When Jaguar launched the XE, it brought London to a standstill. It was helicoptered over the Thames, chased by a flotilla of speedboats, then escorted through the city by classic Mark II Jaguar police cars. Arriving at a celeb-packed Earls Court, it was serenaded by pop princess Emeli Sande, who performed a new song written in its honour.
By contrast, the launch of the second-generation XF, the XE’s big brother, was a decidedly low-key affair. No Bond-style stunts, no Stella McCartney, no Kaiser Chiefs. Not even Gary Lineker. Just a flight to Spain to drive on mountain roads near Pamplona, plus some track-time to test its limits in safety.
Fortunately, Jaguar’s luxury saloon doesn’t need star-studded endorsements. Squat and muscular, with a sweeping, coupe-like roofline, it’s the automotive equivalent of a big cat (yes, a jaguar). The Audi A6 and Mercedes E-class are tabbies by comparison.
Buyers can pick from two 2.0 diesels with 163hp or 180hp, a 300hp 3.0 V6 diesel or a 380hp 3.0 V6 petrol engine. The 163hp diesel ekes out 70.6mpg and 104g/km CO2 (£20 annual car tax at 2015 rates). At the other end of the scale, the V6 XF S storms to 60mph in just 5.1 seconds and returns a modest 34mpg.
Naturally, I chose the latter to tackle Spain’s tortuously twisty Circuit de Navarra. Exiting the pitlane, I planted the throttle and the car surged forward, the supercharger whining as the Jaguar nudged 100mph. Braking for turn one, the XF turned eagerly, with plenty of feedback through the chunky three-spoke steering wheel.
Confidence building, I pushed harder and felt the torque vectoring system subtly braking the inside wheels to really tramline the car around tight corners. Optional adaptive dampers also helped keep things settled (including my stomach) as we swerved through Navarra’s chicanes. It’s addictive stuff, but a long way from the reality of actual roads.
As you’ve probably guessed, the XF isn’t like the wafty Jaguars of old. The original marked a shift from softness to sportiness as Jaguar tried to shake off its old man image – and the new car is cut from the same Lycra. As such, its ride is on the firm side, although the 20in alloys of my R-Sport test car probably didn’t help.
I love the petrol V6, but the punchy 3.0 diesel feels just as fast in everyday driving and is a more sensible way to spend £50,000. The 2.0 diesel is a gem, too – smooth, refined and impressively efficient.
A low seating position and wide centre console make you feel cocooned inside the car, while rear-seat passengers enjoy significant space. Most XFs have conventional dials, but a 12.3in virtual display is available, in conjunction with the new InControl Touch Pro media system. It’s bold, bright and very user-friendly, with iPad-style swipe and pinch-to-zoom functionality on the huge central touchscreen (there’s no word on how much it will cost yet).
Jaguar has followed the German brands’ lead and relegated many desirable features to the options list. LED headlights, a laser head-up display, adaptive cruise control and a ground-shaking 17-speaker sound system are all available, if your pockets are deep enough.
From frugal diesels to the fire-breathing V6 petrol, the XF has got most bases covered. That said, if you’re looking for the last word in luxury, you’ll be better served by a Mercedes E-class. The new XF is unashamedly a sports saloon, with a chassis that matches the best BMW can muster.
If you’re looking for a car with charisma and speed, character and a good head on its shoulders – if you’re a purist who also needs a dose of practicality – look no further.
Tim Pitt works for motoringresearch.com.