Even in entry form, Jaguar’s XF is a good looking, good-to-drive executive offer – but what chance does a 2.0-litre diesel sedan really have?
For: Looks the business, well-specified, good on a twisty road, torque-rich engine.
Against: Engine refinement could be better, odd-shaped boot.
EVERYONE knows the XF is an important car for Jaguar – just as everyone knows it is on the cusp of becoming a little less important than it had to be.
That’s because of the F-Pace, another component-sharing model that the Brit brand is soon to launch here. Jaguar’s first crossover wagon is set to be the new big thing, big enough to is to relinquish the XF of responsibility of achieving the sales leadership. Demotion? You shouldn’t see it that way, old chap. More like an opportunity to find new opportunities, etc …
Well, change is inevitable. Premium sports utilities and crossovers are the hot products of the moment, not least in compact and medium formats, and sedans are cooling off.
Here is New Zealand it’s especially obvious. Anything with an elevated ride height and some beefier wheel arches seems a dead-cert for sales success. Not that this is a Kiwi-pure thing; analysts reckon that the international penetration by 2020 of crossovers and the like will be double what it is now. The biggest areas for growth are China, Europe and Russia, where sales are set to expand by between 18-26 percent over the next six years.
How much sway this will have on Jaguar’s future direction is yet to be seen. Historically, this brand has always been dedicated to making road cars; quick comfy sedans in the main and, every once in a while, a great sports car. However, they do seem to be rethinking things. At the international media event being held for F-Pace, the talk was mainly about the prospects for a more compact F-Pace sibling. What’s the bet it’ll be badged E-Pace.
With the whole world going barmy for quasi soft-roaders, what kind of future is there for the cars that have traditionally been Jaguar’s stock in trade? So much, one supposes, depends on the reception meted the XE, the next XJ and, in the here and now, this XF, but clearly none will be riding as comfortably as they once did.
The advent of F-Pace (sorry to mention it again) already means, for instance, that we won’t see a follow-up to previous range’s station wagon that emerged in 2012. Just four years ago, Jaguar asserted the Sportbrake was worth doing because elite wagons were big business. Now it says the F-Pace does the same job, but better.
Anyway, the ongoing future of sedans seems largely based on the assumption that there will always be enough people in the world who will prefer a proper roadcar over a pretend soft-roader. Let’s hope that’s so: the original XF, after all, was just as key to Jaguar in 2007 as the F-Pace is now, being the car that injected much-needed appeal to the brand.
Whether they’ll want the first to be powered by an engine that more properly seems suited to the second is a different scenario, however, one that was raised by Jaguar NZ providing the test XF with its new Ingenium four-cylinder turbodiesel.
Equipped with a $3000 optional R-Sport package that elevated its sticker price to $94k, the 2.0D entry edition here could be summarized as being a nice car on a challenging mission.
As great as diesel road cars are, sales show they’re clearly in a niche. There’s always potential the XF might break a trend, I’d suggest it’s a safer bet to suggest that you’ll see many more F-Paces with this mill than XFs and XEs.
Radical or revisionist? There’ll be debate about whether the latest XF shape deserves to be called either; it’s certainly a smart-looking car from any angle.
At the same token, when putting old alongside new it’s only a matter of time before someone might suggest what we have now bears more than passing resemblance than what we saw previously. There’s nothing wrong with being derivative, of course, if there’s good reason for it.
Frankly, there is in this instance. Previous XF was a styling pathfinder for everything that has since followed, the F-Pace included. Admittedly, it became a better car once they sorted the headlight shape, but basically for Jaguar to have started with a fresh sheet once again with this XF would have been barmy. Not only because the general design is still so solid but also because the car would have been out of step with every other family member. Just as the original XF was, for a short period, when it showed up eight years ago.
Anyway, while the essence of the first gen XF remains in situ (inside as much as out), no panels transfer nor, of course, does the platform. The positive is that the sense of graceful elegance, with an impression of underlaying ‘hardness’, is retained. Also on its side is that this isn’t an opinion-dividing design.
Slip inside and you’ll encounter an interior that’s more conservative than previously yet of higher quality. They’ve still kept the pop-up gear selector, which is a good thing as it has always seemed immediately intuitive, yet it overall it doesn’t seem so try-hard.
Anyone looking to get into their first Jaguar will doubtless be surprised by how much they seem to get for their spend at what is basically an entry level. That whole business of balancing snob expectation against budget reality can be a huge ask, yet the car is comprehensively-kitted and it also has a properly expensive feel.
The quality doesn’t just come in the look of an amalgam of costly-looking surfaces but also, more obviously now, in the quality of all the components. The touch-screen houses Jaguar Land Rover's new infotainment system, as seen in the XE, which is hugely smarter and more reactive than that used previously, though maybe some of the systems in several German rival models are quicker still.
