From the August 1995 issue of Car and Driver.
As the decimal point ka-chunks over to six figures on the window sticker—in this day of megadeals and gigabytes, $100,000 qualifies as one biggabuck—the gasp you hear is not from us. Nobody here cringes at the prospect of great cars. When three of the world's top automakers proffer four-doors at the one-biggabuck price point (close enough, after gas-guzzler and luxury taxes), we break out the crate of fresh superlatives we've been saving for that special occasion. This is a celebration of motoring excellence.Luxury Sedans ComparedTested: 2004 Big-Money Luxury Sedan ComparisonTested: 2007 Long-Wheelbase Luxury Sedan Matchup
The bad news is that the V-12 Mercedes S600 rounds off to $150,000 (these days, robber barons can't get ahead either). To get down to one biggabuck, we had to trim our aspirations back to the S500, a dimensionally similar sedan propelled by a 32-valve 5.0-liter V-8. At $101,726 as tested, this lesser Mercedes still weighed in at the heaviest price.
The other two contestants have V-12 power. The BMW 750iL stands at the summit of the new 7-series line introduced last fall. BMW's definition of luxury is evolving more and more toward technology (another way to say "buttons on the dashboard labeled with inscrutable acronyms"). Silicon Valley entrepreneurs will be impressed (entertained too) for only $95,492 as tested.
Fine cars, of course, take shape around fine engines. In this regard, BMW, Jaguar, and Mercedes-Benz have earned places at the exclusive head table—each offers a V-12. That's the good news.View PhotosAARON KILEYCar and Driver
The Jaguar XJ12 is a variation on the familiar XJ6, upgraded with a 6.0-liter V-12 and other details. While the world's automakers constantly adjust their images in hopes of attracting new buyers, Jaguar just keeps doing what it has always done with wood and leather, with shapes and shadows. At $92,688 out the door, the XJ12 is the only one of the group that could sell itself without a test drive.
As luxury cars reach for new capabilities, they leave behind the days when a guy who could operate one of them could operate them all. Now the radios, climate controls, door locks, and so forth are as different as WordPerfect and XyWrite, and first-timers in each keep calling out, "Hey, why is this thing beeping?" The Jaguar's remote door locks are a good example—the first push of the round button unlocks the driver's door, the second push unlocks the rest of the doors, the third unlocks the trunk; pressing and holding for a few seconds triggers the panic mode. This is simple, effective, and right in step with today's computer logic, but every family member will have to go to school on it.Big Sedans Compared and Ranked2014 Supersedan ShowdownEvery 2021 Full-Size Luxury Car Ranked
The quest for excellence is a noble reach; we humans might flatter ourselves that it's the key trait that lifts us above the animals. Yet excellence is elusive—so often we grab for it and pull back a handful of decadence instead.
What constitutes excellence in an automobile? What's that noise? Oh, yeah, that's the Pomposity Alert. Let's back away from the philosophic bog here and just say, "Trust us, excellence may defy a one-sentence description, but we can distinguish it from decadence every time, and none of the latter will slip past us as we review the achievements in this class of motoring luxury liners."Third Place: Jaguar XJ12View PhotosAARON KILEYCar and Driver
Next to the Mercedes, this Jaguar looks delicate and refined, a machine of the arts rather than of the sciences. It's an impression that only grows as the comparison deepens.
HIGHS: A creamy ride, a silken flow of power, but most of all a sense of style that transforms even the steering wheel into an artwork.
LOWS: Cramped cabin, low head clearance on entry.
It's small compared with the others—more than seven inches shorter and five inches lower than the Mercedes. The body dates back to a time in the Eighties when downsizing was still the way to fuel economy, when a low roofline was still essential for style. Add to that Jaguar's refusal to follow aerodynamics to the now common high-deck silhouette, its healthy resistance to pushbutton gadgetry, and its unmatched way with wood burl and soft leather, and you have a motorcar that's the most opulent and the least decadent of this group.View PhotosAARON KILEY
The pleasures are sensual rather than mechanical—indeed, apart from a heartwarming push in the seatback, the V-12 speaks in such a hushed purr that one might think it's made of cat parts rather than hard alloys. The ride is softer than the others, with less tire whock over the road blemishes. The cockpit is intimate; you feel the leather against your knees and elbows. If you're an adult male, you probably won't like the rear seat at all—too intimate. And remember to duck your head on the way in, both front and back.
This car has details that are easily appreciated. The gaps around the doors, hood, and trunk are narrow, just a fraction of the size of those on the Mercedes. The steering wheel looks like museum sculpture, with leather where your hands normally grip and rim sections of bent wood elsewhere for your eyes to caress.
