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“Who is driving the Jaguar?”
The question silenced the room. Eyes darted around, seeking reaction or response. There had never been a question this specific before. Queries like “Is that your grey car?” are more the speed of this crowd.
But not this time. The famed leaping feline – a 2016 Jaguar XF 35t S - had been called out by name, and the air was thick with anticipation to see who would dare shift the status quo so much…
This wasn’t just a car, this was a Jaguar. I sheepishly raised a hand. Where had I parked now? Who was I blocking? I didn’t mean it, I’m not a bad guy…
In all my years of driving, I can count on one hand the cars that have a brand recognition and all-round aspirational aura on the level of Jaguar.
There is a sense of occasion, and dare I say, respect, attached to the British marque. John Steed drove one, Inspector Morse drove one. Why did people regret messing with The Equalizer? He drove a Jag.
The new XF slides ever so effortlessly into this role of being a well ‘ard guv’na, especially with our car’s S-Pack body kit, Storm Grey paint ($4,000 option) and 20-inch ‘Venom’ alloy wheels ($2650 option).
Everywhere you go, it turns heads and raises eyebrows. People peer in when it is parked. The XF’s street cred is undeniable.
The design is an obvious evolution of the previous generation and, from the front at least, there is no mistaking the angry cat. The rear lights with the double-hemisphere LED elements and side-marker points look great at night, but the black strip under the boot-edge (lost a bit on the grey car) looks a bit out of place.
With plenty of menacing angles, black grilles and vents ($510 option), and the subtle boot spoiler, the XF has a look that befits the brand, and gives a proper East-end nod to the 280kW/450Nm 3.0-litre V6 supercharged petrol engine under the bonnet.
The engine start button is back-lit by a pulsing red glow, inviting you to fire up the big V6. Jag by name and Jag by nature, the supercharged 35t is a deliciously sweet motor.
Peak torque isn’t available until 4500rpm, but the response above 2000rpm in any gear is impressive.
There is a pleasant growl from the exhaust, but nothing like the raucous antisocial crackle from the F-Type with the same (slightly detuned) engine.
The eight-speed automatic transmission is smooth when left in the standard drive mode, but can be a tad apprehensive to change gear when set in the Sport function. In this mode, the car is not suited to urban running and will feel a bit twitchy under throttle as it holds gears for longer than suitable.
In fact, the XF feels wasted pottering about town. You miss the best part of the car when commuting in traffic. A short blast on the outskirts of Melbourne put the Jaguar back on home turf. And it is here where it absolutely comes alive.
The V6 pulls smoothly, but not harshly. Using the paddles to change, the shifts are fast but not brutal. The noise is now heightened, but it is more pleasant than penetrating. This is an athletic sports sedan in every way.
Enjoying the supercharged lump has its price though, and we saw an on-test combined consumption of 13.1L/100km - up on both Jaguar’s urban-only claim of 11.7 and mixed cycle of 8.3L/100km. Those figures are certainly achievable, but that is nowhere near as much fun.
Turn-in is direct and the car feels beautifully balanced through the bends. There is excellent grip from the 245mm-wide tyres (all round) and a torque vectoring system helps the Jaguar maintain composure under heavier braking into a corner.
The active suspension dampers keep the ride comfortable and compliant on most surfaces and, for a solid 1700kg lump, the XF is nimbler than you would expect.
Put simply, the Jaguar XF is fantastic to drive. It takes the dynamic fight straight to BMW and, from this view, is every bit the Jaguar you want it to be.
The thing is, not every drive is a joyous run through the open roads of western Melbourne.
Head back to town and find yourself again in that traffic queue, and some elements of the $128,200 (before options and on-road costs) XF start to dull the experience somewhat. Less Simon Templar, more Arthur Daley (whose Jag was incidentally a Daimler).
Take the interior materials mix for example, with ‘mix’ being the operative word.
From the dash-top down, there are a number of components used for touch-points as well as finishes. The rubber-surrounded air-conditioning controls feel good, but the light plastic volume knob feels terrible.
The soft leather dash has a luxurious sense, but the perfectly machine-threaded and non-contrasting stitching give it a cold and clinical implementation that feels closer to the fake moulded versions found in less premium cars than the real thing.
Even the wood veneer of the console and upper dash panel might have looked nice in isolation, but in the car it resembles a cheap vinyl cover more than real hardwood.
