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It isn't quite a wolf in sheep's clothing, the Jaguar XF 2.2D, but it definitely is a four-cylinder diesel with big alloys and sports trimmings.
Make of that combination what you will, but our optioned-up Jaguar XF 2.2D test car is a surprisingly alluring package.
Surprising, first, because even when the $76,500 XF 2.2D Premium Luxury is optioned with 35-aspect 20-inch gloss black alloys ($3570), an exterior ‘black pack’ ($1500), interior black veneer ($1530) and a split-fold rear seat ($1000 – stingy!) the total barely exceeds that of an unoptioned BMW 520d ($81,300) or Mercedes-Benz E200 CDI ($82,400).
Looks are subjective, sure, but the Jaguar XF looks as fabulous today as when it first made us all forget about the dowdy S-Type back in 2007. Even better, if anything, thanks to last year’s facelift that also brought a far more intuitive colour touchscreen display. Plus a ‘carnelian’ red-with-black-bits Jaguar XF rolling on 20s does pull more looks per traffic light than a 520d on 17s…
Pedestrians probably won’t miss the diesel clatter, though. The 2.2-litre diesel gets two turbochargers to help hike outputs to 140kW of power at 3500rpm and 450Nm of torque at just 2000rpm. Those numbers are stronger than both the (135kW/380Nm) 520d and (125kW/400Nm) E220 CDI, though at 5.2L/100km claimed combined, the XF 2.2D can’t quite duck into the ‘4s’ like that duo can.
A claimed 8.5-second 0-100km/h feels about right, though even then it fails to convey the stronger push through the mid-range as the two turbos start thrusting.
Where the 2.2-litre Jaguar engine feels less than premium, however, is in terms of its refinement and response.
From the outside, in particular, there’s plenty of traditional compression-injection clatter. It’s decently subdued inside, but the engine doesn’t idle silently, nor is the cabin completely vibration free. The Benz diesel, in particular, is less intrusive.
The power delivery of the engine is also far from linear. It feels very soft at the bottom end of the tacho, before giving way to that surging mid-range, but tapering off quite quickly. There is no point pushing past 4500rpm, though the automatic transmission upshifts at 4700rpm anyway.
The eight-speed gearbox, sourced from German company ZF and similar to the one used in the 520d, is a highlight. But even it can’t completely disguise the lag from the engine, which is most noticeable when attempting to pull out of a lane jammed with traffic and into the next lane that seemed free, but suddenly has a fourteen-wheeler looming large in the rear-view mirror.
Beyond the pricing and specifications, the other surprising thing about this particular Jaguar XF 2.2D is that it is one of the very few vehicles that feels to genuinely benefit from having larger, wider tyres.
Experience with many XF grades on smaller rubber revealed the chassis – which dates back to the 1999 S-Type – lacks both the sharp front end of a 5 Series and the supremely balanced feel of an E-Class. It is very good dynamically, but it frays at the edges.
The XF 2.2D on big wheels maintains the lush composure that is a classic trait of this particular Jaguar. It is simply unfazed by big bumps, big undulations and big divots in the road. When teamed with wonderfully light and quick steering – only vague when trying to pin a consistent line – the Jaguar XF 2.2D can be threaded down a mountain pass – fast – with fingers dancing lightly behind the leather-trimmed wheel.
In fact, I can’t remember the last time I drove a car spiritedly while leaving the (excellent) audio system on, such is the Jag’s effortless and light-on-its-feet nature.
What marks the car as more than a bit special, though, is that the 255mm-wide Dunlop SP Sport Maxx tyres have the grip to offset the chassis’ lack of outright sharpness. Where an XF on lesser rubber will understeer when pressed, the XF 2.2D on 20-inch wheels just sticks determinedly. Yet when the understeer comes, lifting the throttle pivots the rear around beautifully. The stability control, thankfully, stays silent.
The thin sidewalls of the big tyres do have an effect on urban ride quality, but not to a great extent. There’s a mild restlessness over seemingly smooth roads, and a bit of jolting over pockmarks around town, but the ride smoothens out considerably as speeds rise, and the XF never crashes when punting along.
Along with the light steering and superb composure, quietness also marks the Jaguar XF as an easy drive.
The large tyres do throw up some coarse chip road noise, but it’s still impressively hushed, and no noisier than the recently facelifted Benz E250 tested a fortnight ago on the same roads.
While the interior of the Jaguar XF is mostly unchanged since its 2007 launch, as with the exterior it remains a beautiful design.
The rising circular transmission selector and acrobatic air vents add a bit of theatre to the lashings of leather on the dashboard, the cool glow of cocktail-bar blue lighting on the door trims and the stylish gloss inserts.
The colour touchscreen is now easy to use, and the standard satellite navigation on freeways even shows the anticipated times to the next three exits.
In an age of cheapening cow hides, the Jaguar leather trim feels quality, and wraps over supportive seats at the front.
The rear bench, however, is clearly designed to snuggle the outer two occupants more than welcomely embrace three people. There’s among the least legroom in the large car class and the transmission tunnel is intrusive, further restricting centre passenger comfort. That sloping, coupe-like roofline likewise hinders headroom for all three, though in the style stakes the XF could be compared with the Mercedes-Benz CLS-Class, not the E-Class; and the CLS 250 CDI with 150kW and 500Nm starts at a hefty $119,900.
At 540 litres boot space matches that of the E-Class and eclipses the 5 Series (by a scant 10L) though placing a split fold backrest on the options list is a bit rude.
With the grip to match the suspension composure and steering, and exterior styling that belies the relatively cheap price tag, the tested Jaguar XF 2.2D Premium Luxury is a very cohesive and convincing package.
The only reservation concerns the generation-behind diesel engine, but that’s a problem solved by choosing the quiet and super sweet 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine that’s $1K-cheaper again.
That car, when optioned with the good-looking styling bits and sticky rubber, could be the Jaguar XF to bypass a German for…