Car reviews - Jaguar - XF - 2.0
Refined four-cylinder engine, highway cruising with eight-speed transmission, understated luxury, cabin comfort
Room for improvement
Firm suspension compliance on small bumps, lack of Jaguar performance excitement, tight back seat room
4 Dec 2012
WE HAD a fair idea of what to expect from Jaguar’s new budget XF model, the 2.0, even before we slipped behind the wheel at Jaguar Land Rover Australia’s headquarters in Sydney.
After all, we had experienced the same 2.0-litre direct-injected turbocharged engine in a selection of cars from other marques, ranging from the Volvo S60 to the Ford Mondeo and Range Rover Evoque.
But it was in Ford Australia’s homegrown Falcon that it left the most lasting impression, hauling the big-iron large sedan with remarkable ease and laudable fuel economy in the Falcon EcoBoost.
Ford also supplies the new engine for the Jaguar XF under an arrangement made before Ford sold the British marque to India’s Tata, and the engine even develops the same 177kW of power.
The question was whether this engine – regarded as a bread-and-butter powerplant in the everyman Falcon – could do justice to a large luxury car with ambitions to takes sales off the likes of the BMW 520i, Mercedes-Benz E200 and Audi A6 2.0 TFSI.
It is always a good sign when, after hitting the keyless start button, one has to check the tachometer to see if the engine is actually running. Smooth? Like George Clooney on ice skates.
Jaguar had told us they had put in the long strides to ensure the engine in its rear-drive XF longitudinal application was refined and up to luxury car standards, and at idle it clearly passes muster.
A similar size to the Falcon – although about 50kg heavier – the XF 2.0 also employs a ZF automatic transmission, sending the power to the rear axle.
However, the Big Cat gets the latest eight-speed version, with an extra two gears and sports mode, befitting a luxury car.
Taking off into Sydney traffic, the first niggle surfaced: the cold transmission was hesitant to kick down when accelerating out of the first corner and then jumped to attention with a small jerk.
However, it quickly warmed up and lost this trait, although we were sometimes a little puzzled about the calibration under light throttle in country driving.
Under heavier throttle, the 2.0-litre engine quickly spooled up its turbo and powered through the gears as seamlessly as, say, the BMW 520i that uses the same transmission.
At 110km/h on the motorway north of Sydney, the engine was ticking over at just 1500rpm in top gear, and again all but inaudible.
Plant the foot to pass and the transmission kicks down no fewer than five gears, from eighth to third, and the engine lustily takes to the task like a turbine.
Turning the rotary gear selection knob on the console to ‘S’ for sport, the transmission obediently remains in automatic mode until the driver starts manually changing gears with the steering wheel paddles.
This is where the XF really leaves the Falcon behind, slipping through the cogs with a crispness that belies its torque-converter origins. No, it is not dual-clutch sharp, but nor does it have some of the dual-clutch ills of some rival cars, such as jerky reverse-to-drive selection.
Turning off onto winding hill roads, the 1700kg weight of the XF became more apparent, with the throttle requiring extra force to maintain speed up the steeper inclines.
The good news is that it does have the legs to adequately perform in such conditions, although we would hardly call it thrilling.
But it was about what we expected, if a little smoother and quieter under the long snout of the XF than in other applications we have sampled.
Puzzlingly, the ride quality was not quite what we expected from Jaguar.
Back in the days of the original XJ, for example, the British company was renowned for its limo-like ride – helped by the damper effect of the weighty iron engine over the front wheels – while maintaining a certain amount of driver appeal.
The XF still goes around corners with an ease that belies its size, but the ride over uneven surfaces can be a little niggly, with the suspension a bit firm on initial bump compliance.
This is a common problem with cars riding on 45-section tyres these days, although manufacturers such as BMW – previously one of the worst offenders – are starting to get it nailed.
Through the bigger dips and bumps on our drive route, however, the XF shone in most regards.
Our main issue with the XF is the same one we’ve had since launch in 2008 – cabin room.
With the seats positioned for a tall driver, the XF has precious little room for knees in the back seat – a big hang-up for a luxury sedan.
And if the front passenger seat is pulled forward to allow more room for a rear-seat rider, the front passenger’s knees can knock the side of the protruding dash when climbing into the car.
Once aboard, the XF is a pleasant cocoon, with a minimalist but effective dash layout, quality surfaces and handy cubbie-holes for life’s cargo. And we love the way the air-conditioning vents disappear into the dash when the climate control is turned off.
Is the four-cylinder XF 2.0 better than with the normally aspirated 3.0-litre V6 powertrain it replaces?
That’s hard to say, as we have not experienced this particular mainstream engine, with Jaguar always proffering more interesting alternatives such as its turbo-diesels and supercharged V8s when XF drives come around.
But the fact that Jaguar itself has chosen to write the V6, with its ordinary performance figures, out of the script speaks volumes.
From where we sit behind the wheel, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine is perfectly adequate for XF motivation, as long as prospective buyers are into cruising rather than bruising.
And just because this engine resides in a fleet car such as the Ford Falcon does not mean it is uncouth. Quite the opposite.
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