EXECUTIVE CLASS - JSE MAGAZINE

EXECUTIVE CLASS

Manufacturers are turning their attention to creativity and ingenuity. The result? An eye-catching host of gorgeous models that will be spotted in public in the year ahead

EXECUTIVE CLASS

The pace of advancement in motoring technology in 2014 startled even the most seasoned observers. Innovations in lighting, engine management and both passive and active safety have pushed boundaries and set new benchmarks few would have foreseen, even a few years ago. The trend continues in 2015 and the Holy Grail is, of course, the driverless car, which is far, far closer than most think.

If the small crossover SUV market was 2014’s battleground, 2015’s theatre of conflict is the executive niche. Chasing a busy Mercedes-Benz will be BMW, Audi and a rejuvenated Jaguar Land Rover, all with important new offerings.

Mercedes-Benz CLS
The new Mercedes-Benz CLS, the marque’s beautiful luxury four-door coupé, is a prime example of the relentless pace of technology in motoring. On its launch, the company’s new C-Class trumpeted the innovative LED Intelligent Light System, complete with fully adaptive high beam. In essence, the car creates a wall of light and then, by electronic trickery, turns off the specific LED bulbs (there are 24) aimed at the car in front and at oncoming traffic.

The effect is astonishing – for the Mercedes driver and the car in front of it. A curtain of light extends beyond the vehicle ahead, giving better illumination for both, with just a pin prick of dark aimed at the leading vehicle. Being intelligent, the dark spot follows the car – even around corners – all the while maintaining the ‘wall of light’. It is, in the truest sense of the word, a smart system that provides a real-world solution to an age-old problem.

Fast-forward just a few months and the CLS premiered with a similar innovation but already the response, depth and ability of the system is far better. The computer calculates in microseconds how the car ahead is behaving, where the dark hole needs to be and even second guessing – with creepy accuracy – when the road will turn and where the lighting needs to be.

There’s more. Enter a traffic circle and the car instinctively ‘knows’ you are about to do so and lights up the merging lanes so the driver can see cars joining the circle. It also understands highway situations and creates a wall of dark on the right-hand side so that oncoming traffic is not blinded, even though high beam is selected.

Executive-class1

The CLS is now a sharp dresser, giving it road presence that can outdo its rivals

The light show aside, the CLS is now a sharp dresser and better to drive too. As always, it offers full seating for four, a large boot and four doors. The car’s assemblage of curves and sharp lines work beautifully, giving it road presence that can outdo its rivals. On the road it is now less boulevard cruiser, more true luxury sport tourer, with a tautness and obvious clarity of purpose. It is meant to eat great distances with minimal effort, an earthbound fighter jet that is as comfortable as it is convincing.

There is a new engine for the CLS too, as well as the company’s latest nine-speed 9G-Tronic automatic transmission. The successful 250 BlueTec four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine has been included in the line-up at one end, with the flagship V8 CLS 63 AMG S at the other, capable of reaching 100 km/hr in four seconds.

The CLS is one of a number of Mercedes-Benz models due in 2015. Arguably the most intriguing will be the GLC – its mid-sized crossover SUV that has curiously never made its way to our shores. Previously known as the GLK, it was square and angular, but the new model is slimmer and more curvaceous, in line with the current company ethos. It will go head-to-head with the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, and accent comfort and luxury rather than outright off-road ability.

Expect engines to mirror the current C-Class line-up, on which it is ostensibly based. The pick is likely to be the 250 BlueTec diesel derivative.

Executive-class2

Jaguar XE
Snapping at Stuttgart’s heels will be Jaguar Land Rover, now a serious contender after the Ford years. This year will see a full offensive, with the much-anticipated C-Class/A4/3 Series rival – the XE – breaking cover. Further up the spectrum, the larger XF will also be shown, and initial impressions suggest it will be a significant 5 Series rival.

