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Car reviews - Jaguar - XF - sedan range

Our Opinion

We like
Steering, ride and handling, smoothness, V8 engine, ‘handshake’ system with rotating air-vents, comfortable seats, exterior styling, dashboard, quality leather and wood, overall fit and finish, touchscreen, switchgear and controls, iPod integration, solidity, attention to detail
Room for improvement
Price premium, road noise, V6 performance (diesel and petrol), slow gearchange response, cup-holders, base model woodgrain, clunky glovebox, no adjustable suspension

Jaguar logo1 May 2008

By DAVID HASSALL

JAGUAR appears to finally have a clear vision of its place in the automotive world and the new XF saloon consequently arrives in Australia with an admirable sense of confidence and style.

It’s not just bluff, either, for the S-Type replacement waltzes in with not only the grace you might expect but also a feeling of real substance. And it needs to have that in a market with heavy-hitters like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-class, Audi A6 and Lexus GS.

Still trying to walk the fine line between heritage and relevance, Jaguar has latched onto a phrase called “new-fashioned luxury” with the XF.

It carefully selected the historic Prince Hotel in Melbourne’s fashionable St Kilda to launch the XF to the local media, but it must be said that the hotel is nowhere near as convincing as the car in combining new technology with old-world style. The Prince is more like an X-Type.

While on the one hand saying that Jaguar cannot afford to be old-fashioned and is only looking forward, then on the other hand pointing out all the XF’s influences – from the E-Type through the Mark II to the XJ6 Series I – you could easily accuse Jaguar of being in denial and still living in the past.

However, the reality is that the designers have used those influences very subtly and you would probably not even notice them unless they were pointed out. Unlike the obvious retro look of the S-Type and X-Type, the XF succeeds in looking like a Jaguar without being either retro or looking like any other Jag in particular.

Remarkably, the XF is the first sedan designed by veteran stylist and Jaguarphile Ian Callum. It has an admirable style and presence, with clean lines and lots of nice detail touches like the one-piece side rear window surrounds and the blades in the front air-vents.

Of course, it looks more like a coupe than most sedans and the windscreen angle ended up being exactly the same as the XK sportscar – another Callum design – which was apparently coincidental. But it does contribute to an excellent aero drag figure of just 0.29.

Style is very subjective and I like the overall look very much, but the chrome mesh grille reminds me too much of Aussie special vehicles cars and seems too bold and ostentatious for the rest of the car. To be fair, the car was designed to look good on the road (and in other drivers’ mirror) and it certainly succeeds in that regard, with the front-end bling appearing less overt from a distance.

Without reservation, the back-end looks great from just about any angle, and whoever relocated the famous Jaguar ‘Leaper’ from the nose to the bootlid deserves a Knighthood. It seems so obvious now, and will certainly become a Jaguar standard.

Inside, there remains plenty of wood – remarkably, even more than in an XJ – but it is used so well that the ambiance is still most definitely contemporary.

The ‘base’ models get a satin walnut finish that looks a bit cheap and fake, though, so it would be well worthwhile spending an extra $300 for glossy burr walnut, which is standard on mid-range models. Flagship models get a lovely dark oak.

Speaking of cheap, the centre cup-holder unit looks like something out of a Korean car and the glovebox – while featuring an impressive light-touch fingertip sensor opening – is mechanically a bit clunky.

Despite that, the overall interior quality is excellent, with lots of conventional but classy controls and a user-friendly touchscreen for everything else (no i-Drive histrionics here), although we wonder how long it will take for the Motorola Razor mobile phone-style centre controls and lighting to date.

Jaguar said they wanted a little bit of theatre with the XF and they certainly succeeded with the ‘handshake’. It may sound tacky, Japanese even, but we love the way the flush air-vents rotate into position and the unique gearshift controller pops up when you turn on the ignition.

We also like the soft-feel dash, the chrome and rubber steering wheel controls, the size and shape of the wheel itself and even the attention to detail with the Jaguar name embossed into the chrome air-vent direction sliders.

A digital speed read-out rather than the little clock between the classic ‘analogue’ speedo and tacho would be handy, especially in speed camera revenue-mad Australia, but the dash is otherwise exemplary.

The seats immediately impress with their comfort and the quality of the leather, but really come into their own over a long drive, delivering us ready to go for more after seven hours at the wheel and only a short meal break in the middle. The only complaint was a lack of padding on the side of the centre console, resulting in an occasionally numb knee.

The back seat provides plenty of comfort, with deep squabs and ample legroom. And, although the sloping roofline inevitably compromises ease of entry slightly, there is no problem with headroom or visibility once inside.

Out on the road, the XF feels smaller than it looks and drives with an admirable agility, highlighted by steering that is hard to fault, combining lightness around town with good feel, responsiveness and a secure on-centre feel on the highway.

The ride and handling is also appropriately balanced, erring on the side of softness but still a little harsh over sharp surface changes. A car of this stature and price surely deserves a standard multi-mode or adaptive suspension damping system across the range, not just in the flagship supercharged SV8 (which has not yet arrived here and was therefore not part of the launch test).

Jaguar’s innovative centre console gearshift rotor is easy and convenient to use, and the shift regime for the ZF six-speed transmission is clearly designed for luxurious motoring, even in sport mode. We would have liked sharper and more responsive changes, which might have countered the lack of performance from the two V6 engines.

While the 219kW/411Nm 4.2-litre ‘atmo’ V8 made all the right noises and moved the big Jag around nicely, the 152kW/435Nm 2.7-litre turbo-diesel and especially the 175kW/293Nm 3.0-litre petrol V6 struggled to provide the performance expected of the XF.

On paper, the petrol V6 has enough power and torque, but the latter is not spread widely and therefore cannot match the BMW 525i, which is four-tenths of a second faster to 100km/h, despite having a smaller engine with less peak power and torque. And the Beemer costs some $10,000 less.

Like the 5 Series, the XF suffers from too much road noise and you can only think that big wheels and sport-oriented tyres and suspension bushes are the likely culprits in both cases. Even with music on – courtesy of the excellent integrated iPod facility in the XF centre console – you can hear too much road rumble and even suspension noise for a car of such obvious breeding.

Nevertheless, the XF feels really solid, well-engineered and well-built. It certainly looks the part and provides a worthy British alternative to its mainly German, French and Japanese rivals. Britannia may never rule again, but the XF certainly puts it back in the luxury car game.

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