Wheels Of Decadence


, Tech

Seated inside a luxury sedan, driving on a long stretch of tarmac, Gaurav Nagpal shares his experience of excitement and automotive bliss

Designing a sedan is no easy job! Big or small, sporty or relaxed, understated or in-your-face – all of these need attention before you roll out your four-wheeledwonder on the road, in the hope that hordes of car buyers will lap it up. Such a car typically is meant for smooth tarmac – think billiards-table-top or the still surface of a lake when the wind is quiet. Come to India, though, and your daily drive could well be through more than a few stretches pockmarked with deep ruts or loose gravel, yet another demand to deal with.

Of late, one of the hottest car segments in India has been midsize luxury sedans. The best of the best have launched their chosen steeds from their considerable stables, and I recently piloted two of the choicest offerings in this arena. If there were a word combining bliss and adrenaline, that emotion is what pulsated through my veins at the end of it all!

My experience began with the Volvo S90, the newest offering from the venerable Swedish marque occupying the curious position of the maker of possibly the safest cars on the planet; yet, the sedate, restrained styling has not always caught the fancy of car buyers in India. This car should change that reputation and in a good way. Taking a head-on view, what strikes me immediately are the “Thor’s Hammer” daylightrunning LEDs (DRLs) inside the front headlamps – as distinctive a touch as can be, and mighty sharp too! These encase the bold chrome grille, whose vertical floating-effect slats look really good.

As I follow the yacht-inspired bold shoulder line to the rear, what grabs my eyeballs and refuses to let go are the taillamps. “Polarising” is the word that comes to mind – just a look at their curious shape, and I know this is a love-it-or-hate-it shape (I love it, mind you!). This Volvo stands out, with full marks for the styling.

Step inside to an environ of luxury and functionality. Tired calf muscles? Push a button and out swings a cushioned support platform from under the seat – the driver, too, partakes of this comfort. The vertical nine-inch infotainment screen in the centre console is brilliant – almost every customisable setting of the car is accessible here, though the raft of options could be a little confusing. The coolest bit? The “floating” head-up display in the front windscreen – now my eyes need never leave the road ahead to check my speed. For my modest height, the legroom in the front and the rear is more than ample, and even taller people will have not a note of discord in this regard.

The drive experience is a revelation – a four-pot diesel that behaves like a sporty petrol! The engine note is so far removed from typical diesel clatter that this itself makes me want to mash the pedal to the floor and leave it there – the car flies across the tarmac, with even the sharpest of intrusions being flattened, as it were. The Norse God sure makes his mark!

If Volvo is venerable, then Mercedes-Benz is formidable, especially in the land of the tricolour! The three-pointed star is much loved in India, and the new E-Class shifts the bar further – it is the only long wheelbase (LWB) sedan in its segment, the first Made-In-India LWB E-Class, and the world’s only right-hand-drive (RHD) variant of the LWB E-Class. Most, if not all, of the increased wheelbase goes to the rear legroom – if the S90 felt more than ample, the E-Class feels positively palatial! I stretched my legs flat and still had room to spare, and the power-adjustable rear seatback added to the comfort. Up front, it is the familiar Mercedes-Benz environment, loaded with comfort and convenience features, yet with no stinting on safety.

If the interior is big, the exterior is bigger! The E-Class bears the family look and the LWB version gets ever closer to the Maybach in its appearance. Couple of marks down for not being the most distinctive, but please-all-and-excite-few works very well in this segment, and the E-Class scores here. Boot space is tighter, as the space-saver spare tyre is placed in the boot, not under it, leaving less room for luggage. “V6” means power – oodles of it in the E-Class! The power delivery is seamless and the car makes ground really quick. It is not as quiet as the Swede, though, but far, far from intrusive, and the same applies to the ride quality – super-smooth, except for the sharpest of intrusions and the highest of speed-breakers.

It all boils down to choice – pleasant, but difficult. Neither car is short of luxury, but a choice must still be made. If exclusive, (almost) sporty and smooth-as-silk gets you happy, it is the S90; if familiar, bigger-is-better and lots of power tick your boxes, it is the E-Class. Oh, if only the choices in life were so comfy!

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