► Jag's spruced-up executive saloon
► Cabin and tech upgrade
► Mild-hybrid diesel available
First impressions count. And the first XF launched in 2008 made one hell of a lasting impression. The front design may have been controversial to some at the time, but that curvy bodywork and bold interior – with its ambient blue lighting, revolving air vents and rotary gearlever – got plenty of people talking.
It certainly won Jaguar a few new fans, but when this second-generation car arrived, that wow factor had evidently fizzled out.
The exterior design became a little more conservative, some of the curves had gone and it looked like the XF had gone on a diet. The interior, meanwhile, lost its theatre and was replaced with something drab and plain. What happened here? It's as if someone was in a grey mood when this was designed.
Thankfully, for 2021, a facelifted XF has arrived with a tweaked exterior, a refreshed interior, mild-hybrid tech for the diesel and a reduced entry-level price that's less than £33,000. For those requiring more luggage space, the Sportbrake gets the same treatment.
If you want a smart-looking executive saloon that’s good to drive, is it worth paying towards £40,000 for a BMW 5 Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class?
Show me the cabin then…
All the controls and vents remain positioned in the same place, but it’s much more appealing to the eye with its use of brighter materials, colours and textures. The redesign means it also looks cohesive, unlike the smaller XE’s update, which evidently had to shoehorn the newer climate control cluster into its older design.
The steering wheel and some of the switchgear is taken from the i-Pace, while the gearlever and curved 11.4-inch touchscreen running the latest Pivi Pro infotainment system is new.
Positioned to be within easy reach, the infotainment is quick to respond, with menus that are much easier to navigate through. The climate-control system is a bit fiddly at first, with its multi-function rotary controls, but it’s logical and tidies up the dash.
Yes, the rising rotary gear selector has gone, and the side air vents no longer swivel open or closed, but when the rest of the cabin feels and looks more upmarket, this seems like a worthy trade.
The optional head-up display is also a far cry from the first iteration fitted to this XF back in 2015, replacing its '90s monochromatic orange, dot-matrix-like appearance with a clear colour screen and high-def font.
Is the cabin as good as the 5 Series or E-Class? Almost, but not quite. A few of the switches and touch points still feel a bit cheap and hollow, and the sat-nav is still stubbornly annoying if you choose to ignore a turning.
Elsewhere, it’s the same as before, meaning plenty of space for passengers and a relatively good view out from its big windows.
Simplified engine range
Only three to choose from here, with a mild-hybrid diesel and a couple of petrols with 247bhp and 296bhp outputs. All are 2.0-litre turbocharged units, and all come with an eight-speed auto 'box. All-wheel drive is also an option on the diesel and is standard on the most powerful petrol. If you want a PHEV or that 3.0-litre i6 petrol, look towards the F-Pace SUV.
With 201bhp and 317lb ft, the D200 MHEV is quiet and smooth, with plenty of midrange torque pulling consistently across the rev range. It takes 7.6 seconds to get from zero to 62mph (+ 0.2 seconds for AWD), with a combined 50.6-57.2mpg figure and 130-146g/km of CO2. It’s eager to rev and feels much sweeter than a few of the more powerful D240 units found in other JLR products.
The slick eight-speed auto is as well calibrated as ever, accurately judging if throttle inputs are worth a downshift or whether the engine’s torque will suffice. The now-metal steering wheel paddles are also there if you want to shift manually.
The P300 petrol with its 296bhp and 295lb ft of torque remains a brisk option, if a little soulless. Taking 6.1 seconds to sprint to 62mph, it’s smooth, with plenty of muscle for overtaking, but it’s not particularly fun to rev out, nor does it sound exciting.
You do get a subtle amount of augmented engine sound piped in through the speakers, but the background hum it generates when cruising at low engine speeds becomes irritating once you’ve tuned into it, sounding like a distant generator that won’t go away.
And this is the area where the XF continues to fall behind: noise refinement. They’ve introduced active road-noise cancellation to try to battle against the roar generated by harsher road surfaces, but this isn’t enough. It’s by no means deafening, but a disappointing amount of resonance at motorway speeds remains, especially when compared with its rivals.
Still good to drive, though?
Very much so, but this wasn’t really the XF’s sticking point. This Jag always felt athletic compared to the bulkier 5 Series, driving with a greater sense of agility, so sticking to its preferred habitat of a twisting country lane might be the happy medium for everyone.
The weighting of the pedals and steering remains a strong point; the steering is precise and positive. The suspension gets new dampers, springs and bushes, and keeps the body further in check when cornering. The ride is little firmer, but the damping is very well controlled, dealing with bumps quietly without thumping or jolting.
The all-wheel-drive models we tested were grippy and reassuring to drive, even on the snowy, -1º conditions we experienced, with the system allowing a small degree of rotation from the rear axle, before straightening everything up for you.
The Jaguar XF is still one of the most entertaining executive saloons to drive. It trades maximum comfort levels for driver enjoyment, but not by a detrimental amount, offering enough opulence, space and performance in a handsome-looking package.
We just wish the cabin noise was a few decibels quieter when you settle down for a cruise, and the cabin just needs that final tightening-up in quality.
If you cover plenty of motorway miles, the 5 Series and E-Class are still better candidates for those journeys – the BMW is cavernous, luxury-car quiet and yet manages to drive well enough, while the Mercedes trades driver reward for maximum comfort and that wonderful interior.
It's hard to ignore that the original XF’s magic had been gone for too long - along with its customers – and the rise in SUVs hasn't helped. But this likeable saloon has got much of its mojo back – and now it's better value than before.