What are they like inside?
Inside the BMW 5 Series, there’s a sense that all is right with the world. The materials feel like they’ll stand the test of time, the design is contemporary and the assembly flawless.
You’ll struggle to find fault with the way the dashboard is laid out, too; every button is big, clearly marked and sensibly placed, while the dial-operated control system, known as iDrive, is the most intuitive here. The layout of the menus and buttons is the most logical, too, and you can tailor programmable shortcut buttons to take you straight to the functions you use most.
The Audi A6’s central screen folds out of the dashboard, but its menu system isn’t quite as easy to use as the BMW’s. Once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s reasonably logical, but it takes a little learning. The Audi’s ventilation controls are rather fussy too.
These are minor niggles, though, because the way the Audi’s dashboard is put together is first-class. Everything inside has the weight of real quality; each switch and lever makes you feel smugly satisfied each time you use it.
The Mercedes E-Class is good, just not quite as good as the Audi and BMW. Its interior materials aren’t as lustrous, so it doesn’t feel as special as a Mercedes should. What’s more, complex on-screen menus make it a faff to use, and you might get irritated by the unconventional foot-operated handbrake.
The Jaguar XF’s interior is a bit of a show-stopper, with a leather-topped dash, and air vents and a gear selector that whirr electrically into place when you start up. It’s a real shame that the quality doesn’t match the drama. Some of the controls, such as the indicator stalks and window switches, feel disappointingly cheap. Overall, it feels well behind the interiors in all of the German cars.
The same goes for the Jaguar’s control system, which you operate through a touch-screen instead of through dials or switches. Sadly, it’s no easier to use than the dials in the others because the on-screen icons are small and hard to hit, especially when you’re on the move.
You can also operate the air-con and stereo with their own controls, but these are confusing because the two sets of adjacent switches look identical.
In terms of space, particularly long-limbed drivers will find that the Audi and Mercedes suit them best. That said, things are hardly tight in the BMW and Jaguar, in which you’ll only struggle for room if you’re built like a beanpole.
It’s a similar story in the back: the Audi and mercedes will comfortably accommodate the gangliest colleagues, and the BMW isn’t exactly far behind. The Jaguar’s swooping roofline means rear headroom is a little tight, and the thinly padded rear bench is the most likely to give you a numb backside after longer journeys.
Large boots are common to all, but some are better than others. The Jag’s is smallest, and a collection of ridges and bumps mean the floor isn’t flat. The chunky rear wheelarches leave you with a space shaped like an inverted T. That’s also true of the BMW’s boot, and the space between the arches is even narrower. Still, the floor is flatter and the boot is bigger than the Jag’s.
The Merc’s boot is the biggest of the bunch, but it’s the Audi that has the the most usable luggage space – it’s perfectly box-shaped. The A6 also has the extra flexibility of split-folding rear seats as standard, as does the XF – if you want this feature in either of the other two, you’ll have to find a car that had it specified as an optional extra when new.
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