From the May 2011 issue of Car and Driver.
Governments buy big luxury cars to move around the deciders. Corporations rely on them to hustle executives to their executive jets. Studios hire them to deliver celebrities to their appointments with stardom. And lucky mortals use them to celebrate lives well lived and to seal themselves off from the outside world, a world hopelessly short on wood inlays and 14-way power seats.Luxury Sedans Ranked and ComparedEvery 2021 Full-Size Luxury Car RankedTested: 2007 Long-Wheelbase Luxury Sedan MatchupTested: 2004 Big-Money Luxury Sedan Comparison
The ideal big car is a calm and reassuring presence, deliberate and proficient in motion and abundantly powerful. We’ve pulled three such candidates from the luxury-car class, all European—oh, excuse us, one is British—all stretched to the maximum available wheelbase, all with V-8 engines that’ll knock on 100 mph as softly as the knocking that awoke Stalin on Sunday mornings, and all with a base price of about 85 to 90 large.
Two of them, the Audi A8L and the Jaguar XJL, are constructed primarily of aluminum, while the BMW 750Li’s unibody is a mix of steel and aluminum. The Jag is only 164 pounds heavier than the new Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible despite being more than 17 feet long.
But for all the engineering sweat that greases these flagships, total combined U.S. sales of the three nameplates in 2010 equaled just 18,052 cars, about the number of Camrys that Toyota sold every 20 days last year. And it was an off year for the Camry. By a windblown chasm, the biggest seller was the 7-series, at 12,253 units, three times the volume of the XJ and nearly eight times that of the A8.View PhotosJOHN ROECar and Driver
Redesigned in 2010, the all-wheel-drive Audi is the longest car here (207.4 inches), and it packs the smallest-caliber munitions: 372 horses from its 4.2-liter V-8. It is also the least costly, starting at $84,875 and tested at $88,375, with two options aboard that would appeal only to owners who eschew chauffeurs: the $2300 Audi Drive Select Plus package, which includes dynamic variable-ratio steering and a torque-vectoring rear differential, plus $1200 worth of 20-inch wheels with summer tires.
The longest BMW in the catalog is the shortest car in this test, with 205.3 inches separating the 750Li’s flaring nostrils from its fluid stern. However, it is the wheelbase champ, outstretching the Jag by more than two inches. Our blue example, with its twin-turbo, 4.4-liter V-8 blowing out 400 horsepower, carried more than $10,000 in options, including $3750 in sport-driving addenda such as dynamic anti-roll bars and variable four-wheel steering. You get Oyster Nappa leather and matte-finish wood everywhere, plus a navigation system, for the base price but pay $1800 for the stereo upgrade with iPod and USB adapters and $1300 each for a head-up display and a set of 19-inch wheels. This is the only car here to suffer a gas-guzzler penalty of $1000, owing to its combination of 14 mpg city and 21 mpg highway in EPA tests.
Lastly, we come to the Jaguar. The brand overhauled its flagship last year, finally ditching the four-headlight, flat-roof theme that dated to the original 1968 bombshell. The slinky new lineup includes an XJL Supercharged model that brings forth 470 horses from its 5.0-liter V-8. The only option aboard our $91,950 example: a $375 heated windshield.
Mercedes-Benz ought to be here with its S-class, long the preferred shipping container for dictators and divas alike. But the current model is counting down the months to retirement, and the new one isn’t ready for C/D comparison testing, so the company requested that we proceed without it.
We did, releasing our three airtight caverns of leather and wood and wool carpet from the drudgery of their reserved parking spaces. We set them loose to roam fast and free under a big sky in an empty desert wilderness and exercised them the way a proper driver would enjoy an expensive, meticulously engineered machine.
Until the cops found us.Third Place: BMW 750iLView PhotosJOHN ROECar and Driver
As the song goes, it was on a dark desert highway, cool wind in our hair, that the highway patrol locked radar on the BMW. Do we know how fast, officer? Uh, something between the legal minimum and that of the F-16s wheeling overhead, en route to mock raids on desert bombing ranges.BMW 750iL Tested and Compared40,000 Miles in a 2010 BMW 750iL2009 BMW 750Li vs. 2009 Mercedes-Benz S550Tested: 1995 Luxury Sedan Comparison
Naturally, we blame the car. The needle in the 750Li often drifts to the far end of the speedometer when you’re not looking. It proved to be the slowest off the line of the bunch, but 5.3 seconds to 60 mph is not slow for a 4602-pound slab of highly distilled plutocracy.
HIGHS: A vacuum chamber at 80 mph, the engine from Apollo’s chariot, supreme seating comfort.
LOWS: Handling is merely fine, interior quality gets a B-minus, expensive and heavy.
