An alternative to the regular luxury barges, here are a suave trio that take the business of looking good very seriously indeed.
Being successful in life is very important. Different people define success in their own ways. For instance, a typical middle-class family would be very glad to own a 2,000 square-feet apartment in a properly respected township. On the other hand, a business owner would call mingling with Page-3 celebs a regular affair, and would own a fancy mansion somewhere posh. Those under the poverty line would kiss your feet if you so much as even gave them a proper roof to protect them from the elements.
These different factions of society play different games – I would be glad at hitting a cricket ball out of the field, or scoring a goal in a friendly match, while the lowest segment would be at their beaming best if they got a cycle tyre and a stick to roll it with. The elite would go for a walk on a lush green lawn, and, if they felt like, hit a small ball into a hole in the ground with a very expensive rod of carbon fibre. They call it golf.
Golf is often referred to as the sport for the ‘influential’ man. I’m a motorsport fanatic, and I understand the rule of dressing up in either a tight leather suit or overalls made of Nomex. Racing requires going at speed, and, though now bleak, there are chances of an occasional fire breaking out. In such cases, Nomex would prevent me from gaining a fire-induced tan and the leather suit would avoid my silly blood vessels from oozing massive amounts of the red stuff when I have that inevitable fall. But, I just don’t understand the obsession with the dress code in golf. Collared tees, properly tucked into either a knee-length pair of shorts or tailored trousers. And what’s with those golf shoes? You guys walk on what I call grass – why do you need specially designed shoes for something so mundane? I know you have reasons, but I have my reservations. And thank you, I’m better off sawing my leg off than hearing your explanation.
No matter how unappreciative I am of golf (and those who play it), it is usually the right place to spot the cream of the crop when it comes to cars. The culture of golf is catching on massively in India, and so is the need for automobiles that would look good in the parking lot of a golf facility – if you can forgive me for calling it that.
One of the benefits of being in the media space is that you get to meet quite a few privileged people. And most of them also have memberships to golf courses. So, you can say that I’ve had my quota of visiting golf clubs – heck, my wedding reception happened at one. Blimey!
It’s here that you see the usual collection of BMWs, Merc’s, Jag’s and Audi’s. But, annoyingly, most of these folks tend to have the same sort of cars. And now they’re beginning to feel the pain. They feel the need to own something that’s a bit different from the others. So, here are three cars that answer their call – the Mercedes CLS, Audi’s A7, and the spanking new 6 Series Gran Coupe from BMW. So, there’s plenty of choice then. Sure, but we considered one more car as well – the much loved Jaguar XJ. Why? Well, it’s got that imperial shape, brand novelty (still), and also the richness needed to really make a statement. Sadly, Audi didn’t manage to give us the A7, so our projected 4-car list was down to three. All the better for it, though, in hindsight.
You must understand that almost all the guys who own such luxo-barges don’t quite buy them for their mechanical abilities – they buy them for all the shine-and-shimmer, and their lavish cabins. Oh, and to massage their own egos as well. So, there’s no surprise that the three vehicles in question are all massively equipped with features that you won’t need in an ordinary world. There are all the features that you can imagine, and then some. Even mentioning ordinary items such as ABS, airbags, and climate control is an insult to cars of such brilliance. So let’s just say that you’d be more than eager to spend time in one of these than your home. And going by the way these cars, er, go, you’d be eager to actually spend time driving these cars, rather than sitting at the back listening to your missus describe the bejeweled necklace that she’s just set her heart on.
With the CLS, Mercedes created the stylized 4-door sedan segment – the 4-door coupe, if you like. The BMW is the newest to come to the party with the Gran Coupe, and what a banging start I must say. And since it’s the newest, I’ll focus more on the BMW and compare it against its most formidable rivals. What a grand life!
From the front, the Gran Coupe looks like any other BMW, but look at it in profile and you’ll notice the pronounced sporty stance. A walk around to the rear would have you nod in agreement for it does look plenty saucy. It’s easily the sportiest car here. Though the wheelbase is the same as the 5 Series – on which it’s based – the 6 Series is actually 4 inches longer and 1.3 inches wider than the 5, while also being noticeable lower.
I found one thing really amusing in the Gran Coupe – its seating configuration is a 4+1 layout, which, BMW says, “can carry up to five passengers on short trips.” That basically means you need to have the flexibility levels of a circus acrobat to fit in as the 5th, and you’d have to be an acrobat (not to mention a fool) to go for long drives in the Gran Coupe agreeing to be the 5th passenger. Ingress and egress is actually the toughest part in the BMW – watching a tall-ish chap get out of the back is like watching a Giraffe being born.
