Joe Public’s voracious appetite for premium SUVs surges forth unabated. BMW, for example, says its X models account for a third of all sales. A third! Half a decade ago that figure would’ve been less than half that. This leaves traditional premium saloons in a quandary. The masses (masses of executives, should we say) aren’t buying them in the numbers they used to. Yet, in a bid to keep them relevant, manufacturers still put them on the front line as a means to showcase all their cutting-edge wares. These five premium sedans mean serious business… And if they don’t tempt you out of that high-riding 4×4, nothing will.
Once upon a time, even the most fervent Porsche acolytes scorned the very sight, the very idea of the Panamera. Mainly because the plutocratic four-door 911 was not a 911 (the familiar refrain) and it looked like the carbuncled Loch Ness Monster. Not any more. For Panamera 2.0, the transformation couldn’t be more comprehensive. Not only is its re-sculpted aesthetic now as pretty as it is pacy, but it skins an all-new modular chassis, new force-fed V6 and V8 engines paired with a sublime eight-speed PDK gearbox, and an all-new Nasa-spec infotainment system, all assembled in a brand new factory – that’s breaking all the rules as far as replacement models go. The end result is beyond reproach – a tech-laden conveyance that matches the digital prowess of Mercedes and BMW every step of the way, a cosseting luxo-barge that boasts limousine-like comfort, and, the instant you toggle the Drive Mode selector to Sport+, a bona fide supercar. Wave goodbye to Porsche brand dilution and say hello to the best premium sedan in the world.
Trans-continental blasting in supreme luxury
Lighter, cleverer, faster; now with the looks to match
Not so sure
Million-plus price tag. Touchscreen interface a little tricky
BMW 5 Series 530d
BMW’s raison d’etre has always been the ‘ultimate driving machine’; no surprises that, with its seventh-gen business saloon, it’s aligned compact 3-Series chuckability (100 kg in weight savings over the old 5 Series) together with radical tech á la 7 Series. The end result – a 7 Series in tight trousers that goes with all the brilliance of a sports saloon. The design inside and out is anything but a breakthrough, being well-proportioned, but evolutionary, not revolutionary. It’s the road-holding and handling that hustle it straight to the top of the class, though. Trickery like dynamic damper control, active hydro-electric steering with rear-wheel assistance and electronic roll stabilisation makes it so incredibly lithe and nimble – a wondrous accomplishment considering the new 5’s inevitable focus on semi-autonomous driving. An E-Class executes lane changes without your help up to 130 km/h on the motorway – the 5 will do that same deed up to 180 km/h – consider that one-upped. It utilises sat-nav data to tailor the steering, transmission and damping to prevailing conditions and new car-to-car technology allows it to communicate directly with other BMWs, sharing traffic and accident information. So it’s a fully connected drive in pretty much every respect then – from the seat of your pants, to up in the cloud.
Developing a superiority complex
Not wholly fixated on autonomy and connectivity, it’s still a driving machine
Not so sure
The 520d will be the big seller at 780k, but we haven’t driven it; might be a touch underpowered
Mercedes-Benz E-Class 220d
The ‘Russian Doll’ phenomenon presented by Jag’s XF is personified in the new Merc E-class. Visually, it’s roughly a one-and-a-half-per-cent-increase copy of the C-Class and, predictably, it comes away looking a dead ringer – which does little to enforce its reputation as one of the most hi-tech vehicles on the road. The all-new 2.0-litre diesel mill is a torquey masterpiece and paired with its supreme nine-speed auto gearbox, it’s class-leadingly frugal. Out on the road, the electronically controlled air suspension works constantly to keep her as composed as a penthouse-apartment lift and, curiously, for a car with so many autonomous driving pretentions, it’s still extremely gratifying to drive spiritedly. But it’s Mercedes’ Drive Pilot that steals the show. Relinquish full control at up to 130 km/h on the highway and you are all but superfluous as the complex radars, cameras and electronics read traffic, road signs and markings to control the brakes, steering, and throttle to execute your lane changes for you. R43 100 is all it costs for the Driving Assistance Package Plus – it’ll give you a window into just how irrelevant tomorrow’s driver will be.
Ceding all control, never missing a work email
Fantastic drivetrain, comfortable, out-of-this-world tech
Not so sure
No fewer than 43 optional packages and extras on offer. ‘Is that a C-Class?’ silhouette
Volvo S90 D4 R-Design
The brand’s first clean-slate sedan since the rickety S60 – and attaining industrial independence from Ford – is a gorgeous slab of Swedish metal. Squared-off lines accentuated by the cool ‘Thor’s Hammer’ headlights dovetail with an understated aesthetic. The restrained interior with a vertical tablet interface as its centrepiece won’t surprise anyone who’s been in an XC90, but that doesn’t make this leather-
and black-lathered cabin any less tactile and stylish. Of course, just like anyVolvo should, it trades on its safety credentials, so best believe it’s brimming with safety systems and the multitude of acronyms that go with them. In time, an electrically integrated 300 kW T8 twin-engine model will head up the proceedings, but it’s the sensible, economical D4 that best serves this sedan – offering lag-free acceleration and a calming, feel-good drive that none of its competitors can touch. The R-Design pack (R65 000), which brings some juicy add-ons, such as park assist and premium Bowers & Wilkins sound, is a must in this svelte Scandinavian.
Consigning that dreary daily commute to the rubbish bin
Not sporty, but a real ‘feel good’ drive
Not so sure
Only 500ℓ of boot space puts it at the back of this pack
Jaguar XF 20d R-Sport
The plucky British marque may appear to be following a ‘Russian Doll’ styling strategy where every model looks, well, the same, but in fact, by taking a scalpel to its XE lookalike, as well as rejigging the proportions (shorter, lower and a
51 mm-longer wheelbase), they’ve not only placed the wheels further out for sharper handling, but also improved the rear legroom over its predecessor. In the business, that’s known as a win-win, but the biggest winner here is the new Ingenium diesel engine, which marks a massive improvement over Jag’s old 2.2-litre diesel – no more incessant mooing from that engine bay, thank you very much. There’s also a 280 kW supercharged V6 S on offer, but this smooth oil-burner is undoubtedly the best all-rounder. The only fly in the ointment here is the familiarity of the XE-based interior and a relative lack of gadgets compared to the Germans.
The company man with a bit of class
R-Sport handsome in a Daniel Craig kind of way
Not so sure
Interior decidedly ordinary, a bit expensive
Today’s 21st-century business saloons are all about connectivity and autonomy, and if those are your criteria, then the E-Class and 5 Series come in top of the class. But factoring in their identikit dullness and consumer desire to stand out from the crowd, then it’s the sophisticated Jag and Volvo that steal the lime light. Introduce driving entertainment into the equation and, crucially, brand aspiration, and one car stands out – the Panamera. Thrilling to drive, five-star luxurious and packed with all the latest microchips, it’s now a genuinely covetable car. Best of all, no one will confuse you for an off-duty airport cabbie.