What is it?
This new lower-powered Jaguar XF diesel is all about carving out sales in the tough fleet market. Priced at its keenest point below £30k for this 161bhp 2.2-litre XF, the sales strategy is the brainchild of new Jaguar UK boss Jeremy Hicks, ex-Audi, whose team has negotiated keen leasing rates to maximise the sales potential of Jag’s excellent new four-cylinder diesel. Sales of four-pot oil-burners now dominate the executive saloon market like never before with a 65 per cent share and growing.
This entry-level engine makes 295lb ft of torque alongside its 161bhp — that’s 27bhp and 37lb ft less than the more powerful 188bhp. Spec-for-spec it’s £1000 cheaper than the higher-powered version, insurance groupings are lower and the annual company car tax is claimed to be £880 cheaper, too.
The main targets are the entry-level versions of the Audi A6 2.0d, BMW 520d and Merc E220CDi, particularly the latter, which in Executive SE trim is being marketed at an aggressive £359 per month on a typical 3+35 company rental. Jaguar has got the rental on the £31,500 Business SE version (includes touch-screen sat-nav) down to £399 per month.
Like so many well-priced entry-level versions, there’s plenty of value in this 161bhp XF. Particularly the engine, which is an electronically-tweaked version of the 188bhp.
What’s it like?
Very driveable and strong around the mid-range from just below 2000rpm, it delivers an elastic shove of torque right up to the red line. An eight-speed ZF auto is standard-fit and the engine/box tune is set-up to maximise performance in the mid-range.
So as soon as you demand performance to speed up the exit from a corner or to push past a slower vehicle, it steps down a gear. Together with keen throttle response, this XF feels eager on-the-move, and because the ZF box is so smooth in operation, it’s done without that ‘hunt-the-gear’ feeling of some autos.
As a result in give-and-take, everyday driving, rather than a test track evaluation, it would be hard to distinguish the 161bhp from the 188bhp, which makes it something of a bargain. The disappointment though is that the lower power output doesn’t translate into a lower CO2 rating — 149g/km is 17g/km higher than the E220CDi — which means three bands higher in the Benefit-In-Kind ratings.
Chassis-wise this XF has the same spring/damper and steering settings as the more powerful 2.2, which means light, precise steering and a supple chassis that glides over bigger bumps, yet maintains strong body control. The ride is also helped by standard 17in alloys, although they do look a little weedy. Unusually there’s not even the option to upgrade to 18in wheels at the factory level, which keeps the fleet deal simple, we guess.
We tested the top of the range Luxury model, which includes standard leather and auto 'box. The keenest price-point SE and SE Executive make do with part leather trim, which might detract from the cabin ambience.
Inside there’s still a luxury feel with its extensive swathes of wood, but other aspects are starting to age. Amazing to think that 2012 is only the XF’s fourth-year on sale, but in that time all-new A6 and 5-Series models have ratcheted-up interior design quality, suggesting the XF’s dials and information read-out are ready for a re-design. Small points, but our XF also had creaky-feel lesser interior trim parts and the door handles felt stiff.