits that didn’t feel as luxe.

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The lower stack, for instance, doesn’t look as classy as the competition. It’s a bit plain. And the pop-up gear selector – while a novel party trick the first time you show your friends – can be annoying when you’re trying to choose a gear in a hurry.

While the seats in the Jaguar are comfortable and supportive up front and in the back, they didn’t quite offer the support of the best here. And all of our judges agreed the car didn’t feel as premium in terms of its dials and switches, particularly those on the steering wheel.

This group of testers raised the annoying placement of the window switches on the door cards, as happened in the qualifier.

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At speed, the Jaguar offered more creaks and groans than the others, and it was also showing some marks on its light coloured leather seat trim (as was the Mercedes).

Space

As impressive as the Mercedes-Benz’s interior looks, it isn’t as much a limo as it may appear at first glance.

That’s because it lacks the rear seat legroom to make it feel as such. In fact, it was short on legroom when compared to all three rivals here, despite the fact that the amount of knee and toe space is perfectly fine for taller adults on shorter trips.

Taller adults may find headroom to be the main issue, here – if you have tall backseat passengers, the Audi would be your best bet.

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Pictured above: Mercedes-Benz E-Class

 

If we had to be the backseat passenger in any car over a longer drive, the BMW would be it. Despite its age the 5er offers excellent knee and toe room, just better than the newer A6 and a step ahead of the XF as well. The BMW’s rear seats are very comfortable and supportive, too: they were our pick, ahead of the XF, A6 and then the Merc.

All four, though, have issues with transmission tunnel intrusion to different degrees, meaning fitting three abreast in the back could see arguments for toe room – the A6 would cause the most kerfuffle in that regard, as it had limited middle-seat space comparatively.

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Pictured above: BMW 5 Series

All four have flip-down centre arm-rests with cup holders, though the Jaguar’s one wasn’t as thoughtful as the others: if you are storing drinks, you lose arm space because of the way it is designed. Further, only the BMW offered a ski port from the boot to the cabin.

If you’ve got big feet; you’re not as sprightly as you once were; or you’re just awkward when it comes getting in and out of cars, the Jaguar and BMW offered the most challenging ingress and egress, in part due to their high sills and small door apertures.

The Benz offers excellent practicality in some ways, with big front and rear door pockets, good sized map pockets in the back (albeit against hard plastic seat-backs), and a decent centre console with dual USB and SD inputs.

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Pictured above: Audi A6

Storage in the BMW isn’t as copious, with slimmer door pockets (too small for a bottle to sit upright), as well as a small centre console and cup-holders. But it does have a neat little hidey-hole in front of the driver’s knee.

The Audi’s storage game was stronger than the BMW’s, with decent door pockets all around including bottle holders for each outboard occupant, but with small cup holders up front and yuck mesh map pockets in the back. But with a double-storey storage bin between the front seats and dual USB inputs, it won some points back.

The Jaguar’s storage was a mish-mash: the front door pockets are too slim to sit a bottle in, but the cup holders are big, and up front it has a small centre console bin. It’s not as clever as the Merc or Audi. The seat backs of the Jag have mesh map pockets, and the door pockets are slim – the little pieces of flocking to stop loose items rattling around in the doors of our test car were loose, but at least the intent was there. The Jag had two 12-volt outlets in the rear, but only one USB up front.

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Pictured above: Jaguar XF

As for the boots of these four, only the Merc comes with a standard electronic boot lid – and it’s quick, too! – and on top of that the E-Class matches the XF for cargo capacity, with each claiming 540 litres of space. The Audi has 530L, and the BMW is just short of that (520L). Realistically, it’s the difference between fitting a school backpack or not.

The aperture of the BMW offers the best ease of use when loading items like golf clubs, with the Audi’s cargo hold opening being the tightest.

The Benz’s boot has a small section to the side for storing your shopping bags, but the BMW’s deep side pocket behind the right rear wheel looked perfect for stopping a loose-lidded bottle of milk from ruining your boot.

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Pictured top: Audi A6; bottom: BMW 5 Series

The Mercedes-Benz was the only one with a standard electric boot lid: the Jaguar’s was optional, the Audi didn’t have one and nor did the BMW.

The Audi was the only car on this test that missed out on boot-mounted triggers to lower the back seat sections down, though none of the other three saw the backrests drop automatically. In fact, the Jaguar’s was jammed so only one side opened up.

The Audi’s load-through port was the largest here, though, and it was the only car on test with a 12-volt outlet in the boot.

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Pictured top: Jaguar XF; bottom: Mercedes-Benz E-Class

It’s worth noting the Audi and Jaguar had space-saver spare wheels, while the BMW and Mercedes both have run-flat tyres, allowing for a little more boot space under the floor in the latter two.

Power

Once again we have a mix of petrol and diesel drivetrains, and both rear- and all-wheel-drive models on test.

