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Car reviews - Jaguar - XF - 4.2 Premium Luxury sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Interior and exterior design, growling V8, dynamic poise, character
Room for improvement
Slightly firm ride, rear head room not great for taller folk, V8 thirst

17 Oct 2008

GOODWILL is a rare luxury among expensive imported vehicles.

Unfortunately for drivers of vehicles from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, it rarely happens. Envy from those around is the best you can expect.

Perhaps green envy is what an owner of a Lexus hybrid might experience. Certainly once upon a time Audi drivers garnered some goodwill, until the brand decided to emulate BMW, and there may be the odd soul with memories of long-gone times in Labrador-laden 265s who still feel fondness towards Volvo.

And then there’s Jaguar. Despite the dodgy early reliability issues, the misguided product lines (X and S-Types anyone?), the embarrassingly ineffectual F1 foray and the pipes-and-slippers image of the wildly underrated XJ, the English marque somehow manages to achieve goodwill.

A quick glance through history – always a dangerous thing with Jaguar – may reveal why.

In the middle of last century, Jaguar creator Sir William Lyons offered a range of vehicles that were just affordable enough yet virtually comparable to (and often much better to drive than) their more-expensive contemporaries.

It was a sort of anti-class system move against the establishment, and one that might still resonate with many people today.

But looking back during the marque’s Ford-owned years (1989-2008) has never done Jaguar much good, so from today the now-Tata-owned brand is boldly bounding forward in the manner that – ironically – all the successful Jags of yesteryear like the XK120, E-Type and ’68 XJ had.

To that list, may we add the XF – Jaguar’s stunning replacement for the already-forgotten S-Type.

Designer Ian Callum calls it a seminal design, and it’s true. Months after the first XF landed in Australia, people’s heads seemed to instinctively turn to follow the coupe-like flow of the Jaguar’s smooth silhouette.

Gorgeous detailing abounds, from the bold grille and bonnet strakes to the beautifully resolved C-pillar, highlighting the XF’s broad shoulder line that melds in seamlessly with the very Aston Martin-esque rear. This is modern automotive architecture at its finest.

Unbelievably, Jaguar has managed to make the interior English without resorting to old-car cliché. It’s more London ‘gherkin’ than London Old Bailey.

The stitched-leather upper-dashboard is splendid to behold the wooden door, lower dash and console applications are finished in a contemporary texture and the metallic fittings that separate the natural fibres are set in either a matt or mechanical finish, which bring a distinctly modern feel to the interior.

All function without clashing within a classically symmetrical T-shaped fascia that contains plenty of novel ideas.

Most obvious are the (slightly gimmicky) JaguarDrive gear ‘lever’ that rises with the ignition-on setting, along with the four ventilation shutters across the dash.

Actually, once you get used to the lever, it works a treat, providing easy gear selection at just a push and a twist of your left palm. And the ‘Tiptronic’ style sequential gear function is still there, via a large set of paddles positioned at the ‘quarter-to-three’ position just behind the steering wheel spokes.

Add the icy light-blue instrumentation lighting, LED trip display between the (a tad too small) analogue speedo and tachometer dials, and central audio, climate, communications, navigation and vehicle-function touch-screen display (controlled by a pair of nicely finished knobs set within a quartet of supporting buttons besides and below), and Jaguar’s cabin transformation from yesterday to tomorrow is complete.

We were also charmed by the touch-sensor interior lights and glovebox release, which the company dubs JaguarSense.

As a functioning car interior, the XF does it all ergonomically correctly as well.

In the up-spec 4.2 Premium Luxury model tested, the perfect driving position is just an electrical adjustment of the seats and steering column away and the supple leather-clad steering wheel couldn’t be more satisfying to use (with nice rubberised toggle switches acting as the remote controls for the audio and brilliant – though optional – automatic active cruise control system).

Ventilation is particularly good, and simple to operate, while no button is beyond reach of the car’s operator.

Four adults should find ample comfort in the outboard seating positions, with the fronts nicely cushioned, sufficiently long in travel and adequately bolstered for sideways support when required.

The rears, on the other hand, concede headroom to the alter of style as a result of the XF’s swoopy roof line, but only if you are above about 180cm.

