The 5 Series, E-Class and A6 get all the plaudits, and for good reason. They are great to drive and pack loads of tech. You can’t beat the Germans – BMW, Mercedes and Audi have been dominating the mid-size luxury saloon segment for decades – but you can certainly join them at the top of the tree, and that’s what Jaguar is aiming to do with this latest XF S. It’s lighter, faster and packed with kit. But is that enough?
Let’s start with the coupé-like exterior, which melds classy styling with muscular intent. Jaguar’s Ian Callum says it’s the ‘best-looking car in its class’. But then again, he would – he designed it. To me, it’s just a bigger XE, but the devil is in the detail. There’s no doubt this is a handsome car, with a long bonnet, deep power bulge and short front overhangs, marking this model as a prestigious sports saloon that stands out.
Its aluminium-intensive architecture enables weight savings of up to 190kg and, along with an increase in torsional stiffness of up to 28 per cent, this has done wonders for the XF S’s dynamics, with the double wishbone front suspension and integral link rear playing its part too. It also benefits from a very low aerodynamic drag (from 0.29 to 0.26 – the apertures in the front bumper that channel air over the front wheels really help), and has a near-50/50 weight distribution. All of this has been key to the way it performs and handles, which in a word, is superb. Boasting a 51mm longer wheelbase than before, it features a roomier cabin (rear seat space is class-leading) with a wonderful mixture of luxury materials (the fluted Windsor leather seats are ever-so-stylish and comfortable) and loads of high-tech whizzbangery.
The 12.3in TFT instrument cluster is particularly impressive and can be configured in multiple ways, as is the laser Head-up Display, the InControl Touch Pro premium 10.2in infotainment system, and the crystal-clear 17-speaker 825 Watt Meridian digital surround sound system. It also features advanced driver assistance systems such as lane-keep assist, driver condition monitoring, autonomous emergency braking and bay- and parallel-park assist.
That’s all fine, but the highlight is still the rotary shift controller that rises up from the centre console and looks as majestic as ever but it’s been painted a lovely shade of red, as have the paddle shifters on the steering. This doesn’t just finish off the interior really well, but it also hints at the model’s sporting ambitions. The power bulge on the long aluminium bonnet isn’t just for show, it’s hiding a 380-horsepower 3.0-litre supercharged V6 and it loves being pressed into action. Floor the throttle and you get effortless acceleration. The response is smooth and linear but accompanying the shove in the back isn’t the best soundtrack. The exhaust is somewhat muted and perhaps more of a roar would serve as a reminder that this model has 40 horses more than the previous one.
The free-revving all-aluminium V6 combines supercharging with direct-injection and variable intake and exhaust valve timing that enthusiasts will appreciate because this is a heck of a motor. Mated to an eight-speed automatic that sends all of the grunt to the rear wheels, the XF S can hit 100kph from rest in 5.3 seconds and given a long enough road it’ll touch 250kph. Sadly, there isn’t a V8 in the range, but that could change; the SVR team will no doubt get their hands on this model and shove that supercharged 5.0-litre into the bay and that’ll be a welcome addition. Even though you’re not left wanting with this V6, more is always better.
And hopefully, it’ll have a more raucous exhaust note too. Yes, this is a suave and sophisticated car, but a little more swagger wouldn’t hurt. The gearbox shifts the cogs seamlessly and when you engage Dynamic mode the changes are far more aggressive and purposeful and transform this saloon’s character for the better. Not that cruising around in Normal mode isn’t an enjoyable affair; with the chassis soaking up all the road imperfections and wheeling the big Jag with nothing more than your little finger, it’s an ever so relaxing experience. But when you fancy a more spirited ride, it sure delivers.
Again, it’s the light and rigid aluminium intensive architecture that plays a pivotal role in making the XF S fun to drive both quickly and leisurely. Even when you begin to manhandle it (with 450Nm of torque at your disposal, you will manhandle it...), it remains composed, unfussed and is never unpleasant. Yes, there is some body roll when you push it too hard in the corners and you should expect that – this isn’t the F-Type, remember, but for a hefty saloon it more than handles the rough treatment. Turn-in is direct (it offers lots feedback through the electric steering) and it feels nicely balanced through the bends. The reduced weight and stiffer body have certainly paid dividends.
It doesn’t look drastically different from the previous model and the V6 is a carry-over. This XF S might not topple the more established Germans but it feels right at home sitting at the top of the list with them.