2015 Jaguar XF driven: the second coming
IT is 80 years since Jaguar started making cars, but two connections with its past were severed this month. First, the death of actor George Cole excised a link to its more raffish side: as Minder’s Arthur Daley, Cole invariably drove an old XJ smoker, with a Hamlet and sheepskin coat to the fore. And second, Jaguar replaced its big XF saloon, the last car developed during the era of Ford ownership.
Why don’t you build all your cars in aluminium? we used to ask Jaguar back then, and it usually elicited much staring at shoes. Funny then that it took one of the world’s biggest steel companies, Jaguar’s current owner Tata, to realise that if the Coventry carmaker really was to take the fight to the Germans, aluminium was the way to go. The new XF is 75 per cent aluminium and consequently up to 190kg lighter than its predecessor.
It’s also, in spite of appearances, both shorter and lower. And yet thanks to clever packaging and a stretch in the distance between the front and rear wheels, it’s more spacious; Jaguars never were used as getaway cars, except in the movies, but you could fit three burly thieves in the back of the new XF, along with all their loot in its huge boot.
It’s a damn good looking car, too, reminiscent of the past, yet indubitably forward looking. “Design isn’t about compromise,” says Jaguar’s design director, Ian Callum, “it’s about judgement.” And it’s good judgement in the case of the XF, starting at the primped-up grille, soaring over the wind-carved bonnet and on to the long arc of the roof and into the tail; this is classic, big-car handsome.
Move inside and a little of the wit and bravado of the original Jaguar XF has been sacrificed to ease of use and corporate friendliness. The rotary gear selector, for example, looks forlorn sitting centrally on a piece of tin plate that could conceivably have once held a Fray Bentos steak-and-kidney pudding. And while the basics are good and the seats comfortable and supportive, there are howlers, not least the confusing juxtaposing of seat memory and window buttons on the doors, and the plastic gear-change paddles, which are horrible to the touch.
XF buyers get a choice of touchscreens: the eight-inch standard system and an optional (£1,700) 10.2-inch screen with a customisation function for the home page and the sort of finger-zoom functions you find on smartphones. “Gamification” now joins “Enjoyneering” (Seat) and “Funergy” (Vauxhall) on the list of motor-industry language to make you cringe and apparently means the quotient of enjoyment to be had in working the systems, though frankly the satnav was slow to react and jerky and we’d rather XF drivers had their eyes on the road. That said, I did like the icon of an old Gilbert Scott phone box on the phone button.
The technology is updated, with a stereo camera system that lets the car brake itself in an emergency, and brings lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assistance systems. The cruise control now has a speed limiting function, which decelerates and accelerates to the speed limit and can also follow the vehicle in front in stop-start traffic. And there’s a sensor to warn of another vehicle approaching from the rear, and assistance systems for bay and parallel parking.
Engine options include a 296bhp 3.0-litre V6 diesel and a 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol with 375bhp. But the new four-cylinder diesel is the big news, delivering 161bhp or 177bhp and offering low enough CO2 emissions to let the XF compete with its German rivals for the affections of company car drivers.
Sadly, four-wheel drive is available only on left-hand drive export models; all UK cars are rear-wheel drive, albeit with Jaguar’s Surface Progress Control system an option on auto models; this acts as a slow cruise control in icy conditions at speeds between 2mph and 19mph.
The most popular model in the UK is likely to be the 177bhp diesel in R Sport trim, which costs £36,850 with an automatic gearbox, and it’s this that we drove. It swishes out of the car park, its diesel engine fizzing with energy. And the auto ’box really suits it, because peak power is quite high in the rev range and the eight gears help keep it on the boil. Despite that the engine is quiet and powerful and only occasionally spikes vibrations through the major controls.
We weren’t given the six-speed manual to try, which is a mild concern because the same gearbox in the smaller XE model was less than perfect and there’s a suspicion that it might be no better in the XF.
The ride on £1,600 worth of optional 20-inch wheels (18s are standard) was slightly too firm, with a tendency for the car to heave over the bumps on the Pyrenean mountain roads of the launch. But the steering feels accurate and the XF turns into corners quickly, even feeling a touch too darty at times. You’ll need to tick the £985 Adaptive Dynamics option to maximise the upsides, but keep it in Normal mode, or it does something odd to the on-centre steering response.
I really liked the brakes, though, which are so much better honed than the XE’s that you wonder what happened there.
Overall, there’s no reason why the new Jaguar XF won’t stand duty in place of its rivals. The handling is the match of the BMW 5-series and the interior rivals the Audi A6’s. But if comfort is your top priority, the Mercedes E-class is still the car to choose in this sector.Telegraph.co.uk