► First drive of Jaguar’s hottest rwd XF to date
► Entertainingly brisk S packs a 375bhp supercharged V6
► Priced at £49,995, available in the UK now
We’d argue that the arrival of the XE did much to rain on the XF’s publicity parade.
While the XE was The Small Jaguar We Had All Been Waiting For® the bigger XF was simply a replacement for an existing model, albeit one that was instrumental in Jaguar’s nascent ascent over the last decade from bit part player to leading role. Besides, it was just an enlarged XE, wasn’t it, with is-it-the-new-one-or-the-old-one styling?
So while the friskier and funkier XE hogged the headlines, the marginalised new XF good-naturedly got on with its job of deeply impressing those who drove it, and giving its European and Japanese rivals a bloody nose. This, despite a rather restricted engine line-up with the diesely focus squarely on emissions and economy rather than company carpark kudos. So the arrival of the muscular S variant had us itching to see if the XF still possessed that magic that bewitched us when it was originally launched at the back end of 2007.
Are you sure that’s an XF? It looks like an XE to me…
You have a point – as understatedly handsome and suave as the XF is, it’s sleek lines and balanced proportions are way too close to those of the XE for our liking. It seems Jaguar’s design department spent all its push-the-boat-out mojo on the XJ, and when it came to the XF reverted to the default Matryoshka design theme so beloved by its German competitors.
A pity, because that the seen-it-before styling hides an all-new chassis that’s lighter and with a 51mm increase in wheelbase dishes up more cabin room – a weakness of the outgoing XF – as well as new engines and transmissions and a raft of new driver assist technology.
So does an ‘S’ on the bootlid mean a monstrous V8 that will smoke the rear tyres all the way to Oversteer City?
Not quite. This topdog XF is powered by the same supercharged V6 that does sterling service in both the F-type and F-Pace. Driving the rear wheels through ZF’s superb eight-speed automatic gearbox, the 3.0-litre unit develops 375bhp at 6500rpm and 332lb ft at 4500rpm, enough to slingshot the 1710kg saloon to 60mph in 5.1 seconds and onto a 155mph limited top speed. Combined economy and emissions, for what they’re worth, are 34mpg and 198g/km. Expect real-world economy in the low to mid 20s.
Visually, the S treatment is very low-key: bigger 19inch wheels, larger front air-intakes and a pair of understated exhaust pipes, and that’s your lot. Ditto the straight-laced cabin, but what the sombre and solemn XE-look-alike interior lacks in surprise and delight features, it more than makes up for with its low-slung driving position and intuitive controls. Plenty of room front and back, too, complemented by a decent and regularly-sized boot.
So what’s it like to drive?
Superb, in a word. This is no harsh-riding and aggressive muscle saloon that forces you to endure a wincingly harsh ride in return for outright performance. No, if anything, the S is an incredibly polished and accomplished grand tourer, effortlessly covering ground at serious pace while both entertaining the driver and cosseting the passengers.
Key to this appeal is the manner in which its suspension masterfully balances excellent body control with a perfectly judged compliancy. The S flows and breathes over the road, irrespective of its surface or topography. It's the ride quality that Audi chassis engineers, and their hard-working chiropractors, would kill to achieve.
The steering is a driver’s delight. Quick-witted, chunkily weighted and chatty, it constantly informs your palms about both road conditions and grip levels. There’s a wonderful connectedness about the way the slightest tweak of the wheel has the Jaguar’s nose peeling immediately and cleanly into corners, helped by a chassis that never feels anything but balanced and composed. This is a car born to sew together a string of challenging curves with consummate ease.
That V6 is a raucous flame-spitter in the F-Type – same story here?
No. If you’re expecting a shrill supercharger howl underscored by thunderous exhaust roar, then the S will leave your ears disappointed. The creamily smooth V6 engine might whisper, but it does wield a very big stick. Acceleration is vivid – boot it in any gear, and the engine flies through to its redline while smearing the scenery along in a very satisfactory manner. And being supercharged, rather then turbo-blown, results in a torque delivery that’s delightfully linear, making it a doddle to meter out precise throttle inputs.
The engine is perfectly complemented by the eight-speed ZF. Left to its own devices it slips smoothly and quickly through its cogs, always knowing what gear you want and when you need it. In manual mode it unflusteringly responds to inputs from the horribly cheap-feeling steering wheel-mounted paddles.
The S faces a line-up of hugely talented competitors. Audi’s A6 may be shown the dynamic door, but it counters with impeccable cabin quality and more advanced – and relevant – driver assist technology. The new über-intelligent Mercedes-Benz E-Class has an all-round driving and ownership armour that’s seemingly chink-free, and our first contact with BMW’s new 5-Series has left us scrabbling for superlatives.
And let’s not forget other slightly leftfield choices, such as Volvo’s handsomely desirable V90, and Maserati’s diesel-only Ghibli, that also threaten to steal Jaguar sales.
But make no mistake, Jaguar’s quickest XF is a deeply accomplished and sophisticated saloon. Some may be put off by its nuanced and subtle approach to refined and rapid progress. Those that aren’t will be absolutely delighted.
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