Jaguar XE vs Mercedes C-Class vs BMW 5 Series

We pit the most powerful diesel version of the new Jaguar XE against two of its biggest-selling rivals – the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes C-Class...

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What Car? team
13 Jul 2015 14:00 | Last updated: 14 Jun 2018 00:03

Executive saloons. There are big ones and small ones, but they all aim to do much the same thing: provide you with an upmarket, comfortable and refined way to go about your business.

At the smaller end of the scale is Jaguar’s brand new XE, a car that’s achingly desirable yet surprisingly affordable to run as a company car. The XE’s most natural rival is the BMW 3 Series, but that car doesn’t feature here for two reasons. Firstly, it was too early to get our hands on the newly facelifted model (although you can read all about here). More importantly, though, BMW’s larger 5 Series costs about the same as the XE, and also happens to be our 2015 Executive Car of the Year.

Our third contender is the Mercedes C-Class. This diesel-electric hybrid version is undeniably pricey, but its tiny CO2 output means that it’s actually cheaper than its rivals to run as a company car.

THE CONTENDERS

Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 Prestige auto

The new kid on the block. The XE isn't only great to look at, it also stacks up financially.

BMW 520d SE auto

Our Executive Car of the Year is great to drive and lavishly equipped. It’s efficient, too.

Mercedes-Benz C300h Sport

This diesel-electric hybrid version of Merc’s best seller is a remarkably affordable company car.

What are they like to drive?

The BMW and Jaguar both have 2.0-litre diesel engines, but the extra power generated by the 5 Series easily offsets its considerable weight penalty.

Meanwhile, the C-Class combines a 27bhp electric motor with a 201bhp 2.1-litre diesel engine, so it’s unsurprisingly the nippiest of the trio, delivering punchy acceleration whenever you put your foot down.

That said, the Mercedes’ two power sources don’t always team up seamlessly; there’s often an unwelcome shudder when the diesel engine kicks in and the C300h’s gearbox can also be a bit erratic in slow-moving traffic.

The Jag’s eight-speed automatic ’box is better, if still a little jerky at low speeds, whereas the BMW’s eight-speed ’box is silky smooth and has a canny knack of always choosing the right gear for the situation at hand.

If you’re looking for sporty handling you’ll want the Jaguar. It easily outshines its rivals on twisting roads, turning in to bends more eagerly and staying flatter and more composed throughout. The Jag grips best, too, and has steering that’s light, quick and precise without making the car feel nervous at high speeds.

The 5 Series has slower and heavier steering, but you get just as much feedback through the wheel. It can’t match the XE for sheer agility, though; it’s that little more reluctant to change direction and there’s always more body lean.

Still, the BMW handles more sweetly than the Mercedes, which feels every gramme of its extra heft and has the least grip. The C-Class is also let down by its vague steering.

However, many buyers in this class will be more concerned about ride comfort, and it’s here that the BMW has the clear edge. It’s that bit more supple than its two rivals, particularly at low speeds but also on the motorway, where it lopes along smoothly.

The Jag is firmer but exceptionally well damped, whereas the C-Class is more unsettled at all speeds and can be quite jarring over sharp-edged bumps and potholes.

The 5 Series also sets the standard here for cruising refinement. It has by far the smoothest and quietest engine, and generates the least road noise. The C-Class, meanwhile, has the gruffest engine and suffers from the most wind noise at a steady 70mph.

That said, it was the Jaguar that recorded the highest decibel count in our noise tests – mainly due to the sheer amount of road noise it generated.

What are they like inside?

You’re unlikely to have much trouble finding a comfortable driving position in any of these saloons. All three are spacious up front, have a good range of steering wheel adjustment and part-electric seat adjustment.

However, it’s disappointing that only the Mercedes gets adjustable lumbar support as standard – an important feature that allows you to maintain a good posture on long journeys. You can add it to the BMW and Jaguar but it’ll cost you £235 and £275 respectively.

Anyone spending upwards of £30k on a premium saloon will expect a certain standard of interior quality and, broadly speaking, they’ll get it from all three cars. However, the BMW’s cabin is the most solidly bolted together and the buttons and dials on its dashboard feel the most sturdy and well damped.

True, the 5 Series doesn’t look as smart or modern inside as the C-Class, but start prodding at the Merc’s gloss black centre console and it emits some unseemly creaks and squeaks.

The XE isn’t too far off the pace, with plenty of dense, soft-touch materials in all the right places. However, the Jag’s switchgear does feel a bit lightweight compared with its rivals’.

If you plan to ferry around more than one adult on a regular basis the 5 Series is definitely your best bet. A couple of six-footers will fit in the back of all three cars, but they’ll enjoy the most space in the BMW and the least in the Jag.

The same goes for the boot. The BMW’s is biggest by some margin, while the Jag’s is pokiest, and the XE is the only one of the three that struggles to accommodate a large bag of golf clubs. It’ll still swallow a sizeable suitcase, mind, and a lot more if you cough up £400 for optional split-folding rear seats.

Split-folding seats also cost (£335) extra on the 5 Series, but Mercedes is more generous, throwing them in with the price.

