Sun | Nov 19, 2017

Forbidden Fruit | Head v Heart - Jaguar XF 20d R-Sport meets Mercedes-Benz E220d AMG Line

Published:Sunday | December 11, 2016 | 12:00 AMAngus McKenzie
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'Diesel' and 'sport' are words not usually found in the same sentence in the US. The diesel-powered Jaguar XF 20d R-Sport is automotive exotica in the States, but in Britain it's a mainstream XF model. And comparing it with the Mercedes-Benz E220d AMG line yes, that's a diesel with some AMG goodies - isn't the gathering of automotive unicorns you might think.

The XF 20d R-Sport is powered by JLR's 2.0-litre Ingenium four-cylinder turbo-diesel, which it shares with the XE and F-Pace, and which develops 180 hp and 318 lb of torque. Among other things, the R-Sport trim package delivers 19-in alloy wheels and a sports body kit. The E220d AMG line is a trim package for the E-Class that combines the 191-hp and 295-lb version of Daimler's versatile new 2.0 litre OM654 four-cylinder turbodiesel with AMG tweaks that include a sportier wheel/tyre combination, quicker steering, and upgraded interior trim. In Britain, their base prices are within percent of each other.

On paper, these two cars are very closely matched. In the metal, it's the XF that makes the most favourable first impression. The Jaguar's exterior design is a master class in studied elegance. By contrast, the exaggerated dash-to-axle and droopy tail of the E-Class result in slightly odd proportions, and its softly sectioned panels look flaccid next to those of the tautly surfaced Jaguar. Open the doors, though, and the Mercedes wows with an interior that looks overtly richer and more upscale than the quietly restrained Jaguar cabin.

Daimler's new OM654 diesel feels smoother and quieter than JLR's Ingenium oil-burner, and the nine-speed automatic developed in-house in Stuttgart is more intuitively responsive than the ZF eight-speed in the Jaguar. Though both diesels offer a solid serving of mid-range grunt, these are still smallish engines in biggish cars, and so neither sedan is going to set the drag strip alight. Mercedes-Benz claims a 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of around 7.3 seconds for the E220d AMG line, and Jaguar claims 7.7 sec for the 20d R-Sport, though that seems somewhat optimistic in light of the 9.5-second 0 to 60 mph time we recorded for an all-wheel drive XF diesel recently in the U.S.

But straight-line speed isn't everything, as the Jaguar proves on any twisting two lane. The Mercedes might have the smoother powertrain, but the Jaguar is the more refined and cohesive car. The XF's steering is beautifully weighted and communicative, its body motions are more deftly controlled, and its tires more adroitly hug the road surface. It can be driven more quickly, with less effort, than the Mercedes. In the E220d the AMG-spec steering further sharpens the improved front-end response evident in the regular E-Class, but it never feels as linear as the Jaguar's helm. And the chassis never seems quite as settled as the Jaguar's on the road, regardless of whether the air suspension is set in Comfort or Sport. The Mercedes doesn't shrink around you like the Jaguar does.

As with the gasoline-powered Mercedes-Benz E300 in the U.S., the E220d AMG Line dazzles with its showcase technology, perceived quality, and sheer all-round competency. It shows why the E-Class still defines the modern midsize luxury sedan in so many ways.

Jaguar's XF 20d R-Sport was always going to appeal to only the bravest American consumers. Even before the oily stink of the VW emissions scandal engulfed diesel engines, its powertrain made it an outlier in the U.S., a car with no ready benchmark against which it could be measured. But after experiencing an XF 20d R-Sport back to back with a E-Class that's all but identically configured, this much is clear: The thoroughly engineered Mercedes-Benz might be the safe choice in the segment, but the fluid, graceful, elegant Jaguar is the car for the discerning driver.