Saturday 19 August 2017

Is Jaguar’s new XF the car to challenge BMW 5-series?

Eddie Cunningham drives the new saloon

Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

Last Wednesday I gave you the details on Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF.

Now I can tell you what it was like to drive - around northern Spain – as opposed to what Jaguar claim.

But first here is a brief recap of the chief ingredients before we sample their combined effects.

The new rival to the likes of the Audi A6, BMW 5-series, Mercedes E-Class and Lexus GS is due mid-October.

Prices and spec levels have yet to be finalised; expect it to start around the €45,000 mark – maybe, just maybe, a little lower. The current model begins at €44,820. Add a couple of grand for an 8spd automatic over the 6spd manual.

At the heart of the car for Irish buyers is the new 2-litre Ingenium diesel engine. It will come with two outputs: 163PS and 180PS.

Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF

There will also be a 3-litre diesel V6 and a couple of petrols - but most people will go for the 2-litre diesel versions (emissions as low as 104g/km and claimed 70mpg).

By sheer coincidence, I’ve just been driving and reviewing the new, smaller Jaguar XE (BMW 3-series rival) here in Ireland.

The XF is very much its big brother. It too relies heavily on a lighter and stiffer aluminium-based frame and architecture and the integral-link real axle that provides such agility (double wishbone at the front) in the XE.

In the XF’s case, the aluminium and lighter diesel engines strip a combined 190kg from its weight compared with the older one.

There is more room because the wheelbase is increased by 51mm, though the car itself is 7mm shorter. Strangely, it looks bigger but, as its designer Ian Callum told me, that’s because it is lower and your eyes play tricks on you. Despite being lower I had no issues getting in front or back.

Specific levels of trim have yet to be worked out but they will slot into the following grades: SE, Prestige (these two are expected to account for most purchases), R-Sport and Portfolio.

They also have a new infotainment system; mostly, it did what we asked, which is an endorsement of sorts because I usually find a way of causing utter confusion to the system, myself and patient fellow drivers.

As you can see, the car has the coupe profile with shorter overhangs. I like the look of the front a lot – it’s strong, unmistakably Jaguar. I’m not at all convinced about the back, though. It is too un-Jaguar-like for me and too like a Mazda6 (which is lovely on the Mazda, no quarrel there).

Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF
Jaguar’s new mid-size saloon, the XF

On the road and behind the wheel it felt a bit narrower inside, strangely, though there was plenty of elbow room for two of us. You sit quite low behind a crescent shaped facia and excellent central display, but I got myself a lovely driving position with minimal adjustment.

Like the XE, they have calibrated a wonderful feel to the steering - this is now a defining feature of new Jaguars.

The additional millimetres on the wheelbase translate mostly, I think, into more room at the back – and there is a huge, deep boot.

As I’ve mentioned, the double wishbone front and integral link rear set-up made for what they call (and I love the phrase) a “tuneable chassis arrangement”.  Like the steering this is a core ingredient now too. It’s a much better handling car. Even where I undersold it on corners and bends at fair speed, the rear stiffened and kept it flat and upright. That’s the sort of thing that gives you confidence – some call it ‘stickability’.

I’d say that is the car’s overriding achievement: you soon grow to trust it will compensate for you.

We drove the 2-litre 180PS 4cyl Ingenium diesel and the exceptional 3-litre V6 (what a torquey engine) on our tests.

The 180Ps pulled really well but I had to use Dynamic mode to get as quick a response from the 8spd automatic gearbox as I expected. Even then it took its time on kick down. I wanted something much quicker.

The different modes play a big role in how this car feels. I stayed in Dynamic most of the time to get as much from what is a driver’s car as possible.

The drives were great. There was a tangible balance to the car on some of the finest driving roads you’ll come across.

The seats – the focus of strenuous work apparently – were a bit narrow for my liking. I was comfortable and at ease but I do like plenty of breadth.

Visibility out the rear, sloping screen isn’t wonderful but the wing mirrors are wide and deep so I was never in doubt about what was behind.

And when I took to the track (Circuito de Navarra near Los Arcos in the Navarre region of northern Spain) in the 3-litre V6 petrol I didn’t need either. That’s where the chassis showed even more ability. I enjoyed that; feeling it keeping the rear from twitching away, sensing the power coming back on when I floored it. But even then I felt the 8spd automatic could spring more quickly to my demands. That said, I enjoyed my six circuits a lot.

That was mostly due to a motor that will, I’m sure, have people favourably comparing it with the best in its class as a ‘driver’s car’.

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