Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan / Don Cheng / Karston Chong
Published: March 26, 2018
We’ve got nearly half a million dollars worth of leather and metal in our garage and we’ve brought these three V8-powered six-figure executive sedans together to decide which one we like better. And you’ll soon realize, that these aren’t just your generic run of the mill limos.
In the blue corner we have the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, the gold standard of the luxury sedan segment. The S-Class is synonymous with that silver star badge. When you think Benz, you think S-Class. For 2018 it went under the knife and got some new front and rear bumper designs. It also gets the double lamella front grill from the last S 65 AMG, but overall it appears skinnier and less muscular than before. The front and rear lights are new, and an easy to way to tell it apart from other models are the streaks in their headlights - S has three, E has two, C has one. Clever.
Next to that is the Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo, kind of the purple elephant in this room. You see, it’s not really a “sedan” per say. Porsche basically took a regular Panamera, stretched out the rear, and molded it into a wagon. They didn’t just call it a day there, they made sure it was going to the sexiest wagon on the road, and I’m almost inclined to agree if it wasn’t for the Mercedes-AMG E 63 Wagon. The Sport Turismo is completely new from the B-Pillar back with a stretched roofline and lower rear end for easier loading, and frankly gets rid of that loaded diaper look in the sedan. It is also taller and longer than the sedan but so much more toned and muscular. I think it looks great.
And then we have the Jaguar XJR575, the veteran in this crowd. The R treatment gets you the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 treatment tuned to produce, you guessed it, 575 hp. You also get a retuned and sportier suspension, larger brakes with red calipers, 20-inch wheels, dual hood vents, rear spoiler, and quad exhaust pipes. It looks menacing in this white paint too, but I’m not so sure about all the badges on the back - it reads like a billboard out there.
So there you have it. We have got the epitome of luxury, performance, and prestige behind us. We’re going to assess each of these kings of opulence and objectively decide which one achieves their intended purpose better. Which is more comfortable? Which is more fun and exciting to drive? Which would we want to take home? It’s time to pick our poison and go for a spin.
The Scalpel: 2018 Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo
The Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo comes in a few trims in Canada, with six- and eight-cylinder variants, and a hybrid option as well, but what we have here is the Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo. You can tell its a Turbo by the badging and those square twin tailpipes out back.
That means its being powered by a monster of an engine, a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 pushing out 550 hp and 567 lb-ft of torque. Those horses are pushed through an 8-speed dual clutch transmission, sending this Panamera from 0-100 km/h in a quick 3.8 seconds, the fastest here. Porsche says with launch control it’s even faster, hitting it in 3.6 seconds instead. Of note, that’s still one-tenths of a second slower than the E 63 AMG Wagon we tested last week.
The Turbo models gets you Porsche’s flurry of technology like an adaptive suspension and rear-wheel steering. The Sport Turismo specifically gets a clever three-position adaptive rear spoiler, which will raise and lower depending on the speed to help aerodynamics - I don’t think it looks as cool as the sedan’s folding Optimus Prime spoiler, though.
I can tell you without a doubt that this Porsche is for people who like to drive, and drive, and drive. It may not have the most horsepower in the bunch but it has the highest torque, and boy do you really ride that tidal wave when you put your foot down. There’s so much power and grip that my brain and body struggles to catch up and stay one step ahead of its chassis.
Not only does the Panamera nail straight line speed but its when you begin to turn the wheel that the Porsche comes into its own element. The way it travels, the way it grips, it makes you feel so confident behind the wheel. The steering is chatty, the air suspension is perfectly damped for spirited runs, and the center of gravity feels incredibly low meaning you can chuck it around corners like a sports car.
Where the Panamera begins to fall apart however is with driving excitement. It feels so singularly focused on trying to go fast and tackle corners with finesse that it forgets to give the driver any sort of emotional feedback. That mainly comes down to the exhaust, or lack of it. This V8 sounds more like a V6, and is loud just for the sake of being loud. The soundtrack doesn’t have the burbles or the depth that you’d expect, and is really quite disappointing in this regard. I’ve heard four-cylinders that sound better than this. The suspension is also overly firm too. Even on Comfort mode, it jiggles and jangles about on smooth roads making for not exactly the composed ride at slow speeds.
The Sport Turismo body shape really solves most of the sedan’s shortcomings, mainly in the cargo space department. That extended roofline and wagon liftgate means more cargo space, more rear headroom, and for the first time in a Panamera, you can option it to fit three of your friends in the back. However, the middle seat is incredibly tiny, with the center console taking up most of the real estate.
You can’t get the Sport Turismo in long wheelbase form, so those wanting to lounge in the back won’t be as swayed as in the S-Class or XJR, and I only just fit in the back when sitting behind myself. It doesn’t feel any roomier than a mid-size sedan to be honest. Those bucket seats with heavily pronounced thigh bolsters don’t make it very easy to slide in and out of the car either. They sort of stab your butt if you enter at the wrong angle (which is always). Not very luxury like.
The rest of the cabin is a swanky place to spend time in. Porsche has kept a straightforward and clean design with a horizontal dashboard uninterrupted by tack-on screens. The center console is still button-intensive but they’re not real buttons anymore - just one sheet of glass with haptic feedback.
