Today we reveal our first driving impressions of Jaguar’s replacement for the S-type and its answer to BMW’s big selling 5-series. Roomier, better built and better equipped than before it also showcases a new design language for Jaguar’s saloons. And click here to see the Jaguar XF in action with CAR road test editor Chris Chilton behind the wheel.
So Jaguar finally binned retro design?
Not quite, they just got a lot smarter about incorporating it into a modern design language. The old Jag cues are still there if you look: the grille inspired by the groundbreaking ’68 XJ, the traditional fluting above the headlamps, the Mk2-esque line of the chrome trim above the side window line and the phallic E-type bonnet bulge. But yes, this is a very modern-looking car. There’s a whiff of Lexus about the shape, but the XF is far better looking and more coupe-like than any saloon bar the Mercedes CLS.
I’m still not sure...
Trust us, it looks great in the metal where a three-quarter view of the Aston-like rear end is the strongest angle. That it does resemble an Aston is little surprise given Jag’s design boss is Ian Callum, the man who shaped Aston’s current design language in a previous life. It looks muscular no matter which engine is under the bonnet, but suits bigger wheels (can anyone remember a car from the last 10 years that didn’t?).
It’s aluminium of course, like the XJ and XK?
Wrong. Cost and the fact that Jag needed to get the car to market quickly means the XF is made from steel, although the suspension, which is shared with the XK, is aluminium. Weight is up fractionally, but not enough to warrant any big changes in the engine line-up just yet.
About those engines then...
There are four of them – for now, all carried over from the S-type. The ultra-refined 2.7 diesel pumps out 207bhp and 320lb ft and will account for 70 percent of UK sales. With a 0-62mph time of 8.3sec it’s fractionally faster than the 240bhp petrol V6 that will be the focus for another 25 per cent of customers. And with a combined mpg figure of 37.6mpg versus 26.8mpg for the petrol, there’s no contest.
So you drove the diesel then?
No. The press launch proper takes place in Europe in February but we grabbed an early drive by travelling to Arizona, although that meant only the two V8 engines were available to try. There’s a naturally aspirated 4.2 V8 with 298bhp and a supercharged version of the same engine that offers 410bhp. The latter is effectively the drivetrain from the old S-type R, although here it’s called SV8 to make it clear that something hotter is on the way. That something is likely to have close to 500bhp and an electronic rear differential to tame it.
But 410bhp isn’t shabby.
Too right, and it makes the SV8 something of a Q-car because only the 20-inch wheels really differentiate it from the naturally aspirated V8. It’s automatic of course, as are all XFs, the S-type’s little bought manual alternative having been dropped along with the 2.5 petrol V6. And this engine has that distinctive supercharger whine, but it’s far from intrusive so the performance can be deceptive. The SV8 will actually hit 62mph in just 5.4sec and has to be electronically limited to 155mph, but it’s so subtle in the way it gets there that it doesn’t feel anything like a factory hot rod. Personally we prefer the purer V8 soundtrack of the slower naturally aspirated car. But the addition of gearshift paddles across the range is welcome, the lack of manual control was one of the S-type’s few let downs for keen drivers.
What about Jag’s traditionally fine dynamics?
Mercifully intact. The XF still glides over bumps that cause havoc for its rivals and even made a decent fist of masking the horrible joints in US roads. It’s even quieter than the competition when fitted with larger wheels according to Jaguar, a claim we can believe. But this is no Lexus LS; when the road gets more interesting, so does the XF. Like the engine, the chassis is deceptively good, it never shouts about its abilities, but it’s still fun to drive with well-weighted power steering that turns the car in neatly, and huge reserves of grip. It’s an impressively balanced machine for its size, far more nimble than much smaller cars, just like the later versions of the S-type before it.
All but the SV8 come on standard steel springs with regular non-switchable dampers. But the SV8 gets Jag’s CATS electronically adjustable dampers that further tighten up the body control without ruining the ride when you press the button marked with the chequered flag behind the gear selector. This also sharpens up the throttle response and switches the stability control to Track mode allowing more lateral movement before intervening, although not enough to really play hooligan. If you want to do that you can switch the whole lot off and slide this near two-tonne machine around like an MX-5 despite the open differential, although we can’t imagine many owners indulging.
Tell me about that cabin.
Quite simply it’s the best in the business. Press that red-glowing starter button and the new cylindrical gear selector rises from the centre console; lightly touch the switch hidden beneath the surface of the dash wood and the glovebox opens and put your hand to the light in the roof and it illuminates. Speaking of illumination the whole cabin is bathed in a blue glow at night. Even the switches are outlined in blue lines: it’s like being in Tron. It’s not all glitzy details though. The choice of materials and quality of fit and finish is superb. And while the wheelbase is the same as the S-types (a car renowned for its paucity of cabin and boot space) there’s more head and legroom this time despite the coupe roofline. And the boot has grown a massive 140 litres.
The cheapest way into an XF is with the Luxury model. It brings standard leather and sat-nav and a choice of diesel or petrol V6 both priced at £33,900. Step up to Premium Luxury at £37,500 and you get softer leather, bigger rims, a better stereo and the option to spend £45,500 and have the 298bhp V8 up front. But if you want the supercharged engine it’s the £54,900 SV8 or nothing.
So we know there’s an R version coming. Anything else in the pipeline?
There won’t be an estate version says Jag; while luxury wagons are big in Europe, they just don’t sell in the US, where Jaguar sends the majority of its cars. But a more powerful diesel is coming, probably a sequential turbo unit with close to 300bhp. There’s nothing wrong with the refinement of the current diesel but rivals have moved the game on in terms of performance with cars like the BMW 535d.
The XF is an impressive car for Jaguar and welcome confidence boost for a company anxiously waiting for a decision on its future. It looks great with refreshingly modern styling, is impeccably put together, well equipped, brilliant to drive and, according to pricing experts CAP, will even be worth more than the competition when the time comes to sell. But beyond that, it feels special, a rare commodity in a class populated by cars as efficient but soulless as the Mercedes E-class. If you’re about to buy a German luxury saloon, don’t. Wait until March when Jaguar dealers get their first cars and have a proper look. You know the saying: buy in haste, repent at leisure.