But get over the niggling issues and this is, in my mind, the best car that BMW makes today. It’s not squishy under cornering, it’s quite comfortable with its massaging seats, and it goes like no one’s business. Redlining at 5,200rpm, the straight-6, common-rail mill operates at 2,000bar pressure and employs two variable geometry turbochargers to develop 308bhp and 630Nm – those are serious numbers. It helps in dismissing the sprint to 100 in a shade under five-and-a-half seconds, and the Gran Coupe will go on to hit an electronically limited top speed of 250km/h.
It’s not, however, entirely about the ferocious power – it’s about the way it dances on twisting roads, and the way all that power is consumed. The 640d is a heavy thing, but the way it responds to steering inputs earns it huge respect. The steering itself is electric, and though it doesn’t quite give you the mechanical feel of a hydraulic unit, it is quite accurate – and the 640 changes direction with surprising agility. The chassis is beautifully balanced with all the electric assistance turned on. And with the driver turned on, it’s always eager to bring out its naughty side. Switch off the traction control, set everything to sport, and the massive torque compels the rear to step out of line at the slightest contact of your foot with the accelerator. The resulting act of counter steering in almost all the corners is so winning that you really wouldn’t want to be in any other machine at that point – especially not in the CLS.
I don’t quite understand how some scribes call the CLS a beautiful car. I think it’s pretty ungainly. No, it’s not boring by any measure. It’s actually a very stand-out design that turns heads everywhere it goes. For me, it’s just too ostentatious though. I’ve written in a previous report of the CLS that the original one looked like a supermodel, and this new one looks like an ageing woman trying to turn heads by wearing excess makeup and a revealing cocktail dress. About a year on, the CLS hasn’t won me over and things are much the same.
The CLS also feels the least luxurious of the trio – but that might just be because of the dark interior colour scheme of our test car. Mind you, the quality is impressive and the CLS pampers with a very supple suspension setup. It’s definitely more pliant than the BMW’s and, since I’ve driven the A7 quite extensively, I’m qualified to say that the CLS scores over the Audi too in ride comfort. The Audi is a tad too stiffly setup for a luxury car, and you can feel the odd pothole filter down into the cabin. In the CLS, there’s no such thing to worry about. It almost manages to make the Jag teary eyed – it’s that good.
The 3.5 litre, 302bhp V6 that snarls under the bonnet was substantially changed from the 3.5 litre engine that was found in the original CLS. The cylinders are now arranged in a 60-degree ‘V’ formation as against the 90-degree angle on its predecessor. The 60-degree arrangement improves refinement, and eliminates the need for a balancer shaft – which is quite apt, as this colossal Merc is more about refinement than anything else. It does make for a very comfortable mile-munching machine, but show it the same bend that the Gran Coupe managed to power-slide through and it would get nervous and clueless about what to do. The warning lights flicker in the instrument cluster, and you get that predictable, yet annoying, understeer that kills the joy of spirited driving almost instantly. That, surprisingly, isn’t the case with the XJ.
The XJ is, bluntly put, an enormous car. It’s also the most surprising. Why do I say surprising? Well, because you don’t expect a castle to handle as brilliantly as this does. Sadly, though, in the company of these new-age style heroes, the XJ looks a bit like Michael Gambon. Individually, however, it still looks quite stunning and suave, and is definitely the best looking luxury car when compared to the 7 Series or the A8. The XJ feels the most special as well. Yes, the quality of materials used aren’t up there at Audi levels, but the thought and passion that has gone into making the cabin a special place is worth a mention. Just watching the drive selector rise up is an act of seduction in itself.
And you’ll be further charmed by the way the XJ drives. The 271bhp that the 3.0 litre V6 diesel is capable of may not sound like much, but the aerospace-inspired aluminium construction helps keep the weight down – and that, coupled with the colossal 600Nm of torque, results in rapid progress down the road. The XJ moves with brilliant agility, and responds to steering inputs immediately. There’s noticeably more body roll as compared to the 640d, but there’s just so much grip and such predictable handling at your disposal that you don’t feel threatened in any way. Astonishingly, I felt more confident throwing the XJ around bends than the CLS. It’s a fluid experience – very progressive, and the supply of power doesn’t kill you with an overdose. It feels perfect to clinical levels.
We (Kapil, Ameya and I) had taken these cars to the back-of-beyond – a remote town just outside Maharashtra. It was an anesthetized setting – laid back, unhurried, and the soft wind was singing a pleasant tune against the backdrop of the waves riding over the soft sand. With the sun gradually setting, we had our legs stretched out on the sandy beach and eyes gazing into the endless unknown, as we reflected on the time we’d spent with these three magnificent machines. With the sunset reflecting off their shapely bodies, they looked glorious – each one proud of its own personality. So, I won’t be the one to judge – just this one time.