All attention, however, will be on the XE. Much of its technology and innovation will be filtered into the XF, and as the volume seller it will need to be excellent. No easy task – many will remember the bland previous model, a Ford Mondeo in all but badge and body. But this time around new parent company Tata has stayed well away: the baby cat is demonstrably all Jag.

In looks, however, it borrows – disappointingly – from the BMW 3 Series and Volvo S60, but there is arguably enough Jag swoop in the tail to be distinctive. Under the skin it’s more exciting. The car is 75% aluminium and sports a double wishbone suspension set up that should put its road manners above its rivals. Engines will feature new 2l petrol and diesel variants and a V6 3l, among others. The emphasis inside will be on accenting its F-Type kinship, with clear sports dials, a thick, meaty transmission tunnel and plenty of up-to-date information technology including the ubiquitous giant touch screen interface.

Executive-class3

This time around, new parent company Tata has stayed well away: the baby cat is demonstrably all Jag

The XF will follow the XE’s lead, accenting the sports history of the brand while relying on aluminium and clever engineering to outclass its German competitors. Weight will be significantly reduced in both cases, and there will be less bling and more Bond Street in the interiors.

Also from Jaguar Land Rover is the Discovery Sport, Freelander’s replacement. A fairly complicated product line-up now looks less bewildering with this baby taking the spot as beginner Range Rover. It borrows heavily from its trendy sister Evoque, with fashion styling the name of the game. That said, the blunt, heavy nose may not age well. Expect the company’s successful 2l turbocharged petrol and 2.2l turbodiesel engines.

Land Rover is very keen to highlight the Discovery Sport’s roots, ostensibly to accent the car’s off-road prowess that feeds through in the permanent all-wheel-drive system.

Audi Q7
Following the successful launch of the brilliant new A8 and A3 sedans, attention in Ingolstadt shifts to the new A4. SA, however, may have to wait ’til 2016 for it to reach local shores.

In the meantime, the new Q7 and TT will break cover. The Q7, unquestionably Audi’s ugliest current model, will lose some of its rhino-attacking-a-hippo profile and move closer to the Q5, with more balanced lines, particularly at the back.

It will shrink considerably; it’ll also be lower. However, it will be bigger inside and appreciably lighter. The Q7 will most likely come with the new generation Audi diesel engines seen in the latest A7 range. Planned too is a QS7, possibly with a tri-turbo diesel.

Audi’s other newsmaker will be the latest TT, now as far from a hairdresser’s chariot as it’s possible to be. The magic of the new A3 and the A3 sedan – an alchemy of exquisitely simple design and engineering balance – has found its way into the TT, which is arguably the most effortless sports car to drive today.

Serious torque is available from pull-off, meaning rapid progress is simplicity itself. Its on-road balance is near perfect, a real pleasure, and the 2l turbocharged four-cylinder delivers all it needs to, without fuss or hiccup. But inside is the real innovation. The all-new cockpit has done away with separate dials in favour of an electronic screen in front of the driver that can be adapted. For example, it is possible to minimise the speedometer and enlarge the size of the navigation map.

Beautiful touches abound – the air vents now ingeniously incorporate air-conditioning controls. Pricing will dictate volume, but the TT is set to win a slew of international design awards.

Volvo XC90 and Infiniti QX80
With oil prices likely to stay low well into 2015, Volvo and especially Infiniti will be cheering – both plan launches of behemoths, Volvo the XC90 and Infiniti the QX80. Volvo’s large SUV is vital to the company’s health and has been the subject of an endless ad campaign. Three models, all 2l, will be available in petrol, diesel and hybrid guises. Expect cutting-edge safety and first-class interiors.

Executive-class4

With oil prices likely to stay low well into 2015, Volvo and Infiniti will be cheering – both plan launches of behemoths

Infiniti’s QX80 will take on Toyota’s Land Cruiser and the Lexus LX 570, a monster capable of carrying the whole family in extreme luxury. The 5.6l V8 engine is almost silent and the technology is astonishing, including a bouquet of digital features that interface with your devices to seamlessly integrate office, home and car.

By Peter Frost
Images: Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar, Volvo