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Car reviews - Jaguar - XF - 3.0D V6 S sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Design inside and out, incredible diesel, dynamic poise, inviting character, solid quality feel, value proposition
Room for improvement
Slightly firm ride, rear headroom not great for taller folk, still quality questions remain, no digital speedometer, rear seats tricky to release, poor rear vision

11 Mar 2010

SO YOU have finally arrived at the midsized luxury sedan party. It’s been in full swing since, well, about 1977, and some of the old players from back then are still strutting their stuff today.

Looking around you see the two biggest hitters holding court as usual – BMW’s 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-class. Both come with reputations to match their unquestionable capabilities: the racier Bavarian is the one you would have more fun with, while the rather squarer Three Pointed Star is again Blue Chip marriage material after a very patchy period. You cannot do wrong with either, really.

However, you are a person who abhors uniformity of choice, so you choose instead to keep on looking, and soon sight the suave Audi A6 standing by the doorway, like the perpetual German bridesmaid it has always been since the old 100 days.

‘Looking good, still, but really much too old and a little out of its depth now,’ you think to yourself (after all, both the BMW and Benz have been completely redesigned for 2010), so you quickly slip into the kitchen only to find the unloved Lexus GS. Such an enigmatic car – brash, efficient and athletic, but also no spring chicken and a tad too Toyota inside, it has become Japan’s unfairly forgotten ambassador in this circle.

So the Lexus isn’t for you either, and you are now running out of options. ‘5’ or ‘E’ it is then. Ironically there was once an Audi 100 with that alphanumeric combination as a badge of honour.

And then it happens. A Jaguar swaggers in and suddenly – on looks alone – you’re mentally aligning the British car with Aston Martins (particularly around the rear treatment), Paul Smith, the Tate Modern and Saville Row. Beautiful design is uplifting and so already the XF soars above the others. What a knockout!

Can it be true? Should you really take this car seriously? Time to say hello.

Two-plus years have not diluted the handsome, muscular XF’s magnetic visual presence. But believe it or not, this is not the Jag’s only ace, as we shall see, tested here in $112,990 S 3.0D guise. And we’re not just talking about the futuristic interior either.

You would imagine a Bank of England safe door would feel about as solid as the XF’s, being all thick and heavy (the body is made of steel not aluminium as with the big brother XJ), opening up a cabin that is defined by an arrestingly simple T-shape dashboard and centre console.

Cleverly, Jaguar’s engineers have somehow managed to marry a coupe-like silhouette with sedan levels of entry and egress practicality, so getting in doesn’t have to be an interpretive dance improvisation.

So now you sit before a stitched-leather swathed fascia that reeks of industrial design chic. We love it but recognise that there is a bit of genius, gimmickry, fashion sense and nonsense all thrown into the XF’s presentation – though you would never call it crass, ugly, stale or derivative. Nobody has a ’60s sci-fi style gear change canister, touch sensors light and glovebox switches or air vents with eyelids. This is automotive theatre. Or is it UK IKEA, with the blonde matt wood and brushed alloys liberally coating most of the dashboard’s surfaces? At least it feels substantial.

Good stuff? The aforementioned, plus a great driving position, with ample seat and steering wheel adjustability a brilliant climate control interface and system a touch screen for audio, sat nav and a bunch of other car settings that quickly becomes second nature to use heaps of places to put stuff away a lovely steering wheel with equally satisfying paddle shifters and an electronic park brake that automatically releases.

Bad stuff? The push button start requires a determined push before the engine fires up. How about a too-small speedometer (and made worse by no secondary digital readout)? The flimsy blinker stalk feels pilfered from a Ford Fiesta (and it’s bloody noisy). Sufficient rear vision is possible only with X-ray eyes or a reversing camera. And frustratingly, at times you can’t hurry that gear lever canister (called JaguarDrive, don’t you know).

Furthermore, while we initially were amazed to think our car was rattle free, the driver’s seat was sufficiently loose to rock at certain speeds, which annoyed us no end. And the chrome piping around the lower centre console started to peel on our test car, and that’s just plain unsightly. British ‘quality’ control isn’t as pukka as it might appear.

Four fulsome folk should find ample comfort in the outboard seating positions.

Thickly padded cushions, sufficient seat travel and appropriate side bolstering help make both front seats ideal for long, fatigue-free journeys.

