The 2012 Jaguar XF is a thrilling luxury saloon if class, sophistication, elegance and uniqueness is what you're after.
The entry price into the Jaguar XF range has now dropped to just $78,990 for the new 2.2-litre diesel, which means it can effectively compete with (and beat) the Germans on price.
For the 2012 update, Jaguar has completely redesigned the front, adding new headlights with daytime running lamps (DRLs), a restyled bonnet and new chrome side 'power vents'. The rear also gets new lights, an updated bumper and more chrome highlights.
Looks may be subjective but you'll be hard pressed finding someone that genuinely doesn't think the new Jaguar XF is stunning in appearance. Unlike its German competitors, even when stationary the XF glows with character and soul. The new 'J-Blade' DRLs add a whole new look to the front, illuminating the headlight structure with a unique style. It's the type of timeless car design that you love from the moment you see it. It's a sign of what's to come from the British brand under the design direction of Ian Callum.
Speaking of things to come, Jaguar is on a resurgence like we've never seen before. The company grew 21 per cent in 2010 and shows no signs of slowing down. Together with sister company Land Rover, the duo has embarked on an enormous mission to launch 40 new models in the next five years.
To celebrate the launch of the updated XF, Jaguar brought the motoring media from around the globe to Munich in Germany, where we embarked on a two-day drive through cities, little towns and alpine-style mountainous roads, with a rather brief visit to Austria included.
For a British brand to launch an update to its most popular model deep in the heartland of its major rivals is a bold statement of intent. In fact, Munich airport, which is covered in more Audi and BMW livery than you could count, was used as a base for the launch. Whichever way you look at it, it was Jaguar's way of telling the media that it was not afraid of the Germans. That it could match them in quality, performance, efficiency and reliability.
Many might not know it, but Jaguar is the third best ranked brand by the most trusted dependability survey (J.D. Power) in the world. Easily ahead of its German riavls. It's fair to say that the brand's past reliability issues may still linger in the minds of some, but the Jaguar of today is not the Jaguar of old. It still carries with it a British heart and soul, but has refined its manufacturing processes to be world-class.
I know what you're thinking, "British heart?" Well yes, indeed. Despite being owned by India's Tata Motors, Jaguar still designs, engineers and builds its cars in the UK. In fact, all that Tata wants from Jaguar is to be successful, hence the team is mostly left to execute its business plan as envisioned. Having far more freedom than the days of Ford ownership.
To begin the drive, I jumped behind the wheel of an entry-model Jaguar XF 2.2-litre diesel. Apart from the gorgeous exterior, the XF's interior is also where it outdoes its rivals.
Where the Germans have immersed their interiors (dash/doors) with darker colours, Jaguar's interior designers have used a contour of well matched colours that flow throughout the cabin to bring a sense of calm. For a starting price of $78,990, it's impressive that the interior is standard. Everything is soft touch, wrapped in leather and is a pleasure to touch.
Even the seven-inch full colour TFT touchscreen is standard on the entry model (try asking for that from your BMW dealer). The colour screen controls the media system (USB/iPod/iPhone) plus Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, but doesn't come with satelite navigation standard, which is an option (price unconfirmed, but below $3000). That will also get you a 30GB hard drive equipped with a virtual CD stacker that can store your music. Compared with the original XF, which came out in 2008, the new model's sat-nav system is significantly quicker as it's powered by a fast-spinning hard disk as opposed to a DVD.
The front seats are as expected, comfortable and plush. Rear legroom and headroom is more than sufficient to comfortably fit two adults. The boot still remains as enormous as always, easily taking in the supersized luggage of my co-driver and I.
If we leave the technicalities out of the picture for a minute, it's hard to fathom that a car as large as an XF can be adequately powered by a 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine. Answering that question, Jaguar's chief program engineer, Andy Whyman, said the car is inherently designed to have the drivability, performance and agility of Jaguar, which is at its heart, a sportscar company.
With 140kW and an enormous 450Nm of torque, it's not hard to see his point. 0-100km/h takes 8.5 seconds and that's faster than you'd think. Best of all though, and here is the clincher, it sips just 5.4 litres of diesel per 100km (hence it misses out on a good chunk of luxury car tax). To put that into perspective, the much hyped, heavier and less powerful Hybrid Toyota Camry uses 6.0L/100km. In fact, even the hybrid Lexus GS450h uses 2.5L more fuel per 100km. It's amazing to see just how far advanced diesel engines have come in the past decade.
The 2.2-litre Jaguar XF is the most fuel efficient model in the company's history. The achievement is partially due to the engine, but is also a result of the new eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox with start-stop technology.
Although petrol-powered XFs will continue to use a six-speed auto (for the time being), all model year 2012 XF diesels have been upgraded to the new eight-speed. The ZF-supplied system is matched to steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters which allow you to shift up and down with ease. The new gearbox can also shift from any gear to another instantly (e.g. it can go from 8th to 2nd without having to go through the in-between gears).
