In 2007, just as its ownership was being dangled in the wind by Ford, Jaguar unveiled its future. The XF announced the firm’s new direction in the best possible way, with raked ambition, forward thinking and a necessary break from the past etched into its concept of what an executive saloon ought to be. The car was the starting point for the planned dynasty that is now coming to fruition.

A new XJ, F-Type and XE have all followed, with the F-Pace just around the corner. But before we get there, Jaguar has completely overhauled its pioneer. The new XF is purposely familiar – but entirely different. Although you might need some help spotting it, the latest model is larger, partly to distinguish it from the XE but mainly to compete on better terms with its comparatively spacious rivals.

The chief gain is in the wheelbase, where 51mm has been inserted to the betterment of those packaged in the back. Despite this, and the noticeably longer rear deck, the design contrives to shrink the car by 7mm courtesy of a front overhang that’s 66mm shorter.

Were you to pick up old and new and hold them outstretched for comparison, you’d discover that the latest model is significantly lighter,too. That’s because the old platform, a mostly steel affair donated by Ford, has been superceded by a new version of the clever and mostly aluminium architecture that underpins the XE.

The Jaguar claims, at best, a 190kg reduction, which is a lot for a saloon. Around 24kg of it can be attributed to the XF’s use of new four-cylinder Ingenium engines. In diesel form, it’s available in 161bhp and 177bhp guises. The 161bhp version, with a six-speed manual gearbox, is rated at 104g/km of CO2 and 70.6mpg.

There are also six-cylinder engines in 296bhp diesel and 375bhp petrol guises, but both will be overshadowed in volume by the more powerful of the Ingenium diesels, which is claimed to be good for 114g/km and 65.7mpg when mated to the eight-speed ZF automatic, as tested here in mid-spec R-Sport trim.

The original XF’s interior was intentionally showy to distance itself from the past, but this latest car pulls back from that somewhat. The cartwheeling air vents, for example, have been reduced in number and thrown to the periphery, while the dashboard design simplified.

This is no bad thing. Most notably, the quality of the trim materials has improved, as has the finish, and the relationship with the XE is obvious enough. Its centre console is three forearms wide and the new 10.2in multimedia screen complements it nicely, as do the separate controls for the heating, ventilation and air-con.

There are four trim levels to choose from for the new XF, with the entry-level Luxury model including: 6x6 electrically adjustable front leather seats, dual-zone climate control, sat nav and keyless start, while choosing the R-Sport version will add bi-Xenon headlights and rear parking sensors, and the R-Sport Black edition adding a more powerful Meridian sound system and 18x18 adjustable front seats.

The flagship Portfolio trim adds front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera and blind spot monitoring system, while those looking for more power from the XF can choose the 3.0-litre V6 diesel Portfolio S, or the 5.0-litre V8 XFR or XFR-S versions.

In the back, it’s just plain better. There’s 15mm more leg, 24mm more knee room and 27mm more head room, which sounds small but adds up to the difference between mild claustrophobia and convivial roominess. Jaguar claims a knife-edge 3mm superiority over a BMW 5 Series in leg room, but it’s enough to say that a taller adult fits comfortably. There are inconveniences elsewhere – seat memory buttons fall to hand easier than the window controls and the drive mode switches are too small – but they’re minor quibbles. A larger gripe is the regular reminder that the new Ingenium diesel hardly produces the sweetest or subtlest soundtrack. To begin with, you’re going to notice it more often than you don’t.

As in the XE, it generally isn’t a problem at low revs, but it is revealed all too easily under acceleration. Despite extra efforts made to improve the XF’s sound deadening, the four-pot’s high voice isn’t easily isolated. It’s also not the most free-revving diesel in the world. Jaguar is betting most people won’t care, though. The 317lb ft available from 1750rpm gives the XF long legs and the gearbox’s many ratios keep the flexibility and waft potential high.

This is especially true when you realise that the majority of your critical faculties- hands, feet, arms, spine, backside – are being swept along in rapt contentment. The dynamic qualities that marked out the XE as special are successfully replicated here, albeit fine-tuned to fill out a larger model.

Accordingly, the XF’s manners at speed are impeccable. On optional 20in wheels and the passive ‘sports’ version of Jaguar’s double wishbone and rear Integral Link suspension, the XF rides with not just comfort, stability or composure but a combination of the three so crisp and cleverly modulated that it threatens to plough through the glass ceiling that separates mid-size exec from limo-sized luxury saloon.

The overriding sensation is one of accuracy. The XF is unwilling to give up even one flabby micron more than it needs to in either wheel or body control, yet it steadily plots a mid-way balance between pliancy and poise. The steering, too, is made to measure. Where the original XF was supple but a little overly sensitive at pace, its replacement is so minutely biddable and linear that it’s possible to lock one arm at the 10-to-two and feel direction changes emanating from the cleft of your shoulder. The result is that rare thing: a four-door, five-seat that makes an empty motorway not just bearable but also uniquely enjoyable.

The chassis tuning, then, is of the highest order, yet the bedrock for all this finesse will be equally conspicuous to anyone familiar with the earlier XF. As worthy as it was, that model never quite banished the whiff of creak and twist from its borrowed underpinnings, but its successor is a tangibly better-built car. Jaguar equates this to a 28% stiffening of the body’s torsional rigidity, but it shows up on the road as that magnificent sense of solidity that we tend to associate with cars heralding from east of the Rhine.

The benefits of less kerb weight are also readily apparent. And although the occasional Spanish switchback on our test route hinted that the XF hasn’t emerged totally unscathed from a lengthening of its wheelbase, for the most part the handling resists the implication that it may have become a trifle more staid. Naturally, its finer moments are on fast A-roads, where the fluency of the chassis feeds into an intuitive reading of the road and the impartial front-to-back balance encourages commitment.

Given the plentiful grip and the feelsome nature of it all, taking it too far is an entirely conscious decision – reciprocated by the early-onset alarm bell of understeer and followed by the kind of progressive, easily catchable involvement we’ve come to expect from a rear-drive Jaguar.

On one-level, the XF’s wider appeal is Jaguar doing its homework properly and then following through. This second-generation car is better made, more spacious, more efficient and better appointed because it needed to be, given the standard of its rivals.

On the second level, the one about which we typically get excited, Jaguar has produced a car that not only performs assuredly well but also does so in a way that leaves drivers in no doubt that their continuous engagement was an explicit part of the development process. That trait was not missing from the first XF, but the fact that it now comes with all the other tick-box attributes required of an executive saloon places the car firmly in a class of one.

Jaguar XF 2.0 i4D 180 R-Sport Auto

Price £36,850 Engine 4 cyls, 1999cc, turbodiesel; Power 177bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 317lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; 0-62mph 7.7sec; Top speed 136mph; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; Kerb weight 1595kg; Economy 65.7mpg (combined); CO2 114g/km, 20%

Top 5 Mid-size execs

  • The Jaguar XF is a sublime British executive saloon. It has a tremendous interior and even greater dynamics

    Jaguar XF

  • Superb engine and cabin, but ride and handling let the side down

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  • Mercedes-Benz E-Class
    The E-class more than lives up to traditional Mercedes values

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  • Audi A6
    The Audi A6 is a car that delivers in every area

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  • The Lexus GS is unusual in the part of the market in not offering a diesel option

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