These are exciting times in the luxury car sector as the key players have all recently rolled out new offerings, leaving company directors up and down the country with a tough choice for their new car.
Last year Mercedes-Benz gave the S-class, the king of the sector, a mid-life revamp including some cosmetic changes and a raft of engineering innovations, while BMW unveiled its radical-looking 7-series, a technological tour de force wrapped in a distinctive set of clothes.
And hot on their heels is Audi, which recently launched its new aluminium bodied, four-wheel drive A8, a car so accomplished it is difficult to fault. Now it is the turn of Jaguar to offer a new luxury model. The new XJ series is the most traditional of the bunch, with familiar classic styling clothing an aluminium body.
So on the face of it, a company director has a pretty simple choice to make, doesn't he? Well, not quite, because Jaguar has somewhat upset the applecart with pricing for its new challenger.
The model on test here, a one-up from entry-level 3.0-litre V6 Sport, costs £42,255 on-the-road, compared with an entry-level BMW 730i at £46,855 and a Mercedes-Benz S280 at £45,515.
In fact the only luxury model which comes close to the Jaguar is Volkswagen's new Phaeton V6 at £42,905. However, the Phaeton could not be included in this test because residual value forecasts have yet to be set, meaning no wholelife cost calculations can be made.
While buying decisions at this level may be based on a 'money no object' formula, any fleet manager looking at a shortlist of luxury saloons will surely be nudging directors towards the substantially cheaper Jag.
And just because it is cheaper doesn't mean it is any less of a car. Granted the XJ6 isn't very roomy – interior space is comparable with a Ford Mondeo – but it makes up for this by being a typical Jag: wafty, luxurious, comfortable and quick.
While it may have 'only' 240bhp under its sleek bonnet, the aluminium body helps keep weight down, giving a good power to weight ratio. Power is transmitted through a six-speed gearbox offering incredibly smooth upchanges, helping to keep the V6 engine on the boil. And you need to do this because maximum power isn't available until a high 6,800rpm. It may lack the outright pace of its larger-engined brethren but it certainly feels quicker than BMW's 3.0-litre 7 series.
And while cruising is its natural habitat, the XJ doesn't complain too loudly when you decide to venture on to more twisty roads.
Inside it is typical Jag fare: quality abounds with leather and wood trim everywhere and a lovely view of the sweeping bonnet from the driver's seat.
That is part of the XJ's appeal. Jaguar is a traditional brand and the new car, while bang up-to-date in most respects (apart from the dated touch-screen controls for the heating, ventilation and audio controls when compared with BMW's iDRIVE and Audi's MMI systems), retains the marque's trademark styling, even though it does look a little too much like its smaller X-type stablemate for my liking.
Jaguar XJ6 3.0 V6 Sport
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £42,070
CO2 emissions (g/km): 249
BIK % of P11D in 2003/04: 33%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 16
Combined mpg: 27.0
CAP Monitor residual value: £17,375/41%
Depreciation (41.15 pence per mile x 60,000): £24,690
Maintenance (3.83 pence per mile x 60,000): £2,298
Fuel (14.14 pence per mile x 60,000): £8,484
Wholelife cost (59.12 pence per mile x 60,000): £35,472
Typical contract hire rate: £857 per month
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Monthly rental quote from HSBC Vehicle Finance
Three rivals to consider
THE Jaguar appears something of a bargain in the luxury car sector when compared with its rivals. In Sport spec (one up from entry-level) it is still more than £3,000 cheaper than the Mercedes-Benz S280 and £4,500 less than the BMW 730i. So the Jaguar buyer could either content him or herself with the price advantage, or raid the options list and add to the already generous level of standard equipment that comes with the new XJ6 range.
Mercedes-Benz S280 £45,330
Mercedes-Benz CDI £48,640
DESPITE making extensive use of aluminium in its construction (which is more difficult and expensive to repair than traditional metals), the Jaguar tops the service, maintenance and repair costs table on 3.83 pence per mile. The BMW comes second on 4.00ppm, although this figure would fall if you opt for the Concourse service package which covers servicing costs for five years and 75,000 miles for a one-off £500 fee.
Mercedes-Benz S280 4.66ppm
Mercedes-Benz CDI 4.83ppm
DUE to running cost figures not being available for the new Volkswagen Phaeton, we have included a 'ringer' in this test in the form of the best-selling luxury car in the UK, Mercedes-Benz's S320 CDI diesel. Unsurprisingly it tops the fuel costs section on 10.55ppm, some four pence per mile cheaper than the Jaguar. The diesel Merc returns 36.7mpg on the combined cycle, compared with 27mpg for the XJ, 26.7mpg for the BMW and 24.6mpg for the S280.
Mercedes-Benz CDI 10.55ppm
Mercedes-Benz S280 15.52ppm
AN easy win for the XJ here, having the lowest front-end price and the highest residual value prediction from CAP (it estimates the XJ will retain 41% of its cost new after three years and 60,000 miles). Some 3ppm behind is the S280 which has an RV prediction of 40%. A further 4ppm back is the BMW – its high list price and the lowest RV prediction of 36% blunting its challenge, courtesy of its styling and iDRIVE system. Depreciation makes up the largest part of our cost comparison and this is where the Jag makes its biggest advance.
Mercedes-Benz S280 44.38ppm
Mercedes-Benz CDI 49.38ppm
THE Jaguar is the only model here to come in under the 60ppm figure on wholelife costs. It will cost a fleet 59.12ppm over three years/60,000 miles, mainly thanks to its low front-end price and strong residual value prediction. The opposite is true of the BMW – its high front-end price and low RV prediction see it fall well behind, costing more than six pence per mile more than the XJ6. The petrol and diesel-engined Mercs are pretty evenly matched.
Mercedes-Benz S280 64.56ppm
Mercedes-Benz CDI 64.76ppm
Emissions and BIK tax rates
THE diesel-engined S-class unsurprisingly tops the table in terms of CO2 emissions. At 204g/km it falls into the 27% benefit-in-kind tax band for 2003/04 – six brackets lower than the Jaguar. The BMW and petrol S-class both fall into the 35% banding. For a 40% tax-payer, the monthly BIK bill for the S320 CDI will be £437, compared with £462 for the XJ6. While the CDI Merc may have much lower emissions, the Jag's lower P11d value help it make up ground.
Mercedes CDI 204g/km/27%
Mercedes S280 266g/km/35%
A CLEAR victory for the Jaguar here as it is cheaper to buy, cheaper to run and great to drive. Its styling and image may not appeal to all, but as an all-round luxury car it is a great choice. Its two main rivals, the BMW and Mercedes-Benz, are much too expensive in comparison. So for now the XJ6 is the king of the lower end of the luxury sector, but a V6-engined Audi A8 is looming. If it is priced right it may give the Jag a run for its money.