Jaguar is an interesting case study: More than almost any other automaker, it seems to have grappled with a split personality for most of its 85 year existence. Its early models, the SS roadsters, were as pure a sports car as you could buy at the time. But after World War II, company founder William Lyons realized the best way to get back on track was by building big, baroque luxury cars. The XK120 may have been the fastest car in the world in the late ’40s and early ’50s, but the company was also paying the bills with its massive 2 1/2 Litre Saloon, a limousine that dated to 1935. The ’60s brought the E-Type, but also the big-as-a-Bentley Mark X sedan. Performance or opulence. Take your pick.
Sure, there have been plenty of powerful, great-driving Jags since, and many attempts to bridge the gap – like the XJS and XK grand tourers, and the XJR sedan too. But at the end of the day, all that leather, walnut, and Connolly leather exuded so much Old World charm that barring the XJ220 supercar of the ’90s, it seemed like the company had forgotten how to do pure performance.
Lucky for us, that all began to change about eight years ago.
In 2008, Jaguar introduced the XF midsize sedan, a legitimate BMW 5-Series fighter. A year later, it was joined by an all new XJ, retiring a platform that traced its roots back to 1968. 2012 brought the incredible F-Type – a true sports car – and this year has seen the American introduction of both the entry-level XE sedan, and F-Pace SUV. Today, Jaguar offers some of the most competitive cars in their respective segments, and they all truly, finally, blend performance and luxury better than nearly any other automaker in the world.
We recently spent a week with an all-wheel drive 2017 XF-S, and came away convinced that whatever Jaguar has done to combine its two personalities, it’s worked beautifully. Congratulations, patient. In this doctor’s opinion, you’re cured.
When the XF debuted in 2008, it was a revelation for Jaguar. The bad old days of the Ford-based S-Type were long gone, and the company finally had a worthy competitor in the cutthroat midsize luxury sedan segment. Now into its second generation (since 2015), the XF has become even more formidable-looking. Designer Ian Callum and his team already had a winner in the first-generation XF, so instead of reinventing the wheel (and in true Jaguar fashion), they refined the car to perfection. It’s the “less is more” maxim in action: The car is cleaner, more elegant, and overall more rakish than its predecessor – and current competition. It’s more than enough to stand out from the Europeans, Japanese, and Americans while still having enough in common with the rest of the Jaguar lineup to look like a member of the pride.
Exterior Pros and Cons
+ Unlike some of its more overwrought competitors, every line, crease, and form feels essential on the XF. The design feels like an exercise in minimalism; there’s nothing that doesn’t need to be there.
+ Front recalls XE, F-Pace, and XJ, rear recalls the F-Type. In between is a wind-swept design that looks sportier and more aggressive than anything else in its segment.
+ Big 20″ wheels, aggressive front fascia, and “/S” badge show the world that this Jag isn’t meant to be messed with.
– We love the redesign, but it’s still pretty close to the first-generation car.
– From the right angle, can be confused with the bigger XJ. Depending on the driver, that could be a problem.
Motivation for the XF S comes from a supercharged 3.0 liter V6. Cranking out 380 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque, power is routed to all four wheels through Jaguar Land-Rover’s eight-speed automatic transmission. With the powertrain doing all the work itself, the XF S scrambles from zero to 60 in 5.1 seconds, but if you’re not concerned with speed times, manual mode lets you row your own through wheel-mounted paddle shifters, allowing you to open up that big six and annoy the neighbors to your heart’s content.
Powertrain Pros and Cons
+ Five-second zero to 60 sprint makes it the quickest in its segment.
+ Through the ups and downs, Jaguar has always made sweet-sounding engines. The XF S is no exception.
+ Eight-speed auto and paddle shifters suit the XF S’ all-business character to a T.
– BMW has the M5, Mercedes has the AMG E43; this is as aggressive as the XF gets. We’re hoping Jag gets around to an SVR version sooner rather than later.
Jaguar has always done beautifully-appointed interiors, but up until about 10 years ago, they usually were more University Club than sport sedan. Not so with the XF; overstuffed thrones and slabs of burled walnut have been replaced by beautifully well-bolstered seats, tech-focused controls, and a design that feels sporty and luxurious instead of decadent. This is a sport sedan, and its spacious, well-thought out cabin will remind you of that everywhere you look and touch.
There isn’t a trace of the old world in the XF. Instead, contrast-stitched leather, patterned aluminum, piano black trim, and ebony veneers cover every surface, making the car feel thoroughly modern, and giving it plenty of visual variety without looking cluttered or fussy. Climb in and press the start button, and the XF growls to life as the dashboard vents emerge from behind aluminum panels, and the shifter knob slowly rises from the center console. It’s theatrical, but not overwrought; this is a Jaguar, after all, there should be a sense of occasion every time you climb behind the wheel.
