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Comfortable, precise, sophisticated and entertaining, the XF drives every bit as good as it looks

Our Verdict

Jaguar XF 2008-2015
The Jaguar XF is a sublime British executive saloon. It has a tremendous interior and even greater dynamics

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

14 December 2007

What is it?

It’s Jaguar’s new design hero – the S-type is dead, long live the XF. But does it drive like it looks?

The XF’s all-new shape has successfully jumped a couple of design generations to re-establish modernity as a core value at Jaguar for the first time since Sir William Lyons was in charge.

And the first question I had was answered before we left the car park: this car is as fine to behold in the real world as it was on the motor show stand. Better looking even. As our test car stood in the parking area of Jaguar’s Paradise Valley test base in Arizona, where we were provided with our first drive in the car, the delicacy of its graceful shape made the cars around it look coarse and ordinary.

The ante, then, had been upped before we’d even set out. Can the XF’s behind-the-wheel experience match its incredible fusion of beauty, grace and visual endeavour?

What’s it like?

"Drive", they said. So I did. In the 4.2-litre, 420bhp, supercharged V8 version of the Jaguar XF — called SV8 — with the 0-60 mph time of 5.1 seconds and governed top speed of 155 mph. It’s due on sale in March at the competitive starting price of £54,900, and orders are already building.

The length and confidence of the long lines that define its coupe-like body (the front and rear screen rake angles are almost identical to the XK coupe’s) make the car seem low, but it isn’t. You slip as easily behind the wheel as you do in any other modern car.

The driver’s bucket seat looks a little meagre and uninviting, but luckily it’s the only unprepossessing feature of the entire interior. In any case, it’s quite comfortable in a class-average sort of way. Cabin space turns out to be class average, too. I can sit comfortably behind a driver's seat set for myself, but it’s a snug fit for four full-sized adults.

Press the SV8’s starter button and two things happen. The engine fires and settles to a smoothly distant V8 beat, and the transmission’s rotary switch, until now flush with the console top, grows upward. Twist it to D, and the car creeps off the mark like any big-engined auto. If all you want is a smooth power delivery, that is all you need ever do.

But if you’re a keen driver, the SV8’s transmission offers plenty of options. One is to twist the transmission to “Drive-Sport”, which holds gears longer and provides better engine braking. Beyond that, you can start using the paddle-shifts manually. Work them at any time, either to hold gears, or just to hear the F1-style automated engine blip.

On top of that, the SV8 has a Dynamic Mode which reconfigures the transmission for quicker shifts and yet sportier use of the engine. The DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) is also altered to a special Track setting that allows you to play the hero by allowing a whiff of on-limit sliding in corners before intervening.

The mighty V8 is the car’s focal point, of course, providing copious amounts of smooth thrust almost in silence at low revs, but with a satisfying rumble when bigger demands are made.

Our test route was dogged by the threat of motorcycle cops, but it was still fun to soar along sinuous, smooth-surfaced canyon roads with the engine turning between 3500rpm and the 6250 redline, millimetre movements of the fingertips dictating which gear you’d use. This will prove, we believe, to be one of the XF’s defining features.

Handling? The supercharged XF feels just like an XK8, which is no wonder because it has the same suspension components, maybe re-rated for saloon duty, but just as good as the sports car.

It drives like a powerful and wide-tracked rear-drive car, with fundamentally neutral handling that graduates to a small amount of stabilising understeer in the fastest corners. The SV8 will tail-slide in a stable and predictable way under full power in 50-60 mph corners, but only on deliberate command. There’s a precision and a faithfulness about this car’s controls that belies its size and weight, and makes it feel as agile as a small car.

The steering, especially, is brilliant, weighted nicely with a delicious helping of feel just beside the straight-ahead. It flatters your judgement by cornering perfectly on the line you chose going in. Predictability can be an unflattering term, but applied to the XF it’s a synonym for precision.

