XF CAR OF THE YEAR 2008
WHATCAR? REVIEW THE NEW JAGUAR XF
January 2008 - Jaguar XF wins Executive Car category
Next to the German giants, with their prolific output, Jaguar is a bit of a cottage industry. So it's all the more impressive when a new Jaguar matches a Mercedes for refinement, a BMW for driving dynamics and an Audi for interior wow factor. That new Jaguar, of course, is the XF.
Step inside, soak up the ambience created by the wood, leather and titanium trim, press the pulsing engine-start button and, hey presto, the facia vents revolve open while the rotary drive selector ascends silently from the centre console. Need more than just theatre? Select drive, set off down the road and immediately it's clear that you're behind the wheel of something very special indeed. Around town, the steering is limo light and the ride, although taut, has a smooth, unflustered quality that belies the ensuing agility as speeds increase.
Most buyers will plump for the 2.7-litre twin-turbo diesel engine on financial grounds - it will return 37.6mpg - but excellent refinement, smooth power delivery and a slick six-speed automatic 'box ensure that it's by no means the poor relation of the line-up.
It's also rather rapid. Sure, it's more grace than pace away from the mark, but as the revs rise so does the XF's appetite for speed. Precision steering, immense grip and wonderful body control make it the perfect companion for a press-on blast across country. Scythe through a series of corners and those dozing in the rear will remain blissfully unaware.
They'll also be extremely comfortable. Although not as commodious as some, the XF isn't compromised in the same way as Jaguars of yesteryear. That rakish roofline impinges slightly on headroom, but there's masses of leg and shoulder space. The 540-litre boot also removes another Jaguar bugbear: a shortage of luggage space. There's even a split-fold rear seat.
The XF doesn't disappoint with its provision of creature comforts, either. Electric windows all round, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and alloy wheels, plus satellite-navigation, 10-way electrically adjustable leather front seats and a heated windscreen are all standard.
Running costs are vital in this sector, and the XF diesel gets within a whisker of the class-leading BMW 5 Series for fuel efficiency. The XF is also set to post the best residual values of any executive car.
CAR OF THE YEAR 2008
From 3985 contenders and 17 class winners, one car blew all competition away - the Jaguar XF
There is one constant when we come to choose our Car of the Year. The winner must have done more than anything else from the past 12 months to move things on. Sometimes progress is modest - hardly surprising given the high standard of most cars today. At other times it is a leap of huge proportions - think Bob Beaman breaking the long-jump record by 21 inches in the 1968 Olympics and you're close.
That's the measure of Jaguar's achievement here. Jaguar is a mere cottage industry alongside German rivals Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz, yet it has created a car to beat the best they can offer, and all against the backdrop of uncertainty over its own future, with divorce from Ford imminent.
What we most admire about the XF is the way it is still very much a Jaguar, but altogether more modern. You are, for example, virtually entombed in wood and leather, but this time it doesn't make you feel time-locked in a bygone era.
The pièce de rèsistance is the choreographed start-up procedure. A rotary gear selector and fresh-air vents emerge from their resting places, to the accompaniment of a pulsing red starter button and the glow of blue mood lighting on the instruments, in the doors and around the controls. This really has the feeling of a concept car become production reality.
Jaguar has also finally shaken off the styling straitjacket it had been wearing since the original XJ, the last car designed by the company's founder, Sir William Lyons. Not everyone will instantly like the XF, but please don't judge it from pictures alone: in the metal, it's a stunner.
Some things, fortunately, do not change. Jaguar has not forgotten that its cars must always be lusciously refined and calmly sporty. The XF more than meets the brief. It out-drives the previously unbeatable BMW 5 Series, which is saying something, but it is also more supple on poor surfaces.
With an eye on running costs we have gone for the 2.7-litre V6 diesel model. It is not, we admit, the most potent or the most frugal and CO2-friendly engine of its ilk, so it makes the XF a little more costly than rivals to own, but it adds to the car's supreme refinement.
Anyway, some things are worth paying that little bit extra for. The glorious XF is one of them.
Audi A6 2.7 TDI S-line auto
List price - 32,150 Target Price - 29,705
A talented and spacious all-rounder. The A6 is a classy contender, yet it's the cheapest car in this group
BMW 525d SE auto
List price - 32,510 Target Price - 29,758
This is the car the XF must beat.
The multi-award-winning 5 Series is swift, economical and refined
Jaguar XF 2.7D V6 Luxury
List price - 33,900 Target Price tbc
It's probably the most eagerly awaited new car of 2008. This test will prove if it's the new champ or an also-ran
Mercedes E220 CDI Elegance auto
List price - 32,772 Target Price - 30,560
For some, the three-pointed star is still a cut above. The E-Class sets the class standards for ride comfort Given the Mercedes engine's smaller capacity, its performance deficit isn't as big as you might expect. Sure, it's well beaten for straight-line speed by the BMW and, yes, when pulling out of junctions or accelerating from roundabouts, its pick-up feels rather laboured. However, in every other respect, the immense mid-range pull means you seldom feel short-changed.
Jaguar has spent years in the doldrums, but the new XF promises a fresh start. Here, at last, is a Jaguar saloon that looks forwards, not backwards, with styling that's as sharp as a Paul Smith suit. Beneath the designer curves, the XF is packed with technology and luxury goodies. However, Jaguar hasn't forgotten its traditional strengths in this leap forward to the 21st century. From our first drive, we know that the XF is beautifully poised.