Rear legroom is dependent on the kindness of the person sitting ahead, while the centre-rear perch is just that, and really only suitable as temporary conveyance for kids who will probably be distracted (initially at least) by the dashboard’s many and varied party tricks mentioned earlier.

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 does a surprisingly good job of being a practical family commuter too, even if the load area is shallow and the aperture quite small. A space-saver spare wheel lives underneath the boot floor.

More storage spaces are available in the reasonably sized glovebox, large centre console bin (which houses an MP3 connector, USB port and charge outlet (how Cool Britannia is that!), and usable door pockets.

Issues with the easy-to-enter-and-exit cabin are few. Rear vision is hopeless, making the (standard on Premium Luxury onwards) reversing camera and parking sensors an absolute must.

The flickering-glow start-stop button sometimes needs a determined push to fire-up the engine, and the rear centre armrest looks and feels cheap, detracting from an otherwise wholly useable and extremely likeable interior.

Unfortunately a mystery rattle emanated from the boot and was audible only from the rear seat.

So far then, so very good – Jaguar has completely fixed the (mostly design-related) problems that blighted the S-Type.

Now you may already know much of that car’s undercarriage has been carried over into the XF – but considering what a fine driving and riding machine the post-2002 S-Type was, this is no bad thing at all.

Riding on a 2909mm wheelbase, the 4961mm long XF (which is slightly larger than all of its contemporaries in the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-class, Audi A6 and Lexus GS), is claimed to have the best torsional stiffness in its class.

Combined with the old S’ aluminium wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension set-up, the rear-wheel drive Jaguar has a flowing poise about the way it corners and handles, with high levels of body control.

The XF employs a variable-ratio power-assisted hydraulic steering system, which is said to reduce parking effort at low speeds and yet offer greater precision and feedback at higher speeds. We can’t argue with this at all, with satisfying levels of feel throughout the Jaguar’s range.

However, we would add that drivers’ wanting BMW-levels of steering sharpness and response may find the laid-back character of the XF does take some time to get used to.

Tremendous cruising ability is this car’s forte, gliding along effortlessly, backed up by a rock-solid stance to match its muscular exterior styling. On the move, the image of the XF whooshing silently along is surely a visual treat for onlookers.

Irregular or rough roads simply don’t faze it, although some larger shocks such as speed humps are felt more than you might expect in a Jaguar – but you wouldn’t exactly call the ride firm, and certainly never unpleasant. Perhaps the sizeable (and handsome) 19-inch alloy wheels have something to do with this.

Powering our test car was the 4.2-litre V8 (power: 219kW torque: 411Nm) that makes more of the right sort of noises than you might expect from a car in this class.

Allied to the excellent ZF six-speed automatic gearbox, the engine makes a fine companion to the XF’s well-sorted chassis, delivering its hefty torque outputs with sufficient smoothness in Drive and urgent response in the Sport setting.

Acceleration is brisk at all times, the top speed is electronically limited to 250km/h, but the V8’s fuel consumption is out of step with the forward thinking which otherwise permeates throughout this car.

We struggled to drop below 15.5L/100km in urban driving, with only a few long highway drives seeing the fuel consumption-average readout drop to a more palatable 12.4L/100km.

For this reason alone, we recommend the less expensive twin-turbodiesel XF, which produces 24Nm more torque yet delivers 7.5L/100km compared to the 4.2’s 11.1L/100km official combined average, over the otherwise lovely V8.

And even if you are not paying for the petrol, the V8’s massive carbon dioxide emissions increase should make you think twice about going there.

Jaguar fits large disc brakes, backed up by a menagerie of (switchable) stability and traction-related driver aids, as well as an Understeer Control Logic function, which is said to mitigate wide-cornering behaviour. We found the XF to be a progressive stopper, and absolutely dependable in a range of weather and road conditions.

In fact, other than ride quality, which lacked the suppleness we have come to expect from Jaguar, and the V8’s expected thirst for petrol, we have come away highly impressed with the XF.

Throughout our time with it, people asked us if it was good, or commented on what a striking design it is, particularly compared to the German offerings.

Choosing the cheaper twin-turbo diesel with a few choice options is probably the best way into XF ownership, but even in the 4.2 V8 Premium Luxury you are bound to discover plenty of goodwill towards the latest Jaguar on offer.

We cannot wait for the 2010 XJ to arrive!

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