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The automotive world didn't know it at the time, but Jaguar's XF kicked off an ambitious revolution for the British brand upon its 2007 debut. Not only was the radically new sedan the first Leaping Cat wholly conceived under designer Ian Callum's leadership, its execution served notice that the marque was no longer content to trade on past glories.
Mercifully, the XF also happened to be a darn good car.
Today, Jaguar has transformed its product range more completely and comprehensively than any other auto maker over the same period, integrating not only a vastly different styling language, but also fresh chassis technologies, new engines and entirely new model lines with a renewed emphasis on performance. Today, Jag is the only mainstream automaker to field an entire lineup of vehicles with aluminum-intensive chassis.
So it's with a sense of occasion and trepidation that I approached this second-generation model. "Trepidation," because I was present at the launch of the outgoing XF, and that car provided one of the most memorable drives of my life. Would this new generation live up to the original that cradled me so speedily and confidently along Monaco and Nice's coast all those years ago? My drive of the 2016 XF would take place along different winding European roads, this time in the Basque region of northern Spain, including time on Circuito de Navarra, a challenging FIA-approved race track.
Let's get this out of the way right now: Despite similar outward appearances, there is next to nothing that carries over from the departing model. The second-generation XF sits atop a new aluminum-intensive architecture with its own dimensions, including a longer wheelbase (+51mm), shorter overall length (-7mm), and a lower overall height (-3mm). Yet to the naked eye, this new XF reads very much like the old one. That's good news in my book, because the first-generation car was always attractive -- particularly after its midcycle facelift addressed those unnecessarily bulgy light fixtures.
The 2016 XF looks even more aggressive, thanks to its proudly upright grille and available LED lighting, whose detailed innards give the appearance of vestigial twin-element headlamps. This is a decisively styled car, particularly in S spec, where massive outboard air intakes and a blacked-out center inlet serve to underscore the four-door's performance potential. The tail is also clean work, with horizontal, double-dip tail lamps echoing those of the F-Type sports car and smaller XE sedan.
This XF is a tech-rich proposition right down to its lightweight bones. The new chassis is 75 percent aluminum, and despite being longer overall, it's 28 percent stiffer and 11 percent lighter than its predecessor. It's also more aerodynamic, with a coefficient of drag of just .26 on some models, all of which helps it improve fuel efficiency by around 9 percent. Jaguar says rear-drive 2016s are 132 pounds lighter than comparably equipped 2015 models, and the all-wheel drive model has shaved a whopping 265 pounds versus the outgoing car.
Launching in North America this fall, the XF will come with a standard eight-speed ZF automatic and the buyer's choice of two supercharged engines -- essentially the same 3.0-liter V-6 engines in different states of tune, delivering either 340 horsepower or 380 hp, both with 332 pound-feet of torque. For the latter, 0 to 60 mph comes up in a quick 5.1 seconds en route to a limited top speed of 155 mph. While complete fuel-economy ratings haven't been released yet, Jaguar promises 30 miles per gallon will be possible.
For the mpg-obsessed luxury buyer, an all-new 2.0-liter turbo diesel from Jaguar's self-developed Ingenium family will follow soon thereafter, and I wouldn't be surprised to see a turbocharged four-cylinder gas offering later in the model's life.
If there was a particular area where the old model showed its age, it's inside, where the XF had fallen well behind rivals in terms of infotainment options. That's been comprehensively -- but not quite completely -- addressed. The touchscreen-based InControl Touch system on the old XF wasn't terribly good when it debuted back in 2007, and despite several updates, it still isn't a top-notch base unit in this new car. It's much quicker than the original, laggy, bug-prone system and features improved graphics and response times, but if you're expecting a cutting-edge setup, this 8-inch screen is likely to remain a portal to disappointment.
Fortunately, help is on the way in the form of InControl Touch Pro, an all-new, from-scratch architecture that leverages a crisp and responsive 10.2-inch touchscreen with tablet-like pinch and swipe controls. Powered by a quad-core Intel chip set and backed up by a 60-gig solid-state drive, ITP integrates everything from navigation and audio controls to advanced vehicle settings, functioning in concert with a 12.3-inch TFT virtual instrument cluster and optional full-color laser head-up display.
Want your turn-by-turn guidance displayed both on the HUD and in the cluster? ITP will happily oblige, leaving the center stack screen to fiddle with other things, like checking on nearby fuel prices, perusing one's apps, poking around on the Internet (but only while stationary), or reorganizing the home screen, which is made up of user-defined tiles (think: Windows 8) for frequently accessed functions. The nav system looks to be particularly good work, as it not only includes Google Street View-like destination imagery, it can also create a comprehensive route plan incorporating public transit.
