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

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.

Back to top

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.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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Simon Wells 27 February 2008

Re: Jaguar XF SV8

reha wrote:
There is something sad about the way you British motor press praise the products of "British" brands (even Rover 75!).

In the days of yore when I tested cars for a living once in a while, Rover lent me a 75. Not a flash one, just a 1.8, I think, in black. It looked like a 1950s bank manager's car. Even my grandad thought it was fuddy-duddy but it was pretty much the most civilised way to get from point A to point B that I had driven up to that time. Miles just fell away. It's pretty fashionable to roll you eyes when Rover is mentioned nowadays but there was nothing wrong with the engineering seen a lot of the product - as the way the 75 morphed into the pretty great MG ZT once BMW removed the shackles illustrates.

terryfried 26 February 2008

Re: Jaguar XF SV8

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

here here!

unfortunately the press have it in for jaguar. When they release a new car they never give it a fair review. in Autocars review of the XJR they complained it was not as big as an s-class(twice the price or half the performance) then in the next paragraph that it did not have the residuals of an e-class. Then the S type got slated at release. Even with the XF the diesel tests always compare the price of the Premium Luxury version with German Cars with less equipment than the Luxury model. They then pick a bigger engine version so the Jag comes out slower and dearer. But if they tested the Luxury version against a BMW 525d and a Audi 2.7d Added basic equipment the Jag would be as quick, aprox. £5000 cheaper and still better equipped. This is true across the range and the magazines. (V8 Premium Luxury vs basic BM 550 instead of equipped 540) Car magasime did the same with a Diesel slagging Jaguars Diesel for not having the power of the BM 530d. Non of the press have mentioned that a new range of engines is on the way including a high powered Diesel (probably a 3.6 V8).

Seren Kuhanandan 30 December 2007

Re: Jaguar XF SV8

*cough* 2001 S-type *cough*