Despite being one of the cars that helped drag Jaguar into the 21st century and away from those dreadful faux-retro years, the old XF was arguably the weak link in the range. Up until recently it was the oldest beast in the stable, and was the only one to use a chassis borrowed from another manufacturer (Ford, in this case). But, amid Jaguar’s renaissance, there’s a new one on the scene to try out.
Naturally, the one we grabbed the keys to first was the most powerful: the 375bhp 3.0-litre V6 ‘S’ petrol. However, in attempt to be ever-so-slightly sensible, we also tried out the pokiest oil-burner in the range, powered by a 3.0-litre twin-turbo diesel lump and also badged as an ‘S’. So, what are they like?
To first deal with the elephant in the room, yes, the XF does look jolly similar to the smaller XE, a car we’re currently running as a long-term test vehicle. I’ve always been unsure about making two cars in a range look so damn similar, but there’s no denying they’re a handsome pair of vehicles, with the XF winning it for me thanks to having less of a sheered off arse.
It sits on the same modular aluminium platform as the XE, and shares a lot of the same interior bits. I find it slightly irksome seeing so many of the same parts - the centre console is identical, for instance - but it’s a damn fine place to spend time in, and feels plusher and better screwed together than the XE’s cabin. The one fly in the ointment is the clunky infotainment system - which isn’t all that responsive and crashed twice during one day of our test of the diesel XF - but it is due for replacement soon.
The chassis feels a little better polished, too. The ride is smoother, and yet it possesses the same confident body control. The steering’s sharp and consistent, and you’re rarely wanting for rear-end grip despite 375bhp and 332lb ft of torque making its way to the rear boots in this petrol version. It can’t entirely disguise its 1710kg bulk, but it does a bloody good job of trying.
But, there’s a weak spot on this version: the petrol engine. Yes, it’s the same supercharged V6 we’ve enjoyed so much in the F-Type S, but as I’ve found with the XE S - which uses the same engine in a lower state of tune - once you take away the hilariously shouty sports exhaust, you find it’s not the most characterful six-pot.
It sounds quieter still here, and seems almost apologetic. “Sorry old chap, you’ll have to rev me a little more. Hope you don’t mind,” it seems to be saying. And despite an impressive 0-62mph time of just 5.3 seconds, at no point does it feel all that quick. What it does feel, sadly, is a bit weedy.
When swapping over to the diesel, then, I found myself oddly hoping that its oil-burning ways would be just the antidote I was after following the disappointing stint in the petrol. And you know what? It worked out exactly that way.
While it’s almost 80bhp down on the petrol and slower on paper - 0-62mph takes 6.2 seconds here - it feels far punchier, all thanks to torque. Lots and lots of torque, actually: 516lb ft. And while the power band is narrow, the same slick and smooth eight-speed ZF gearbox found in the petrol car helps the twin-turbo lump stay on the boil when you’re giving it some.
Sure, it’s clattery at low revs, but as the engine speed builds, it makes a pleasing - if fairly quiet - V6 hum. It suits the car’s wafty nature better also, having a punchy diesel which doesn’t need to be wrung out in order for you to make decent progress.
I quite happily clocked almost 600 miles in a single day taking the XF to Belgium and back, where it was an amazing and relaxing road trip companion. It soaked up motorway miles with ease, and when the going got twisty closer to the destination, it was just as fun to hustle at speed as the petrol.
Both the petrol and diesel S models will set you back £49,995 before options, and despite being a proper petrol junkie, the diesel is the one I’d have. The petrol doesn’t add enough drama to justify the drop in fuel consumption and the loss of the diesel’s superior waft ability, and the fat torque delivery of the oil-burner is addictive in its own way. Put it this way: when I gave the keys back to the petrol, I didn’t much care. But when the diesel went back, it seemed like a shame.
If nothing but a petrol-engined Jag will do, though, hold on for the inevitable XFR. With a chassis this good, that should be one hell of a super saloon.