Space and comfort-wise, there’s nothing to whinge about. While that low roofline does impinge slightly for rear headroom, the long wheelbase means it avoids becoming a cramped car, and the boot is a good size.
The XF scored a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP’s crash safety test, with excellent marks across the board. All models have six airbags, lane departure warning and an automatic emergency braking system.
Yes, diesel will be a hard sell, but fair dues to Jaguar for at least trying to keep the flag flying.
This engine is the first four cylinder they’ve developed in-house, so clearly there’s a degree of pride driving the whole Ingenium programme. Assuredly, you’ll hear a lot more about it once the petrol engine in this family comes to supplant the Ford-provided 2.0-litre EcoBoost that is involved until mid-2017.
In the meantime, though, all impressions about what this new-generation powerplant can do for the brand are based on experience with the 1999cc turbodiesel and frankly, notwithstanding the market perception, there’s a lot of good to be said. They really do go well together.
Hearing this might seem a travesty to Jaguar faithful of a certain age, because for so long Jaguars were simply all petrol-fed sixes and eights, yet you don’t need to spend much time behind this unit to realize that it’s basically providing a different route to the same destination.
As a paragon of technology, it is spot on. Don’t get hung up on the capacity. With a maximum of 132kW it has the power and, of course, it definitely has the torque: A big 430Nm-sized wodge feeding out in such abundance from 1750-2500rpm that it simply eradicates any concern about small hearts in big cars.
You just can’t deny the impact that comes with a muscularity that is 90Nm up on the like-capacity petrol alternate but also just 20Nm short of the peak produced by the current XF flagship mill, a supercharged 3.0-litre petrol V6.
And yet there are boundaries, some reflecting the actual capacity, some – perhaps - the design.
In respect to refinement, it’s a much better mannered engine when on the move than when idling. Jaguar will say that the inclusion of a stop-start system that silences the engine when you’re stuck in a queue awaiting a green light is simply to ease the emissions and economy just that little bit more. But it’s probable that this is also an expedient to keep other road-users from wondering where the trademark diesel chatter is coming from. Certainly, you are left no doubt about what kind of fuel it burns when starting from cold.
Also, the provision of peak power at around 4500rpm should be suggestive of this having a broader power band than some other diesels. In fact, it really doesn’t: That optimum point on the rev spread is probably as far as you’ll want to see the tachometer read. From thereon, you’re just working it harder for no real performance gain; it just becomes a lot more hard-edged. No, better to keep the revs down and ride on the torque wave.
That’s also the best way to achieve best economy, though even if it is treated harshly, this engine seems hardly prone to gulp. That start-start technology and the eight-speed automatic – which is brilliant, by the way - also help deliver on the promise of a small car class burn, but really the engine itself is the primary agent for thrift. It has impressive abstemious ambition.
Yes, there’s a sporting edge here. Yet, in terms of flavour, it’s more mild cheddar than a verge-of-meltdown Stilton. That’s to be expected. The XF, at this level, is the starter kit, even when it’s meted that R-Sport package which, truth be told, hardly made a difference to its athleticism. While sports suspension adds a dynamic edge, everything else – a step to 19-inch wheels, different trim, more aggressive body kit – is simply aesthetic. Pleasing, yes, but not adding to the potency.
What does abet the charge is that the XF in latest form is lighter than its same-sized predecessor. You’re now dealing with a car that, due to an abundance of aluminium in its construction – 75 percent of its construction is alloy, some of it recycled - spans a kerb weight range of 1250kg to 1750kg, and even though the diesel version is at the fatter scale of the scale, this one is still 190kg lighter than its closest old family equivalent.
It’s not outright blazingly fast, of course, but it can cover ground quickly and competently. Old school description of how big British machines used to ‘proceed’ along the road don’t seem inappropriate.
The previous four-cylinder diesel, a 2.2-litre, was considered by many to have the best chassis balance. The test car being the only new-gen XF I have driven, I cannot say if that is still the case, however this model’s chassis tuning is excellent. It maintains a lovely blend of composed road holding and comfortable ride, which is surely what a Jaguar sedan should be all about, while avoiding the surface-induced harshness that often comes with German cars of the same calibre. All in all it exudes a ‘driver’s car’ confidence while maintaining a defined luxury feel. Not something easily achieved and very much a feat worth celebrating.
The XF’s dynamic brilliance at entry level suggests the true performance editions yet to show could be absolute stunners as driver’s cars. It’s also comfortable and quite well-kitted, too, and while the engine’s slightly noisy nature is disappointing; its punch and parsimony could hardly be considered annoying. It’s a good car. And, sure as eggs, the F-Pace with this powerplant is going to be a much stronger seller.