A few downsides: the ambient lighting isn’t as extravagant as the Benz, which had a total of 64 colours. Here there are only a handful and they only light up the cabin in some hidden areas like the speakers and overhead console. This is a new car but the window switches are too stiff and need quite a bit of force to get going. Front storage space is notably terrible and the center console is L-shaped and miniscule, meaning you’re going to be storing most of your stuff in those circular cupholders, and I’m fairly certain that most of your belongings are not circular in shape.
The Porsche is also the most expensive vehicle here, costing $60,000 more than the S 560 and a whopping $80,000 more than the XJR575. And if you take all of its elements into consideration, the Panamera Turbo certainly doesn’t feel nor drive like its astronomical price tag.
The Musician: 2018 Jaguar XJR575
The Jaguar XJR575 is a bit of a dinosaur if I say so myself. I remember driving one of these way back in 2014 and it looks and feels almost identical. Now don’t get me wrong, I think the XJR has aged wonderfully and has really stood the test of time, and still looks as elegant today as it did four years ago.
Despite its age, the XJR actually has the most horsepower out of the pack here. Its supercharged 5.0-litre V8 produces 575 horsepower, and Jaguar is pretty adamant about making sure you and everyone else around you knows that it makes that much power. Taking a page out of BMW’s handbook, there are 575 badges everywhere from seatbacks, treadplates, to the trunk lid. There’s even a bright red 575 badge on the center of the dashboard, reminding drivers about the output every time they look out the front windscreen. I guess when you end up breeding a luxury sedan that can hit 300 km/h, that’s something to brag about.
How does it drive? It’s alright. That supercharged engine has such urgency to it that it explodes off the line but it has a hard time translating all that power to forward motion with less than sufficient traction. The XJR575 is the lightest car here and is the only one with rear-wheel drive, but the suspension doesn’t feel as taut or as sorted as the Panamera. You still feel a lot of vertical motions as you pass over undulating or bumpy roads. The steering has almost no feel to it either, and it is certainly not as crisp as one would expect.
The XJR575 may not be the fastest cat here but it is the journey, the trip, and more importantly the overall experience, that makes this Jaguar feel so unique. The exhaust is the star of the show here and decimates everything coming out of the S-Class and Panamera. Neither of them sound as good as this. It’s not a typical V8 sound nor it doesn’t pop like the F-Type, but it howls on a high note, is distinctively loud, and purrs like a tiger on steroids.
The XJR is a very special car. It is definitely the most emotionally daring and dramatic sedan in this lot. It has all the right ingredients for a cohesive luxury and performance sedan however it fails to marry them all together in a well sorted recipe. The steering leaves something to be desired, as does the suspension. But hey, at least it sounds good.
The same goes for the interior. There is a lot of chrome and metal that brightens it up, however after sitting in the S-Class and Panamera, front cabin space here definitely feels the smallest, mostly because of that high and claustrophobic shoulder line cocooning and wrapping itself around the entire span of the cockpit.
The 575 badges are a bit of overkill and there is carbon fibre everywhere. This is a Jag for chrissakes. You’re not fooling anybody in this day and age. It’s like putting ketchup on your filet mignon, even though I’m actually the type of person to do that. Some of the panels and stickers feel like an afterthought and the steering wheel doesn’t feel too expensive either, especially when you’ve got these plastic switches that not only feel cheap, but sound cheap too.
The one tradeoff with the small front cabin is that the rear cabin is the largest here. The XJR575 only comes in long wheelbase configuration, and there is much more legroom than the Mercedes and Porsche. Sadly, you can’t adjust the seats and there’s no massage option for the front or back seats either.
The infotainment screen is clearly the worst and most ancient system here. It is just not up to the modern standard in terms of responsiveness, and I already had it freeze on me a couple times. There is also no dedicated screen to customize the steering and suspension like in the XF and XE models.
The Butler: 2018 Mercedes-Benz S 560 4MATIC LWB
After driving the S-Class for only a few minutes, you can tell it has an entirely different mojo than the other two. Rather than spitting fire and racing to the checkered flag, the S-Class would prefer to sit down, have a cup of tea, and chat before rolling quietly to the finish line. It is so dedicated to providing luxury and comfort that it doesn’t bother trying anything else.
Mercedes offers a new 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8 engine for the S-Class this year, and is now called the S 560 instead of the outgoing S 550. It produces a bit more power than before, juicing out 463 hp and 516 lb-ft. That’s the smallest output in this assembly, but it is actually offers the smoothest and torquiest feeling V8. There is just as much torque as the XJR and though it’s not as explosive or as urgent as the Jaguar, it feels much more linear and controlled, allowing for a gradual yet sophisticated build up of speed.
Yes we would have liked to compare these vehicles to the S 63 AMG instead, which would have a more comparable price tag to the Porsche and actually produces more power than the Panamera Turbo, ultimately we weren’t able to source one to drive in time for our comparison test. Nevertheless I think the S 560 still presents as a worthy adversary in this assortment, and it’s always nice to have an underdog in the group.
