Jaguar has breathed some life into its staid large saloon, the XF, with the racily titled Chequered Flag edition making a play for a small but competitive segment, where it squares up against the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Stiff competition, then.
It sits near the top of the XF petrol range, which gets underway with the XF 20t Prestige at $82,000 and tops out at $130,700 for the 35t S, the sole 3.0-litre V6 in the line-up. Then there’s the range of diesel-powered XFs as well as a range of wagons, or Sportbrake in Jaguar-land, in both petrol and diesel.
Visually, the Chequered Flag distinguishes itself from the regular XF with the addition of a Black Pack – window surrounds, a grille and grille surround, and side vents with Chequered Flag badging. There are also some sporty-looking body-coloured side sills, while the S front bumper design looks more aggressive than that found on the regular XF.
There’s also a subtle spoiler on the boot lid, and it sits on 19-inch, 10-spoke ‘Gloss Sparkle Silver’ alloys. If you want an even sportier countenance for your XF, we’d recommend either of the five-spoke Black alloys, available in either 19- ($1370) or 20-inch ($2790) options.
Inside, the Chequered Flag theme errs on the side of discretion, with aluminium kickplates resplendent with the special edition’s logo, while the steering wheel features chromed paddle-shifters unique to the Chequered Flag.
I’m not a fan of the black and red – Ebony and Pimento in Jag-speak – interior, but there’s no denying the comfort and premium feel of the leather trim. The seats are supportive, with decent bolstering, and are electrically adjustable. The steering wheel, too, is electrically adjustable for tilt and reach. Those front pews are heated, but at an optional cost of $840.
Jaguar has done a decent job of dialling up the premium feel, with a nice use of materials – there’s a dashtop covered in Luxtec faux leather with contrasting stitching, some lovely aluminium garnishes with a hexagonal weave, and a smattering of gloss-black highlights. The rotary dialler in place of a more traditional gear selector also lends a premium air to the interior, while the black suedecloth headlining is sumptuous.
Infotainment is anchored by a dash-integrated 10.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, and AM/FM radio. Our tester also had DAB radio, although that increasingly common and standard feature in a lot of cars is a $950 option in the XF.
We spent our time in the XF relying primarily on Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring, and while it worked seamlessly once up and running, actually connecting to the feature proved glitchy, with sometimes two, or even three, attempts needed to successfully establish a connection.
The second row is decent, although for a large sedan leg room is only adequate at best, while the $3370 optional panoramic roof eats into headspace. There’s a fold-down armrest with a pair of cupholders, while air vents provide some ventilation. No separate climate controls, though – a feature we’ve come to expect in prestige vehicles. A bulky transmission tunnel, married to a firm centre pew, makes the XF a four-seat proposition, with the fifth seat best reserved for short trips.
The boot is a decent 540L, and more space can be liberated with the 40:20:40 split-fold rear seats stowed away. A space-saver spare hides under the boot floor.
We’ve already touched on some of the optional equipment bolted onto our Chequered Flag, but it’s worth pointing out the scope of the boxes ticked back at the factory. Actually, in the pantheon of JLR options, this one has come off pretty lightly, although $4720 for the Active Safety Pack that adds blind-spot assist, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist plus a driver-condition monitor seems a bit stiff for tech that’s available standard in a helluva lot of cars way, way, way down the pecking order, prestige or otherwise.
That optional tech joins camera-based autonomous emergency braking, front and rear parking assist, a full complement of airbags, and a five-star Euro NCAP rating awarded in 2015.
Continuing on the options list, there’s the previously mentioned $3370 panoramic roof which, unless you absolutely must have some form of open-top motoring in your life, you could probably live without, while a powered boot lid adds $1160.
Privacy glass adds $950, as does DAB radio, while heated front seats (as already mentioned) cost an additional $840. Finally, there’s an $1160 impost for configurable dynamics, which allows you to personalise throttle response, transmission shift points and steering weight when Dynamic mode – one of four drive modes alongside Eco, Standard and Rain/Snow/Ice – is selected.
All up, our $101,400 list price XF Chequered Flag sedan blows out to $114,500 (plus on-road costs) with the fitted options. And for that coin, you get a premium sedan that comes close to filling the brief of a sporty four-door, if not entirely exceeding it.
Let’s look at what makes the Chequered Flag tick. You’d be forgiven for thinking the 30t in its nomenclature hinted at '3.0-litre turbo something, something'. But you’d be wrong. As is so often the case now, and lamentably, numbers in car designations no longer really mean anything, other than signifying a car’s place in the model hierarchy.
And it’s the same in this instance, the XF Chequered Flag 30t powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged, inline four-cylinder petrol engine. But don’t be put off by the lack of displacement married to the XF’s large-sedan proportions, because right off the bat it’s a little firecracker. It’s the most powerful iteration of the 2.0-litre petrol in the XF range – a status it shares alongside the R-Sport in the model line-up.
With a generous 221kW of power, peaking at 5500rpm, and a healthy 400Nm of torque all on tap at a very usable 1500–4500rpm, the Chequered Flag hunkers down and completes the sprint to triple figures in a claimed 5.9 seconds. And it feels proper quick, too.
Chuck it in Dynamic mode, stomp on the loud pedal, and the XF surprises with its pace and a hint of a growl from under the bonnet. It’s not raucous, by any stretch, merely a pleasant soundtrack to what is an enjoyable highway cruiser.
The eight-speed transmission is smooth and effortless at highway cruising, dropping down a cog as required or, if you’re feeling playful, letting the revs build nicely (although not quite to redline) to harvest that maximum power and torque. You can opt to change gear yourself using the nicely chromed paddle-shifters, but those shifts aren’t as slick.
Once up to highway speed, the XF settles into a quietude befitting a premium touring sedan, with nice road manners – there’s minimal tyre noise and decent bump absorption over road joins and minor potholes.
That translates well around town, too, the XF riding gently over all but the harshest road conditions. It feels at home in traffic, although the transmission displayed occasional signs of hesitation, particularly during stop-start traffic. And the idle stop-start function isn’t the most refined we’ve experienced. Our advice is to switch it off.
Fuel consumption isn’t its strong point either. Around town, admittedly in the worst of Sydney’s peak-hour traffic, we saw an indicated 13.0L/100km against Jaguar’s somewhat optimistic claim of 6.8L. That dropped to 10.8L after an extended highway run, but she’s still a thirsty cat for what’s supposed to be an efficient, albeit sporty, four-banger. And no, I’m no ‘typical motoring journo’ leadfoot.
The XF is covered by Jaguar’s standard three-year/100,000km warranty (with free roadside assistance for the duration), which matches its German rivals, but is beginning to look below-par in a market where five years/unlimited surety is increasingly the norm. Jaguar also offers a pre-paid servicing plan at a reasonable $1750 for five years or 130,000km.
Jaguar remains the forgotten child of the premium sedan segment dominated by the Germans, albeit in smaller than ever numbers as the continental drift to SUVs continues unabated. With the Chequered Flag, the brand has tried to inject a sporting flavour into its 5 Series/E-Class-rivalling large sedan.
Performance-wise, it certainly exceeds the numbers crunched by those Teutonic rivals. But it’s in the areas of refinement and comfort where the Jaguar trails the Germans. Not by much, mind you, but enough to be noticeable. And for a lot of people that matters.
That said, in isolation the XF Chequered Flag 30t is a convincing sporty sedan. Easy enough to drive around town, the XF roars into life when the big questions are asked of it. It’s a surprise packet wrapped in a large sedan.