Jaguar's XF 4.0-litre supercharged SV8 is a great car, but along with the naturally aspirated V8 it’ll only account for 5 percent of sales. But the 2.7-litre diesel will mop up a whopping 70 percent of sales. This then, is the crucial test for the new XF, and for Jaguar.
Things start well, because the more you see the XF, the more you fall for its looks. There are Lexus GS hints in the side profile, but park the two cars together and the Jag is lower and definitely leaner with pronounced rear haunches. And speaking of rears, the XF surely has one of the best of any car, whatever the class. Only oversized headlights, an undersized grille, and the necessity to spec big wheels let Ian Callum’s design down. Just be prepared for all the attention you’ll get driving it.
But while the exterior might split public opinion, the interior will surely find universal appeal. Step inside, press the pulsing starter button and watch the air vents rotate open. Select Drive via the gimmicky but great Jaguar Drive dial and waft away. At night you’re bathed in a soothing turquoise glow, much nicer than a harsh Germanic red. The cruise control dial on the steering wheel is a joy to use, and is surely the way forward. There’s just a certain something about sitting in the XF’s cabin. It feels like a cabin built for you, rather than one manufactured for the masses.
There are a few niggles though. The swooping roofline means rear headroom is tight, and the cutouts in the back of the front seats are woefully inadequate for taller passengers. There’s also a lack of space for the driver’s knees, while the touchscreen sat-nav is too complex to jump in and use without recourse to the manual.
And what about this diesel engine?
Lacking, I’m afraid. The 2.7-litre twin-turbo V6 is deliciously smooth, very refined and day-to-day isn’t found wanting. But if you load up with four bodies or compare it to the equivalent BMW or Merc diesel, it feels painfully slow. The auto ‘box shifts very smoothly though, and only occasionally selects too high a gear at roundabouts.
We've always liked the 2.7 V6, but its vital stats can't live with its most popular rival, the single turbo 3.0-litre diesel in the 5-series. The Jaguar musters 207bhp and 320lb ft - down 28bhp and 48lb ft, and the Bavarian is 116kg lighter. No matter which way you cut it, the BMW wins on paper. It's quicker to 60mph (6.8 versus 7.7 seconds). It's less thirsty (by nearly 5mpg). And it's cleaner (by a not inconsiderable 23g/km of CO2).
Is the Jag up to the BMW’s standard dynamically?
Almost. While a BMW, epecially in M Sport spec, fidgets over craggy British road surfaces, the Jagusr glides over the tarmac. That doesn’t mean it wallows though. The XF is very focused, and the ride is quite firm. It never becomes tiresome though, and covers motorway miles with absolute ease.
Step from a BMW into the XF and you’ll find the Jaguar’s steering a little on the light side. The extra heft built into the Bavarian gives you a little more confidence when you push on, but give the Jaguar some time and you’ll discover an agile saloon that belies its size and weight. As one of our team put it: ‘It steers like a big Focus.’ That’s the better Mk1 version, mind.
The S-type was a car you brought with your heart, not your head. The XF is a car you buy with both. Jaguar’s new saloon takes everything that was great about the old S-type and improves it, while ironing out most of the flaws. It’s still a little cramped, but every time you pass a competitor you know you’ll be let out of junctions, your car won’t be seen as a taxi at a German airport, and should you take the long way home you’re going to love it. The XF diesel falls short on paper, but it's still a very good car.