The second generation Jaguar XF offers a welcome alternative to executives tired of Teutonic efficiency. June Neary tries It
Will It Suit Me?
It's good to see Jaguar back in the limelight. I'm old enough to remember the time when if you thought of an executive car in this country, you thought of a Jag. These days the leaping Cat is leaping once more thanks to this second generation version of the company XF executive model.
It's a car designed to provide a real alternative to premium customers tired of Teutonic efficiency. I have to say that the smarter front and rear styling is much more to my taste than the old car's - even if all those twinkling LEDs fringing the new headlights are a bit OTT. But it certainly makes a distinctive rear view mirror statement - just as the designers intended. Inside, the material upgrades make the cabin feel even more special and the German opposition even more dour. Love those rich wood veneers.
Traditionally, an XF was never the most spacious car in its sector, coupe-like rear styling limiting back seat passenger room in comparison to rival BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class models. In response, Jaguar has lengthened the wheelbase of this second generation model by 51mm and the result is a big improvement in rear seat legroom.
I didn't spend much time travelling in the back though because a seat in the front of an XF has always been a special experience. If you ever tried the first generation model, what you'll probably remember most is the way the start-up sequence brought the car to life as the rotary gear selector rose up from the centre console and the airvents rotated into position. This time round, the brief was to retain that sense of occasion but mature and simplify the design language a little. So there's a classier, more modern look as Jaguar's designers have sought to find more interesting and contemporary ways to say 'luxury'.
Largely, I think their efforts have worked. The rising circular gear selector remains on automatic models: so do the cartwheeling airvents, though they've been reduced in number and thrown to the edges of the cabin, with the centre of the fascia now freed up for a smart and informative 8-inch 'InControl Touch' infotainment system.
I did worry that the shorter rear overhangs of this MK2 model might necessitate a smaller boot but actually, quite the reverse is true. Lift the lid (my test car had the rather pointless optional power opener fitted) and a 540-litre space is revealed, a 40-litre increase on the previous model accessed via a larger aperture than before. That's easily enough for pushchairs and the like (do XF owners still have pushchairs?). It is annoying though, to find that most trim levels don't allow you to extend this space into the cabin: only the very plushest models have a split-folding rear bench fitted as standard.
Behind the Wheel
Set off and under the bonnet ahead in the volume 2.0-litre volume diesel version I tried (the one most XF customers will buy) lies an 'Ingenium'-series engine more commonly seen in lesser models from the Jaguar Land Rover conglomerate like the Discovery Sport family SUV. For such a product as that, the muted diesel clatter is quite acceptable but initially, you wonder whether such a powerplant is entirely appropriate for such a quintessential Jaguar.
As your speed rises though, you find such questions melting away. Partly because refinement improves as the engine exercises its prodigious torque. And partly because of something that really does set this car apart in its segment: its ride and handling balance. Credit for this goes to a clever rear suspension system that rivals will certainly want to take apart and copy. It's called 'Integral Link' and it's there to intelligently manage lateral and longitudinal body movements in a way that gives you taut body control when you want it and a beautifully relaxing ride when you don't.
Engine-wise, most buyers will want the '2.0-litre i4' 'Ingenium'-series four cylinder diesel powerplant, offered in either 163PS or 180PS guises. The lower-powered variant offers class-leading supermini-style efficiency figures (70.6mpg on the combined cycle and 104g/km of CO2) but has less torque than the pokier 180PS derivative I tried, a car that makes 62mph in 8.1s en route to 136mph. There's a choice of either six-speed manual transmission (a first for XF buyers) or the 8-speed auto 'box that most will want. If you want a pokier XF, you'll have to find the substantial price premium for one of the performance-orientated six cylinder XF S models. There are two of these, a 300PS twin-turbo diesel and a supercharged 320PS petrol version.
Value For Money
It seems strange to remember now that the original version of this XF was launched without the thing that most Executive segment buyers actually want - a four cylinder diesel engine. Even when Jaguar finally put that omission right with the facelifted MK1 model in 2011, the range still lacked key elements like an estate bodystyle and a manual gearbox option. These days though, the brand is at last getting fundamental things like this right. They've certainly got the idea when it comes to the importance of a four cylinder diesel, the MK2 model saloon line-up we're looking at here fundamentally built around what Jaguar calls '2.0-litre i4' power, a new-generation Ingenium series diesel unit offered in 163PS or 180PS guises and priced across three trim levels in the £32,000 to £40,000 bracket. Many will want the pokier version I tried, given that the premium for it is only £500.
I mentioned a manual gearbox: for the first time in an XF, you can now have one, though by the same token, this also means that for the first time in an XF, you have to pay a premium for auto transmission, a not insignificant £1,750 - which will leave most buyers having to think in terms of this being a £35,000 to £40,000 car. But then maybe it should be, given that the smaller BMW 3 Series-sized Jaguar XE starts at around £30,000. Of course, not all buyers will want a four cylinder diesel XF and for the very few that don't, Jaguar has a pricey but very powerful range of performance versions. If you can find £50,000 to get yourself into an 'S'-grade XF model, you'll savour the identically-priced choice of a 300PS 3.0-litre V6 twin turbo diesel variant or a version with the same 380PS supercharged 3.0-litre petrol V6 unit you'll find in the brand's F-TYPE sportscar.
Could I Live With One?
I'm still not sure the XF would be my first choice in the class but it's certainly a true Jaguar - and the kind of car that will have many thinking again over their choice of executive saloon. As in the Sixties, a Jaguar may once again, be the executive thing to have.