Road Test: Lighter, leaner Jaguar XF still has plenty of style

Model is spacious inside with nice touches though Audi and Mercedes may have edge

Make: Jaguar

Model: XF

Year: 2016

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: January 12, 2016

Wed, Jan 27, 2016, 01:00

   

The XF is the car that saved Jaguar. We might not recognise it right now, but in the annals of the big cat’s history, the XF will be a turning point.

Until then the firm was in a nostalgia tailspin, trying to rekindle a fondness for walnut veneer at a time when the newly minted middle-classes were looking to embrace new tech and sleek metal. They were effectively pitching Inspector Morse at a generation in the thralls of Jack Bauer in 24.

Then in 2007, the XF arrived and turned the brand on its head. Part of its success is no doubt down to the fact it shook off the shackles of Ford ownership. By all accounts the red tape involved in being a small cog in a US corporate giant was strangling the British brand. One has to wonder if the XF would have seen the light of day in its high-bling final production guise if Jaguar was still under Ford’s embrace.

The XF heralded a completely new image for the brand. The XJ didn’t quite manage the sleek new look first time out, but the next generation is going to be far more in tune with the brand. The sleek new XE is well able to give its rivals at BMW and Audi a run for their money.

With the XF a hit, it’s easy to understand why the tweaks on this new generation are relatively minor when it comes to the aesthetics. It might have been on the road for nearly eight years now, but the XF still looks as fresh and innovative as it did when the first dust cloth fluttered off its bonnet.

It may look the same but underneath the metal, the new XF is a significant leap forward. For a start the engineers were able to finally discard more of the Ford heritage that underpinned the original. Gone is the heavy steel platform and in its place comes a format that uses a lot more aluminium. It’s lighter, leaner and, in part because of the ability to shed weight elsewhere, bigger inside.

New engines

Jaguar claims the new car has shed as much as 190kg from the kerb weight. That’s a full load of rugby fans left on the side of the road. It also gets the firm’s new range of four-cylinder engines, known as the Ingenium family.

These engines debuted in the new XE range and by all accounts the new XF shares much of its new underpinnings with the smaller sibling.

Our test car was powered by the entry-level 2-litre 163bhp diesel engine with emissions of just 104g/km, meaning an annual motor tax bill of just €190. It’s pitched to take on similarly powered engines from its German rivals and in that regard it does its job with aplomb.

We couldn’t help wishing for more power and it did feel like it needed to work hard to deliver. This sense was not helped by the engine being noisier than we would have liked. This is a premium car and buyers expect refinement. The engine noise, particularly when starting cold, doesn’t match the sparkling chrome and soft leather of the interior.

It was matched with the firm’s well-regarded eight-speed automatic transmission – complete with rotary dial gear – and our car had paddleshifts, but there was never a time when the car felt ready to leap in the way the larger engines within the Jaguar range can do. A six-speed manual engine is also on offer and brings the entry-level price down to a very impressive €43,205.

The so-called Business Edition is also well-equipped, making it more than just the usual car-buyer bait that often features on price lists to lure buyers into dealers before they are turned towards more expensive fare. With the smaller engine and attractive price, this version should push the XF up the sales charts.

However, manual transmissions are not a common in this class of car, and buyers need to be wary of any impact which opting for the six-speed over the eight-speed automatic box may have on the car’s residuals.

There is better balance on the road from the XF, thanks in part to a weight distribution closer to the aspirational 50/50 split. It also boasts new dampers and these do improve the ride in city traffic and over speed bumps. While it’s a rear-wheel drive format, the XF does feature an All-Surface Progress Control, which nods towards its sister brand, Land Rover. This is aimed at helping out in mud or snow, but in reality it’s an advanced traction control setting.

There’s also a nice weighting to the steering system that helps tone the car towards a more enjoyable drive which, combined with its supple and well-honed suspension, gives it a real edge over rivals. We couldn’t help wishing for an engine putting out the power this chassis was clearly capable of harnessing.

Inside the car it’s a similar case of evolution of an original revolution. The gear rotor still lifts when you engage the pulsing start button, the air vents glide up and open, and the little tech show still wows passengers after all these years. It’s these little things that seem to lure the crowds to a €50,000-plus car.

Yet for all the bling, it still doesn’t match the standard of a well-equipped Audi, while Mercedes has made a massive leap with its upcoming E-Class interior as well. The speed and capability of the touchscreen system – carried from the new XE – are impressive, but then everyone in this category has something similar these days.

Competitive

Jaguar perhaps needed to do a little more to stop its star from waning in this regard. Where it does excel is in terms of legroom. I’ve always felt the BMW 5 Series is a little cramped in the rear compared with the Mercedes E-Class, but this car certainly seems capable of being a chauffeuring option. The same can be said of the boot, where you nearly need to climb in to get smaller items that roll up against the back seats.

Whatever about the entry- level Business Edition, the automatic test car with Prestige trim level is listed at €48,995, which is competitively pitched against the likes of the BMW 518d SE auto at €46,997. The BMW puts out 150bhp relative to the Jaguar’s 163bhp, so output is similar. There is also an entry-level version.

The XF feels more spacious, however, and given the popularity of the BMW – once more its best-selling model – the Jag seems slightly more exclusive. That’s a double- edged sword, for the new generation of post-recessionary buyers hitting the market may well have missed out on Jaguar’s revolution and mistakenly consider the brand niche and pricey. That should be a priority for the marketing gurus to tackle. Another threat will be the new Mercedes E-Class.

Yet none of these challenges is insurmountable. The XF comes with bigger engines if power is what you desire. Its prices are competitive, even if a few ticks in the options list canadd several thousand to the bill. Its styling is as sharp as anything else in this market.

It’s a comfortable premium saloon and to judge by the independent reliability ratings of the outgoing version, it stands up to the strains of everyday motoring surprisingly well.

For those looking for something more distinctive than the usual Teutonic fare, the XF is a serious contender. A little more refinement from its new four-cylinder engine and it would be a real star.

The lowdown: Jaguar XF
Engine: 2-litre four-cylinder diesel putting out 163bhp with either six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission
Features: Standard on the entry-level includes cruise control; xenon headlamps with LED; leather seats; dual zone climate control; 8-inch touchscreen; lane departure warning system; 17-inch lightweight alloys; Bluetooth; rain-sensing wipers; rear parking sensors
Price: Starting at €43,205 for manual Business Edition (€48,995 for automatic as tested)