► First drive review of 2016 Jaguar XF
► Second-gen model: new chassis, engines
► Roomy and refined, frugal and fun
What a difference a clean sheet of paper makes. This, the all-new 2015 Jaguar XF, is slightly smaller on the outside (yet, thanks to design sleight of hand, looks larger to our eyes) yet much bigger on the inside than the first XF; this time it’s available with four-cylinder diesels from launch, giving it a fighting chance in the all-important fleet market from the off; there’s now a 4wd option; and we won’t have to wait years for a Sportbrake estate version - because there’s been one in the plan from the start.
And yet, for all its all-newness, it doesn’t half look a bit similar to the old XF. And, for that matter, its smaller Jaguar XE sibling. In more ways than one, there’s something awfully familiar about the new XF…
Is the new Jaguar XF just a stretched XE?
No, not entirely, although they do have plenty in common. Both cars are based on the same scalable, aluminium-intensive platform model that underpins Jaguar’s flurry of new models, and both use the same double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear. They also share many of the same engines.
The XF will have more in common still with the upcoming Jaguar F-Pace SUV, a car which will occupy a similar footprint.
What’s the cabin like inside the new Jaguar XF?
Very familiar, if you’ve been in an XE or an XJ. Same ‘Riva Hoop’ curve arcing from door to door to envelop the dash; much of the same switchgear as the XE; and the Bosch-developed ‘InControl’ touchscreen that’s a night-and-day improvement over the dated, dull-witted system the original XF was lumbered with.
The enjoyable start-up theatrics of the original make a welcome return – at the first press of the starter button the rotary gear selector rises out of the centre console and the air vents swivel in the dash. Only the outer ones this time, though – the central vents are thinner, XE-style slivers. We’d say the interior trim looks and feels better than the XE’s, as long as you ignore the hollow clacks when you tap the door casings and cheap-feeling gear-control surround. The seats are supportive, if a touch firmer than you might want or expect.
As for that increased roominess for rear passengers you keep hearing about, it really has made a difference. If you’ve ever sat in the back of the old XF, you’ve probably still got a crick in your neck from the plunging roofline. Not so with XF Mk2. There’s legroom and headroom aplenty, all thanks to a 51mm increase in wheelbase made possible by that new platform.
2015 Jaguar XF: engines, trims
There are four engines at launch. Two of them are four-cylinder diesels from Jaguar Land Rover’s new Ingenium family, with 161bhp and 178bhp respectively. Further up the outside lane there’s a 296bhp V6 turbodiesel and Jaguar’s familiar 3.0-litre supercharged V6, with 375bhp in the new XF (40bhp more than the same engine gets in the XE).
Trim-wise, again a choice of four: Prestige, R Sport, Portfolio and S.
Those four-cylinder diesels are the really important ones as far as sales volume is concerned, of course, offering the most fleet market-friendly blend of emissions and fuel consumption. The 161bhp diesel can muster 70.6mpg and 104g/km when equipped with the right wheels.
The car tested here is the 178bhp diesel R Sport. That’s the one that’s predicted to sell most strongly, offering 65mpg and 114g/km with a useful performance boost over the base diesel. Likewise, the R Sport trim is predicted to be most popular, with a more muscular bodykit and alloy wheel design along the lines of BMW’s M Sport and Audi’s S line models – all of them big sellers in the UK and top of the food chain in company car parks.
What’s the new XF actually like to drive?
Comfortable, (mostly) refined and genuinely entertaining when you want it to be. We drove the car on 20-inch wheels and passive suspension, rather than the continuously variable dampers also available. It’s a good compromise; although it can become fidgety on rougher road surfaces, when driven on urban roads and motorways that patter quickly dissolves into the background.
A more relevant figure than the engine’s 178bhp is its 318lb ft of torque, and it hits peak pulling power at a usefully low 1750rpm, making it a flexible companion. It's not quite as urgent as the equivalent XE; while it’s the same engine with the same power output, the XF’s at least 70kg heavier (more depending on spec), and the extra heft does take the edge of its performance and driveability.
It doesn’t sound particularly wonderful, either, bleating vocally when pushed, but it is less thrashy and considerably more refined than the old 2.2-litre diesel in the Mk1 XF. Likewise the eight-speed automatic transmission spends less time wavering over its choice of gears, whether down to the Ingenium engine’s extra torque or simply better calibration. A manual gearbox is also available for the first time.
If you were a fan of the old XF’s rather lovely hydraulic power steering, the bad news is it’s gone. But the good news is that its electric replacement’s not bad at all. It feels meatier than the old XF and the new XE, with consistent weighting and pleasing feel of precision.
How does it feel if you’re in a hurry?
It’s good. That double-wishbone suspension keeps the front end glued if you’re pressing on, even if you get a bit carried away with your steering inputs.
We’d say the smaller XE is the nicer car to drive, however. The XF’s longer wheelbase makes it feel marginally less agile, the lower power-to-weight ratio takes the edge of its performance and the extra weight gives the brakes more to think about.
The new Jaguar XF is a more than worthy rival to the usual exec saloon suspects: handling, space and frugality all impress, although we were disappointed by this particular model's mooing engine, firm seats and a few iffier bits of interior trim. But the XF Mk2 will faces sterner challenges when the all-new replacement for the Mercedes E Class arrives in at the end of 2015 - and BMW's next 5-series is on the way later in 2016. Click here for CAR's dossier on both upcoming German big-hitters.
Incidentally, if you’re certain you don’t need the extra space you might enjoy an XE even more – it’s got the dynamic edge over the XF, and your neighbours (or colleagues) might not be able to tell one from the other after all…