Whoever thought annual budgets would ruin the chances of these two cars, think again. There was the EU-FTA trade agreement that everyone was rooting for, even lobbying for. On the other hand, on the very day we tested these two fine looking white numbers, Pranab Mukherjee, our honorary Finance Minister dropped the excise duty bomb and made these cars expensive in one fell swoop. Drat! So much for being rich, moaned some under their breath. Or so I’d like to believe. It won’t hurt them much. They’ll groan, curse and then go and buy these cars, so it really doesn’t matter if their prices are up a couple of lakh rupees.
Before you swing a baseball bat at me, here’s what you need to know. The prices of these cars on our spec sheets may read differently in a few weeks’ time (heck the Lamborghini Aventador is up by Rs 90 lakh, ex-showroom!), but the price change doesn’t change what these cars stand for. They are the flagships of their respective brands, built with the finest materials and engineered to within an inch of the lives of all the elements on the periodic table. Not only do they have sporting pretensions, they even pamper you and make you feel special. And once a winner emerges, it will probably have very little time to take a deep breath, for the next-gen Mercedes-Benz S-Class is breathing right down its collar. And we all know the heavy burden that the S-Class lugs around – the best car in the world tag!
But if you are looking for the tag of the best-looking car in the luxury car category, then that certainly lands in the lap of the Jaguar XJ. I kid you not, if you are a philanderer of sorts, the XJ will set the trap for you. It’s such a charming looking car that even the most hardnosed will probably be besotten by you; your crooked nose and unibrow be damned. That’s not something the Audi A8 is as good at, but it’s striking nevertheless. There’s also a clear distinction between the design schools of thought and I have to admit, the Jaguar XJ beats the Audi in this department, not by a country mile, but by a full country!
Step inside and the above-mentioned fact of distinct identities becomes even more apparent. On one hand, the XJ’s Riva-like boat cockpit is alluring, yet it’s also a bit faux and overdone in others. I, for one, am no fan of the digital LCD instrument binnacle. Not only is the resolution not to my liking, the dials feel artificial and slow to react. But the chrome tipped louvres for the air-con, the well-stitched leather steering wheel and the general sense of bling do give out some sort of mixed reactions. Everything is backlit, though the choice of colours for some of the instruments aren’t up my alley. It works for some, in bits for me, but not in entirety. Overall, the layout of controls could be slightly more logical and intuitive, especially the media system. That, it seems, is being sorted for the next-generation of cars as Tata and Jaguar Land Rover are putting together an infotainment centre right here in India for the entire group’s needs.
In that regard, the Audi is hard to fault. The materials used are equally good, though the fit and finish is slightly better. After emerging from the XJ, the Audi feels less discotheque and more lounge-like. The controls are more logical and it’s easier to figure things out, though there are far more buttons and things to fiddle around with. Both cars come with massagers, but it’s the XJ that comes with an option for all four seats. The comfort seat package on both cars is optional; the A8 comes with it and an extendable leg rest for only the rear-left passenger, while the XJ offers seat recline for both passengers. Options are endless on both cars and they can be significantly kitted out, but the Audi seems to have a wee bit more that will keep you entertained for longer.The A8 also seems to win the occupant room stakes. There’s a significant chunk of room, though at no point will you find yourself uncomfortable in the XJ either.
You also won’t feel uncomfortable with the fact that the Jaguar XJL, thanks to its all-aluminium construction is actually seven kg lighter than its smaller sibling, the XF! It uses aerospace tech like bonding and rivetting to put the XJ together. The Audi A8 that weighs some 80 kg more uses a slightly different take, called the Audi Space Frame (or ASF), but with a hybrid aluminium form. What Audi has done is use a combination of materials in different parts, and for some bits like the B-pillars, steel has been used. Both cars are at the very cutting edge of construction techniques, yet they both behave differently on the road.