Jaguar's XF isn't the first, second or even the third midsize luxury sport sedan to come to mind when I mull over the segment. Instead, established German entries such as the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6/S6 are the first vehicles I think of, with cars such as the Jag and Lexus GS coming more as afterthoughts.
However, spending a week with a 2017 Jaguar XF S AWD is a pleasant reminder that the sleek British feline comes to the party boasting its own unique personality with athletic performance, elegant styling and a tech-rich cabin capable of giving the German hierarchy fits.
With a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 making a stout 380 horsepower and 332 pound-feet of torque, the S model is the current range-topper in the XF lineup. Jaguar says that with the available all-wheel-drive system, it will hit 60 mph in 5.0 seconds, which is believable after I experience its thrust while rapidly accelerating away from stoplights, and effortlessly merge onto expressways.
Together with the ZF eight-speed automatic transmission, the lively drivetrain delivers near instant response at throttle tip-in, as well as linear power delivery and brisk gear changes when the car is in Dynamic mode. For additional driver involvement, the XF includes steering wheel paddle shifters, but with up- and downshifts so well programmed, I left the car in full automatic for the majority of my driving.
The XF's Jaguar-ness really comes through when you throw the car around. Devouring bends and corners is an absolute thrill. As with all current Jags, the steering feels light, but is remarkably responsive to inputs. Crank the wheel and the front end turns in with immediacy, while there's not much body lean with the adaptive dampers stiffened. Brakes sport firm pedal feedback and plenty of clamping power to scrub off speed before corners and for panic-stopping situations.
My lone wish for the XF's handling is for steering to feature more heft, but other than that its dynamics are on point, making for an engaging dance partner that feels light on its feet. Part of the reason why the XF feels light is because, well, it is lighter than its direct competitors in the all-wheel drive sector. BMW's 540i xDrive sedan is 139 pounds heavier than the Jag, Mercedes-AMG's E43 weighs 265 pounds more, and the Audi S6 carries a staggering 519 pounds of additional mass.
While tight handling has always been a hallmark of the XF, the previous generation model gave up some in the ride quality department. In the latest car, chassis engineers provide the best of both worlds. Punching up the Jag's Comfort setting unlocks more-compliant suspension damping for regular commutes, which I greatly appreciate over the Midwest's rutted and frost heave-littered pavement. Even with low-profile 20-inch Pirelli all-season tires, impacts from road imperfections aren't terribly violent; the cabin isolated me from wind and tire noise.
In a torrential downpour, the all-wheel-drive XF is a grip monster that never feels out of sorts around turns or charging through large puddles, speaking well for the car's inclement weather capabilities.
As for the blown V6 engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox, the punchy pairing isn't half bad on the fuel economy front, considering its EPA rating of 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. That closely aligns with the 540i xDrive's 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway numbers but betters the E43's 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway figures.
Simple and elegant
The XF's sheetmetal is an evolutionary take on the previous car, looking great to my eye every time I walk toward it in a parking lot. Subtle flowing body lines provide a mature appearance, leaving the large front air dams, big wheels and tasteful slathering of gloss-black trim to bring some attitude to the design equation.
For the cabin, the overall appearance is clean and straightforward. Contrasting oyster and black leather jazz up the seating surfaces, while a padded dash topper with contrast stitching, piano black and carbon fiber veneer trim pieces also visually stimulate the environment.
Through quick corners, the front sport seats keep me anchored well during spirited driving, while also keeping me comfortable with support in all the right places during Point A to Point B trips or a slog through a patience-testing traffic jam.
The knock against the XF's interior is that material quality and overall ambience doesn't feel as luxurious as those of its German counterparts. None of the hard plastic surfaces look terrible, but they don't appear or feel befitting of a luxury car carrying a $78,000 as-tested price. While I do appreciate the simplicity of the design, it is sort of a letdown compared to the stylish and welcoming surroundings in a Benz or Audi.
What won't let you down is the Jag's healthy list of technology features. The InControl Touch Pro infotainment interface controls most items through a 10.2-inch central touchscreen that is responsive to inputs, and quickly pages through system menus. Entering navigation destinations and controlling tunes for the great 825-watt Meridian surround-sound system is easy, though some of the screen buttons are still too small, and require pinpoint accuracy.
InControl also offers 3G Wi-Fi connectivity for up to eight devices to keep passengers connected and entertained during commutes.
Thankfully, Jaguar didn't relegate all interior function control to the touchscreen. Climate controls rely on traditional center stack hard buttons, and best of all, stereo volume is still handled by a good old fashion knob.
For those who prefer to bring their smartphone interfaces into the car cabin, at this time the XF's InTouch system isn't set up to run either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Jaguar says both are coming but couldn't provide a time frame for their arrival.
For safety tech, a list of the usual suspects including adaptive cruise control, forward alert with automatic emergency braking and a surround camera system to make sliding into tight parking a cinch are all here in the XF. Among my favorite features remain blind-spot monitor, which is particularly useful in the aforementioned heavy rain storm, and the traffic sign recognition system, providing a handy reminder of speed limits.
Not quite there
With excellent drive dynamics, friendlier road manners, sleek exterior looks and gobs of technology, the 2017 Jaguar XF S makes a compelling case to be considered among the 5 Series, E-Classes and A6s of the world. From a fun-to-drive standpoint, the Jaguar trumps the German trio, but interior design and quality is a major letdown, especially when you consider its hefty $78,375 price tag.
If Jag shores up the XF's cabin with a touch more styling flair and better materials, there's little doubt that it will go from an afterthought in the midsize luxury sport sedan segment to one of the main players.