This (with over $12,000 worth of options and on-road fees paid) is a $150,000 car. Cheap, plastic gear-shift paddles – with notable seams - on the steering wheel are inexcusable. This is a Jaguar. At this level of the market I would expect a personalised Snapchat message from some weathered artisan who personally smelted a set of paddles from a vat of molten aluminium – not the same model Spitfire wings we complained about in the old car.
It feels that there was not a cohesive interior design meeting at Jaguar HQ, and that some parts were used, simply because they were there – looking at you, 15-year old Volvo XC90 mirror control switches…
Some of the new technology, too, already feels old. The head-up display module isn’t particularly clear and the projector seems to have a refresh rate that plays tricks on your eye, causing the numbers to appear yellow or orange or green depending on the position of your head.
The screen unit itself reflects back into the windscreen when in direct sunlight. It’s not the end of the world, but it just feels a bit cheap and underdone. This is an expensive car that is pitched against the best that Germany can offer, and it just doesn’t feel up to the task.
Jaguar’s much touted InControl Touch Pro infotainment system and accompanying 10.2-inch touch screen display was still not included in the standard specification (it is a $2550 option), so the top-spec XF still gets the basic 8.0-inch version as found in the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
All the main features are there, including DAB radio and navigation, but the implementation is still slow and a bit buggy, particularly when connecting iPhone or Bluetooth audio.
The surround-view camera system is semi-interactive, allowing you to choose any two views at once that can even stay active above parking speeds, but the resolution of the system is quite low and details hard to spot, particularly at night.
Likewise, safety tech is merely good, not great, in its implementation. Strangely, too, it is optional at $1420 for the rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot function and $1060 extra for the lane-departure detection. This stuff is standard on a Mazda these days, surely it should be bundled in here?
It’s not all bad news, though.
The seats are comfortable and supportive and the driving position is excellent, offering great vision around the car, despite the large footprint (roughly 5m long x 2m wide).
Ergonomics and storage are good. The door pockets have a felt-lined base, and there is a handy cubby at the base of the console as well as in the center armrest.
The back seats, too, offer sculpted comfort and plenty of legroom. You sit ‘scooped’ down and it feels every bit the sports sedan, even when you aren’t driving.
The boot is smaller than some competitors at 505 litres (Mercedes-Benz E-Class is 540L) but still big enough for some suitcases or pair of golf bags.
Bespoke touches are everywhere: the word ‘Jaguar’ is embossed into the top of the dash trim and the air-vent faces. This is the sort of thing you want in a car like the XF, elements that are fundamentally pointless but ultimately special.
Driving about town, the XF feels big and requires a lot of steering input for low-speed turns. A trade-off for the sublime handling outside of city limits perhaps, but not a deal breaker in any case.
Urban ride is impressive too, the car remaining composed and comfortable on all of Melbourne’s various road surfaces.
As the week progressed, spending longer in the XF highlighted more contrasts, things that alternated between comical and downright frustrating.
Jaguar’s trademark rotary gear selector feels every part the textured chunk of metal it is. But, occasionally, when switching from Drive to Reverse, you turn it too far and engage Park – turning the car off, thanks to the start/stop system.
For some reason, the adjustable dampers would occasionally ‘undampen’ themselves, resulting in a clunking noise as the shock absorbers would freely tap against the stops. Switch the system from standard to sport and back again, and everything was back to how it should be.
At one point we had an error message noting the high-beam sensor was blocked, and at another stage the alarm system went off when entering the car. Each time, turn it off and on again and the gremlins would vanish.
Even the options seem excessive, do you really need to pay $1100 extra for a powered boot lid when shopping in this showroom?
Are these small niggles? Generally, yes.
Am I being a bit too picky? Perhaps, but maybe because I just want this car to be better.
This engine, those looks and that handling all put the XF within reach of greatness. It just needs to be finished, the little creases ironed out, to reach its goal.
The 2016 Jaguar XF 35t S is a proper Jaguar in so many ways. It is both passionate and potent, and ticks the Jag-style and Jag-performance boxes with a big fat sharpie.
Yet it is also flawed and fussy, just like so many Jags of old, requiring you to sign up for the full Jaguar ride with the same permanent marker.
The XF is a fundamentally great car, but just be prepared to deal with the intricacies that come with being just that little bit special. As, for some, that’s all part of the Jag experience.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.