The suspension is what makes an S-Class, an S-Class, and it is tuned to float like a cloud in the sky. In fact you are so isolated from the outside world both physically and audibly that you feel like you are in your own little bubble. The only other time I’ve felt this was in the Rolls-Royce Wraith, and that’s as bubbly as it gets.
Of course, these vault-like qualities weigh it down during spirited runs but it doesn’t try to hide it. The S 560 is not a very fun car to drive but it is a very relaxing car to be in, and sometimes that’s just what I want in a daily commuter car to get me from A to B. I’m not always looking for thrills or for the next fastest corner. Sometimes I just want something to lower my blood pressure, and the S-Class seems to have been built for just that. It offers perhaps not the best driving experience here but definitely the best riding experience. Find someone to drive for you, sit in the back, and enjoy the interior.
That’s because the S-Class has hands down the most elegant and mouth watering interior here. The materials are sourced straight from the top shelf, every panel is soft and if it’s not leather it’s metal. In here you have the most comfortable seats in the world, either front or back. Whether you’re slender or a bit bulkier, the seats are infinitely adjustable.
I did like the old steering wheel better. This one looks a bit droopy but is thankfully heated, unlike the E-Class. The widescreen display is eye catching - I love how it’s integrated right into the dashboard instead of a simple slap-on display like they have in the C-Class. It gives it a more seamless look. There is also a dedicated “seat” button, which addresses my prior complaint I had with the E-Class, making it easier to navigate to the massaging seat menu.
That being said, I find one of the biggest downsides are that the C-Class and E-Class borrow so much from the S-Class flagship that it just doesn’t feel that special anymore. The switchgear is mostly identical except for a few things like the Burmester tweeters and central buttons, but you get the same steering wheel, the same rotary dial, clock, vents, and widescreen cockpit. It just doesn’t have that same “zing” that I’d expect from the halo model. That plasticky column shifter and signal stalk is particularly insulting. They are the same ones you get in the $35,000 CLA 250.
If you had this much money swimming around in your pocket, I’d envy you but not if you had to sit down and choose between this trio of luxury sedans. If theatre and exhaust noise meant everything to me, I’d go for the Jaguar. With a stampede of power from the moment you press the gas pedal, it gets up to speed in the most dramatic fashion here. It also has the most spacious and comfortable rear seats. However it doesn’t have the best quality interior, and the ride isn’t as buttoned down as the other two. It sends my pulse racing but in the end the XJR is more of a short-lived emotional choice rather than a long-term pragmatic partner.
If I wanted to take my sedan to the track (really?) or if I valued driving dynamics over all else, the Porsche would be my preferred steed. The wagon offers fresh new styling that remedies my criticisms of the sedan. The new liftgate earns a plus in practicality, and there is excellent rear headroom, but those deep bucket seats make ingress a hassle, and the intense angle of the rear windshield cuts off so much usable cargo space in the name of aesthetics. Without a doubt, the steering and chassis is definitely the best in this company but overall the Panamera Turbo lacks the emotion and exhaust that I would expect from a $200,000 sled. Nickel and diming us for every option in the book doesn’t help either.
That means the winner of this comparison is the Mercedes-Benz S 560 4MATIC. It may not be the AMG model but in its place is a dedicated and singularly focused luxury sedan that aims for the stars and lands there. Instead of raising my pulse like the Jaguar or Porsche, it slows it down. Got hypertension or atrial fibrillation? This is your remedy. The S 560 is the car I want to be driving, the car I want to be driven in, and the car I want to own. It’s excellent road manners, impeccable cabin layout, and semi-autonomous tech only add to its appeal. The shared materials and switchgear that have tricked down the food chain does make it feel slightly less exclusive, and the infotainment system is still not very user friendly, but these are small issues overshadowed by its majestic interior and understated sheetmetal. The S-Class sets the standard once again and remains as the champion of the luxury sedan market.
Model: 2018 Mercedes-Benz S 560 4MATIC LWB
Paint Type: Anthracite Blue Metallic
Base Price: $124,400
Price as Tested: $141,450
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,125 / 1,930 / 1,496
Curb weight (kg): 2,200
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 463 hp @ 5,250 - 5,500 rpm
Torque: 516 lb-ft @ 2,000 - 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 13.5 / 8.6 / 11.3
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.8
Model: 2018 Jaguar XJR575
Paint Type: Fuji White
Base Price: $126,500
Price as Tested: $126,500
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,255 / 1,899 / 1,460
Curb weight (kg): 1,885
Engine: 5.0-litre supercharged V8
Horsepower: 575 hp @ 6,250 - 6,500 rpm
Torque: 517 lb-ft @ 3,500 - 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, RWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 15.8 / 10.3 / 13.3
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.5
Model: 2018 Porsche Panamera Turbo Sport Turismo
Paint Type: Sapphire Blue
Base Price: $175,600
Price as Tested: $199,640
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,049 / 1,937 / 1,432
Curb weight (kg): 2,035
Engine: 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8
Horsepower: 550 hp @ 1,960 - 4,500 rpm
Torque: 567 lb-ft @ 5,750 - 6,000 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch transmission PDK
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 13.4 / 10.1 / 11.9
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 13.9