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The Mercedes-Benz C-Class has been a go-to choice for many buyers within this segment, but can the Jaguar XE and Lexus IS make compelling alternatives?

23 Jul 2021


When it comes to the compact executive sedan segment, the Germans brands have established a deep and persistent following here in Singapore.

And, the most common and identifiable model has to be the Mercedes-Benz C-Class. In 2020, Mercedes-Benz once again topped the charts in terms of total new car registrations, with the figures in the sedan segment far outpacing its competitors.

But does it simply mean that German is better? Well, the latest offerings out of Great Britain and Japan would beg to differ...

Visual desire

The Lexus IS is a very pretty looking car indeed... 
The updated Lexus IS delivers the most immediate visual punch. With its revised front grille, sleek headlamps and immediately athletic demeanour, it's hard to deny that the IS is a strikingly good-looking compact sedan. I think it is easily the most visually striking and appealing of the bunch.

The facelifted Jaguar XE doesn't disappoint in the looks department, either. It boasts a muscular and strong design, especially in this R-Dynamic trim. With its accentuated front end and redesigned bumpers both front and back, the XE cuts a commanding figure on the road.

Viewed beside the IS and the XE, the C-Class appears almost meek in contrast. Yes, it retains an immediately identifiable Mercedes look that is good-looking enough, and that's probably important for some buyers. However, I find it to be a little visually unexciting.

Tech track

The touch controls on the Merc's steering wheel are useful for operating what is an otherwise dated infotainment system
However, slide in to the C-Class' cabin and it's immediately impressive. With sleek graphics, bright ambient lighting, wood-trimmed surfaces, and plenty of bells and whistles, the Mercedes delivers an immediate sense of luxury and class. The updated C-Class also now offers Mercedes me services.

That said, spend a little time with it and that wow factor certainly fades a little. The infotainment is really dated (it isn't even a touchscreen), build quality isn't the greatest (I spotted a wire sticking out from the centre console), and there's a level of unnecessary complexity to operating various key functions. Also, the car does not come with built-in navigation. You'll have to use your smartphone for that, via wired Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

The immediate feeling in the IS is snugness. That partially comes down to really supple leather seats, much too many buttons, and a cabin design that has been specifically made to feel focused and cocooning. I think it's easily the most comfortable and shiok place to sit in, even though the front seats don't have memory function, and only support two-way lumbar adjustment. The super plush carpets are also really nice to step on.

The IS has the most appealing cabin, although there's no denying that some of the equipment is obviously dated
However, there's a distinct old-fashionedness to the cabin that is hard to overlook. Yes, Lexus has updated things slightly by offering a touchscreen, but the infotainment system is still frustratingly dated and complicated to use.

There's in-built navigation, but the map is graphically similar to those Street Directory books that you used to have to flip through for directions, back before the days of Google Maps. Thankfully, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available. But unlike the other two cars, you do not get wireless smartphone charging. 

The XE's cabin is a little on the stark side (especially with our test car's white interior), but it is certainly the most modern. You get a very sleek two-screen setup running crisp graphics, a configurable digital dashboard, sleek and usable navigation, and even a ClearSight rear view mirror. There's honestly a lot to like about the XE's interior - it feels the most modern and well-equipped. As far as usability and equipment from the driver's seat is concerned, I think the XE surpasses the other two.

Comfort and space

The C-Class delivers the most rear legroom among the three 
From a comfort perspective, the C-Class delivers the best rear legroom and headroom, and also offers two rear USB ports. The XE has the least legroom, and the side bolsters have a strange hump that makes it feel like you're always sliding inward. The rear cabin of the IS has the narrowest middle seat, and the transmission tunnel hump is really tall (almost level to the middle seat), which impinges into the sense of space.

From a practicality perspective, the C-Class wins. Though its 480-litre boot is the same size as the Lexus, the loading aperture is much wider, and it's just a generally easier to use space. Also, the boot is powered. The Lexus' isn't. The XE's 410-litre boot is smaller, though still reasonably usable (powered too).

Show and go

The C180 delivers a familiarly comfortable and smooth Mercedes driving experience
The C180 uses a a 1.5-litre engine producing 154bhp and 250Nm of torque. Yes, on paper its got a fair bit less performance than the other two cars. Does it matter? Yes, a little bit. When you get hard on the throttle, there's definitely a hesitancy from the engine before delivering power. And, yes, there isn't quite as much urgent acceleration as the other two.

