About a decade ago, I knew this German guy -- let's call him Jens -- with a clothing business that sold items to people like Alanis Morissette and Anthony Kiedis. He needed a ride to the American Apparel factory in downtown Los Angeles. Once inside, he purchased a trash bag full of imperfect T-shirts for about $4 a shirt. Back at his shop, he cut off the tags and screen printed each shirt with a highly stylized something or other. The one that sticks out in my mind featured an AK-47. The price after Jens and his partner made their alterations? $400 a shirt.
It's an age-old problem. How do you increase the price of an item while still selling basically the same old item? One solution is to add style. Meet the automotive equivalent of haute couture -- high fashion, where you're asked to pay top dollar for an item that'll wind up copied and swinging from the $9.99 rack at H&M four months from now. But who cares!? You're now, you're hip, you're cutting edge. And for a week, so were we, at least in terms of new-car design. Please meet our friends, the 2012 Audi
A7, 2012 Mercedes Benz C
LS550, and 2011 Jaguar X
J. Mercedes Benz
invented this segment -- the horrifically named "four-door coupe" -- back in 2004 with the original CLS, based off the W211 E-Class platform. The boys at Benz figured out how to sell customers a meal between lunch and dinner. Sure, you're paying $10,000 more for an E-Class in a new suit, but what a sharp suit! So sharp, in fact, that Audi
followed in lockstep, crafting its new A7 from the new A6/A8 platform and charging customers about $10,000 more. The Jaguar X
J, on the other hand, usually competes with the larger S-Class and Audi A8
. However, we're making the argument that it's just a stretched JAGUAR XF
(same engines, transmission, software, chassis). Also, while the JAGUAR XJ
is bigger than the Audi
or the Mercedes, thanks to a liberal sprinkling of aluminum, it's lighter than either of the Germans. Plus it's in the right price tag ballpark. And let's not forget, this comparison involves style, something the Jaguar
has in spades.
If these three cars were suits, I'd walk around wearing the Jag. As good-looking as I find the new A7 -- love the hatch -- it simply can't compete with the XJ. The new CLS is better looking than its predecessor, though perhaps a touch more conser-vative. However, I very much like and respect the fact that Mercedes Benz
opted not to cravenly revise the existing model. Instead, it opted to keep the CLS as the tip of its design spear. Lest you should think otherwise, the black CLS550 you see here is previewing the forms of the upcoming SL and S-Class. But come on, now -- Ian Callum's reinterpretation of the big cat is flat-out gorgeous, and the JAGUAR XJ
is one of the best-looking big cars ever made.
"If these three cars were suits, I'd walk around wearing the Jag"Speaking of beauty, on what might have been the absolute most beautiful day in recorded history (what, you got a better one?), I set out with my colleagues, editor-at-large Ron Kiino and associate editor Scott Evans, to pound these three across a large driving loop of sweeping canyons and crumbling California freeways. At one point, we found ourselves parked on top of a turnout staring at a 100-foot waterfall with the western edge of the San Fernando Valley on one side and the deep blue of the Pacific on the other. Here's the thing, though: Even surrounded by all that natural splendor, aesthetically speaking our three contenders held their own, with the oxblood Jag shining a bit brighter. As Evans observed, all three scream, "I've got money!" But only the Jaguar
can say, "Taste, too."
also had us singing its naturally aspirated 5.0-liter V-8's praises. "Sweet and powerful with raspy pipes. Strong pull and linear power delivery," said Kiino. We knew the twin-turbo Benz would be faster, but there's something special about a motor that makes its power the old-fashioned way. And though throttle cables have long been passe, the Jag's engine has that sort of direct, precise response. As Kiino said, linear. Fast, too -- the RWD JAGUAR XJ
popped off a 0-60 run in 4.9 seconds.