Road test: 2016 Jaguar XF

The second-generation Jag can take on all comers.
The new Jaguar XF is going head-to-head with competitors such as the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6. Courtesy Jaguar
The new Jaguar XF is going head-to-head with competitors such as the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class and Audi A6. Courtesy Jaguar

I have to admit I was somewhat underwhelmed when I first laid eyes on the revamped Jaguar XF at its New York motor show global reveal in April this year. After all, here was a genuinely “all-new” car with cutting-edge aluminium architecture replacing its predecessor’s steel underpinnings, yet visually it seemed little more than a nip-and-tucked version of the oldie.

However, now, in the present day, taking in all the car’s subtle details in real-world conditions – which, in this case, means the roads of Pamplona in northern Spain – my view is changing. Yes, the new XF isn’t a radical departure from its forerunner, but there’s no denying it’s a handsome, well-proportioned and thoroughly contemporary medium-large saloon. In terms of pure aesthetics, I’d give it the nod over a Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and perhaps even Maserati’s slinky Ghibli.

But this isn’t just a beauty contest, and buyers in the keenly contested executive express segment also eye several other attributes. Among these are resale value, rear-seat legroom, cabin ambience, build quality and reliability, along with the obvious performance, handling and cushy ride requirements.

It’s in these areas that the new XF has made the biggest gains. The key here is that it uses as its basis the aluminium-­intensive construction pioneered by the smaller XE, which was launched earlier this year. This alone has helped trim up to 190 kilograms (depending on model variant) from the car’s girth, and enables it to undercut its nearest competitor by 80kg.

Basic physics dictate that when you reduce a car’s weight, it accelerates and stops quicker, as well as gaining greater levels of agility. But this hasn’t just been a kilo-shedding exercise, as the new XF is also slipperier through the air than its predecessor. Its drag coefficient drops from 0.29 to 0.26 (which is as good a figure as you’ll find in this segment), and the front and rear suspension and overall packaging is completely new.

Even though the car is slightly shorter and lower than its predecessor, the new architecture has enabled Jag’s boffins to stretch the wheelbase by 51 millimetres, which is great news if you happen to be one of the rear-seat occupants, because leg, knee and headroom increase by 15mm, 24mm and 27mm respectively. These might not sound like huge gains, but there’s now enough room in the back for anyone up to 1.83 metres (six feet on the old scale), which certainly wasn’t the case in the outgoing model.

There’s also a more airy feel in the cabin because the rear quarter window on each flank now extends into the D-pillar, whereas in the oldie it was integrated in the door. Meanwhile, boot space swells to 540 litres, which means there’s enough room to stash all your family’s luggage for an extended road trip.

The new XF will initially be offered with a choice of two engines (both carry-over units) when it launches in the Middle East next month – a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder with outputs of 237bhp and 340Nm; and a 3.0L supercharged V6 that kicks out 375bhp and 450Nm. Both power trains come equipped with a smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission.

Exact pricing is yet to be confirmed, but Jag ME execs suggest the base model will start at about Dh180,000, with the full bells-and-whistles range-topper costing about Dh260,000, which is highly competitive vis-à-vis the opposition.

Our drive programme at the international media launch comprises a mix of twisty stuff in the Pyrenees mountains, as well as a handful of laps at the Circuito de Navarra. Why put a luxury saloon through its paces on a racetrack? Beats me, but it’s fun anyway, as well as enlightening in terms of showcasing the car’s dynamic prowess.

The points to take away are these: the new double-wishbone front and Integral Link rear suspension have endowed the XF with grip and handling to at least match (if not better) the BMW 5 Series and E-Class, and it’s also up there in terms of refinement with its supple ride and generally silent cruising capability.

The cabin is a pleasant place to be, with the usual Jaguar ­design elements, plus the company’s new InControl Touch Pro infotainment system that combines a new 12.3-inch virtual instrument panel and high-­resolution 10.3-inch dual-view centre screen. The system delivers ­“connected-car functions” as well as a whole suite of smartphone integrations, and is highly customisable.

The new XF has a big job to do for Jaguar, because its predecessor accounted for three out of every four cars sold by the brand globally. That ratio won’t carry forward – as the recently launched XE and upcoming F-Pace crossover will generate significant sales of their own – but this second-gen XF does enough to convince that Jaguar has a very strong contender here.

The newbie lives up to the British marque’s “grace, pace and space” credo, and if it was me doing the buying, I’d seriously consider it over the German opposition, even though the Teutons tend to have stronger residual values.

motoring@thenational.ae

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Published: August 27, 2015 04:00 AM

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