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Car reviews - Jaguar - XF - 25t R-Sport

Our Opinion

We like
Divine steering and handling, fuel-efficiency, supple ride, mile-munching refinement, sheer road presence
Room for improvement
Cheap interior, sluggish infotainment, temperamental climate control, uncomfortable seats, pricy options

Jaguar logo22 Jul 2016

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

AS THE least expensive petrol variant of the XF range, the R-Sport 25t tested here is priced at $89,800 plus on-road costs, sitting above two diesel ‘20d’ variants deploying Jaguar Land Rover’s all-new Ingenium engine the entry level $82,800 Prestige and oil-burning R-Sport ($88,800).

Marking this variant out as an R-Sport is sports suspension, a bodykit with branded metal tread plates, body coloured, heated, electric exterior door mirrors, gloss black side window surrounds and bi-function Xenon headlights with LED ‘J-blade’ daytime running lights.

Inside is an R-Sport branded multi-function steering wheel, jet black headliner, a dark-anodised ‘Morse Code’ aluminium instrument panel finisher, mood lighting and Sports Taurus leather seats with technical mesh inserts and four-way electric lumbar adjustment.

Onboard tech includes dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, automated parking, idle-stop, Eco, Dynamic, Normal and Winter driving modes, cruise control with speed limiter and rain-sensing windscreen wipersThe central touchscreen provides access to satellite navigation, Bluetooth streaming and telephone connectivity plus USB and auxiliary audio inputs with iPod compatibility.

In typical Jaguar fashion, the XF has a chequebook-challenging options list and our car was specced up with a sunroof ($3200), head-up display with heat-reflecting windscreen ($2508), autonomous parking ($1710), blind-spot monitoring with closing vehicle sensor and rear cross-traffic alert ($1420), lane-keeping assistance and driver alertness monitor ($1060), DAB+ digital radio reception ($900), 19-inch two-tone diamond-turned alloy wheels ($1300) and premium carpet mats ( $300).

All up, that brought the sticker price of our test XF to $102,198 plus on-roads. And no radar cruise control. What?

Interior

While Ian Callum’s artistry on the XF exterior effortlessly blends purposeful machismo with a feline poise that endows the car with the kind of head-turning road presence usually reserved for more exotic metal, especially in the ‘Italian Racing Red’ hue of our test vehicle, the interior is another story.

It’s not just us being harsh, the global automotive media has been awash with comment-piece consternation about what Jaguar is playing at when it comes to interiors. Apart from the depth of engineering and technology expected at this price-point, interiors that feel expensive and special are one of the biggest differentiating factors for buyers.

The biggest culprit is the unconvincing grain and finish of the leather upholstery, especially the garish, cheap shade of red selected for our test vehicle.

Second, the tide-mark of wobbly, scratchy hard plastics found around waist level, the sharp edge above the release catch for the central armrest cubby and the flaccid way the rear central armrest flops out of its recess.

Then there are the speaker grilles in the rear doors, which being metal, invite the touch of curious fingers only to reveal a tenuous grip on their surrounds.

We are not sure where a buzz from the door area on certain surfaces at certain speeds was coming from, but this was our prime suspect.

We got a numb bum in the driver’s seat in around 30 minutes, and while rear-seat passengers have possibly the most room of any standard wheelbase Jaguar in history, the overly reclined backrest and pigeon-chested lumbar support led to discomfort. That they are positioned so far back in the cabin also made loading an infant into their child seat a challenge (plastic guides for the Isofix points are good, though) and hindered the view out.

Australians prefer their air-conditioning like their beer: Ice cold. But the XF climate control demonstrated an inability to deliver a consistent temperature without constant adjustment of the push-button panel. Receiving a blast of hot air from one vent and cool air from another was plain uncomfortable.

Once those in the front had marshalled the system into providing a semblance of comfort, those in the back would complain at being too hot, because their set of vents proved an asthmatic flow at best, unless we closed some of the up-front vents, only to inflict the one hot, one cold problem on rear passengers.