Rear headroom is restricted due to the XF’s swoopy roofline, but only if you are above about 180cm otherwise legroom back there is obviously dependent on the person sitting in front while the centre-rear spot is really just for emergency adult transportation. We’re not keen on the very-Ford-era flimsy centre armrest’s cheapo cupholder recesses or back windows that only go down half way. At least there are ventilation outlets to go with the leather and carpeted luxury feel.

With access to the 500-litre boot via a split-fold backrest (which increases the Jaguar’s carrying capacity by a handy 420L), the XF even manages to do practical, although the load area is shallow and the aperture quite small. Folding the backrest was a pain in our car, since it required a tug of the release cable as well as a tug of the actual seat to release it from the locking mechanism – a two-person job then. A space-saver spare wheel lives underneath the boot floor.

But it is what lurks beneath that shapely bonnet that might seal the deal for you, since the driving experience is this particular XF’s piece de resistance.

Last year Jaguar chucked the fine old 2.7-litre twin turbo diesel for a new 3.0-litre number known as the ‘S’, complete with more power (up 50kW to 202kW) and torque (600Nm instead of 435Nm) but with 10 per cent better fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

Some 1.8 seconds faster to 100km/h than the old diesel at just 6.4s, the S’s forward thrust is eye-poppingly strong – so much so, in fact, that it feels as if all that twisting action might overpower the chassis’ ability to keep everything contained. It doesn’t though.

But even in normal ‘Drive’, it is child’s play to burn the rear rubber while at the other extreme (Dynamic mode with the DSC off) a wayward tail will wag the Jag, so it’s best to keep the traction-suppressing sergeants on red alert at all times. Unfortunately it was bone dry during our entire time with the XF so its wet-weather controllability couldn’t be ascertained.

Nevertheless it is clear that the XF S is designed to cover ground as if it is standing on the shoulders of giants.

Although redlined at just 4600rpm, the 3.0 S is the least diesel-like engine we have ever experienced. It lulls newbie’s into believing they are driving a powerful petrol V6 or V8. A muted throaty timbre is all you’re in for unless you travel with the bonnet open. Diesel dissidents have a formidable foe in the XF S.

Especially as acceleration comes on in such an adrenalin-addled rush, sweeping you forward in a torrent of motion that is quite out of proportion with the car’s modest engine capacity and pricing positioning. Overtaking is over almost before you’ve even had time to think about it. The way this XF builds up speed is just incredible.

It isn’t even thirsty either, returning around 11L/100km (600Nm, remember) even after being driven for half the time like we were rushing to get to a Playtex sale.

Speaking of forgotten references from yesteryear, in some ways the diesel model’s value/performance/luxury axis marks a return to Jaguar’s pre-1980s station as the self-made working class person’s everyday drive – as defined by icons like the 1960s Mark II 3.4S – that somehow rise above its contemporaries. The XF S’s heart is also an example of why we love cars.

One unexpected quibble is that at some lower urban speeds there appears to be a harmonic resonance intruding into the back seat area but only at very specific low speeds. Hmm …

Another reason why we initially thought that the twin-turbo diesel was perhaps too much for the rest of the car centred around Jaguar’s unfathomable decision to engineer overly lightweight and surprisingly high-geared steering – a combination that seemed amplified after jumping straight out of the Mercedes E220 CDI test car we also had living in our garage at the time.

In regular driving conditions the XF’s set-up works fine, but if you’re in the mood for some rapid apex clipping, then the helm does not weigh up as much as you might expect, even in Dynamic Mode. It is here where more heft and feedback would be most welcome, since the steering input seems disproportionately soft compared to the pace and response of the rest of the chassis.

Get over this though (and you will), and the Jaguar displays an unerring ability to pull everything together, to define the XF S as one of the most rapid and enjoyable real-world sports sedans on the market today.

Strong stoppers are also part of the Jaguar’s dynamic repertoire, bringing the heavy (1820kg) sedan to a standstill in quick time.

Meanwhile the XF’s ride – disappointingly firm on 19-inch wheels as tested last year – is still too curt on anything other than smooth roads, yet it does rise to the challenge when the performance wick is turned up to high, since the suspension displays a commanding balance between comfort and poise while still remaining impressively quiet.

Quiet is just one word that describes the XF S 3.0D succinctly. Hugely endowed with charm, performance, style, good looks, refinement, individuality and agility, this is the car that deserves to succeed.

So back to the luxury sedan class shindig: after getting to know Britain’s contender, you might be drunk on the Jaguar’s potency and blinded by its sensual beauty, but you can rest assured that this twin-turbo diesel XF also has the might to match the excellent BMW and Benz, to be the new life of the party.

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