Massive marketing machines have convinced us, as a population, to buy the best you can afford, repercussions be damned – If you've saved up some money, spend it! All of it, on whatever it is that currently sits atop your personal Amazon wishlist, be it a Timex that takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin', a $17,000 Gold Apple Watch or a $60,000 Rolex Cosmograph Daytona.
But what if the best you can afford is... say, $12,815? For that price, you can buy a brand-new 2015 Nissan Versa (including destination), assuming you're happy with zero options and a manual transmission. For that price, you'll get standard air conditioning, a CD player and... well, a warranty.
Pretty sensible choice, Captain Frugal. But also ridiculously uninspired. And so that brings us to today's edition of This or That, in which two Autoblog editors pick differing sides of an argument and duke it out to see which one of us can convince you, dear reader, is better. Or at least less wrong. You be the judge.
As a refresher, I'm two-and-two on these challenges, having lost the first and second editions before storming back in rounds three and four.
Today, as alluded to above, we decided to throw our collective brainpower (oh lord, what have we done?) at what may be the single most difficult question currently confounding the best minds our planet has to offer: What is the best used used luxury car you can buy for the price of a 2015 Nissan Versa?
Shall we meet our contenders?
Allow me to introduce you to the most perfect luxury car money can buy (assuming the amount of money you're holding is equal to the amount of the cheapest new car currently sold in America, the Nissan Versa).
My pick is the 1991 Mercedes-Benz S-Class. Not just any S-Class, but the legendary W126, which was produced between 1979 and 1992. And not just any W126, either, but one powered by a 3.5-liter turbodiesel engine.
And with that, I send the argument to my esteemed colleague, Associate Editor Chris Bruce.
Bruce: Jeremy, we had over $12,000 to budget for this challenge, and the best you can manage is a 24-year-old diesel Mercedes? I love oil-burners as much as any other auto writer with their mountains of torque and huge cruising range, but you're making this too easy on me.
Also, you're really choosing a brown, diesel, German luxury sedan? You're just a manual gearbox and a station wagon away from ticking the box on every major auto journalist stereotype.
My choice, on the other hand, offers classic (some might even say iconic) styling, rarity and plenty more horsepower more than your diesel six-cylinder. I present you with a 2003 Jaguar XJR, complete with the R1 option pack that added things like Brembo brake calipers and cross-drilled rotors, and its supercharged 4.0-liter V8 is a thing of beauty. Covered in black paint with just the right amount of chrome to make it all pop, I don't know that you can carry as many people in such high-speed splendor for this price.
Also, not that the S-Class is exactly common, but how often do you see an XJ on the road, let alone an XJR?
Now, the performance category is no contest here, so let's here a compelling argument for your Autobahn cruiser as the winner against my supercharged Brit.
And here I thought I was being reasonable. I bring a well-mannered German to the table, and Chris counters with a raucous Brit. One with a supercharger, no less.
I respect his chutzpah, but I'm not going to flinch. May as well start with the elephant in the room: reliability.
Korzeniewski: The Best Or Nothing, Mr Bruce.
You're pulling the journalist card on me so early? I didn't expect that in the first volley, I must admit. But yes, it's an auto journalist dream car – diesel, classic body shape, and a delectable color. So sue me. If I could have found one with a proper clutch, you can be sure I'd have gone that direction, too. But no matter, this car is perfect as is.
I happen to have a soft spot for older Jaguars like the XJR you've found. I will, however, point out that you could have found a 2004 or newer model, complete with the much lighter, more modern aluminum construction for a similar price. But to each his own.
Perhaps there's a reason you don't see many XJRs on the road, Chris. Could it because most of them are currently sitting in driveways and shops, not quite running right? You can rest assured knowing that my diesel-powered Mercedes won't be suffering such a fate anytime soon.
Bruce: I was really hoping you might not notice the XJR's woeful reliability reputation, but I guess we need to go there.
I've heard that when buying a used car on a budget, the three tradeoffs to consider are performance, price and reliability, but you only get to pick two of them. In this case, I must concede that the XJR offers plenty of power at a good price but I might be forming a closer relationship with my local mechanic.
