Jaguar’s XF may be new in terms of interior and exterior looks, the materials used to make it and elements of the powertrains offered, but peel away its new aluminium intensive construction and the XF is no fresh faced saloon. 

The Jaguar XF borrows heavily from the smaller XE and as a result is definitely one of the more dynamically adept options within the executive car class. As such the Jaguar is the more entertaining steer in the class, even bettering the all new BMW 5-series which has historically been the most fun executive car to drive. The BMW is the more rounded machine however, offering a level of refinement and tech the XF just can’t match.

With Mercedes’ E Class also having undergone a thorough update recently, it now also leads the XF on refinement, powertrains and cockpit technology, although the Jaguar is a more involving drive than the Mercedes.

Mercedes-Benz E-Class Coupe review

Audi’s A6 sits between the Mercedes and Jaguar in terms of both driver involvement and refinement. The Audi isn’t the most thrilling to drive but it’s incredibly competent and its interior is of the highest quality, even if it does lag behind in terms of technology. A new A6, scheduled for the end of 2017, will rectify this.   

With the Jaguar XF also available with permanent four-wheel it can match its German rivals for functionality, although without an estate variant available yet (expect one to be launched later this year) the Jaguar doesn’t cover every practical base, which for many will be a turn-off.  

The new XF may have its shortcomings, but in the right trim and spec it’s a compelling proposition and a strong alternative to its key rivals from Germany.

> Jaguar F-type SVR review

Performance and 0-100 time

In terms of sprinting ability, the 120kW 2-diesel completes the 0-100km/h time the slowest in 8.2secs, with the 132kW example half a second quicker to 100km/h and has a 6.5km/h higher top speed. The 3-litre petrol takes just 5.1secs to reach 100km/h and is limited to 250km/h, the same top speed as the 3-litre diesel, which is a tenth quicker to 100km/h. 

The big diesel is not only the quickest of the range but it’s also the pick of the bunch in terms of driving, too. That combination of its well-judged power delivery and wall of torque makes for a spirited and effortless performance level that is perfectly match to the gearbox’s eight ratios. Factor in its refinement levels and how the powertrain is always primed for whatever you ask of it and the 3 litre diesel makes for a quick, reactive and spirited drive.

> New Jaguar E-Pace – Baby F-Pace

Surely the supercharged V6 petrol engine should top the XF tree when it comes to performance? You would think, wouldn’t you? And in many respects it performs exactly as you would expect: responding strongly to throttle inputs and enjoys being stretched to its performance limits.

But in doing so you also unmask the engine’s Achilles heel, which is that it’s not that quick to rev, nor it is as quick as you are expecting it to be. Therefore you feel you’re not going as quickly as you should be for the effort you are putting in. And in reality, you’re not. Factor in a gruff engine note that borders on the uninspiring and the supercharged V6 leaves you cold and disappointed as you consider what could have been.

The two four-cylinder diesel engines do exactly as they say on the tin. The entry level 161bhp should only be considered if your hands are tied by punitive benefit in kind tax rates. The 120kW struggles with the 1555kg kerb weight and the 380Nm of torque is only available for a narrow 750 rev-band making for a short burst of acceleration before tailing off.

The more powerful 132kW/430Nm model with the eight-speed ZF is the best middle ground, combining the cheaper running costs of the less powerful version with nearly 70 per cent of the performance of the more powerful 3-litre, twin-turbocharged XF diesel. However, as functional as the four-cylinder diesels may be they are unpleasant, uncultured engines to use. The rattle, unquestionably diesel noise borders on the offensive and they have a very narrow powerband. This is one of the reasons the eight-speed auto gearbox, the choice of gears means you can keep the engine in the most appropriate revs more easily, and you can keep the revs low.

If you do decide to rev the engine to its limit not only is the lack of progress, compared to the racket it makes, frustrating but so is its low limiter. The rev counter shows a graduated red are where the engine won’t rev to rather than a definitive line. Looking at the dial you’d guess the limit was 4500rpm, but the engine won’t actually rev above 4250rpm. It’s just much better to keep it below 3000rpm, and save any disappointment.

Jaguar has started to produce a range of four-cylinder petrol engines using its modular engine system, called Ingenium. The new petrol engines will find there way into most of the Jaguar and Land Rover range, including the XF. JLR have also been reported to be adapting the Ingenium technology to a straight-six engine too.

Engines and gearbox

Of the four engines available with the new XF, only one is a petrol – the 3-litre, 279kW supercharged V6, and it can only be had with the rather excellent ZF eight-speed gearbox. The other V6 available is the 3-litre twin-turbo diesel, which boasts 220kW and a far greater 700Nm of torque compared to the petrol’s 450Nm, it too can only be had with the eight-speed auto. 

Three other diesel engines available: an 120kW/380Nm and a 132kW/430Nm, both with 2-litre capacities and a single turbocharger. Both four-cylinder diesels are available with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed auto’ gearbox. The third option is the new for 2017 twin-turbo diesel, available exclusively with the automatic gearbox. The new high performance four boasts an impressive 175kW and still return over 50mpg on the combined cycle. All four-cylinder models are available with rear or all-wheel drive. 

While evo is the first to champion the manual gearbox, in the XF we’d give it a wide berth. The shift isn’t particularly precise or intuitive around the gate, and feels far to rubbery in action rather than smooth and mechanical. 