The XJ12 accelerates with less of a rush than the others—though it takes only a half-second longer through the quarter-mile than the quickest, the BMW. It lopes to the highest top speed by far (149 mph) simply because one more piece of busybody electronics has been avoided—the governor. Braking and cornering on the test track fall between the others, yet on the road the Jaguar feels less athletic. The suspension calibration seems more for ride than for hustle.View PhotosAARON KILEY
The Jaguar definition of luxury avoids complexity—for example, there are no separate climate-control zones for driver and front passenger—and rarely does one encounter obvious electronic intervention. The driver's seat automatically moves rearward and the steering wheel retracts when the key is withdrawn from the ignition, this to ease entry and exit of the small cockpit. But apart from that one gesture, we found no gratuitous electronics, and therefore no need to hand out decadence demerits.
This Jaguar, like all modern cars, has its share of miracle microprocessors, but its traditional recipe for luxury keeps them deep in the servants' quarters.
THE VERDICT: Outpowered yes, but never outclassed.
1995 Jaguar XJ12
313-hp V-12, 4-speed automatic, 4217 lb
Base/as-tested price: $82,358/$92,688
Interior, F/R/trunk: 51/41/11 ft3
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.9 sec
100 mph: 17.6 sec
1/4 mile: 15.3 sec @ 93 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 184 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.77 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 16 mpg
This is a serious sedan, imperious and imposing; from stem to stern, it lacks even the suggestion of a smile, and it would be no damn fun at all if it didn't work so well. But it moves so gracefully, so confidently, so unwaveringly, over every road, no matter how narrow or bumpy or rain-soaked, that it earns our undiluted admiration. When it comes to covering the distance, this is the expert.
HIGHS: Unwavering authority in every move, whether attacking mountain switchbacks, flicking drops from its windshield, or pulling shut its own doors.
LOWS: Always feels like you're driving Daddy's car—so big and so solemn.
When it comes to looking down on your neighbors, it's unmatched as well. The floor is high, the seat is high off the floor, and the roof is way up there at 58.3 inches. You seem to get up into this car. Room inside is cavernous, although three adult males will be tight across the shoulders in back.View PhotosAARON KILEY
Like the others, the Mercedes has an interior appointed with wood and leather, but here the fine touches are overwhelmed by solemn details. The no-frills steering wheel is entirely covered in one-color, grain-matched plastic and leather. The knee restraints jut downward below the dash and are clad in carpeting that matches the lower doors (a few drivers complain about lack of knee space). This is one of the few cars in which the front-seat tracks are left exposed; in fact, they're made of intricately detailed alloy castings, more interesting than any plastic cladding could possibly be to those of us who enjoy machinery. Still, their lack of camouflage tells you of the mood inside this car.
The S500 is the bulkiest and the heaviest of this group, and it is powered by the smallest engine (4973cc). Yet it has no trouble keeping up with the others in the informal back-road dashes. On the track, it has slightly less road grip than the Jag (0.76 g on the skidpad compared with 0.77 g) and slightly better acceleration (6.6 seconds to 60 mph compared with 6.9), but these differences are too small for the seat-of-the-pants sensor.View PhotosAARON KILEY
Only in engine sound and texture does the S500's powerplant disappoint. Instead of the mellifluous V-12 song, it makes a snarling sound under full throttle, typical of M-B V-8s though hushed compared with what you hear in the lesser models.
This car's only harsh review comes from the decadence warden. If power trunk closers were a hey-look-at-what-I've-got gizmo from a tacky Detroit, then putting them on all four doors is completely over the line (we also find they rob this Mercedes of one of the marque's traditional pleasures—the Diebold-solid slam of the doors). The chrome rods that power up from the tops of the rear fenders when reverse is selected—to tell the proletariat "my dreadnought is so big I need markers to keep track of the back end"—should be embarrassing too.
You don't have to be shameless to enjoy this S500, but it helps.
THE VERDICT: As a machine, inspiring; as a gesture, perfectly plutocratic.
1995 Mercedes-Benz S500
315-hp V-8, 4-speed automatic, 4543 lb
Base/as-tested price: $95,379/$101,726
Interior, F/R/trunk: 56/54/16 ft3
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.6 sec
100 mph: 16.7 sec
1/4 mile: 15.0 sec @ 95 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 186 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.76 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 20 mpg
By the time you add up all the cylinders, pushbuttons, rocker switches, acronyms, memories, modules, and modes, this may be the most car for the money the world has ever seen, never mind the biggabuck price. The section of the owner's manual devoted to "controls" runs to 77 pages. You need a B.S. in BMW to avoid embarrassment when someone asks, "Why is that button glowing green?"
HIGHS: Great performance, sumptuous accomodations, and more acronyms than a NATO intelligence briefing.
LOWS: Have to go to college to figure out all the dashboard buttons.
