Jaguar XF 2.7 Diesel
Premium Luxury review
by David Finlay (15 July 2008)
A bloke who lives near me says he thinks that the XF looks Korean. I know, I found that a bit odd too. I must see if I can arrange a meeting between this guy and Jaguar designer Ian Callum, because Callum, though a genial soul, is always up for a bit of robust verbal jousting over a dinner table, and I'd just love to hear his reaction to that comment.
You may think that I've mentioned this simply because I can't think of a better opening paragraph, but there's more to the scheme than that. In one respect the XF does actually strike me as having something Korean about it, and not in a good way.
But there are more important matters to deal with before we get to that one. First of all, there are four engines to choose from, and undoubtedly they will all find buyers, but the chances of any of them other than the 2.7-litre turbo diesel as tested here being the top seller are so small as to be not worth considering. Why, realistically, would you buy any other XF?
Well, I can see why you might prefer the 4.2-litre supercharged SV8 (see road test). Wonderful car, but it costs nearly £20,000 more than the diesel, it uses nearly twice as much fuel on the combined cycle (and probably more in real life) and, delightful though it is, I think I would tire of it more quickly than of the diesel.
The non-supercharged 4.2 V8 is my least favourite of the three XFs I've driven so far, and although there's a much more sensible three-litre petrol option, which for all I know may be very nice indeed, it has exactly the same list price as the diesel and will be much more expensive to run on account of being 40% thirstier.
So the diesel is by far the wisest option in the range, but there's more to it than that. A colleague of mine thinks that this engine is significantly inferior to the three-litre versions produced by Audi and BMW, and to be honest he's right. With a maximum of 207bhp it lags behind the German units in terms of power, and if the official EU test is anything to go by it has no advantage on fuel economy (allowing for each engine being fitted to several cars of different weights).
I still like it, though. It's very smooth and quiet in normal running, it sounds quite sporting when you work it hard, and it has enough power to be interesting, though nowhere near enough to upset the beautifully set-up chassis, which as we know from the SV8 can handle more than double the power without the slightest difficulty.
More on that shortly, but now it's time to reintroduce the Korean aspect. I'm not going to compare the XF to any modern Korean car; instead I'm going to remind you of the ones that were sold over here in the 70s and 80s, which you might consider if you had no money at all but wanted a new car and didn't want to be seen in a Lada. They were rattly and they felt like they were going to fall apart and for all I know many of them did, though I never stayed in one long enough to find out.
Don't panic. The XF doesn't actually feel like that. It feels like a very solid, well-built car, except in one single respect: if you take it over a below-averagely surfaced road (and surely everyone in the UK lives within easy distance of at least one of those) it reacts to the bumps in a way that suggests that not everything in the suspension has been properly bolted together. There's a definite shake through the steering wheel, and in more severe conditions the trim starts rattling too.
I know this isn't a specific problem with the test car, because the SV8 I drove had it too. And it's a real shame, because a car whose name includes the phrase Premium Luxury (that's the higher of the two trim levels offered with the diesel engine, the other one being called simply Luxury) should feel luxurious and, er, premium-ish, and most of the time it does but in the conditions I've mentioned it doesn't. How did the boys in the Noise, Vibration and Harshness Department manage to let that one slip through their fingers?
Frustrating though this wobbliness is when it happens, it doesn't alter the fact that, overall, the XF is a lovely car to drive. It may be 25bhp or so short of the Audi/BMW three-litre diesels, but it has no less straightline performance than it really needs, and of course with that delightful chassis you can fling it around happily if the mood takes you.
It may have only a fraction of the power of the SV8 (49.8% if you want to be accurate) but it offers, say, 95% of the driving enjoyment, and I strongly feel that the diesel would be the car I would want to live with for a few years rather than experience for a few days.
The gearbox is a major factor. It's a six-speed automatic with a choice of Normal or Sport modes, and I must say they have both been developed as well as those in any automatic I've ever driven, choosing just the right gear at just the right time for the two sets of driving conditions.
You can take matters into your own hand too, using the gearshift paddles behind the steering wheel if you want ultimate control. The only issue here is that the paddles are quite small, and if you hold the wheel with your hands in the ten-to-two position you can operate each one only with the little finger of the relevant handing (unless you let go briefly, which would be missing the point), but it didn't take me long to get used to this after an initial feeling that this was all rather strange.
Not a perfect car, then, but a splendid one all the same, and I'm not surprised to hear from a Jaguar dealer that the XF has made a big difference to the number of customers coming through his doors. I should have asked him how many were Korean, but that didn't occur to me until later.