As is typical for BMW, the Bavarian-made clockworks move with precision. That hearty turbo shove in the midrange happens without lag, lumpiness, vibration, or telltale turbine whine. In other words, without seeming to be turbocharged, or having fewer than 12 cylinders. Inside is an arcade of gadgetry. A digital head-up display stokes Corvette memories, while a battery of surround-view cameras includes one in each side mirror to gaze an unblinking eye toward the car’s blind spots. A lane-departure warning chimes when you’re weaving, and a toggle switch revises the suspension, throttle, and shift settings from a cream-filled comfort mode to the jungle crouch of “sport+.” In between are “sport” and “normal” (which implies that the other settings are somehow abnormal).View PhotosJOHN ROECar and Driver
Both rows of expansive seats give comfortable hugs in a cabin that is eerily quiet, even among these monuments to quiescence, and you can rest your Ferragamos on individual footrests, unique in this group. Open the door, and a hydraulic strut magically holds it in whatever position you leave it in. During testing, the unexpectedly modest 130-mph speed limiter, which may have saved one of us from being arrested, engages before you’d need to thumb up the radio volume.
So why is the 750Li third?
BMW simply seems to have less fun building these luxury liners than its smaller stuff. Every BMW should be the best driver in its class. Otherwise, why pay the premium? This one just elicits a shrug. A wider on-center dead spot in the amply boosted steering gives the car license to wander freeway lanes, and the chassis was judged less lively and entertaining than the Jaguar’s.
When a BMW is outdriven by a Jag, there’s trouble in Munich.View PhotosJOHN ROE
Though we admired the band of matte-finish wood inside, the interior plastics seem no finer than those in lesser BMWs. The doors of the tandem glove boxes sit loosely and create unsightly gaps on the dash. At this price, we want to be pummeled senseless by a fire hose of opulence, and the 750Li merely tinkles.
THE VERDICT: A BMW should be the best driver in its class. This one isn’t.
All of its many features and unique parts somehow conspire to make the 7 feel less like the top-of-the-line BMW than just a 5-series with a long inseam and an inflated sticker price.
2011 BMW 750iL
400-hp twin-turbo V-8, 6-speed automatic, 4602 lb
Base/as-tested price: $88,275/$99,625
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 5.3 sec
100 mph: 11.7 sec
1/4 mile: 13.6 sec @ 108 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 168 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.83 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 14 mpg
We don’t have a column labeled “exuberance” on our score sheet. If we did, the Jag would own it. The new shape looks like a teardrop about to go supersonic, while its cabin is worthy of a strut down a Milan catwalk. The suspension and steering are limbered up for corner combat, and the supercharged V-8 has the heart of a Spitfire. In this limo, the driver gets all the kicks.Jaguar XJ Tested!2012 Jaguar XJL Supersport Tested: Long on Power2016 Jaguar XJL V-6 AWD TestedTested: 2019 Jaguar XJR575
HIGHS: Steering the BMW should possess, interior looks to be tailored in Milan, lightest, fleetest, second-cheapest as tested.
LOWS: The choppiest ride, nav is yesterday’s tech, rear seat pinched for headroom, slower and lumpier shifts.
In striving to be luxuriously anodyne, Audi and BMW have created dashboards that look like cell phones decorated with wood and chrome. In the Jag, you feel like you’re sitting behind hardware drawn by Frank Gehry and exquisitely cobbled in blue leather by Gordon Rush. Everything is set low to create intimacy and improve sightlines. A heated steering wheel and ventilated, massaging front seats are standard.View PhotosJOHN ROECar and Driver
Designers tend to be our kind of car people, and the fact that they ruled the XJ’s development is evident everywhere, sometimes at the apparent expense of common sense. The steering-wheel rim has a ring of glossy wood right where a damp palm would rather be gripping leather. The needless blackout panel bridging the side and rear glass on the C-pillars grabs the eye from 20 feet, and up close adds to a riot of unsightly panel seams that would have never slipped past a German management team. The rear glass offers pinched and distorted visibility. As one tester commented, every car viewed through it is widened into a likeness of Jaguar’s XJ220 supercar.
As with the two other cars, a lesser model heavily shades the Jag. Those with seat time in the XF will recognize the drum-shaped gear selector and multicolor/multifunction console touch screen, the latter being a generation behind in its feckless ergonomics. Either our fingers are excessively fat, or the on-screen buttons are a half-size too small. A long look away from the road is always required to chart an accurate course through the system’s submenus.View PhotosJOHN ROECar and Driver
The flat panel with digital dials in front of the driver is not much easier to read owing to its small and tightly spaced numerals. Why doesn’t the Jag offer its master a selection of three or four instrument layouts? All that is needed is some extra software.
Back-seaters get acres of legroom and the most elaborate climate controls in this group but otherwise suffer the indignity of manual side-window sunshades (they’re motorized in the two other cars) and a shortage of headroom. As we said, the Jag is all about the pilot.
