RIGHT. Let’s be clear on one thing straight away. If you have a BMW 3-series, or a Mercedes C-class, or an Audi A4, then you are driving the wrong car. Because what you should have is a Jaguar XE.
It may appear to be an ordinary four-door saloon, but actually, if you stand back for a moment and look at it properly, you will notice that it is extremely handsome. The body appears to have been stretched over the wheels, which gives the impression that it’s ripped, that it’s barely containing its internal organs.
And that’s just the start of it. I was bombing about last week in the V6 version, and, oh my word, what an engine. It doesn’t move the needle very much when it comes to power or torque. It delivers what you were expecting. No more. No less. But the noise it makes when you accelerate is sublime. Not since the Alfa Romeo GTV6 have I heard such a muted, mellifluous sound. And it seems to be coming from the engine itself, not electronic trickery in the exhaust system.
There’s more. Even though it is fitted with 35% profile tyres that sit on the wheels like a coat of paint and have about as much give as elm, the car is not busy or crashy in any way. Life gets a bit hectic if you put it in Dynamic mode, so I didn’t bother. I left it in Normal and settled back into a perfectly crafted seat to let it waft along in the way a Jaguar should. And the diesel version I tried a few months ago — which has taller tyres — was even better.
If I had to find a criticism, I’d say the dashboard is a bit dreary. All the buttons are small and hutched up in a corner, leaving vast swathes of plastic. I’ve seen more interesting-looking tabletops. And the graphics on the dials are a bit Lada circa 1974. But that’s not a good-enough reason to not buy this car. Not by a long way.
The only reason you might buy something else is that you don’t want an engine under the bonnet. You want a howling, fire-breathing monster. Jaguar will offer such a thing in the future, but for now it doesn’t. That means if you want a superheated, medium-sized saloon car today, it comes down to a choice between the BMW M3 and the vehicle you see here, the Mercedes-AMG C 63.
This is not a good-looking car. The back looks as if it’s melted, and there are way too many flashy styling details. It seems as though it’s crashed into an Abu Dhabi interior design shop and everything has just sort of stuck.
Inside, the news is better. It feels special. And beautifully put-together and interesting. When I had the Jag, I accidentally removed the sat nav data card, and when I put it back I was told via a message on the screen that I had to turn the car off and then on again so the system could reboot. You just know that this wouldn’t happen in a Mercedes. And that if it did, the man responsible would be sent into the desert with a shovel and a service revolver.
Then of course there’s the engine. Gone are the days when AMG Mercs had massive, charismatic 6.2-litre V8s. Because of emission regulations, you must now make do with four litres. Sure, a brace of turbochargers means you get even more power than before, but the bellow has gone. And the crackle. Now it’s just loud.
“One of the things I used to like about AMG cars was that no real concession had been made to handling or Nürburgring lap times or any of that stuff”
Not as loud as the tyres, though. God, they make a racket. I went to Bray in Berkshire for lunch, and when I arrived, all I wanted to eat was a handful of Nurofen.
I was also extremely uncomfortable. One of the things I used to like about AMG cars was that no real concession had been made to handling or Nürburgring lap times or any of that stuff. They were fast in a straight line and sideways in the corners. This made them fun and comfy.
But obviously someone at Mercedes has decided that AMG cars must corner flat and fast, which means the suspension has been beefed up, which means they can go round the corners more quickly, which means they have become frightening and bumpy.
Very bumpy. I know my car was running on the optional 19in wheels, which will have made things worse, but the ride really was far too stiff.
On the upside of all this, the car doesn’t half shift. The mid-range acceleration is mesmerising, and it really does cling on in the bends.
You’d imagine, then, that because the company has gone all serious and decided to change the character of the AMG from a sort of European muscle car — a Ford Mustang in lederhosen — to a finely balanced and fast road racer, it would have fitted a twin-clutch flappy-paddle gearbox. Weirdly, though, it hasn’t. You still get a slushmatic that, even more weirdly, is operated via a Cadillac- style column-mounted stalk.
Regular readers of this column will know that I’ve been a fan of AMG Mercs for many years. I’ve even owned three. But the love affair is waning slightly. They’re becoming too chintzy. And unsure of what they’re supposed to be, which is smile-a-minute battleships. Not fast and agile motor torpedo boats.
Because if it’s a fast and agile motor torpedo boat you want, you’re way better off with the BMW M3. As a driver’s tool, it knocks the Mercedes into a cocked hat. And it looks better. And it’s easier to live with. But, that said, it too is far from perfect. The steering is weird and it feels heavy. If I were to write a school report on this car, I’d say: “BMW can do better.”
Frankly, if I were in the market for a fast, medium-sized saloon, I’d wait six months and buy the new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, which has 503bhp and rear-wheel drive and is an Alfa. But you probably don’t want to wait that long for a car that you sort of know won’t quite live up to its on-paper promise. ’Twas ever thus with Alfa.
Which brings us right back to the beginning. Because that Jaguar V6 is not exactly a slouch. It does 155mph, accelerates to 62mph before you’ve had a chance to look at the speedometer and corners beautifully. And it’s cheaper to buy than its German rivals, costs less to run and is better-looking.
Right now, then, as I wait for the Alfa because I’m daft in the head, you should buy the Jag. Because if it’s your head you’re using, it’s the obvious choice.
Head to head
|Mercedes-AMG C63||BMW M3|