Jaguar XF 4.2 V8 Premium Luxury

words - Ken Gratton
It's impressive and appealing, but will history be kind to Jaguar's XF V8?

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Road Test - Jaguar XF 4.2 V8 Premium Luxury

RRP: $134,830
Price as tested: $142,555
(includes Adaptive cruise control $5825, Rich oak $315, Jaguar Voice $1585)
Crash rating: TBA
Fuel: 95 RON PULP
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 11.1
CO2 emissions (g/km): 264
Also consider: Mercedes-Benz CLS 350 (more here), Lexus GS 460

Overall rating: 3.0/5.0
Engine/Drivetrain/Chassis: 3.0/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 3.0/5.0
Safety: 3.5/5.0
Behind the wheel: 3.5/5.0
X-factor: 3.0/5.0

About our ratings

The replacement for Jaguar's S-Type is the XF, a car that couldn't come soon enough, since it marks a new phase of Jaguar's history. That phase is one in which the British carmaker returns to its roots, styling cars to look leading-edge, rather than trading on past glories.

If the XF is a little fussy around the front and retains a grille that would look equally at home on an SS100 (from the years when Jaguar traded as 'Swallow Sidecars'), at least the rest of the car owes nothing else to any previous model from the former Jaguar facility at Browns Lane.

There are some subtler hints from this car that it is the latest of a long line of luxurious and sporting sedans from Jaguar. Significant, but not excessive chrome highlights embellish the car at the front, on the front quarter panels, around the side windows and at the rear.

Inside, the car seems like it was designed by a stylist who used to create cigarette lighters for Dunhill. There's lots of dimpled, soft metal finish, fine charcoal leather for the dash, titanium-look plastic, chrome and dark woodgrain. Flashiness and modernity spring from the blue back-lit scuff plates and the blue recessed lighting that illuminates the driver's and front passenger's armrests where the door handles and window switches are located.

Passengers may or may not notice the large, colour LCD for entertainment and information, or the rotating vents that flip open automatically when the vehicle is started, or the start button that pulses like a heart beat prior to the engine being started. It's all about design meets marketing for a real 'surprise and delight' factor.

The gear shift for the six-speed ZF automatic transmission is a polished aluminium dial that rises out of the centre console on start-up. Speaking frankly, this is just brilliant. It works fast, it's foolproof, it fits in with the style of the cabin and if it doesn't set a standard of sorts for gear-shift controls from this point forward, there's something wrong with the world.

From the driver's position, the instruments are well sized and placed for best viewing through the steering wheel rim. They're also simple to read, with clear calibrations, large graphics and light-on-dark dials, lit by the seemingly ubiquitous blue illumination -- which is easy on the eye.

It was curious to note that the needles for both the speedometer and tacho 'pulsed' at a steady speed. At 100km/h, the speedo needle would continuously flick up and down in 1km/h increments. It wasn't distracting, and was probably an electronic system constantly monitoring systems, but how very like a Mk II Cortina!

There are two positions for the seat memory settings and they're easy to find, below the driver's right armrest, not on the seat. Jaguar plainly considers three-position memory is overkill. Perhaps that's right...

The whole effect of the interior, sadly, was let down by the seats in the test vehicle. A cream-coloured leather, with perforations in the centre section, they looked like vinyl and could have been lifted from Grandad's Valiant. Even sadder, the seats weren't much chop at supporting occupants or holding them in place during cornering, proving flat and not especially comfortable.

So the issue with the seats was a combination of style and function gone awry, rather than any concern over quality. In fact, there were no serious qualms about the quality of the interior as such, although the indicator and wiper stalks seemed a bit cheap and flimsy.

If there's one area in which the XF has something in common with the old S-Type, it's headroom, which is plentiful in the front. Unfortunately, if you're a taller adult (180cm or more) the rear is what you might call adequate only. Legroom is not bad and kneeroom no problem at all, but while you can place your feet under the front seat, there's not much room to stretch out in the back if the front-seat occupant needs the seat further back.

The boot space compensates for the slightly reduced rear-seat legroom -- the boot is shallow but runs a long way forward.

In fact, a lot of people will find it hard reaching the rear seat through the boot, even with arms outstretched. Jaguar has run the boot lining very close along the sides of the boot, so while it's not angular along the sides, the boot as a whole will accommodate a lot of less bulky items, by volume. The lining extends to inside the boot lid and there's a recessed hand grip to the right, to haul the lid down. Gas struts take all the effort out of raising and lowering the lid.

The XF is slightly larger in all external dimensions than the latest Falcon and bigger again than the E-Class Mercedes.

And that's curious, because the XF doesn't feel (or look) big. Certainly Jaguar would have aimed for an interior that feels a bit cosy, but even externally, the XF is quite easy to park, for example.

Jaguar engineers and designers are to be praised for the XF's parking aid system (with sensors at the front as well as the rear), the tilt-down passenger-side mirror and the reversing camera. It's surprising how relatively easy it is to park the XF in a spot that could be quite tight for a mid-size car.

