David Thomson has been out and about in two sleek, svelte European grand tourers. He blows away some winter cobwebs by reporting back.
Similar but different, that sums up the BMW 650i M-Sport and Jaguar XF 3.0D S that passed through Drivesouth's hands over consecutive weeks a few months back, just before the winter reality of poor weather and damp, gritted back roads put paid to any thought of spirited driving.
Firstly the obvious similarities: twin-turbo engines, each producing 600Nm of torque; advanced eight-speed automatic transmissions delivering that torque, and its associated power, to the rear wheels; sleek looks, coupe-like in the case of the Jaguar, which is actually a four-door sedan, and
genuine coupe in the case of the two-door BMW.
Now the key differences: 300kW petrol powered BMW versus 202kW diesel Jaguar; a price tag of $236,700 for the former, more than twice the $115,000 asked for the latter; a more accelerative (0-100kmh in 4.9sec) but thirstier (10.6-litres per 100km) BMW versus a still quick (0-100kmh in
6.4s) but very frugal (6.3-litres per 100km) Jaguar.
Setting this up as a full comparison test is unfair; the true match would be XF versus BMW 5-series, or BMW 6-series versus Jaguar XK. However, when two cars of this type arrive in close succession, it is hard not compare.
Both the 6-series and the XF carry an illustrious sporting pedigree.
In the case of the BMW, it's directly traceable down the 6-series line to the 635 CSI, which was one of the most desirable road-going coupes of its day, and a powerful force on the international touring car racing scene.
The XF's sporting heritage is less direct, though illustrious nonetheless, based as it is on Jaguar's seven victories in the classic Le Mans 24 Hour Race. The XF, meantime, has been a vital car for Jaguar since going on sale in 2008, and numerous variants - both petrol and diesel - have featured in Drivesouth over the years, and have attracted positive reviews throughout.
The S designation in the XF 3.0D S moniker signifies it is equipped with the most powerful version of a twin-turbo diesel that in normal form (as used on the standard 3.0D) develops 177kW (not 202kW) of power and 500Nm (not 600Nm) of torque.
Amazingly, given that the S version manages a 0-100kmh sprint time of 6.4sec versus the standard 3.0D's 7.1sec, they are equally matched in fuel consumption with a fine 6.3l/100km return on the standard cycle test.
In S guise, the XF is a mighty mechanical performer: not especially characterful in terms of engine note perhaps, but subdued around town, refined on a highway cruise, and relentlessly strong when delivering its full punch.
While an engine with so much low-down torque does not need an eight-speed gearbox to show its best, the combination works nicely; as for the paddle-shift controls, they will only really come into play during a sporting blast.
When so pressed, the chassis and suspension are not as sharp as those of the XFR, but there is no denying this car has a solid, planted feel when driven in a spirited fashion. Nicely weighted steering and the updated brakes and the adaptive suspension that are part of the S package assist
in this respect, with the latter also helping to maintain the car's comfortable urban and open-road demeanour.
The other aspects of the XF 3.0D S that particularly impress are its exterior looks and interior design.
Assisted by a mild facelift in 2011 and, in the case of the test car, its aero exterior styling pack (sporty bumper, sill extensions, rear spoiler) and optional 20-inch alloys, the XF looks as fresh as it did at launch, four years ago.
That fact came as a relief to me, for while I rated the XF as drop-dead gorgeous at launch, I wondered if its modern take on the classical Jaguar style would stand the test of time.
The interior, meantime, exudes quality, and the integration of traditional elements such as woodgrain finishes with modern touches, such as the rotary control knob for the gearshift has yet to be bettered this side of a $400,000 super-luxury car.
There's less obvious tradition in the design of the BMW 650i, though it pays homage to the original 6-series with its styling around the nose. Lower and sleeker than the XF (it is a coupe, after all), it utilises the same underlying platform as BMW's 5-series saloon.
The cabin is very spacious by coupe standards (as is the boot), and nicely appointed, though perhaps not quite special enough to live up to that hefty price tag. There's no questioning the excellence of the driving position mind, nor denying that this car serves up a veritable feast of advanced technology.
Adaptive ride and damper control, dynamic drive, a lane departure warning system, auto-dipping headlights, internet connectivity, and a parking assistance system are all included in the standard price. The test car also trumpeted over $27,000 of extras, including a magnificent Bang & Olufsen surround sound system ($9900) and night vision ($5500).
Keen drivers would make more of the $4850 active steering option, not to mention a $5500 M-Sports package that pops everything from 20-inch light alloy wheels to an M-tuned sports exhaust system into the mix.
The odd thing is that even with all of these extras, the 650i doesn't feel 100% the driver's car its looks suggest.
The issue here is certainly not the engine and gearbox, which combine superbly to give smooth acceleration or more potent progress when demanded, both to the aural backdrop of a sublime V8 burble. That 0-100kmh comes up in a shade under five seconds is impressive enough, but there's also the sense that this is but the beginning of what this car has to offer.
Finding the optimum chassis mode for Kiwi conditions is more problematic: comfort and normal are fine for town and highway work, but sport + feels too much like a track-day mode.
Sport, without the plus, dials up containable driving thrills, but with the caveat that the steering could do with more feel, and that because of this (and a slight tendency for the car to understeer), the relationship between car and driver is never quite hand in glove.
Do such things matter?
Well, when you are paying more than $235,000 for a car (or $264,000 as tested), it should deliver in every way.
To be fair, the 650i almost does, and falls only just short of being the complete package its looks, cabin and outstanding engine suggest. The Jaguar, too, is not quite perfect, but then again, it is still pretty darn good, and half the BMW's price.
This leaves me thinking that while the BMW would be my pick for a special-occasion drive, the Jaguar would be my choice as an everyday luxury car.
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