The 2.2-litre variants are equipped with intelligent start-stop technology that shuts down the engine when the vehicle is stationary. Most drivers are yet to experience the sensation of start-stop technology but it has been around for a number of years and proven itself to be an effective method for saving fuel. The system works by quickly turning the engine off when the XF has stopped. So when you're stuck in traffic it will quickly turn the engine off as you come to a complete stop. To restart the engine, you simply release the brake pedal or move the steering wheel. It sounds complicated but the beauty of it is that after about an hour you won't even notice the technology is active. The engine turns itself on and off so quickly and seamlessly that it's exactly like driving any other car, except that it's more fuel efficient and a lot quieter when you're stationary. There is never a wait for the engine to restart.
In Jaguar's case, its start-stop technology takes the idea further. Using more than 70 sensors, the system works out the best time to shutdown and restart the engine. Allowing for the engine to restart even if it hasn't completely turned off (e.g. in case you change your mind the instant you stop). The company claims it offers significantly quicker restarts than its competitors (up to 40 per cent faster). It's also smart enough to work out when it should remain on to keep the desired cabin temperature, like on a hot summer's day in Brisbane. In which case it will simply shift the gearbox into neutral instead of turning off.
One of the unique features of the XF is the 'easy-off' system. If you want to get out of the vehicle while the engine is in 'stop' mode, the car will automatically put itself into park, engage the handbrake and turn it self completely off. So if you happen to undo your seatbelt then release the brake pedal while the engine is in 'stop' mode, the XF's computers will recognise that you're wanting to get out and perform the procedure. You don't even need to press the engine start/stop button. It's all automatic.
All the technology talk aside, the most fuel efficient Jaguar ever wouldn't be much fun to drive if it was all about green motoring. Thankfully, it's not.
Dynamically, the 2.2-litre diesel XF is a well-balanced and engineered vehicle. It manoeuvres around town with ease and is well behaved around the twisties. Pushed to its handling limits, the XF's numerous stability control systems kick in to bring the vehicle back in line. They are not as intrusive as some but will still stop you from making a fool of yourself. Ride quality is smooth and composed over potholes and bumps (not that many exist on German roads) and despite its large size, the XF is easy to drive in and out of tight spots (aided by sensors and a reversing camera).
Driven hard around the German countryside, the 2.2-litre engine provides more than enough power to keep the vehicle moving at speed. Power delivery is smooth and available across the rev range thanks to its eight-speed gearbox. On the derestricted German authobahns, the base model XF cruised along easily at 180km/h and could stretch its legs to 200km/h without too much trouble.
If heavy steering feel and high-speed cornering are your thing, the base model XF may not be as much of a 'driver's car' as some of its German rivals, but it's certainly not far behind. For most, the lighter steering movement and the plusher ride is the preferred choice for a daily family car. Of course, if you want a more performance oriented model, there is always the 3.0-litre diesel with 202kW and 600Nm of toque, or the almighty XFR with its 5.0-litre supercharged V8 (375kW and 625Nm).
If you're an audiophile, you can option your XF with a 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins 1200W audio system, which is simply insane. Streaming music wirelessly from my iPhone, the uprated audio system puts the sound quality of many modern cinemas to shame. Its clarity, crispness and bass are almost as good as the system I tested in the significantly more expensive Aston Martin Rapide.
The entry model XF comes with Alcantara / Bond Grain Leather facings, electric driver's/passenger's adjustment, dual zone climate control, 17" alloy wheels, cruise control with speed limiter, bi-xenon headlamps, LED DRLs, bluetooth connectivity, 7" full colour touch screen, 10 speaker 400wW Jaguar sound system, 3-spoke leather steering wheel with paddles, keyless start, TFT display in the instrument cluster and rear parking sensors standard.
Safety is also taken care of with front and side airbags and all the nanny controls you can dream of all thrown in as standard across the range. The addition of standard bi-xenon headlamps have also addressed our previous concerns. The two options worth considering are 20-inch alloy wheels (to give your XF that million dollar look) and the sat-nav system for ease of mind.
Apart from the gorgeous exterior, comfortable and classy interior, the main reason I'd consider a Jaguar over its German rivals is for its uniqueness and value. Depending on how good of a job Jaguar Australia does in getting the pricing message out, not many will think of the base model XF as a sub-$100,000 car. Its looks alone are worth the asking price, everything else is just a bonus.
The reasoning behind the entry model is to capture an ever-growing part of the segment that is demanding four-cylinder luxury sedans. Jaguar says that year to date, about 70 per cent of premium car buyers have gone for a four-cylinder so the model is strategically critical for the company. Its competitive starting price also opens the door to a range of new customers that may have never considered a Jaguar in the past.
In summary, the new 2012 Jaguar XF has been blessed with a significant range of updates to the exterior, interior and under the bonnet. The range has also been extended to offer a variant for everyone. With prices starting at under $80K and stretching all the way past $200K for the XFR.
There is no doubt the 2012 Jaguar XF is going to keep the Germans awake at night. With the company going from strength to strength and reliability being a non-issue, there has never been a better time to consider a Jaguar.
Check back in a couple of days for a review of the updated Jaguar XFR.