2004-2005 Audi A8L, 2002-2006 BMW 745Li, 2004-2005 Jaguar XJ8, and 2001-2006 Mercedes-Benz S430 4Matic

David E. Davis, Jr.
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Martyn Goddard

Mercedes-Benz S430 4Matic

Full Front Grill View

It was enlightening to fall into this car directly after spending a couple of hours in the Audi and the BMW. It was a physical and mental relief. The oldest car in our group of four, the Mercedes S-class is comforting and familiar. The seats are instantly and easily adjustable. The controls are all where you expect them to be and work in ways that are familiar to anyone who has ever driven a modern car. The only caveat is the totally counterintuitive navigation system, and for that you could call some friend with a Cadillac and ask him to help you out.

Front Interior View

Although it's been around the longest and was down on power compared with the others, the S-class acquitted itself very well against the new kids on the real-world roads of Kentucky and Tennessee and never seemed to be suffering any dramatic power deficit. It delivers every erg of performance available without apparent strain, and it sounds great in the process. Nonetheless, we would order this car with the optional 5.0-liter V-8. Like the Jaguar J-gate, the Mercedes manual-shift arrangement is simple, straightforward, and much nicer to use than the high-tech alternatives offered by either Audi or BMW. Just grab the shifter and twitch it right or left for up or down, and the change is smooth and instantaneous. This wonderful five-speed gearbox is going to be replaced by a new seven-speed this year, but we feel no urgent need for that upgrade, based on this driving experience. The fact that our test car was equipped with 4Matic all-wheel drive was a very nice bonus. Let us pray, however, that Mercedes-Benz will resist any notion of following BMW into the iDrive jungle.

In conclusion, this comparison test proves that performance numbers and detailed specifications do not define cars-particularly cars like these.

In this case, the Audi made the best demonstration of ultra-high tech at work; the BMW demonstrated that ultra-high tech improperly managed is actually a detriment to a great road car with great performance; the Mercedes-Benz demonstrated that there's no substitute for sound engineering and inspired development work and never mind the ultra-high tech; and the Jaguar demonstrated that reduced weight and increased power output in a structure developed with enthusiasts in mind can result in a sedan that is much like your favorite sports car. Net-net, the Audi A8L Quattro got the most favorable nods, but the Jaguar was the most fun, and the Mercedes would probably be the most pleasant ownership experience.

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