Interior Pros and Cons
+ In a segment where interiors are often boring (unless you love the color black), the XF S offers plenty of visual variety without being too busy.
+ The level of interior design is impressive, and the quality of materials back it up. We love how the “Riva Hoop” wraps above the dash to form the shape of the door panels, and how the start button is balanced with the volume knob in the center cluster to recall the shape of the taillights.
+ Jaguar’s off-kilter sport steering wheel is one of our favorites. It’s chunky and purposeful, allows for great visibility of instruments, and its controls are simple and intuitive. Plus, it just looks cool.
– Rear legroom is great, but the HVAC controls back there were plasticky and surprisingly out of character with the rest of the cabin.
– Center console is light on storage space, and there’s no room for a bottle of water in the door bin.
– If you looked carefully, that beautiful Brogue leather in our test car was slack in a few places.
Tech and Safety
For decades, the putting the words “British” and “electronics” together would be enough to send most mechanics running for the hills. But Jaguar has made huge leaps in putting that stereotype to bed once and for all, implementing a comprehensive, five-year/60,000 mile warranty for 2016. Hopefully, that will win over some skeptics, because the XF S’ interior is a showcase for modern tech and safety features, and for now, they’re working beautifully. Jaguar-Land Rover’s InControl Touch system is one of our favorites, and when paired with the optional 17-speaker, 825 watt Meridian sound system, it’s one of the best infotainment systems out there.
The gee-whiz gadgetry extends to safety too. Our XF S had Jaguar’s All-Surface Progress Control (ASPC), which used the car’s 360-degree stereo camera to control the car’s throttle; all the driver has to do is steer. The camera also controls the XF’s lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and traffic sign recognition system, which transmits speed limits and road conditions to the car’s head’s up display. Add that to the second-generation car’s reinforced aluminum architecture, front, seat, and side airbags, and adaptive cruise control, and you’ve got one safe sedan.
Tech and Safety Pros and Cons
+ The XF is loaded with tech, but doesn’t feel overwhelming or gimmicky.
+ InControl Touch is fast, clean, simple, and intuitive, and JLR’s Meridian sound system is one of the best in the world.
+ Jaguar’s all-in commitment to tech is impressive. If it can prove its mettle and lure new buyers with the big warranty, it could shake up the luxury segment.
– The MID is clear and offers a lot of information. Problem is, it takes a lot of scrolling to get to what you need.
– Lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, and traffic detection systems work almost too well in crowded areas. Be prepared for a lot of beeping sensors if you do any city driving.
– Auto Start/Stop is a valuable fuel-saving feature, but it’s a bit harsh in the XF. We loved the fact that the override button was right below the shifter, and was incredibly satisfying to turn off.
Simply put, the XF S gives you everything you’d want from a Jag. It’s business-like and purposeful, impeccably well-designed, and usually the best-looking car in any lot. It’s like being around that friend that everybody gets along with, who also shows up to everything wearing a great-looking suit.
But there’s the other side to Jaguar too, the “It’s good to be bad side,” the kind that makes a good man want to channel his inner playboy, and feel as cool as Donald Byrd looked on the cover of A New Perspective, glowering at the camera over the long hood of an E-Type. There’s a mean streak in Jaguar’s DNA, and when you’re behind the wheel of one, it feels good to indulge. Very good.
The XF S is happy to indulge you. The throttle is heavy, but when you punch it, the digital speedo in the MID starts to skip numbers as the 339 pound-feet of torque forcefully pushes you into your firm, supportive leather seat. It pulls and pulls until you don’t want it to anymore, then the big brakes slow it down quickly and efficiently, and it all effortlessly reverts back to the civilized luxury saloon you were driving a few miles back, when you drove past the cop in town, following the speed limit to the letter.
Since its introduction eight years ago, the XF marked a turning point for Jaguar; namely it was its first great leap into the 21st century. The model is no longer the newcomer to the lineup, but its importance hasn’t diminished at all. It’s a midsize luxury sedan in an incredibly competitive segment, and it manages to stand out without alienating any buyers in the famously conservative segment.
Jaguar has never been a volume seller like BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes, and while we’d love to see as many Jags on the road as Bimmers, their rarity adds to their allure. Jaguars have always been more exclusive, more exciting to see, and more of an event on the road. The XF S feels this way too. It’s not cheap – our tester rang up at $66,700 – but it’s not any more expensive than its competition, and yet the XF S just feels special. Fit and finish is superb, handling and power is fantastic, and it looks great.
Performance-wise, it’s hard to find any big faults in an aluminum-intensive sport sedan with segment-leading performance numbers, near-50/50 weight distribution, and one hell of an engine note. Altogether, the XF S is one of the most complete, well-rounded performance sedans in the world. If you’re in the market for a luxury sedan, forget everything you thought you knew about Jaguar and drive an XF S. You may never want a German or Japanese car again.