INFOTAINMENT

BMW 5 Series

Gets BMW’s entry-level iDrive system with a 6.5in colour screen (you can upgrade to a 10.2in one for £1290). Either way, you get sat-nav, Bluetooth, a DAB radio and a USB socket, along with a wonderfully intuitive interface. Simply twist the rotary dial between the front seats to scroll through the on-screen menus, and press down to select. There are even some handy shortcut keys to take to straight to specific functions without using the menus at all.

Jaguar XE

This hasn’t always been Jaguar’s strongest area, but the XE gets the company’s latest touchscreen system, which is mostly great. It’s quick to respond when you press the screen, and the menus are intuitive and easy to navigate your way around.

You also gets lots of gadgets, including sat-nav, a DAB radio and a USB socket. The screen isn’t especially bright, though, so is tricky to read in sunny conditions.

Mercedes-Benz C-Class

Comes with a super-sharp tablet-style 7.0in screen as standard, although our test car was equipped with Merc’s 8.4in screen that comes as part of the Premium Plus package (£2795).

Even with the basic system, it has sat-nav and a DAB radio, and both systems are controlled using a rotary dial positioned between the front seats, similar to the one in the 5 Series. It’s a shame the menus aren’t a little more intuitive, though.

What will they cost?

If you’re a private buyer the Mercedes makes little financial sense. Yes, those sub-100g/km CO2 emissions mean it’s the only one of the trio that qualifies for free road tax and it’s also by far the most economical in the real world. However, those savings are dwarfed by the C300h’s high price and comparatively heavy depreciation.

Assuming you buy now and sell after three years, the Jag will cost around £3200 less to own, while the BMW will work out a further £2000 cheaper over the same period.

It’s a different story if you’re a company car driver, though. Here the Mercedes’ low CO2 emissions really work in its favour because they mean you’ll have to sacrifice the smallest amount of your salary in benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax. Assuming you’re a 40% taxpayer, the Jag will set you back £669 more over three years, while the BMW will add a further £200 to that bill.

Meanwhile, anyone planning to lease will spend the least (£391) each month on the XE. Budget an extra £30 a month if you want the BMW, while the Mercedes is the dearest to hire at £434 per month.
So, which car will be the most cost-effective depends on how you’re buying it. No matter how that is, though, you’ll appreciate how well equipped the Mercedes and BMW are. Both have front and rear parking sensors (the Jag makes do with rear sensors) along with LED headlights in the C-Class and xenons in the 5 Series.

That’s on top of the part-electric and heated front seats, cruise and climate controls and automatic lights and wipers that all of these cars come with.

OUR VERDICT

**1st – BMW 520d SE auto  

**

For Smooth ride; exceptionally refined; superb infotainment system; easily the most spacious

Against Shortage of standard safety kit; split-folding seats and lumbar support cost extra

Verdict Still the finest executive car on the market

**2nd – Jaguar XE 2.0d 180 Prestige auto  

** 

For Great looks; brilliant to drive; affordable to run

Against Not very practical; road noise; so-so performance

Verdict The best-handling car in the class

**3rd – Mercedes-Benz C300h Sport  

** 

For Low CO2 output; smart-looking cabin; fast

Against So-so ride and handling; jerky powertrain

Verdict Cheap tax bills, but average to drive

Jaguar saloons have always been striking to look at and thrilling to drive, but until now they’ve also been pretty pricey to run.

Thanks to the new XE that’s no longer the case. Okay, it isn’t the cheapest to own privately (that’s the 5 Series) or to run as a company car (that’ll be the C-Class), but it’s close enough on both counts to stop you crossing it off your shortlist. That’s a big step forward for the British brand.

In fact, when you consider how brilliant the XE is to drive, we can understand why you’d choose it over any of its peers, especially if you’re not too fussed about its slightly cramped interior and its so-so performance.

However, we think the BMW 5 Series is a better executive car. It’s bigger, faster, more comfortable, classier inside and more refined, and the fact it costs similar money to run as a company car – and much less if you’re buying privately – is impossible to overlook.

That leaves the C-Class in third place. Its super-low CO2 emissions give it real appeal with the company car drivers that make up the vast majority of customers in this market, and it’s also fast, well-equipped and has the poshest-looking (if not feeling) interior of the three.

Sadly, it doesn’t ride particularly smoothly, isn’t much fun to drive and, when its diesel engine is running (which is most of the time) it’s also a pretty noisy companion.

That’s why we reckon the cheaper, if slightly less efficient, C220 CDI version is a better bet.

BMW 520d SE auto

Engine size

2.0-litre diesel

Price from

£33,915 

Power

187bhp

Torque

295lb ft

0-60mph

7.3 seconds

Top speed

145mph

Fuel economy

68.9mpg

CO2

109g/km

Jag XE 2.0d Prestige auto

Engine size

2.0-litre diesel

Price from

£33,025

Power

177bhp

Torque

317lb ft

0-60mph

8.8 seconds

Top speed

140mph

Fuel economy

67.3mpg

CO2

109g/km

Mercedes C300h Sport

Engine size

2.1-litre diesel

Price from

£37,435

Power

201bhp

Torque

369lb ft

0-60mph

6.4 seconds

Top speed

152mph

Fuel economy

78.5mpg

CO2

94g/km