Jaguar XF

Big cat sharpens its claws for luxo sedan fight

ALEX INWOOD

JAGUAR isnít holding back in its battle with the Germans for luxury sedan supremacy. The brilliant XE has only just arrived and now the British brand has launched a new version of its bigger brother, the XF, for the Aussie market.

On paper the second-gen XF shares much of the XEís promise. Shorter, lower and with a 51mm-longer wheelbase than the car it replaces, the XF now rides on Jaguarís new aluminiumintensive architecture. This means weight savings of up to 190kg and a 28 percent boost in structural rigidity. Thereís new suspension, nicked straight from the XE, which comprises double-wishbones up front and a sophisticated multi-link set-up (called ĎIntegral linkí) at the rear.

The results are impressive when you throw the XFís handsomely chiselled nose at a corner. The XF corners with FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE an eagerness and composure that belies its size and still hefty (despite the diet) kerb weight.

And donít panic that this focus on dynamics has ruined the XFís ride. Just like it achieved with the XE, Jaguar has found a deft balance between sporty handling and ride comfort. Passive dampers, which are frequency dependent for a cushier low-speed ride, come as standard, while topspec V6-powered S models are fitted with the latest version of Jaguarís adaptive damper set-up.

R-Sport variants use their own, slightly firmer tune of the passive system. Every XF can be optioned with adaptive dampers for $2400, though the passive set-up is convincing enough to suggest you save the cash.

As good as the XFís ride/ handling compromise is, the dynamic highlight is the steering.

Itís the same electric set-up as (you guessed it) the XE, only with added meatiness courtesy of a tweaked calibration. The result is one of the most communicative tillers around, thanks to steering thatís sharp, smooth and provides a silky sense of connection. Itís good. Great even.

There are five engine choices: a 132kW/430Nm 2.0-litre diesel in the 20d; 177kW/340Nm 2.0- litre petrol (25t); 220kW/700Nm 3.0-litre V6 diesel (XF S); and two tunes of Jaguarís 3.0-litre supercharged V6, 250kW/450Nm in the 35t and 280kW/450Nm in the XF S. Itís a convincing suite of engines with no obvious weak spot, though the highlight is the sweet and refined 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel.

Every XF is rear-wheel drive and paired with an intuitive eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.

Pricing starts at $82,800 for the 20d and taps out at $128,200 for the V6 petrol XF S. More powerful (and more expensive) RS and SVO variants will follow.

The XFís cabin is a much more convincing place to sit than the smaller XE thanks to a cleaner design and more logical layout. Itís roomy, especially in the rear seat, with 15mm more legroom and 27mm more headroom than before.

Whatís lacking is the same level of tech wizardry and autonomous systems featured on the new Mercedes E-Class (due here in July), which can drive itself on roads without clear lane markings and change lanes autonomously.

Jaguar admits it remains a step behind its rivals here.

Nevertheless, just like its XE sibling, the XFís strength lies in its engineering prowess, which begs the question: Is its handling classleading?

Today, on these roads, it feels it, but that verdict will have to wait for a comparison test and thorough back-to-back testing.

As good as its new XF is, Jaguar knows the Germans arenít mucking about either. Bring it on.

Wide screen

A new and fully configurable digital instrument panel is available as an option on the XF for $2550. InControl Touch Pro, combines a 12.3-inch high-definition instrument display and a larger 10.2-inch central touchscreen (an 8-inch screen is standard). Think of it as Britainís answer to Audiís excellent Virtual Dash. Itís even the same size, and promises to lift the XFís cabin ambience considerably, especially when paired with Jagís high-resolution HUD (standard on portfolio and S grades).

Mercedes-Benz E200 $80,400 (estimated)

Due here in July, the new E-Class takes the tech war against BMW and Audi to another level with classleading autonomous systems. Itís bigger, yet lighter and more efficient than before, while its interior will also be a cut above the Jagís.

BMW 528i $97,400

5 Series boasts slick drivetrains and well-finished cabin, but canít match XFís deft suspension tune or steering feel. Petrol-powered 180kW/350Nm 528i is arguably the pick, yet is more expensive than the equivalent XF. All-new 5 Series is due next year.