Who is the chief executive? We pitch Mercedes' new E-Class against the BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF
- Mercedes-Benz's latest E-Class goes head-to-head with Jaguar and BMW
- All are 2.0-litre diesels with automatic gearboxes - which is best?
It’s an exciting time in the mid-sized executive saloon sector right now. Buyers are spoiled for choice with models that deliver superb comfort, impressive kit, muscular performance, company car tax-friendly efficiency and badge bragging rights.
Now, Mercedes-Benz’s latest ‘W213’ E-Class has entered the fray, seeking to put its BMW 5 Series countryman and the recently introduced Jaguar XF in their place.
We tested the big-selling four-cylinder diesel versions of each car; that’s the 192bhp E 220 d, 187bhp 520d and 178bhp XF 2.0d. (This review from May 2016 features the outgoing BMW, a new 5 Series is now available for order).
Executive decision: Mercedes' new E-Class (red) goes head-to-head with the BMW 5 Series (blue) and Jaguar XF (white) in the ultimate mid-sized saloon showdown - so which one should you buy?
While hardly exotic or exciting, these are the workhorses of their respective line-ups, and so are demonstrably the most relevant to the business-user market.
Let’s get cosy with the Merc first. The E 220 d is the manufacturer’s first model to receive the new aluminium-blocked 2.0-litre oil-burner.
The engine is smaller and lighter – and by consequence more powerful and efficient – than the superannuated 2.1 it replaces.
From behind the wheel at idle, it leads the way here for quietness and smoothness. That’s a big step on from its mechanically unrefined predecessor.
It’s also officially the most economical contender, at a claimed 72.2mpg – although on test we found its 56.8mpg average lagged behind the 48.5mpg of the 520d.
Its performance advantage was undisputed, however; it sprinted from 30mph to 70mph through the gears 0.9sec ahead of the BMW and 1.5sec quicker than the Jaguar.
It’s all impressive stuff, but doesn’t go far enough as to feel particularly special in the wider scheme of things. All these four-pot diesels may be the unsung heroes of their respective line-ups, but exciting they’re not.
Dynamically, the E-Class submitted for test was already on a back foot, as its entry-level SE spec could not compete with the sharper, more driver-focused 520d M Sport and XF 2.0d R-Sport it stood against.
Top-brass trio: All three cars have comfort and refinement in mind, but having a sporty side as well will help in our group test
The E-Class looks unmistakably Mercedes-Benz - you'd struggle to confuse it for anything else
Where the Mercedes does beat rivals is the interior fit, feel and quality - it's not streaks ahead, but it is that tiny bit more wonderful
Its 17in alloys, high-profile tyres and standard ‘comfort’ suspension setting can be replaced with lowered, passively or adaptively damped set-ups, or height-adjustable Airmatic. We suspect that any of those may still not live up to the dynamic prowess of the equivalent Jaguar or BMW.
The isolating, relatively softly set-up Merc takes a very different approach to the perfectly balanced and tautly poised XF, yet the lithesomeness of both models lags behind that of the all-conquering 5 Series, whose optional adaptive M Sport suspension combines the best attributes from both rivals.
Five years into its run, it remains the dynamic leader here, backed up by its keen engine and clever auto trans.
Luxury, comfort, space and spec are foremost considerations in the executive saloon class. All three contenders are of similar dimensions inside and out, and even the Jaguar’s slightly tighter rear space is more than enough for three adults. The BMW is by a hair the roomiest car here, with longer and more supportive rear cushions and more headroom all round.
Dynamically, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class can't match its closest rivals
The rivals in sight: Mercedes knows it has a tough act to follow if it wants to steal sales from BMW and Jaguar
When it comes to cabin ambiance, though, again the cars take a different approach. The E 220 d offers a high-set driving position with a commanding view out, while the XF’s is lower, sportier and more cocooning. In between is the 5 Series, which is spacious and convenient, with comfortable and supportive sports seats.
For fit, finish and kit quota, the newcomer wins out over its older rivals. Twin 12.3-inch ‘double-display’ LCD screens are optional, and the latest-generation Comand infotainment system with steering wheel-mounted touch-sensitive pads is much simpler to navigate than the previous iteration.
High-quality switchgear and a 23-speaker Burmester premium audio system add that extra layer of class, and the level of comfort, convenience and safety gear can’t be beaten here, although the BMW comes closest.
The Cars & motoring verdict
This is a difficult group to place in the traditional three-two-one fashion.
None disappoints, and each is a stand-out model in its own right, so our final ‘ranking’ is more a calculated order of preference to potential buyers than an order of merit.
The E-Class’s most pure approach to the job of being a luxury saloon is actually its downfall here.
While the Mercedes feels one dimensional the Jaguar is a Jack of all trades, offering comfort and performance
Jaguar has the XF Factor: The cat-badged saloon takes the victory in our test
It’s understated, functional and beautifully built, with excellent equipment levels and a refined new diesel, but it doesn’t pretend to be – and indeed isn’t – anything more than that. It’s simply content to be what it is, which lends a slightly one-dimensional feel.
The 5 Series and XF are significantly more sporting.
The BMW combines that racy edge with great everyday ownership appeal, but the Jaguar wins out here. Its quality, accommodation, kit, performance and refinement are all as impressive as they need to be, but it’s the driver focus that really stands out.
The Brit takes the crown.
BMW 5 SERIES vs JAGUAR XF vs MERCEDES-BENZ E-CLASS HEAD-TO-HEAD
BMW 520D M SPORT AUTO
0-62mph: 7.9sec (claimed)
Top speed: 147mph
CO2 emissions: 119g/km
Engine: 4cyls, 1995cc, diesel; Installation Front, longitudinal, RWD
Power: 187bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 295lb ft at 1750rpm
JAGUAR XF 2.0 R-SPORT AT
0-62mph: 8.1sec (claimed)
Top speed: 136mph
CO2 emissions: 114g/km
Engine: 4cyls, 1999cc, diesel; Installation Front, longitudinal, RWD
Power: 178bhp at 4000rpm
Torque: 317lb ft at 1750rpm
MERCEDES-BENZ E220D SE
0-62mph: 7.3sec (claimed)
Top speed: 149mph
CO2 emissions: 102g/km
Engine: 4cyls, 1950cc, diesel; Installation Front, longitudinal, RWD
Power: 192bhp at 3800rpm
Torque: 295lb ft at 1600-2400rpm
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