A colleague and friend of mine just bought himself a Tesla Model S (the fast P85 edition). I’d been wanting to find a suitable car to compare it against, so I approached a major European car vendor’s media relations people, asking for a loaner so I could do a head-to-head comparison.
The response: “Unfortunately, Mr. Large And In Charge [not his actual name] isn’t interested in a comparison against the Tesla, Dan.” Knowing I’d never have the pull of Top Gear to get the gear I wanted in hand, I resolved that I’d do it some other way.
Recently, I received a card in the mail, inviting me to a Jaguar ALIVE Driving Experience. I’ve been to things like this before. They feed you mini-muffins, they let you tear around a mini-autocross track, you leave with a baseball cap, a mini-grin on your face, and mini-spam in your email box for months to come. I decided to invite my Tesla buddy along and see if I could get an expensive Jag in one side of my brain and compare it to the expensive Tesla in the other side of my brain. Here’s what happened.
First, let’s just look at them side by side, shall we? From the front, the Jaguar XF and the Tesla Model S have distinct personalities. The Tesla’s oval mouth probably has more in common with a Maserati Quattroporte, but the headlights have comparable anger to them. Both of these cars are snarling at you to get out of the way. Here’s a rear view.
The resemblance is clear. The Tesla’s hatchback and the Jaguar’s trunk are cut from the same cloth. You can see how much wider the Tesla’s hatch is, though, making it much easier to get big stuff in and out. What about the mirrors? Our own Sajeev loves to obsess over the little triangle where the mirror joins up with the front window. Here we go.
Tesla’s mirror is a bit more svelte, but there’s more than a passing resemblance. Now wait a minute, you might be complaining, how can you possible compare these two cars? The Jaguar XF starts around $50k with a two liter turbo four-cylinder and runs well north of $100k by the time you’ve got a firebreathing supercharged V8 installed. The cars are comparably sized, at least on the outside, although the Jag’s back seat is cramped, versus the entirely adult-compatible Tesla. Both vendors are clearly going after the same buyers.
Jaguar notably didn’t bring along the two liter. I sadly only got to drive the insane supercharged V8 for exactly one lap. (Summary: it’s got huge gobs of power and lots of electronic nannies to keep you alive. Since they required us to drive with the nannies on, all I can say is that it was holding back my flooring-it throttle inputs until it felt it safe, and it was readily applying its massive brakes even when I thought it didn’t need to.) Since that’s the car they’re using to show off the line, and it’s priced roughly the same as the P85 Tesla Model S (yadda yadda government subsidies vs. gas guzzler taxes, yadda yadda), the comparison seems fair game to me.
The Jaguar’s interior is pretty much what you’d expect at this price point from a conventional car. It’s got nice fitted leather seats with contrasting stitching and that fantastic new car smell. It’s got a touch screen (deep, sometimes confusing menus), voice recognition (not terribly useful), and a bunch of buttons. The Tesla has their unlike-anything-else spartan interior. I’m including a photo here of the nav screen with direct sunlight on it. It’s bright enough that it’s still entirely usable. Anybody who knows their way around a modern smartphone will have no trouble operating the Tesla. This is the future.
What about a performance comparison? Handling! Acceleration! Growling exhaust! I didn’t have anything even vaguely resembling the opportunity to do an apples-to-apples comparison. Suffice to say that the P85 Tesla’s acceleration is instantaneous and violent. And silent. On paper it’s faster than the über Jaguar and my butt dyno and I totally believe it.
Instead of that, I’ll offer a more direct comparison of the sort that automotive journalists usually ignore: sound-system quality. My buddy’s Tesla has their uprated stereo system. I asked the Jaguar folks if I could get some quality time with their sound system and they happily left me alone in an optioned-up XJR. I paired my phone, via Bluetooth, and cranked my favorite test tunes through the Jaguar’s Meridian sound system and later ran the same exact tunes through the Tesla.
If you’re the sort of person who reads audiophile reviews, you’ll know they come in two varieties: “meaningless adjectives alongside descriptions of the reviewer’s favorite tunes” or “soulless test measurements”. Since I didn’t exactly have serious test gear in hand, nor do I wish to bombard you with meaningless adjectives (“a light, airy sound with a tight thunderous bass”), I’ll say that I used one classical orchestral piece, one late 1950’s jazz studio recording with Ella on vocals, and two bits of carefully chosen 90’s techno that will drive any subwoofer to submission.
In a nutshell, the Jaguar’s sound system was perfectly fine on the orchestral piece (lots of dynamic range, etc.), was a bit muddy with the famous female jazz singer, and the techno revealed the dreaded one-note-bass-thud-thud-thud, of the sort that you’d expect from somebody’s riced out Honda Civic. The Tesla was similarly fine on the classical piece, was slightly better on the jazz (something a bit off in the upper treble of Ella’s voice), and was 95% there on the techno, with different bass notes sounding notably different. (In my previous Tesla Model S encounter, that car didn’t have the uprated stereo. I played the same tunes there, and they were noticeably worse. If you want to listen to anything more demanding than talk radio in your Tesla, pony up for the good sound system. And somebody please invite
Tony Stark Elon Musk to listen to a good pair of ribbon speakers so he knows what to shoot for.)
Before I go, I’ll offer a couple quick words on the other Jaguars. The XK is still the best looking Jaguar out there. Below is a tricked out XKR-S, with matching contrasting stitching. Oh, and the driver’s seat is set perfectly for me (5’10”). Those ain’t back seats. They’re parcel shelves.
They also let us drive the new F-Type, in supercharged V6 and supercharged V8 form. This car is every bit the hoontastic screamer as the XK, and for a slightly less outrageous price. The only thing you’re giving up is the rear
parcel shelf seat. However, I’ll draw your attention to the gear selector (photo below). This is guaranteed to be misunderstood by the first valet you give the keys to, who will promptly back your car up into traffic and destroy the poor thing. You see, to put it in “park”, you press the “P” button on the top of the stick. If you just move the stick up, like every other automatic ever made, that’s just “reverse”. (Pro-tip: buy a manual transmission. Oh wait, you can’t.)
And, last but not least, when I first saw the XFR-S in its “French Racing Blue” (vraiment?), the comparison that sprang to mind was the dearly departed Pontiac G8. Is it just me?