Even more miraculous than getting all this stuff packed into one car is the fact that it all works so harmoniously. The V-12 teams up with the five-speed automatic for effortlessly rapid transit—14.8 seconds through the quarter-mile with an impressive 98-mph finish. The V-12 growls its way up the tack scale with nothing so rude as a combustion sound. The transmission provides Sport and Manual program options beyond the basic Automatic mode—mostly, they give the driver a feeling of participation—but they don't noticeably add to the considerable blur of the scenery.View PhotosAARON KILEYCar and Driver
When you get beyond the forbidding complexity of the controls, the 750iL has an agreeably human way about it. The cockpit has just the right space—neither the big-room feel of the Mercedes nor the tightness of the Jaguar. The rear, as in the Mercedes, has so much legroom one can't imagine using it all. The driver's bucket is a marvel of adjustability, with height and pressure control at the lumbar and an articulated backrest for just-right tailoring of shoulder support. The controls respond easily and intuitively. Although the over-the-road demeanor is appropriate to the biggabuck class, which is to say plush, this BMW has a tauter feel than the other two cars—more road noise and more harshness too, which you can make better (or worse, depending upon your view of such things) with another switch that stiffens the adjustable damping.
BMW's embrace of technology in this car is always interesting if not entirely satisfying. For example, the high-intensity-discharge (HID) low beams—they look blue to oncoming cars—cast a pattern of exceptional width and smoothness, except right in the middle of the road where a hot spot and a notch in the cut-off are highly distracting.View PhotosAARON KILEY
Life in this car is punctuated by beeps, followed by research trips to the manual. In one case, after three mysterious beep attacks within 120 miles, we discovered the cause was the driver's elbow poking the console-top phone.
The PDC (Parking Distance Control), which uses beep language to tell you how far the bumpers are from the next car (or curb, or garage wall), is a flagrant frittering away of technology. Elsewhere, the decadence police are left scratching their heads. The power-up rear window sunshade and the manually operated rear door-glass shades are hotly defended by those of us who spend time in the sunbelt. The automated starting sequence—twist the key enough to engage the starter, then release, because the electricks will get the engine going with no more attention from you—is as fun as it is unnecessary.
Whatever you expect for your biggabuck, you get a lot of it in this BMW.
THE VERDICT: While happiness remains elusive, here's proof that big money buys more pleasure.
1995 BMW 750iL
322-hp V-12, 5-speed automatic, 4438 lb
Base/as-tested price: $95,492/$95,492
Interior, F/R/trunk: 53/54/13 ft3
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.3 sec
100 mph: 15.3 sec
1/4 mile: 14.8 sec @ 98 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 183 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.80 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 20 mpg
Add about half a biggabuck that's $50,000—to the $95,379 you'd pay for a Mercedes S500 and you get the V-12-equipped S600. Its engine makes 389 horsepower—74 hp more than the S500's V-8 and 67 hp more than the BMW 750iL's V-12.
The S600 gets to 60 mph in six seconds flat, 0.3 second faster than the BMW. Throttle response in the biggest Benz is not neck-snapping. In fact, the V-12 Jaguar and BMW both outrun the V-12 Mercedes' 3.8-second 30-to-50-mph time. So around town, you most likely won't notice the extra 74 hp of the V-12 getting you out of the Bonwit Teller lot much quicker.
High speed is where the faster Benz feels best. When the Benz works up a full head of steam, it rolls juggernaut-like to a 155-mph electronically governed limit. The ungoverned Jaguar XJ12 reaches just 149 mph; the BMW 750iL peaks at a governed 131 mph. The V-12 Benz comes with Pirelli P600 Z-rated tires, which are able to handle higher speeds better than the H-rated Michelin MXV 4s of the V-8 car. The Z-rated tires do not affect the plush ride of the car, and neither do the standard auto-leveling rear shocks, a $2100 option on the V-8 car.
The V-12 contributes significantly to the S600's 4772 pounds—that's 229 pounds more than the same-size S500. The S600 costs $30 per pound and the S500 is a mere $22 per pound—and a few extra conveniences in the S600 don't change this relationship. Standard is the S600's suede leather headliner instead of the cloth fabric of the S500. Next is the wooden-sectioned steering wheel, like the Jaguar's. Then, of course, there's the integrated hands free-plusportable phone. And the driver's seat has three lumbar cushions instead of the single one on the S500. The S600 also gets a standard motorized rear window shade, and the interior leather has stitching and two-toned seating surfaces. Other than the upgraded leather trim, the BMW offers all of the S600's hardware for $48,000 less. Still, if you must have a sedan with a three-pointed star and twelve forearm-sized intake runners, this is as cheap as they come. —Phil Berg
1995 Mercedes-Benz S600
389-hp V-12, 4-speed automatic, 4772 lb
Base/as-tested price: $143,568/$144,003
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.0 sec
100 mph: 14.7 sec
1/4 mile: 14.5 sec @ 99 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 183 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.77 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 13 mpg
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