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IT’S funny how the popularity of car sectors can wax and wane. Cast your mind back a year or two and the luxury saloon was the leathery brontosaurus of a range: large, unwieldy and about to become extinct.
That’s because those cunning mammals, the SUVs, were the Darwinian winners – more ideally built for the varying demands of the modern environment.
And yet, in the last year it would seem that people might be tiring of SUVs. Success has made them seem an arrogant choice and people don’t like it. Bring back the brontosaurus.
As a result luxury saloons have grabbed some share back, mainly through the introduction of the new S-class and BMW pushing the 7-series in fleet.
And the default choice has always been the diesel models, for their combination of better economy and higher residuals.
But the entry-level petrol S280 is worth a look. For a start, it is the cheapest S-class, undercutting the diesel by £785.
Also, although it is the smallest engine in the range, which in the past might have meant a photo finish between it and a plodding dinosaur in a sprint, it’s actually pretty sprightly. With 231bhp from its 3.0-litre V6, the S280 will do 0-62mph in 7.3 seconds and a top speed, somewhere in Germany, of 153mph.
On paper this makes it marginally quicker than the diesel, although I suspect in the real world the all-round grunt of the 320 CDI would prove the more rewarding companion.
But something the diesel cannot compare with, no matter how refined it is, is smoothness. Although ‘only’ a V6, the S280 mumbles gently along, only making any more insistent noises if it is pushed hard.
But the character of the car is laid back, and thrashing along is really not a classy way to be going about things.
Speaking of laid back, I was anything but after a couple of days with the radio. On the Comand system, the stations are set up like an old radio, with a little orange line which could be moved left or right to choose a station, all laid out horizontally.
As a man of a certain age, currently sitting uncomfortably between the Radio One and Two demographic, flitting between those two stations is a necessary part of life. If only the S-class would flit with me. The needle doesn’t move quickly enough and if you make too many pre-emptive turns on the dial, it just plods past to some local Alan Partridge wannabe station.
It’s indicative of the clunky Comand system, which is easier to use than BMW’s iDrive, but still not a patch on Audi’s MMI.
Fortunately, everything else is slicker. In fact, even by luxury levels this car oozes quality. Materials are of a phenomenally high standard. But having been used to the new S-class for more than a year, this is something of a given. The question remains whether there’s any point choosing the S280 over the diesel. In the past diesel won every time – but at the moment, the decision is less clear cut.
Fact file: P11D value: £53,967
CO2 emissions (g/km): 237
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 34%
Graduated VED rate: £210
Insurance group: 19
Combined mpg: 28.5
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £19,925/37%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £1,038
We don’t like:
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
THESE are all entry-level models, and it is obvious the S-class is priced a significant amount above even BMW and Audi. Factor in that there is likely to be a decent discount for the older 7-series and A8 and the two S-classes appear even more expensive at the front-end.
S320 CDI: £54,767
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
THE 3% diesel supplement has skewed BIK figures and, despite its lower emissions, the S320 CDI would cost a 40% taxpayer £110 more a year than the S280. But as the bill for both is more than £7,300 a year it’s a drop in the ocean. The cheapest by far is the A8, at £6,800.
S320 CDI : 220g/km/34%
THE S320 CDI is the most expensive, and by £400 more than its petrol equivalent because it uses more engine oil – and the type needed for diesels is also more expensive – and the diesel has more costly fuel filters which will need replacing at servicing time.
S280: 5.54 (pence per mile) £3,324 (60,000 miles total)
730i: 5.59 £3,354
A8: 5.81 £3,486
S320 CDI: 6.25 £3,750
UNSURPRISINGLY, the diesel S-class is considerably cheaper and over 60,000 miles would save a driver a hefty £900 over the next best. Even at this high level of costs that’s a significant amount of money. The three petrol cars average around 28mpg, with the diesel at 34mpg.
S320 CDI: 12.30 (pence per mile) £7,380 (60,000 miles total)
A8: 13.74 £8,244
S280: 13.74 £8,244
730i: 13.99 £8,394
THE S320 CDI is way ahead of the other three, with CAP predicting it will be worth 40% of cost new after three years/60,000 miles. Despite being the dearest, it loses the least. The A8, being the cheapest, loses the next least but the S280 performs well in percentage terms, at 37%.
S320 CDI: 54.82 (pence per mile) £32,892 (60,000 miles total)
A8: 56.21 £33,726
S280: 56.73 £34,038
730i: 59.91 £35,946
STRONG residuals and lower fuel costs mean the S320 CDI is the cheapest – around £1,400 less than the A8. The Audi is worth a look though, because it’s cheapest on tax, and there should be a bigger discount than for the S-class, negating that £1,400 difference.
S320 CDI: 73.37 (pence per mile) £44,022 (60,000 miles total)
A8: 75.76 £45,456
S280: 76.00 £45,600
730i: 79.49 £47,694
The BMW is too expensive, both for the fleet and the driver. The other three though, all have varying merits. The S280 does a decent job but it does nothing cheaper than the stylish A8, which in turn is a good tax proposition with – relatively – low wholelife costs. But the S320 CDI costs the least to run despite being the most expensive at the front end, and is the most economical and is a very classy car. The status quo has been maintained – diesel is still the choice for luxury cars.