This was not helped by the lack of rear privacy glass or blinds (options at $900 and $500 respectively). Come on, Jaguar, a Kia Optima costing half the price has these features as standard – and better leather.

Like a hungover teenager left to hold the fort at a retail store, the infotainment touchscreen would require a good firm prod to elicit a response, only to do so in a slovenly manner. The same frustrating lag also applied to the large hotkeys flanking the screen. Even the ageing BMW and Audi competitors do this so much better while forthcoming rivals from Mercedes (E-Class) and Volvo (S90) promise to move the game ahead even further.

On the upside, most of the infotainment functions were pretty intuitive and both the Bluetooth audio and USB integration worked well, pumping brilliant audio quality with remarkable separation through the 11-speaker Meridian system. But $900 to add DAB+ reception? When you could buy a pretty nice home hi-fi for that, with DAB+ built-in, that’s just gouging.

To focus back on interior positives, we enjoyed the refined isolation of the XF cabin, where external noises and annoying frequencies were well suppressed for a relaxing ride. With more comfortable seats, this would be an able mile-muncher of a car.

But considering the competition it’s up against, Jaguar really needs to step up on the interior and technology front as these are not areas for penny pinching.

Hopefully the company sees sense in time for the facelift.

Engine and transmission

Until Jaguar Land Rover is ready to release the all-new Ingenium four-cylinder petrol engine, the XF 25t range shares its powerplant with a Ford Falcon EcoBoost.

While that engine was impressive back in 2011 when it made its debut in the Mondeo and its 177kW of power at 5500rpm and 340Nm of torque from 1750rpm until 4000rpm remain reasonable outputs, these figures are unchanged from the previous-generation XF and the rest of the world has moved on.

One area in which the Ford engine reveals its age is in power delivery, which lacks linearity compared with four-cylinders from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

It also lacks the feel of urgency delivered by the German engines, which can achieve 0-100km/h in the six-second region compared with the Jag’s more leisurely seven.

This, combined with the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission hunting between first and third gear at low speeds, hampered the decisive acceleration often required for urban driving. Its idle-stop system would cut in and out with a shudder, too, but we preferred that to the slightly grumbly idle.

When on the open road things were much better and the free-spinning, smooth characteristics of this engine were appreciated when enjoying a curvaceous country lane. On that road, the paddle-shifters provided genuine manual control, allowing the engine to reach a soft limiter at around 6500rpm, while providing the kind of quick-fire shifts we have come to know and love from the now-ubiquitous eight-speed ZF cog-swapper. With Dynamic mode enabled and Sport selected transmission, upshifts are pretty aggressive compared with the more luxurious slickness of Drive.

More good news came from our respectable recorded average fuel consumption of 8.4 litres per 100 kilometres, compared with the official 7.5L/100km combined figure.

On the motorway this dropped to 6.9L/100km and a mix of suburban and urban driving returned 9.0L/100km. That said, we rarely endured the congested conditions experienced by our Sydney correspondent, who got 12.3L/100km in an XF 25t Portfolio.

Ride and handling

After flinging the XF along the dynamic section of our road test route, we were ready to forgive its interior failings. It really is that rewarding, while at all times retaining a level of ride comfort that belies its athleticism.

Supremely tactile steering feeds detailed information to the driver, providing almost endless confidence with its accuracy, perfect weighting and feel of absolute control.

In Dynamic mode all the control weights and responses heighten in perfect harmony, making the XF feel like a tensed muscle and putting the driver at the centre of the action more successfully than almost any other similar system we have sampled. In a rare moment among modern cars, the XF’s natural, organic and absolutely analogue personality genuinely made us feel part of the machine.

The turn-in is crisper than a mid-July Melbourne morning and while the XF is prone to roll a little, even on its tweaked-up R-Sport suspension, it soon settles and exhibits a relaxed gait that breathes with the road surface to maintain the driver’s intended line regardless of ridges, corrugations, dips or patchwork repair jobs.