Stiff, fast, and direct steering guides the big cat through strenuous exercises with grace and stability, though with a harsher ride and more road thrum and vibration from the tires. This is the steering and chassis the BMW should have, though it would be better with a dose of BMW refinement.View PhotosJOHN ROECar and Driver
No longer sounding like a pool vacuum, Jaguar’s supercharger option—which puts the XJ’s price on par with that of the German V-8s here—lets the 5.0-liter eight-cylinder roar as it hastens to the 60-mph mark in a competition-skunking 4.4 seconds. None of the others breaks into the four-second range or approaches the Jag’s husky voice. However, the six-speed automatic transmission felt lazier and a little rougher than the smooth shifts of the other cars.
THE VERDICT: In this mod limo, the best seat is behind the steering wheel.
The XJL may be imperfect, but nobody could accuse it of being dispassionate.
2011 Jaguar XJL Supercharged
470-hp supercharged V-8, 6-speed automatic, 4270 lb
Base/as-tested price: $91,575/$91,950
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 4.4 sec
100 mph: 10.1 sec
1/4 mile: 12.8 sec @ 112 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 158 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.85 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 15 mpg
From the wholly emotional Jag, the compass needle swings 180 degrees before pointing to the coolly composed Audi. Unlike its counterparts, there are no weak seats in this cruiser, though its design seems to have originated in a focus group of bankers who were asked to describe their fantasy filing cabinet.Audi A8L Tested!Long-Haul Luxury: 40,000 Miles in a 2012 Audi A8L2013 Audi A8L 3.0T: Downsized Limo TestedTested: 2016 Audi A8L 4.0T Sport
The car’s stats are not impressive: This A8L is the longest, the least powerful, and the shortest on optional amenities. Yet it manages to outclass the BMW in interior trim, be comparable to it in seat comfort, and be lighter and quicker to 60 mph while posting better mileage numbers. It lacks the Jag’s panache, and the 4.2-liter V-8’s voice is muted, as if some really thrilling event is happening deep underground. But the Audi makes up for its shortcomings with relentless, persuasive rationality.
HIGHS: As solid as Deutsche Bank, dines happily on corners, interior finery is the richest. And at $88,375 as tested, it seems almost a bargain.
LOWS: Looks like it was designed by Deutsche Bank, slightly cold and robotic, audible tire slap over bumps, silly shifter.
State-of-the-art aluminum construction and Quattro all-wheel drive are two standard items. Another is an interior rendered in lush materials, from the swatches of synthetic suede on the doors to the contrasting ribbons of dark-hued burled vavona and piano-black trim. And this is the base car, lacking the Executive package’s fancier seats with massaging fingers.
The cabin design evokes other Audis, and a blind hand can almost always find the desired knob or button among the hordes. The multimedia interface, called MMI, is intuitive, and its high-resolution screen with its theatrical fade-ins and fade-outs is a deluxe feature that also minimizes distraction from the road. By comparison, the Jag’s display is from the Atari era.View PhotosJOHN ROECar and Driver
We love the ergonomic shape of the A8’s T-handle gear selector but buried it in f-bombs when it refused to give us reverse or drive on the first pull. How annoying is it by the third day? If all shifters operated like the Audi’s and you proposed replacing them with old-fashioned column selectors, the world’s car owners would buy you an island.
It’s a rare imperfection in a vehicle that runs hard and fast over hills and across deserts. A light fog hangs over the steering, preventing the driver from feeling fully in communication with the road. Yet the handling is stable and the grip feverish, and being able to sense every stone in the pavement isn’t necessarily a virtue in this class. Unlike the Jag, the Audi’s sturdy structure soaks up almost all vibrations before they reach the cabin, but—for some reason—not the audible slap of the 20-inchers hitting rough patches.View PhotosJOHN ROECar and Driver
The yaw effect of the optional torque-vectoring differential helped supply a best-in-test lane-change speed of 60.7 mph and a skidpad performance of 0.93 g. The differential’s efficacy is so pronounced near the limit that it feels like the car has rear-wheel steering—even more so than the BMW, which actually has rear-wheel steering. Because few will ever use the differential to its full potential, the A8’s trunk floor should be transparent so that at least owners can show off this pricey widget to friends.
While it’s doubtful that many buyers in this segment ever exploit the true abilities of their cars, at least we did. Doing so distinguished the Audi as the most compelling and the best value.
After subjecting these dandies to the indignities of the common world for a week, we returned them to their regularly scheduled lives, watching from afar as they glided back through the security gates to a world of privilege and power.
2011 Audi A8L
372-hp V-8, 6-speed automatic, 4350 lb
Base/as-tested price: $84,875/$88,375
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 5.1 sec
100 mph: 12.8 sec
1/4 mile: 13.8 sec @ 103 mph
Braking, 70-0 mph: 149 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.93 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 16 mpg
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