Imagine it was the year 1997, and you were going to spend significant money on your new luxury sedan. Unlike today (where luxury sedans across all brands appear increasingly identical) you were confronted with significant alternatives: Do you prefer technology or classiness? Space or grace? Back then, you actually had real choices.
The best example for this clash of cultures is probably the choice between the W140 Mercedes S-Class and the Jaguar XJ of the X300 / X308 series. Let’s have a look!
The philosophies behind these two cars are about as different as luxury sedans got back in the 1990’s
Specifically, let’s compare a W140 S600 L, the top of the line W140 with V12 and long wheelbase (built from 1991 to 1998) with a Daimler Jaguar V8 (built from 1997 to 2003). The Daimler was the top notch luxury line from Jaguar and also came with a long wheel base chassis. This is the model her Majesty the Queen of England drove back in the days.
For this article, we have a 1994 Mercedes S600 and a 2000 Jaguar Daimler V8. Agreed, they don’t match perfectly because they differ 6 years in age and also, the S600 should rather be compared to the more powerful Daimler SuperV8. But still, these two will be good testimony for the luxury class of the 1990’s!
Talking about differences, the most obvious one is, well, obivously, sheer size. But if you think the Mercedes is merely a lot longer, you’re wrong. In fact, the two have roughly the same length (5.21 meters of the Mercedes vs. 5.16 meters of the Jaguar). In other words, the Mercedes is about five centimeters longer, no big deal.
But let’s have a look at width and height: The Mercedes is an impressive 9 centimeters wider, and – even more impressively – it is 15 centimeters taller than the Jag! That’s a difference of over 10% in height, and you can see it immediately.
Comparing length, width and height of the two, where do you think they differ the most in absolute numbers? No, not in length! That’s roughly the same. It’s the height that makes the largest difference, the W140 stands 15 centimeters taller than the Jag!
It comes as no surprise that this difference is kind of omni-present on the inside. The Mercedes does feel a lot like the (often quoted) cathedral while the Jaguar appears more like being in a lounge chair in some traditional British sports club.
The difference in space is experienced most obviously when you change over directly from the Jag to the Mercedes: Intuitively reaching for the gear selector, my right hand literally fell down into an empty space at least three times, expecting the gear knob to be much closer than it was – my brain was still trained to the Jag‘s much smaller interior dimensions.
Different dimensions are also found in the rear. Both being long wheelbases, leg room is fine in both cars. Also, the rear seats are more than comfortable, electrically adjustable, heatable (and with electric lumbar support in the Jag). However, head room is where you find the big difference; just have a look at the below images of me sitting in the back of both cars.
Fun fact about the long wheelbase: While Mercedes merely adds 10 cm to the wheelbase when going for the long version, Jaguar adds 12.5 cm to the wheelbase and even 1.9 cm to the height of the roof in the rear. This shows how much effort Jaguar had to go through to make the XJ8 “halfway suitable” for demanding rear seat passengers!
All things considered, as a driver I would say both cars can be excellent; certainly different, but not necessarily better or worse. Things are different when you’re looking for a luxury car to be driven in, spending your time in the rear: Then, the Mercedes is clearly superior.
When it comes to engines, you will also find some noteworthy differences. Mercedes chose to offer the full range of engines with six, eight and twelve cylinders, covering a range from 150 to 394 hp. Jaguar, on the other hand, “only” had one V8 that covered a slightly smaller range, from 238 hp to 363 hp. It is a bit of an irony of fate that Jaguar ceased its famous 6.0 liter V12 (that Jaguar had built for decades) just after Mercedes introduced the S600…
If you were looking for the ultimate high-tech engine, your choice would probably have been the V12 from Mercedes. Then again, the Jaguar V8 was a truly modern and attractive engine back when it was introduced in 1997. In order to compete with the big V12 in the S600, Jaguar had the Daimler Super V8 on offer. It came with a supercharged 4.0 Liter V8 which was powerful and almost matched the Mercedes’ power, being short 31 hp and 2 liters of displacement. However, performance was roughly equal, with 5.7 seconds from 0 to 60 mph and a maximum speed of about 150 mph.
In both cases, luxury didn’t come as a bargain: In Germany, a Mercedes S 600 L was priced at about 210,000 DM (Deutsche Mark) back in the late 1990’s, as opposed to the Daimler Super V8 at 175,000 DM. At a difference of about 20% in price, Mercedes did make you pay for the plus in space and technology that you got. However, in this range a price difference of 35,000 DM was probably not the decisive factor for your decision.
After our test drive, we still face the most trivial question: Which one is better? Well, it obviously depends. If you were looking for a high-tech sedan with the absolute top level of comfort, space and performance, you simply had to go for the S600, no question. If, on the other hand, you valued grace, style, maybe even a little understatement, and were looking for a smooth and comfortable cruiser, the Jaguar would be your obvious choice.
And if you look at global production numbers, it becomes quite clear wich cars buyers valued higher: Mercedes produced 406,000 W140 sedans in about 7 years, resulting in an average of ca. 58,000 cars per year. Jaguar on the other hand produced 126,000 X308 models in 6 years, resulting in an average of ca. 21,000 cars per year. In other words, almost three times as many buyers chose the Mercedes over the Jaguar. But then again, the exclusivity of the relatively rare Jag was probably part of the reason why many customers chose the Jag in the first place!
While both models are excellent cars, almost three times as many buyers decided for the Mercedes over the Jaguar. But then again, the exclusivity if the Jag was probably part of the reason why many customers chose the Jag in the first place!