Sadly though the eight-speed auto isn’t at its best when coupled with the XF’s diesel engines. In many applications, including the V6 XF, the eight-speed ZF auto is behaves exceptionally providing seamless and quick shifts, and intuitively changes through the gears when left to decide for itself.

The diesel engines however, make the ‘box feel like an old school, slow and slushy automatic transmission. Lots of revs are required for the XF to move from a stand-still so lots of unpleasant diesel engine noise is made, but thanks to the transmission it doesn’t seem to translate directly into forward movement.

When on the move the gearbox is too inclined to change down and force the engine to operate closer to its rev limit. The engines actually work best between 2–3000rpm, there’re also quieter at these lower rpm too. Thankfully, just like with the V6 versions, you can override the gearbox with the wheel mounted paddles and choose the most appropriate gears.

Ride and handling

You expect certain characteristics from a Jaguar when it comes to ride and handling; chiefly a controlled ride, a taught body and a sense of being part of the process. The new XF doesn’t disappoint. 

There are double-wishbones at the front, a multi-link set up at the rear with passive dampers fitted as standard across the range. Six-cylinder engined cars can also be specified with optional configurable active dampers, first seen on the F type. 

Another component taken from the F type is the latest EPAS steering, which has been further tuned to the XF’s dynamic make up and as with the F Pace is a system that Jaguar now claims provides better feedback and precision than the equivalent hydraulic system. 

With wheel sizes ranging from 17 through to 20-inch in diameter the XF’s ride always remains on the calm and sophisticated side. The high profile tyres fitted to the smallest rims produce an unexpected level of ride comfort in today’s world of sharp edged characteristics and that doesn’t deteriorate significantly as the wheel diameter increases and the tyre profile decreases.

There’s real fluidity to how the entire XF range dissects a road. On the standard passive dampers the body control never feels out of its depth, the chassis loading up with consistency, riding with a compliancy and changing direction with an agility of the very best in class. On the optional active dampers it’s a similar story, with improvements in terms of comfort in normal mode, although there’s no real discernible difference in Dynamic mode unless you really begin to push at the XF’s limits where it remains controlled until you breach the tyre’s grip and mild understeer takes over. 

Torque vectoring is standard on all XF models, and while it doesn’t offer that on the limit adjustability of a locking differential it’s not intrusive when it cuts in. 

The latest EPAS leads the class, with more natural weight than both Audi’s A6 and BMW’s 5 series, and superior feel over Mercedes’ new E class, the XF’s steering feels the most natural of all the electronic systems on the market, providing a level of feel, rate of speed and feedback unexpected from an exec saloon. 

The all-wheel drive Jaguar XF uses the same arrangement as the four-wheel drive F Type and F Pace; its predominantly rear wheel drive and torque is sent to the front axle if the rear looses grip. It works well in the F Type and F Pace, it isn’t inconspicuous system, whenever rear-end traction is broken as you can really sense the torque being sent to the front. However, being able to feel this only makes the cars more interesting and more involving to drive.

Unfortunately the AWD XF that we tested was the 178bhp diesel model and it didn’t have the performance to worry the tyres, let alone have the four-wheel drive system seeking out any available grip. Not even wet weather was enough to unsettle the diesel XF. The four-cylinder diesels simply don’t have the power to warrant four-wheel drive, in fact they’d benefit from the lower weight of just the rear wheel drive layout.

All the staples of an executive saloon are there. There’s plenty of leather and decent quality switchgear, but the XF is a long way off German rivals when it comes to tech. In particular, Mercedes has set a new bar with its current generation E Class interior, which the Jaguar simply can’t compete with.

Essentially a downsized S-Class, the Merc boasts cutting edge infotainment and driver aids technology that the Jaguar just doesn’t have.

Then again, many might prefer the Jaguar’s slightly more bespoke feeling interior and do away with the tech, but really the standard In Touch Control system just isn’t good enough. It’s not because it lacks functionality, it’s that it’s unreliable. The system can crash and freeze up and has continuous issues with Bluetooth pairing.

Jaguar has modernised things with the In Control Touch Pro system, but German alternatives remain significant steps ahead.

It’s a Jaguar so naturally Ian Callum’s pen has directed how the XF looks. This new model builds on the 2007 original but wears Jaguar’s larger, new front grille, there are new side sills to give the perception of a lower ride height and a new look to the rear of car, although to some it looks a little to close in look to the better proportioned XE.

The XF has been given a longer wheelbase to try create some distance between it and it’s smaller sibling, as such Jaguar have tried to create more of a cab-backwards design by stretching the bonnet and giving the car a rear quarter light. Strangely, thanks to the wide tail-lights, the XF can also look a little narrow from the rear – a side effect of when designers try to taper the rear to reduce the impression of mass.

As usual with Jaguar’s these days, one must take car in specifying the car as smaller wheels are easily overwhelmed by the longer wheelbase. The overall shape is very well resolved though and can look very lean and aggressive compared to German rivals. One word of warning could be made though, as Portfolio cars can look a little chintzy due to the chrome mesh grill and plastic chrome bars on the front valance.

The design does bode well for future SVR models though, as when on bigger wheels, the XF is still the best looking car in the class.