What is it?
In 2008, just as its ownership was being dangled in the wind by Ford, Jaguar unveiled the 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, inside and out, into its concept of what a mid-sized British exec ought to be.
The car was the starting point for a planned dynasty, which, with Tata’s help, is now coming to fruition.
A new XJ, F-Type and, most recently, the XE, have all followed, while the F-Pace is just round the corner. But before we get there, Jaguar has found time to completely overhaul its pioneer.
The new XF is purposely familiar - but entirely different. Most prominently, although you might need some help spotting it, the latest model is larger, partly to distinguish it from the XE below, but mainly for it to compete on better terms with the comparative spaciousness offered by rivals.
Consequently, within its own footprint, the XF swells. 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 model by 7mm, owing to a front overhang that has retreated towards the front axle by 66mm.
The result flirts with visual imbalance. And, thanks to a more horizontal (and therefore less interesting) waistline, dreariness. That it isn’t either is a consequence of (a) the prettiness of the XF’s original shape and (b) Jaguar’s efforts to ensure that the XF’s nose has become ever more honed and closer to the ground - the bonnet line descending by 35mm and the roofline by 3mm.
Were you to pick up old and new and hold them outstretched for comparison, you’d discover that the new model is significantly lighter, too. That’s because the old platform, a gnarled and mostly steel affair donated by Ford, has been superseded by a new version of the fiendishly clever and mostly aluminium modular architecture that underpins the XE.
Jaguar claims, at best, a 190kg reduction in mass - which is a lot for a saloon. Some of it, around 24kg, in fact, can be attributed to the XF’s new engine line-up, now featuring the latest four-cylinder Ingenium units. In diesel form, it’s available in either 161bhp or 177bhp guises, with the former supplying the model with the critical mass of small numbers: 104g/km CO2 and 70.6mpg in conjunction with a six-speed manual gearbox.
There will also be six-cylinder diesel and petrol engines - respectively developing 296bhp and 375bhp - from launch, but both will be overshadowed in volume by the more powerful Ingenium motor, which is claimed to be good for 114g/km CO2 and 65.7mpg when mated to the eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, and tested here in the mid-spec R-Sport trim.
What's it like?
Jaguar resists mentioning the word ‘maturing’ when it discusses the XF’s exterior styling, lest the term be mistaken for an improper ‘mellowing’; inside, though, it bandies the phrase about more liberally - and with good reason. The original XF’s interior was intentionally showy to distance itself from the past, but the latest car pulls back on the stick somewhat. The multiple cartwheeling air vents, for example, have been reduced in number and thrown to the peripheries, while the dashboard design, save for the kind of crease that BMW favours, has been simplified.
This is no bad thing. The XF feels business-like. Most notably, the quality of the trim materials has improved, as has the finish, while the relationship with the XE is obvious enough. Its centre console is three forearms wide; the new 10.2in infotainment screen compliments it nicely, as do the separate HVAC controls. You can even have a new 12.3in TFT instrument cluster (although that didn’t feature on our test car).
In the back, unsurprisingly, it’s just plain better. I once spent 15 hours in the back of a Mk1 XF and can verify that it felt more adequate than commodious. The follow-up translates its new size into some concrete gains: 15mm more legroom, 24mm more knee room and 27mm more head room - which sounds piffling but, of course, adds up to the difference between mild claustrophobia and convivial roominess. The manufacturer claims a knife-edge 3mm superiority over a BMW 5 Series in legroom - a declaration we’ll put to the test in due course - but for now it’s enough to say that a taller adult fits, and comfortably.
There are missteps elsewhere - seat memory buttons fall to hand easier than the window controls, the drive mode switches are too small and the steering wheel buttons still feel like those on an old Nintendo N64 controller - but they’re minor quibbles. A larger gripe, approaching a grumble, is the regular reminder that the new Ingenium engine hardly produces the sweetest or subtlest soundtrack. To begin with, you’re going to notice it more often than you don’t - which is not an equation any premium manufacturer wants to get back to front right out of the gate.
As in the XE or Discovery Sport, this generally isn’t a problem at low revs, but 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, as we’ve previously noted, the most free-revving diesel unit 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 keeps the flexibility and waft potential high. Only a minority will query the gallop having been indulged at a canter.
This is especially true when you realize that the majority of your critical faculties - hands, feet, arms, spine, backside and the bit of your brain not connected to your ears - is almost always 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 with the 5 Series’ long-striding talent in mind.
Accordingly, the XF’s manners at high speed are quite impeccable. On optional 20in wheels and the passive ‘sports’ version of Jaguar’s double-wishbone and rear Integral Link suspension - and, admittedly, parboiled Spanish highways - the XF rides not just with comfort or stability or composure but an homologation of the three so crisp and cleverly modulated that it threatens to plough through the glass ceiling that separates mid-size execs from limo-sized luxury.
The overriding sensation is one of accuracy. The XF is apparently unwilling to give up even one flabby micrometer more than it needs to in either wheel or body control, yet it steadily plots a mid-way balance between pliancy and poise that requires serious aggravation in order for it to wear thin. The steering, too, is made to measure. Where the original XF was supple but a mite overly sensitive at pace, its replacement is so minutely biddable, linear and stiction-free that it’s possible to lock one arm at the ten-to-two and feel direction changes emanating from the cleft of your shoulder - a rifle stock-style attribute all but extinct in modern saloons. The result is that rare thing: a four-door, five-seat car that doesn’t just make an empty motorway bearable, but uniquely enjoyable.
The chassis tuning, then, is clearly 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 Blue Oval-borrowed underpinnings. Its successor, bolstered by the new platform and other advances made in assembly, 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 solidness that we tend to associate with cars heralding from east of the Rhine.
The benefit of less kerb weight - and the distribution of that lower mass at close to 50/50 front to rear - is also readily apparent. And while the occasional Spanish switchback hinted that the XF hasn’t emerged completely 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 encountered 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 alarm bell onset of understeer, followed up with the kind of progressive, easily catchable involvement we’ve come to expect from a rear-drive Jaguar.
Should I buy one?
If the thought of a fairly big Jag has ever popped up in your head before - and then been drowned out by the apparently greater-sense case made by the alternatives - then, emphatically, yes. On one level, the XF’s wider appeal is merely a case of the manufacturer 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 major rivals.
On the second level, the one about which we typically get excited, Jaguar has done what it does best by making a car that not only performs assuredly well but also does so in a way that leaves its driver in no doubt that their continuous engagement was an explicit part of the development process from day one. 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 a mid-sized exec places the car firmly in a class of one.
Jaguar XF 2.0 i4D 180 R-Sport auto
Location Navarra, Spain; On sale Now; Price £36,850; Engine 4 cyls, 1999cc, turbodiesel; Power 177bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 317lb ft at 1750-2500rpm; Kerb weight 1595kg; Gearbox 8-spd automatic; 0-62mph 7.7sec; Top speed 136mph; Economy 65.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 114g/km, 20%