All of these cars have four-cylinder engines, but there’s one that punches above its weight: the Audi A6 2.0TFSI quattro. The A6 churns out 185kW (at 6000rpm) and a chunky – almost diesel-like – 370Nm (from 1600-4500rpm).

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Under its bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbo petrol four-cylinder engine teamed to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, and it’s the sole model here with AWD.

It has the highest claimed fuel consumption of these four at 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres, but on test we saw 9.9L/100km.

Part of that comes down to the weight of the A6 – it’s a bit of a porker at 1820 kilograms, where its rivals are all lighter: BMW 1580kg; XF 1556kg; Mercedes 1780kg.

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Despite its mass, the Audi has plenty of power available, with the drivetrain offering excellent response on the highway and around town, too.

The mid-range is meaty with plenty of push, and the dual-clutch transmission is generally pretty good, with crisp shifts at speeds. It can be a little sluggish to react in full auto mode, and you can catch it out in a high gear when you need to suddenly put the boot in.

There’s the typical low-speed hesitancy from the gearbox when you combine that with turbo lag in stop-start, it isn’t perfect from a standstill. But on the open road, it’s a powerhouse.

The other petrol model here is the Mercedes-Benz E200, which has a considerably less powerful 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine.

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There’s 135kW of power at 5500rpm and 300Nm from 1200-4000rpm, and considering it’s the second-heaviest here there was no surprise it didn’t feel as sprightly as its petrol-powered rival.

The rear-wheel-drive Merc has a nine-speed automatic gearbox, and the drivetrain never felt flustered: there’s still easily enough grunt to get off the line quick enough, if not as quickly as the Audi, and there’s hardly any grumbling at idle, either. The stop-start system worked nicely, too.

At highway speed there was no issue with response when you suddenly planted your foot, with the E200 gathering pace without hassle for overtaking moves and such.

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And in terms of fuel use, the petrol Benz performed quite well: the claim is 6.4L/100km, where we saw actual use on test of 8.0L/100km.

Now, to the diesel duo – the BMW 520d and the Jaguar XF 20d, both powered by 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged oil burners, both rear-driven, and both with ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic gearboxes.

The outputs of these two are close, too: the 520d has 140kW of power at 4000rpm and 400Nm between 1750-2500rpm; the XF has 132kW at 4000rpm and 430Nm from 1750-2500rpm.

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Now, as we all know, torque is the key with diesel engines, and it was clear the Jaguar was urgent in the way it responded to throttle input at higher speeds. It offered excellent revability at lower speeds, which meant it felt quite effortless to get off the line even though there is a slight touch of lag.

Once you settled into a cruise, though, the Jaguar felt a little lazy, upshifting to save fuel when you might prefer it to hold on to gears a little longer: but you could use the paddles to choose the gear you want.

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That said, the Jaguar’s engine was notably noisier and gruffer than the diesel in the 5 Series. Its stop-start system vibrated through the car more than the others, and there was generally more buzzing being felt through the cabin from the engine in the Jag.

All that upshifting clearly did the job for consumption, though. While the Jag couldn’t hit its claimed fuel use of just 4.3L/100km, we saw a combined actual on test of only 5.9L/100km.

The BMW’s claim is 4.5L/100km, and we saw a still respectable combined actual reading on test of 6.9L/100km.

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Its engine possessed enough push to get things moving pretty rapidly, and the transmission was quite well behaved around town. And in manual mode it would hold gears nicely, too.

In contrast to the Jag, the BMW’s engine was relatively muted as well and refined in terms of performance: sure, there was a touch of noise at idle, but it wasn’t as coarse as the XF. Of course neither of the diesels offered the level of quietness of their petrol counterparts around town.

Like the XF there was a little bit of turbo lag off the line when you put your foot down, but it revved willingly to about 3500rpm before petering out somewhat: the way it revved wasn’t as enjoyable to pursue as it was in the Jag.

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Control

The Audi A6 with its quattro all-wheel-drive system was bound to argue a strong case when it came to control, and there’s no arguing with the available traction that helps it claw out of corners with more tenacity than its competitors.

You never feel like it won’t have your back when you push it hard through corners – except for the steering, which left our three judges scratching their heads.

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All agreed the steering felt dead and numb, lacking any meaningful feedback to the driver’s hands. It was dull enough to make each driver feel as though they weren’t going as rapidly as they otherwise might have, had the steering been more precise and accurate.

That said, the way the suspension dealt with bumps, including a couple of really nasty potholes and drainage channels on our road loop left us suitably impressed. The balance and control over mid-corner bumps, too, is worthy of applause, with its compliance under speed unquestionably good.

The softer damping set up of the Audi on rough country roads is to its advantage but around town and can feel a little bit wobbly on its feet on arterial roads with some bumpy sections. It was so good over sharp bumps that it felt as though you simply glided over speedhumps.