Grip is plentiful, understeer requires serious provocation and there is a blissful neutrality to the XF’s balance, which combines with the predictable breakaway of grip and the gentle, mostly cooperative guiding hand of the stability control intervention to make this the most fun car in its class – all without resorting to a dance with the demerit devil.

The XF is one of those remarkable cars that can do all of this without resorting to an over-firm suspension tune. It really is a relaxed car to drive, soaking up almost everything with the indifference of a seasoned comedian shutting down an inebriated heckler.

On the odd occasion we felt the suspension was a bit under-damped on the rebound, leading to a bit of bobbing after larger bumps or slamming the wheels back down with a clunk, but overall it is a very well set-up car that is easy to drive quickly and smoothly, such is its natural ability to flow along at a hell of a lick.

Like we said, it was enough to make us forgive a multitude of XF sins. Until we realised that 99 per cent of journeys do not take in these kinds of roads, even fewer with a solo driver who can press on without worrying about the intestinal fortitude or frayed nerves of passengers.

And if you’re part of the one per cent, you probably don’t need a big sedan.

Safety and servicing

Safety watchdog ANCAP rated the XF a maximum five stars based on Euro NCAP test results. It scored 94 per cent for adult occupant protection and 84 per cent for child occupant protection. Pedestrian protection was rated at 80 per cent.

Switchable electronic stability control, switchable traction control and dual front, front side and full-length curtain airbags, front and rear parking sensors, surround-view camera, lane-departure warning and autonomous emergency braking are standard across the XF range.

While its option prices are steep, Jaguar’s servicing offer represents a benchmark in the luxury segment, with 12-month (or 16,000km) intervals available at a fixed cost of $1380 for up to six services in the first five year.

Verdict

With its disappointing interior, old-tech engine, laggy infotainment, expensive options and questionable value proposition compared with the keenly positioned BMW 5 Series, the Jaguar XF has to really tug at the old heart-strings for the dealership to get your signature.

The reason for purchase could be brand loyalty, Pommie pride, the desire for something different or just being won over by the styling. Regardless, the XF will reward its owner with delicious dynamics, if they get the change to explore them often enough.

As a source of frustration and disappointment during our brief stint with the XF, it’s hard to recommend it.

But after giving it back, we missed it in the same way we would a good-looking and adventurous ex-partner who earned their prefix due to some serious personality issues.

Perhaps the facelift, with Ingenium engines and a better interior, will realise the XF’s hidden potential. Like the aforementioned ex after undergoing a personality transplant.

We look forward to that reunion.

Rivals

BMW 528i from $99,200 plus on-road costs
No 5 Series directly competes on engine and price with the XF, but the 528i is arguably the best value large European luxury sedan on the market considering our Jag was optioned up well into six digits. The BMW hides its age well, too.

A willing engine, smart interior and excellent on-board technology outclass the British upstart but this Ultimate Driving Machine just doesn’t get under your skin on a twisty road like the big cat does.

Audi A6 1.8 TFSI S Line from $79,900 driveaway
Like the BMW the A6 lacks a direct petrol/price competitor to the Jaguar, and its contender in this segment is looking forward to retirement. A soon-to-arrive facelift will help to resist the old-hat feeling, and if it wasn’t for the fact Audi keeps pushing the game forward on newer models in the line-up, the A6 would still impress on the inside. Forget class-leading dynamics, but for a safe, solid, comfortable cruiser the A6 still offers a lot.

Lexus GS 200t with Enhancement Pack 1 from $87,500 plus on-road costs
People love or hate the GS, the first Lexus to wear the brand’s controversial ‘spindle grille’ styling. But we think the interior design that accompanied the radical exterior makes the GS feel pretty special. Beats the XF hands-down for value and is great to drive, only a slightly cramped interior lets the side down because the relatively recent addition of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine works a treat.

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