InControl Touch Pro will be a $3,100 option as part of a tech package that also includes an 825-watt Meridian audio system and the aforementioned TFT virtual instrument cluster. Unfortunately, it won't be available at launch -- you'll have to wait until the middle of the 2016 model year to get it. The new setup also won't come with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is a disappointing omission in an all-new architecture. However, Jaguar officials insist they won't have to reengineer the whole works to accommodate these technologies, so it probably won't be more than a year or so before these features become available. For the moment, I'll need more time in order to assess just how good ITP is, but it makes a very positive first impression and I can't imagine not waiting for its availability.
The rest of the XF's cabin makes a strong initial impression, too, with well-chosen materials and a surprisingly racy-feeling leather-wrapped steering wheel that's small in diameter and thick in all the right places. Jaguar's so-called "Riva ring," a 360-degree trim band that runs along the door panels and around the dashboard and rear parcel shelf is reprised here to good effect. Inspired by the decks of old wooden speedboats, it's a beautifully rendered design element that not only highlights the thin, low dashboard (emphasizing the car's outward visibility in the process), it links the cabin with other Jaguar sedans including the big-daddy XJ and the forthcoming XE compact sport sedan.
While the jury is still out on the XF's infotainment, my first drive points to a chassis that acquits itself brilliantly both over road and track. Like its XE kid brother, the XF will have a genuine shot at being the most engaging and best-handling car in its class, with quick turn-in and a surprising amount of feel furnished by its electric power steering system and nicely damped handling from its F-Type-derived front double-wishbone and rear integral-link suspension. Braking is excellent, too, with good pedal feel and strong initial bite.
I tested the available all-wheel-drive system on a soaking-wet autocross course, and it was possible to scrabble around corners far more quickly than most drivers will ever have the nerve for. The preferred method is to simply daub the brakes on entry to set the nose of the car, carve toward the apex, and then squeeze the throttle significantly earlier than one might expect. Doing so avoids understeer and coaxes the system into pulling the car through the corner, occasionally hanging the tail out a bit in entertaining but controllable fashion. Under these circumstances, it was possible to actually feel the front tires pawing for grip and tightening their line, with torque vectoring by braking chipping in to avoid wrinkled sheet metal.
Under normal conditions, even when driven hard, the all-wheel-drive hardware functions so naturally as to be all but invisible, with steering feel largely preserved. In fact, on the dry and wonderful Circuito de Navarra, a nearly 2.5-mile-long road course, the top-engined 380-hp XF S AWD behaved like a rear-drive car, just as you'd hope it would.
Speaking of rear-wheel drive, my gloriously circuitous, hours-long drive from Navarra back through the Basque's ancient farmlands and along mountain passes took place in a rear-drive S. Simply put, the XF fairly radiated that it's a confidence-inspiring sport sedan on both road and track. The paddle shifters are responsive (but largely unnecessary, as the transmission's brain is smarter than the driver), and the XF even rides well on 255/35 R20 Continental ContisportContact 5P watchstrap rubber, at least when fitted with the S' adaptive damping setup.
If there's a part of the XF's dynamics that disappoints, it's not in its physical responses, it's purely audible -- the V-6 and meek-looking twin exhausts are just too quiet and undistinguished. That's fine for commuting and swanning around between valet stands, but it can be disappointing when uncorking the car's capabilities on a winding road or at the track. The powertrain's soundtrack is so hushed that it had me pawing around on the center console for an active exhaust button (as on the magnificently thunderous F-Type). Jaguar's inevitable harder-core XF RS will undoubtedly make a more vocal entrance, but I can't help thinking that even the S model should sound better than the equivalent Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz, and it just...doesn't.
Of course, the real wild card when it comes to cross-shopping the XF against rivals like the A6 , 5 Series and E-Class probably won't be engine sonics, miles per gallon, aesthetics or luxury appointments. It probably won't even be MSRP, as Jaguar has repriced the XF competitively as part of a new initiative to attack the heart of the luxury market segment by segment. (The 340-hp 2016 XF starts at $51,900, while the 380-hp S with its higher equipment levels commands $62,700). The holdup is likely to be Jag's lingering perception of weaker-than-average reliability and higher running costs, both of which negatively impact the residual values that establish lease rates. (Leasing is traditionally significantly more common than purchasing in the luxury car market, so this is a really big deal).
For 2016, Jaguar is also bundling options into packages to simplify build combinations and dealer stock while lowering costs, a move that has helped it drop MSRPs lineup-wide while increasing standard equipment. That doesn't mean there won't be options, of course. Additional-cost features will include lane-keep assist, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and semi-automated parking.
Jaguar executives admit they are painfully aware of their quality and value perception gaps, and as part of launching its 2016 lineup, the automaker is massively beefing up its warranty and free maintenance programs. Dubbed EliteCare, the new warranty will cover five years or 60,000 miles, as well as the same amount of scheduled maintenance (a year longer and 10,000 miles more than BMW and Mercedes). Better still, it's transferable to a second owner.
As Joe Eberhardt, the company's North America CEO and president, is fond of saying, Jaguar "wants to give you a rational permission slip to buy a car you love."
That's a nice notion, and at first blush, Jaguar seems to have succeeded at doing exactly that with its new XF.
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