Its steering is probably worse around town that is on the open road because it lacks the immediacy that you might expect or desire when importing steering lock for quick movements. At least at speed there’s a little more arm involvement so you get in on the wrestle.

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2016-4-car-comparo-bmw-520d-v-merc-e200-v-audi-a6-2-0-tfsi-quattro-v-jag-xf-206

The Mercedes fell well short of expectations.

How bad was it? Well, Andrew got out of the car saying he felt seasick, and he’s a regular sailor who never pukes on boats. “A lack of body control doesn’t describe it – it feels like it’s on tippy-toes all the time,” he said.

The suspension offered poor body control, with a lot of lateral bouncing on our rough road loop, and it also felt as though it lacked the balance of the BMW and Jaguar. It didn’t brake as well as the other three, either, with a wooden feel to the pedal.

The front end crunched over sharp edges, and it was hard to feel confident at the wheel due to the fact that the body felt like it was moving around on top of the suspension rather than sinking down onto the struts through the sharper bends.

Its steering, at least, was considerably better than the Audi, with quick responses and better feel through the tiller meaning mid-corner corrections were more manageable, and its steering confidence was at a higher level as a result. The resistance of the steering was a bit heavy at times, though.

And its suspension compliance and comfort was actually pretty good below 50km/h, although the front suspension again crunched down over sharp bumps, and we also noticed some axle shuffle at slightly higher speeds.

Look, the general consensus with the E200 is that if you don’t go exploring back roads, you might never need to worry about these dynamic issues. That is to say, it’s a confident city and highway cruiser but falls short when it comes to pushing it hard.

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The BMW – long considered a benchmark car for dynamism – didn’t disappoint.

Its steering was much better than the two cars mentioned above, with better directness and accuracy, with its linearity and weight making it feel more trustworthy for the driver.

The suspension tends to feel more of the small inconsistencies in the road, but it never felt flummoxed by them like the Benz.

It cornered with agility despite its size, with a great balance allowing the driver the confidence to push a little harder than in the abovementioned cars.

It didn’t really do anything to offend the sensibilities of our drivers around town, either: sure the suspension felt as though it was constantly nibbling at the road surface, but not annoyingly so, and it soaked up sharp edges as well as the Audi. It settled quickly, making for a decent ride even on crappy city streets.

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If there was a battle for dynamic supremacy, the BMW may reign but the challenger to the throne would be the Jaguar.

Its steering is excellent – this tester found it to be the best of this bunch, with its weighting, dartiness and accuracy, not to mention the feel on offer through the wheel, combining to make it feel easy to drive hard.

That’s all well and good if the road is smooth, but when you encounter a severe bump the front suspension will crash unsophisticatedly: over the same bump in all four cars, the Jag was the worst.

Still, its suspension dealt better with offset lateral bumps, and there was considerably less wallow to the suspension at speed, feeling taut.

At city speeds the suspension rounded off the edges of lumps decently, but fell into bigger holes a bit more dramatically than all other cars on test. Its steering was heaviest at lower speeds, but its pointy reactions mean you don’t need too much lock.

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Verdict

All told, the Audi A6 was the winner of this test – and easily.

It clean swept our judges off their collective feet, impressing each of us with its space, power and control. With all-wheel drive for excellent traction, a potent petrol engine and superb ride comfort and compliance – not to mention a big, comfy cabin – the Audi was a winner. If only it steered a little better, and was cheaper, it could win more buyers in this part of the market.

Second place went to the all-new Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Were we surprised that the new model didn’t win? Yes, but what surprised us more was the lack of comfort, and even competency, displayed on our demanding dynamic test section. This car is a cruiser, a luxury car to a tee – it simply fell short in terms of control.

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Third place was a tie, with the carryover champion Jaguar XF scoring the same number of points as the ageing BMW 5 Series. The Jaguar’s pointy steering and outright dynamism was excellent, though it couldn’t quite match the competitors for luxuriousness. The 5er’s ageing interior was its biggest downfall, because it drove well and had adequate power for its purpose.

It must be said that altering the specifications of each of the above models would likely have seen a different outcome to this test. Throw in a BMW 528i, for instance, and it may have scored better.

The Jaguar XF 35t R-Sport would likely have put up a strong argument if that were the test, too, particularly if put against the Audi A6 we had, and the as-yet-released Mercedes-Benz E300 – which will get adaptive suspension standard. But those weren’t the cars we had, and so we judged each of these cars against our five set criteria.

And, of these four cars in their respective specifications, the Audi nailed the brief of being the best luxury sedan.

Final Rankings

How did our judges come to their final judgment? Taking our test criteria into account, each judge was asked to individually rank the field first place through to last – no sharing. Here’s a table of the result:

luxury-car-comparison-2_ranks

Then we translated these to rankings of how each car stacked up: a first place ranking in the table above saw one point tallied, second place managed two points, and so on.

The final overall ranking, then, reflects the lowest score for the win through to the highest score for last place:

luxury_score

Click the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.

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