When it broke cover in 2007, the XF was a momentous car, a milestone for Jaguar. The Coventry carmaker had for decades been stuck with a woefully outdated design ethos anchored in its XJ6-era tradition. It came at a time when a brand-new Jaguar driven straight out of a showroom could have been mistaken for a saloon from the Sixties.
While skilfully retaining a few aesthetic tenets from bygone years, Ian Callum and his team drew up a thoroughly refreshing design for the XF that went on to form the foundation on which today’s Jaguar models, including the F-Type, the flagship XJ, the sporty XE and the upcoming F-Pace, have been built. Finally, here was a Jaguar saloon that looked and handled like no other.
So, the all-new second-generation XF is Jaguar’s difficult second album. One look at the 2016 XF, and you see the designers crumbled under the weight of expectation and failed. The result is a Jag that looks like any other, and more lamentably, is indistinguishable from its predecessor. Well, nearly.
There are, of course, tweaks, like a more upright grille, LED daytime running lights in the signature J-Blade shape, a bulge on the bonnet, and F-Type-inspired double-roundel tail lights. But these are just mild enough to qualify as a facelift rather than an all-new model. Though, to be fair, it is disappointing only when you judge it as a successor to a landmark car. As a stand-alone saloon, this XF is still a graceful, subtly aggressive-looking car.
And it would be prejudicial to jump to conclusions by just looking at the car, as what’s underneath is in fact all new. Jaguar has ditched the Ford-era underpinnings of the first-gen XF in favour of the brand’s aluminium-intensive architecture that debuted in the smaller XE – up to 75 per cent of the XF’s chassis is said to be made of aluminium, which results in it being 190kg lighter than the previous model.
Meanwhile, torsional rigidity has been increased by up to 28 per cent. The body sides are stamped from a single sheet of high-strength alloy, and weigh less than 6kg. Jaguar has also incorporated high-strength steel into the construction, such as in the rear longitudinal members and the B-pillar reinforcements, to bolster safety and stability of the passenger cell.
The cabin has been revamped, too, and seems to have been inspired by the XJ’s. The signature handshake from the rotary gear selector still welcomes you as you settle down into the driver’s seat, which is comfortable and supportive. The new car’s longer wheelbase has freed up rear legroom by 15mm, and knee room by 24mm. Headroom is also up by 27mm compared to the previous model, making the XF’s cabin a much more comfortable and welcoming place to be in than before.
The instrument cluster is digital, with a 12.3in full-TFT display behind the steering wheel, while a 10.2in touchscreen acts as the infotainment system’s interface. The overall quality of plastics and leather used in the interior is markedly better than earlier, with the 10-colour ambient lighting and the four-zone climate control adding to the overall atmosphere of luxury. What we have here is the one with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder in the engine bay. The four-pot’s output isn’t something that justifies that power bulge on the bonnet, with 237bhp and 340Nm of torque going to the rear wheels through an eight-speed ZF automatic. In Normal mode, there’s noticeable turbo lag at start, and there’s a muted diesel-like clatter at low revs.
But at highway speeds, it becomes quiet and smooth. Flick it into Sport mode, and the turbo mill builds up pace without any initial hesitation and the eight-speed auto shifts quickly and seamlessly, although it’s even more fun changing the gears yourself with the steering-mounted paddles.
The electric power steering is progressively weighted, precise and sharp in its response, even in Normal settings. It represents a massive improvement over the previous XF’s steering system, and is arguably one of the best in class.
The same holds true of the handling. The 50:50 weight distribution and the double-wishbone front and Integral Link rear suspension systems help in imparting sublime dynamics and uncanny composure when thrown into corners at speed. It’s remarkably tenacious in its grip, and thanks to the adaptive damping system that monitors body movement 100 times a second and wheel movement 500 times a second, a wonderful balance is struck between agility and refinement. The ride quality is also second to none in the segment, with nearly no wind or road noise seeping in on the move.
If the first-generation XF was a design tour de force, the second generation is a let-down in that regard. However, the engineers have taken handling and ride characteristics to a new high, creating a thoroughly modern saloon that succeeds to a great extent in converting a host of electronically controlled events into a granular, mechanical experience for the driver. A brilliant sequel that doesn’t look like one.