Sure, lots of cars have acoustic parking aids and reversing cameras, but the Jaguar's system, as with much of the ergonomic design for the car, is quite outstanding for ease of use.

The other areas that are ergonomically outstanding include Jaguar's version of iDrive, MMI and Comand -- except Jaguar's system works well. Unlike some of its German competitors, it's highly intuitive to use and doesn't demand the driver take eyes off the road for an extended period.

It doesn't have anything like BMW's level of redundancy in the new iDrive system fitted to the 5 Series, but the Jaguar doesn't need that.

Jaguar has set up the system in the XF so that you can program default pages in the system, meaning you could configure it to remain on the audio selection page if you're inclined to channel-surf, but not likely to change the climate control settings, once you've set them up the way you want.

Of course, responsibility for adjusting the climate control or the audio will often rest on the shoulders of the front-seat occupant, who will also likely be the person to load up the three cupholders in the centre console following a visit to Maccas (Yes, we know it's a Jaguar, but it is a Jaguar for the American market, after all). All three, which are concealed beneath flip-open lids, are differing sizes, which is a great idea. Furthermore, it's pleasing to see that they're well away from the driver.

Best not to bother the driver with the whole vexed question of what to do with drinks, as the driver may be fully occupied with the paddle shifters for the transmission. Located behind the wheel (downshift on the left, upshift on the right), the paddles turn with the steering column. It's personal taste but this tester would prefer they stay where they're put - ie: fixed to the steering column.

There's no other way of shifting sequentially in the XF. A lot of other cars that provide sequential shifting with paddles, also provide the same facility through the lever -- but the XF doesn't have a conventional lever.

In addition to the paddle shifters, the driver can also remotely access audio and cruise control switchgear at the steering wheel. It must be said, these work quite well, with the audio volume (on the left spoke) and the cruise speed setting (on the right) both featuring knobs that work like toggles. Instead of just turning and turning, the knob is turned up or down until it reaches a stop. If you want more/less volume or more/less road speed, you just hold the knob against the stop until you're there. It's easy, intuitive and fast.

At open road speeds, the XF was extremely quiet. There was a bit of wind rustle and that was about it. The tyres were silent even on coarse bitumen and the engine was only heard when accelerating or on start-up, when it would literally growl like a big cat. It's one of the best sounding engines you'll ever hear; refined, subdued, but purposeful. Otherwise, at a steady speed from idle up to 3500rpm or thereabouts, it just cannot be heard.

At 4.2 litres, the engine struggles a little with the weight and gearing of the XF. Despite being an undersquare engine, it needs to wind up a bit of speed for its performance. The torque (411Nm at 4100rpm) is there, but it's not immediately on tap.

Jaguar quotes a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 11.1L/100km. During its stay with the Carsales Network, the XF returned a reasonable figure of 12.4L/100km, which includes the usual mix of traffic, cruise and thrash.

The ZF box is very smooth and frankly, provided not a single moment of uncertainty in respect of refinement. It appears to be better matched with this engine than in the Ford G6E Turbo tested recently.

Jaguar has really put the DSC (stability control) and traction control in charge of proceedings, however. Unlike the system Ford uses in the FG Falcon, the XF will not get very far away from you before the electronic nanny brings it all back into line. You can disable it in part, but not fully.

In the wet, the XF feels like it wants to oversteer (and it will, with enough power to the drive wheels), but Jaguar has tuned the steering and front suspension for slower turn-in, so there's less chance of precipitous weight transfer and snap oversteer. At times, significant tyre slip from the front tyres could be felt through the steering on wet bitumen.

When the car does oversteer, as mentioned, the stability control is ready to pull it back into line. Trailing throttle oversteer would be pretty hard to provoke.

The steering improves at higher speeds, but doesn't offer as much feel as the FG Falcon does. Whilst the XF is closer to neutral at higher speeds and is enjoyable to drive over the right stretch of road, it lacks the much cheaper -- and locally designed -- Ford's liveliness in steering and handling.

It also lacks the ride/handling compromise of the Falcon. Spring and damper rates add up to a ride that's generally less compliant than the Falcon's.

Brakes do a very good job of pulling up the XF, and do so without the 'rough edges' often found in performance brake packages. For the most part, the XF will pull up like a limousine (very smoothly up to a halt), but can also just clamp down everything at a moment's notice -- just like Jaguars have always done.

Lights were adequate and the high beams were literally that, casting more power higher and further, rather than lighting up the immediate vicinity ahead of the car brighter as well. The adaptive cornering lights were handy, but tended to offer a limited range away from the road.

In the final analysis of the XF, Jaguar has developed a car that hits the target for ease of use and refinement. It's also safe and provides good packaging for a small family, even down to the three top-tether anchorage points in the rear shelf (an ADR requirement).

As a bonus, the XF gets lots of looks from the public and it stands a good chance of becoming an instant classic the same way the XJ did -- and the S-Type hasn't.

Those are good enough reasons to buy one, with the proviso that we can't look into the future and establish whether the XF will be reliable and easily serviced or whether resale will hold up. In the company Jaguar keeps those issues could make all the difference.


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Published : Thursday, 28 August 2008
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