WHAT ELSE IS IN THE TEST?
To discover just how good the new Jaguar XF really is, we have assembled a who's who of upmarket saloons. The car the XF really needs to beat is the BMW 5 Series, which has picked up every Executive Car of the Year award we've dished out since 2004. The Audi A6, meanwhile, will also give the Jaguar something to think about – it has a quality of finish that's rarely bettered. Last but not least, the Jaguar will have to deal with the Mercedes E-Class, one of the smoothest-riding cars this side of a luxury limousine.
WHAT ARE THEY LIKE TO DRIVE?
Jaguar 4 STARS
Needs to be revved to deliver proper pace.
Creating a level playing field on price, running costs and equipment means that a wide range of engines feature in this test.
The XF and A6 are powered by 2.7-litre V6 diesel engines, while the E-Class is fitted with a 2.2-litre four-cylinder unit. Despite the badge, the 525d has a 3.0-litre six-cylinder engine.
All four have turbochargers to boost their power output, but the XF is alone in having twin turbos. These endow the Jag with 204bhp and 320lb ft of muscular pull, significantly more than the 194bhp and 295lb ft of the 5 Series.
Third place goes to the A6 with 178bhp, while the E-Class lies 10bhp further adrift. However, the Merc's pulling power significantly outguns that of the Audi and even matches the BMW's.
Nonetheless, the BMW is comfortably the fastest car here. Maximum pull arrives at just 1300rpm, which means the 525d picks up and goes from even low revs, with no let-up in its enthusiasm at any point. Bury the throttle and it hits 60mph in just 7.5 seconds, a full second before the next quickest car here, the A6.
When you're cruising and accelerating gently to keep up with motorway traffic, the Audi is almost as flexible as the BMW. A gentle prod of the accelerator is all that's needed to raise the front end and send the A6 galloping past slower traffic. Downshifts are all but unnecessary.
The Jaguar, meanwhile, is 100kg heavier than the BMW and you feel every bit of that extra paunch away from the mark. The XF is further hindered by a slight delay before the turbochargers chime in, which can be a little frustrating. However, once it's up to speed and the engine is breathing deeply, the XF has a genuine thirst for speed.
RIDE AND HANDLING
Jaguar 5 STARS
Excels over a wide range of road surfaces
The XF and 5 Series both feel sharp, but each sacrifices a degree of comfort in the process.
The XF's taut suspension picks up some minor bumps, but the BMW suffers even more because it's fitted with stiff-walled run-flat tyres. Instead of helping to absorb a road's imperfections, these seem to amplify them, so the 525d thuds and shimmies its way across rougher surfaces. It's disconcerting at best. Thankfully, though, both are far more cosseting and extremely stable on the motorway. Again, the XF has the edge on the 525d for comfort.
The A6 is just too firm in S-line trim. It takes little more than a grainy road surface to send an irritating amount of vibration through the sports suspension and into the cabin.
No such criticism could be aimed at the E-Class. Its cushioned set-up copes easily with all manner of surface imperfections and it permits just enough vertical body travel to cosset those inside.
The Mercedes' excellent steering lock is a real boon when parking, but the wheel is very slow to return to centre. Consequently, a good deal of elbow action is required when pulling out of junctions or threading through busy streets.
The XF's steering is fabulously light when trundling around town. Parking is an absolute breeze, too, because the wheel can be spun from lock to lock simply by using just the heel of one hand. Try this in the 5 Series and you'll risk ending up with a friction burn.
Out of town, though, the 5 Series has long reigned supreme: most manufacturers can only dream of producing a car that matches it down a twisty road. Jaguar need dream no more.
Both cars generate masses of grip, but the XF is so eager to turn in to corners and zip from apex to apex that it makes the 525d feel positively clumsy. Much of this is because the 525d's steering is slower but the BMW also suffers more body roll in bends than the XF.
The A6 certainly has tight body control, firm suspension and quick steering, but it's alone here in having front-wheel drive. As a result, it feels quite nose-heavy. It also has a tendency to lose grip earlier than any of its rivals here.
A Mercedes driver, however, might feel a bit daunted at the sight of a twisting, bucking stretch of Tarmac, but there's no need to be.
By adopting a smooth driving style, with progressive braking and acceleration, the E-Class responds with surprising tenacity.
Its soft suspension, slow-witted steering and abundance of body roll don't help, of course, but it's better than you might expect given the cushioned nature of its ride quality.
Jaguar 5 STARS
The smoothest and quietest engine here
Ideally, we'd like all of these cars to be quieter. The Mercedes is far more effective at blocking out road noise than the others. Its engine sounds rather rattly under acceleration but it's relatively smooth and quiet otherwise.
The XF is next best at suppressing suspension thud and it cuts through the air with minimal wind roar. Its engine is also the smoothest and quietest when accelerating, although there is a constant, if muted, hum on a steady throttle.
The BMW's suspension is at its most effective and quietest at motorway speeds, but you'll still need to crank up the stereo to drown out the wind noise from the top of the windscreen.
The Audi is the worst long-distance cruiser here. At speed, it produces lots of wind and tyre roar, which is underscored by a whole gamut of suspension patter. Like the BMW's, its engine lets you know when it's working hard but settles into the background once cruising.