Also, the Mercedes isn't going to be a bargain to keep on the road, either. Sure, it might go longer between trips to the shop, but German replacement parts aren't exactly cheap, especially for the flagship models.
All of that being considered, this is still a supercharged Jaguar. When it is running right, this sedan is going to be sublime. Meanwhile you're puttering around in a diesel Mercedes that might as well be a very plush German taxi.
Both of these models have design legacies going back decades. The Jag's basic shape goes back to the late '60s, and the W126 wasn't all that different in styling from the W116 that dates back to the early '70s. Sell me on your somewhat boxy Merc versus my gorgeous XJR.
With the reliability quotient firmly established as a black mark on the Jag, Chris wisely U-turned the discussion to driving enjoyment. Specifically, horsepower. Considering that's not something I can argue with – in fact, I fully agree with him – I choose instead to torpedo his argument of style. And I can't help but drive home the point that he chose a British luxury car. British! Luxury!
Korzeniewski: While looks are clearly subjective, Chris, I think it's fair to say that both the W126 S-Class and the Jaguar XJ are classic, timeless designs. You can call my chosen S-Class "somewhat boxy" all you want, and I'll counter by pointing out that the older Series III XJ models from Jaguar were prettier than the 2003 model you chose, if likely even less reliable.
Now, I'm not going to poke fun at the Jaguar XJR, in general. I love that car. That said, the example you chose has 122,871 miles, Chris. It's best years are behind it. Not so, my Benz. It's 171,069 miles mean it's just broken in, and it's previous owner has replaced just about all wear items already. The kind soul wanted to put his college-bound son in a good, safe car, bless his heart. And now its new owner will get to reap the rewards with a solid piece of German engineering.
In a milestone moment, we've found a point we can agree upon. Don't worry, it doesn't last long.
Bruce: To your first point, I actually think the Series III XJ is actually the pinnacle of the design. It's the version that I think of first when considering them, at least. However, the X308 series of this example is a close second best. It's certainly better looking that the model that directly succeeded it.
Also, you're being a bit unfair about the Jag's lack of reliability. I concede that with the proper maintenance your Mercedes should run forever. However, this XJ averages out to a little over 11,000 miles a year of driving. That hardly equates to the end of its life in my opinion. The exterior paint and leather inside all look good. I think this car still has some life in it.
We've seemed to have reached a stalemate, though. The Mercedes is definitely going to be more reliable, and the Jaguar is unquestionably the better performer. They also both look great with shapes that withstand the test of time. By my math that works out to a tie.
Although, beyond just the performance aspect, when driving with the windows down I get to listen to a supercharged V8. You, on the other hand, get the sonic misery is two-decade-old diesel. I think that's one more point in the Jag's favor.
Whoa! Sonic misery? Them's fighting words, Chris. Clearly, I need a solid closing argument to counter Mr. Bruce's drubbing of my diesel.
Korzeniewski: A stalemate? Well, if you say so. I will conclude with an analogy.
If the Nissan Versa that we've targeted in this little showdown is like a Timex watch – sensible, affordable and reliable – then the Jaguar is like a Gold Edition Apple Watch. It's pretty, for sure, and it's got lots of performance underhood, but it isn't a true luxury item for the discerning buyer who makes big purchases based on a real-world timeline: from the time-honored past through to the present realities and well into an investment-grade future.
The Mercedes is like a Rolex. Exquisitely designed to beat back the ravages of time through solid engineering, craftsmanship and reputation-burnished cachet. It may be older than your Jaguar, but that only drives home the point: This Mercedes 350SD is worth owning and worth the effort to keep it on the road, long after your 2003 Jaguar, as enjoyable as it may be over its short period of usefulness, has gone the way of the X-Type.
With that, we've rested our cases. Is the Benz a solid and distinguished gentleman or an old-timer well past his prime? Is the XJR a Jag of all trades or master of none? The ball is in your court, readers.