Jaguar's new XF throws down stiff challenge to 5-series
First drive... in Navarra
Itis a big, big question but ultimately the one that has to be answered in some shape or form.
Of course, it is asked of all cars but especially anything that, in this case, rivals BMW's 5-series.
So how does the latest Jaguar XF compare?
Before quite getting to that here is a quick run through of what the new car has - a snapshot of what I told you about last week, before reporting on how it behaved during a few revealing drives across northern Spain.
Along with the 5-series, it also competes with the Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class and Lexus GS in the medium executive sector.
It is due in mid-October but they are still working on price and spec levels. The equipment/spec grades will be SE, Prestige (two main ones), R-Sport and Portfolio.
It will start around the €45,000 mark (perhaps a shade below?) which means little or no change on the current model (from €44,820). The 8spd automatic transmission will cost around €2,000 more than the 6spd manual.
The engines we'll be most concerned with in Ireland are the 163PS (from 104g/km and 70mpg) and 180PS versions of the company's 2-litre Ingenium diesel. There is also a fine 3-litre diesel V6 and a couple of petrols.
Like the smaller XE, the XF is lighter and stiffer thanks to its aluminium-based architecture. Double wishbone at the front and integral-link real axle provide the suspension platform for agility.
Both the aluminium and lighter diesels take a serious 190kg from the current car's weight.
With the wheelbase up 51mm there is more room (at back especially, and a fine boot) although the car is 7mm shorter. The XF looks bigger but designer Ian Callum explains that's because it is lower. It was easy to get in and out of, so no worries on that front either. And the infotainment system was easy to get used to.
I think the coupe profile with shorter overhangs works well as does the strong front - it's a Jag. But the rear is too un-Jaguar-like for me. I can't help comparing it to a Mazda6 design.
It also felt narrower inside - because of the way the facia and windscreen are shaped, but there was plenty of elbow room. I had a great driving position and they've calibrated an exceptional feel/feedback to the steering. Better than a 5-series? Yes in a different sort of way.
It's made to be a driver's car and the chassis time and again underscored a tangible mix of firmness and flexibility; it reminded me of the 5-series in that respect too.
I liked the way the back stiffened and how the suspension kept it upright. It and the steering are the car's overriding dynamic achievements.
We didn't get to drive the 163PS diesel; instead it was the 2-litre 180PS 4cyl and the torquey 3-litre V6. While the 180PS worked well, I wanted much quicker response from the 8spd automatic gearbox. Even in Dynamic mode that was noticeable.
As I've said about the XE, the various modes also play a big role in how this car feels too. In Dynamic there was the sporty feel I sought.
I'd have preferred wider seats but they say they worked hard to create these ones. Comfortable? Yes, but . . .
I also drove the 3-litre V6 petrol - on the Circuito de Navarra near Los Arcos in the Navarre region. Again the lasting impression is how the car kept such true lines even when unfairly pushed or steered.
VERDICT: It's obviously well capable of competing with the front runners in its class as far as driving is concerned. Add in the smart cabin and more room and it compares even more favourably.
WHY CARS ARE BIG ENOUGH
CARS are big enough as they are, according to Jaguar designer Ian Callum. The requirements of safety and larger bodies have pushed the dimensions of vehicles so far.
But Mr Callum, in a special talk with us last week, reckons enough is enough now. That's one of the reasons he trimmed 7mm from the new XF's length. He also told us how he had spent a lot of time getting the seats of the car the way he wanted them.
He felt the old ones were a bit big (I don't agree) and now he's happy with the 'smaller, tighter' ones that he thinks are more supportive.
So what will future cars look like? Design will be shaped as much by the powertrains as anything else, he predicted. The only limit, he said, is imagination and there is no shortage of that. But with the shift towards electric vehicles, for example, the absence of large mechanical areas such as engines will give designers far greater scope.
Of course there are certain realities designers will always have to live with.
And in making that point, he cracked the joke of the evening: "Car design would be great if you didn't have to put people in the cars."