What is it?
After the forced induction ‘SV8’ tested by Steve Cropley last week, this, the normally aspirated V8 version, is the second variant of Jaguar’s new XF to come under our scrutiny. The two remaining lower-end engines – the 3.0-litre V6 petrol and all-important 2.7-litre V6 diesel - were unavailable at the car’s launch in Arizona; we'll have to wait until early '08 to sample those.
Mechanically it is all very familiar: the 294bhp V8, six speed ZF transmission and suspension comes straight from the XK coupe while enough of the old S-type’s floor remains in the design to ensure an unchanged wheelbase.
In the past Jaguars have had a tradition of using price to position themselves as value alternatives in the premium market, but not this one: at £45,500 it costs just £245 less than a BMW 550i SE – a fact we’ll be picking up with a twin test in the not too distant future.
The Jag has an auto box and satellite navigation as standard but many will consider that things like that pale alongside the German’s considerably superior performance yet better economy and emissions.
What’s it like?
The car has two fundamental problems and any prospective purchaser will have to convince themselves they either don’t matter or can be lived with even before the car is worth taking for a test drive. Once surmounted, there is very little else about this XF that will not delight anyone who fancies the idea of a thoroughly modern British sports saloon.
Problem one you can see for yourself: its looks split opinions like no other car launched in the last year. It’s not something I am any better qualified to judge than you but, for what it’s worth, I think the entire car rearward of the front wheels works brilliantly, but the nose is all wrong. It’s not like the XK which looked a trifle odd on the page but brilliant in the flesh: to me, that grille and, in particular, those headlights simply don’t belong to a car that’s otherwise as elegant as this.
Problem two is the modest amount of room in the back seats. It’s more spacious than an old S-type but that’s hardly saying much: there’s less room here than in the back of a 5-series which itself has a smaller rear cabin than a Mercedes E-class.
Get over these issues and the rest of this XF is fairly wonderful, good enough for sure to make you question the wisdom of shelling out almost another ten grand for the supercharged version. The V8 is smoother and sounds fantastic in the upper reaches of its rev-range. Jaguar continues to be able to extract more raw ability from ZF’s automatic gearbox than any of its rivals from BMW or Audi and it covers the engine’s relative lack of low down torque almost completely.
On smaller wheels and tyres, its ride is definitely a rung up the ladder from the already impressive standards set by the Super V8, while the lack of a limited slip differential – which seriously impeded press-on progress in the supercharged car even on dry roads – is much less of an issue here.
This XF is beautifully poised on the right road, offers the best steering in the class and, in that clearly conceived and impressively executed cockpit, the perfect place from which to view the action.
Should I buy one?
There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the better of the two XFs sampled so far and, if there is any justice in this world, should carry on the good work of the XK coupe in furthering the recovery of a marque that’s gone to hell and back in the last ten years.
It doesn’t stack up that well on paper, either in the photographs or its technical specification, but in the environment that matters – on the open road – its character and charm more than make up for any statistical or visual shortfall. In short this is a car that deserves to succeed.