Sunday, December 25, 2011

Less is more for new Jaguar XF diesel

A new diesel engine and a facelift give Jaguar’s XF fresh appeal, says Andy Russell.

Downsizing is very much the name of the game with more and more motorists going for quality rather than quantity.

And that’s just what Jaguar has done with its facelifted XF saloon which also sees the introduction of a new entry-level engine which makes it the most efficient model from the prestige British brand.

The 2.2-litre turbo diesel, also used in the new Range Rover Evoque and Land Rover Freelander, is the only four-cylinder engine in the Jaguar line-up and brings big gains in economy and emissions to the XF line-up. Equally important, especially since the popular entry X-Type model was dropped, it helps put the XF into more people’s price range with the smaller diesel £3,000 less than equivalent 3.0-litre V6 models while a new lead-in 2.2D SE model is £6,000 cheaper at just under £31,000 – and that makes the XF even more attractive.

The good news is that with no telltale badging it’s not obvious what lies beneath the bonnet – the only clue I could spot was a single exhaust pipe rather one each side on the V6 diesels and V8 petrol.

And the new engine makes a lot of sense.

Four cylinders rather than six means the new engine is not quite as smooth as the V6 but it’s still well refined and particularly quiet on the move, even under hard acceleration, thanks to extra sound-proofing on the new models.

But with 190PS on tap it has enough get-up-and-go for most drivers, without having to work it excessively hard, for safe and simple overtaking.

The new XF sees the launch of a new automatic transmission with eight gears instead of six for diesel models. Super slick, you barely notice the shifts whether going up and down the box and it kicks down readily or you can have some fun with the paddle shifts behind the steering wheel. But with seventh and eight gears being tall ‘overdrives’, between 60 and 70mph the gearbox can keep popping between ratios with the slightest pressure on the accelerator.

I had also expected particularly strong economy with the smaller engine, complete with automatic stop-start system, and eight-speed gearbox but was rather disappointed to consistently get 39-40mpg in everyday driving and never saw more than 44mpg even with a decent motorway run – well short of the combined figure of 52mpg but as a friend pointed out it was still a big step up over his 3.0-litre V6 S turbo diesel. That said, it’s disappointing compared to my experience of German rivals with similar-sized engines.

What won’t disappoint though is the way the XF drives. Even with the smaller, less powerful engine it is both hugely entertaining and luxurious, able to waft along motorways and fast A-roads with barely a swish from the big tyres as it soaks up bumps and lumps and remains composed over undulating dips and crests. At low speeds the firm ride is more noticeable, but while more sensitive to poor surfaces it never becomes unpleasant or uncomfortable. When it comes to handling, the XF is a delight to drive, flowing through a series of twists and turn with first-rate body control, sure-footed grip and precise, communicative steering.

It’s hard to believe that the XF, the car that took Jaguar design in a totally different direction, bringing it into the 21st century, has been around long enough to need a mid-life makeover and a few nips and tucks to continue looking fresh and exciting alongside newer German rivals.

That said, unless you know what you are looking for it’s hard to spot the difference. For the record, the revised XF is brought into line with the new XJ with an all-new front featuring slim headlights with distinctive LED lighting strips, a larger more upright grille, lower bonnet line with a wider power bulge and tweaked lower bumper. Subtle new vents are mounted in the front wings while the redesigned tail lamps feature LED lighting and extend further into the boot lid.

There has also been a mild makeover inside with fresh trim, more supportive seats, restyled steering wheels and revised switches for the ventilation system and new control screens. Beautifully trimmed and finished, it’s as classy as ever – switch it on and the air vents swivel open in the swathe of sporty metallic trim and the rotary gear selector knob rises out of the centre console. It never fails to impress, unlike the touch-screen controls for audio, climate and satellite-navigation which I had just about got to grips with by the time the car went back but my biggest gripe was the rather nasty-looking clock built into the driver information system. With electric adjustment for both the seat and steering wheel you can get the driving position spot-on no matter how big or small you are

Jaguar may call its XF a compact saloon but there’s no shortage of space for four adults with good legroom in the back although really tall passengers might find headroom on the tight side with the sloping roof. It is also unfortunate that a middle passenger in the back has to put up with a high transmission tunnel.

The 500-litre boot has good access and goes back a long way but it slopes up slightly and narrows at the back. Folding rear seat backs are optional but not fitted to my test car.

As well as the traditional Luxury, Premium Luxury and range-topping Portfolio trim levels, the 2.2D is also offered in new entry SE trim which sacrifices none of Jaguar’s tasteful class and creature comforts.

The XF has always been a superb saloon, the new model is the best of British and a case of less is more with the new smaller diesel engine the pick of the bunch if you are going to buy with your head as well as your heart.

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