So it handles, but what about the ride? Jaguar meant to build a sports saloon in the spirit of the Mk2, and has followed through. What is impressive is the way the car stays flat, how it absorbs ripples, how its primary ride preserves body control, and how it never allows ruts to get through to the occupants, despite its firmness.

Should I buy one?

On first acquaintance, the XF comes across as a remarkably good car. It comes in a well-priced, simple-to-understand echelon of models — four engines, three trim levels — with a luxurious entry spec and a deep inventory of gadgets to suit every taste.

Of course, the XF still has much to prove. It will meet a German rival for a bit of preliminary sparring in the 2 January issue of Autocar, and pretty soon we’ll drive it on home turf. Then we’ll really know if it’s a title contender.

What of the “drives like it looks” claim? On evidence so far gathered I’d offer a slogan of my own. Looks great, drives even better.

Join the debate

Comments
12

14 December 2007

Subhead: "...the XF drives every bit as good as it looks"

Is that even English?

14 December 2007

i must admit, i'm not huge fan of ( a lot ) modern cars and as much as i was proud a british marque was producing a class leading car i wasen't 100% on the car, but seeing that picture of it sideways, it looks fantastic, still not 100% on it from the front, but still 10 times better looking than the 5 series(Y)

14 December 2007

There is something sad about the way you British motor press praise the products of "British" brands (even Rover 75!). Is it the the clear, unmistakable readiness to applaud or the fact that these products are often make or break items? This vehicle is Ford's? last minute hope to increase the price before Jag/LR are sold to an Indian conglomerate or to a venture capitalist, remember?

What difference does it make for Jaguar if XF is as good as you say (which is questionable in itself, anyhow)?

14 December 2007

Bloody hell Steve, this bloke Reha must be good! He's not even driven the car and already he knows you're talking nonsense. Maybe he has powers denied to us ordinary mortals and doesn't need to rely on what, 30 years of experience driving new cars for a living? Nope, he just sees the truth in a cosmic sort of way, perhaps by intuition. Hire him immediately!

15 December 2007

I haven't driven an XF, but I did sit in one at MPH 07, and everything was perfect about it, just that grille. Sorry but who thinks of these grilles?

20 December 2007

I don't understand your point Reha. Why is it sad the way the "British" press applaud this car? The journalist obviously thinks it is good (whereas you would have no idea as you have never driven it) and is therefore conveying this to the readers. If you think he is being biased, then I can say that Swedish journalists have been equally full of praise. Also, consider that Steve Cropley is not British but an Aussie!!

I also don't understand the point you make about this product being Ford's last minute hope to increase the price of Jag/LR. So what???? Good for the consumer I say.

20 December 2007

What is there not to understand? Anyone who has read a bit of printed word and motoring press would identfy that the piece does feel strongly biased. I have been reading this magazine since about 14 years now and I do want to respect it. Biased writing brings out precious little respect, as you might admit. Why not use part of that pre-mediated seeming critism often saved for BMW for example? Because seeing that Autocar CAN critise a brand's products increases the value of praise they recieve.

Whether Steve Cropley is british or aussie is beside the point, as long as Autocar is british.

And for your comment: "So what???? Good for the consumer I say." You're damned right. It is also mighty good for Tata/Mahindra that Jaguar is being sold to them with its engineering/development talents intact.

23 December 2007

Oh, okay then. Crystal clear. Seems as though you are mighty pleased that Tata are about to take over Jag/L-R for nationalistic reasons. If they are able to provide the financial and technological backing required to maintain a company with these two's reputations then so will I. But it is a very tall order...

29 December 2007

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I guess you assume that I am Indian. Well, I am not.

My point is that it looks sad to see intelligent and capable writers still going "nationalistic" on certain companies' products, just because they used to be "British." This residue of "rule Britania" mentality has little relevance today, when your Mini is owned by BMW, Jaguars/LR by Ford (soon to be owned by Tata as it appears) and the remains of British Leyland/Rover Group by SAIC.

It is not much to expect unbiased writing, devoid of banging british drums, is it?

30 December 2007

*cough* 2001 S-type *cough*

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