However, performance in this segment is, I think, slightly overrated. Usability and comfort should be higher priorities, and on this front, the C180 delivers a familiar Merc experience. The ride is certainly on the floaty side, which makes for a comfortable and smooth, if somewhat disconnected drive. Driven lightly, it's also the most refined car - noise insulation is good, and when worked lightly you won't have to encounter the rough engine note.

In the XE, you get a 247bhp 2.0-litre engine that has plenty of grunt. Acceleration is brisk, and there's a notable sense of sportiness to the car, with its firm suspension setup. However, it's a rather harsh sounding engine, and of the three has the most intrusive engine start-stop function.

The noticeable lag in throttle responsiveness is a signficant flaw in the XE's powertrain
I do find that the car feels heavy and has a large footprint. Part of this is the long bonnet, which creates a real sense of visual weight when you're driving. Thankfully, the lane keep assist will ensure you stay in lane.

I do have on serious issue with the XE. As with some other JLR cars I've driven, there's a detectable throttle response lag. This is most evident when you come off the throttle, but the car continues to surge forward for a split second before engine braking begins. In moderate to heavy traffic situation, this is actually rather stressful. I find myself constantly having to be alert on the brakes.

The IS, then. It's certainly the most connected-feeling car. The 241bhp 2.0-litre engine is strong, responsive and sounds the most decent of the three. With the way the car is designed, it also feels the smallest to drive. I especially like that the bonnet falls away from the windscreen, so when you look forward there's no sense of visual mass. The IS also comes equipped with useful safety features like Lane Centring Assist.

The IS is the most responsive and engaging car to drive, even though it is also the noisiest
However, the IS isn't without its faults. On the road, especially at higher speeds, it's definitely the noisiest of the three. And, it's not even tyre or road noise - when driving it, it felt more like some kind of low pitch reverberation within the cabin, which I found to be rather annoying after long periods of driving.

Tough decisions

Making a choice between these three cars proves to be much less straightforward than I expected.

For many people, the Mercedes will probably still be the obvious choice. While I personally don't find it particularly interesting or exciting (and it's also a car that's showing its age), it's hard to argue against its badge appeal.

All three cars prove to be flawed in their own rights, but as far as best compromises go, the Lexus IS will be my choice
I thought the IS would be the obvious choice here. I think it looks the best, drives the best, and of the three it's the car that I relish driving the most. However, there are some clear compromises - cabin equipment is old fashioned, the car's not the most spacious, and the noisiness at high speeds is annoying.

Which leads me to the XE. To be very honest, I think the XE is the most well-rounded package here. It offers a solid combination of looks, functionality, modern equipment and ease of use. But, I can't choose the XE. The disconnect in the drivetrain is a singularly too notable flaw for me - I know that it's something that would always be on my mind anytime I'm driving this car, and I wouldn't be at ease.

So, as far as best compromises go? I'll choose the Lexus IS. Although I might actually want the equally capable but even more efficient (and slightly cheaper) IS 300h Hybrid.

Facelift articles

The Jaguar XE gets a welcome update

09 Sep 2020

The Jaguar XE gets a much-needed facelift, with keen design enhancements and a notably improved cabin, to keep it fresh amidst tough competition.
Read more

Car Information

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Promotion
There's a promotion for Jaguar XE

Price

: $242,999

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1997cc

Horsepower

:

184kW (247 bhp) / 5500 rpm

Torque

:

365 Nm / 4500 rpm

Transmission

:

8-speed (A) Jaguar Sequential Shift

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

6.5sec

Top Speed

:

250km/h

Fuel consumption

:

13.9 km/L

This model is no longer being sold by local distributors

Price

: -

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1998cc

Horsepower

:

180kW (241 bhp) / 5800 rpm

Torque

:

350 Nm / 4400 rpm

Transmission

:

8-speed (A)

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

7sec

Top Speed

:

230km/h

Fuel consumption

:

11.9 km/L

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Price

: $232,888

Engine Type

:

4-cylinder in-line 16-valve Turbocharged

Engine Cap

:

1497cc

Horsepower

:

115kW (154 bhp) / 6100 rpm

Torque

:

250 Nm / 4000 rpm

Transmission

:

9G-Tronic (A)

Acceleration (0-100 km/h)

:

8.6sec

Top Speed

:

223km/h

Fuel consumption

:

15.4 km/L

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