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Jaguar XF 3.0L Diesel Sport Portfolio Review

For a while I felt that Jaguar had lost its way, and was nearly convinced that it would never find its way back. Cars like the S Type did nothing to help Jaguar’s cause in the modern era, while the X Type only managed to erode the company’s high quality image, that used to be synonymous with the brand. Put plainly, a few years ago I was all but convinced that Jaguar had been well and truly slain by ever impressive German, and even Japanese competition. Thankfully I was wrong, very wrong in fact. Because right now, in 2009, Jaguar has got just about everything right.

If you read my preview of the new Jaguar XJ, you’ll know that it looks like the most desirable executive luxury saloon of the moment, while the latest iteration of the XK line is equally appealing – in fact I’ll be looking at an XKR in the near future. But today it’s the Jaguar XF that I’ll be casting my eye over, and it couldn’t be more different to the S Type that it replaced.

The Jaguar XF looks superb, and most importantly, infinitely more modern than the S Type. However, the really impressive achievement is that somehow the XF hasn’t lost any of the traditional Jaguar style – put simply, the designers haven’t simply looked at what Audi and BMW have been doing and tried to copy it, instead they created something fresh, and dare I say, brave. OK, so the design of the XF isn’t as great a shock to the system as the new XJ, but when it launched it still caused something of a splash.

The inside of the XF is just as well designed as the exterior – the centre console, dash and inlays are all beautifully finished. And as is always the case with Jaguar, it’s all customisable in terms of both colour and material. When the sun goes down, things just get better, with the XF bathed in blue light emanating from the dash and centre console.

The XF comes with many engine options, including a 500bhp supercharged monster in the XFR, but the twin turbo 3.0L diesel lump in this test car will most likely be the most popular option. Pumping out an impressive 275bhp, this engine hurls the XF from zero to 60mph in 5.9-seconds, which puts it in Ford Focus RS performance territory. But it’s the 443lb/ft of torque that makes the XF incredibly quick for such a big saloon car. I’m used to driving fast cars, but the XF never ceased to surprise me when I put my foot down.

As always though, it’s the technology inside a car that’s most important here at TrustedReviews, and I’m glad to say that Jaguar has endowed this XF with some truly impressive tech…

When it comes to in-car entertainment Jaguar has really pushed the boat out. Jag has joined forces with legendary speaker manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins and created the best factory fitted audio system that I have ever heard. I’ve never been one to tick the box when it comes to premium in-car sound systems, but Jaguar has gone some way to change my point of view on this matter.

With 440W of power on tap, you can pretty much pump your music as loud as you like with no fear of distortion creeping into proceedings. But don’t go thinking that all that power means that you have to listen to all your music at ear bleeding volume levels, it also means that it can drive the plethora of speakers in the cabin with superb levels of clarity, without compromising the bass.

You can set the soundstage to standard two channel stereo, three channel or Dolby Pro Logic II. The latter is by far the best option and really fills the cabin with sound that feels as if it’s coming from directly in front of the car, regardless of seating position.

The cabin in the XF is also incredibly well insulated from road and engine noise, so even though I had masses of music power at my disposal, I never felt the need to push the volume that high. Unusually, the Bowers & Wilkins system also managed to turn its hand to any and every type of music with equal dexterity – whether that be a delicate acoustic rendition, an R&B anthem with thumping bass or Dave Grohl screaming.

The XF comes with an impressive array of source options to make the most of that superb sound quality. The basics include AM and FM radio reception, with DAB digital radio thrown in for good measure. There’s also a six disc, in-dash CD changer and an analogue AUX input. But the most important source options are the USB and iPod connections. Located in the centre console storage bin, you’ll find a USB port, and an iPod cable.

I had no problem hooking up my iPhone to the XF, as well as various iPods. You get complete control of your iPod from the in-car system, although as always, the best option is to create a selection of playlists, since navigating a large music library while driving is never the best idea. If you don’t have an iPod, you can just plug in a USB key full of music, and considering that you can pick up 16GB USB keys for around £20 these days, it might be the best option.

Your source options don’t stop with audio either, since you can also watch TV. The XF comes with both analogue and digital TV tuners and the 7in LCD screen gives a good account of itself when watching your favourite show. Viewing angles are good, but obviously you can’t watch TV when the car is moving – you’ll need the new XJ for that with its dual-view screen for that. The XF did a good job of locking onto stations, especially via the DVB-T tuner, even in the TrustedReviews car park, which is notoriously bad for TV reception.

Considering the plethora of source options on offer, it’s somewhat surprising that the system in the XF doesn’t offer DVD playback. Not that I would be too bothered by its absence, but I guess if you were stuck waiting in the car for a while and there was nothing good on TV, you might miss it.

There’s no doubt that the Bowers & Wilkins sound system is the tech highlight in the Jaguar XF, but the navigation system isn’t too far behind it. The first thing we usually complain about when we come to the navigation system is the lack of full, seven digit postcode support. Thankfully, no such complaint can be made about the XF, since it has no problem accepting a full postcode, and can therefore get you to within metres of your intended destination, rather than just the general vicinity.

Jaguar has also had the good sense to employ a touch-screen interface, which makes the whole business of inputting destinations and navigating menus so much simpler. Yes, BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI systems are tailored to their dial-based input methods, but they’re simply no substitute for simply stabbing your finger at the option you want.

So, Jaguar has managed to address the two most important parts of the navigation equation, but it hasn’t stopped there. Like other systems I’ve looked at, this one can also be configured to return three different routes for you to choose from, which is useful if you want to take the scenic route instead of sitting on a motorway.

The audible instructions are clear and timely enough to ensure that you’re in the correct lane when you need to be. You also get visual cues in the central dash display, which again are clearer than most – the graphical representation of roundabouts is particularly good. Interestingly, unlike most in-dash displays, the XF doesn’t constantly display the next instruction, instead it only does so when you’re nearing your turning/exit/roundabout.

The communications system in the XF is a bit of a mixed bag – it’s not like it’s particularly bad at anything, just that it doesn’t have quite the same polish as the navigation and entertainment modules.

Obviously you get Bluetooth phone support, which had no problem connecting to my iPhone, or any other handset that I threw at it for that matter. However, unlike the system in the Audi A8, the XF doesn’t offer automatic voice dialling for your entire address book once you’ve paired your phone. Instead you have to record individual voice tags for each contact that you think you’ll want to dial while on the move.

Recording your own voice tags isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it means that you can pronounce each name properly and not have to remember how the system thinks it should be pronounced. What is a bad thing is that you can’t simply hit the voice control button and say “Dial Andy”, instead you have to say “Dial Name” and then when prompted for the name say “Andy” – assuming you know someone called Andy of course.

On the plus side though, call quality is excellent is excellent in both directions, with most people I talked to not even aware that I was using an in-car hands free system at all. Obviously this is helped by the superb sound insulation in the cabin, but even so, the XF put in one of the best hands-free call quality performances I’ve encountered.

When it comes to comfort Jaguar has the XF pretty well kitted out. The full leather interior has a quality feel to it, and although the seats don’t have quite enough lateral support for enthusiastic drivers, they do have full electrical adjustment, as well as being heated – ideal for those cold winter mornings. There’s also a memory function for the seats, so if more than one driver uses the car they can automatically select their own seat settings.

As if the heated seats weren’t enough, the XF also came with a heated steering wheel, just in case you don’t want your delicate paws to get cold when you’re driving. You also get dual zone climate control, so you can turn the driver’s seat into a tropical paradise while your passenger enjoys a winter wonderland.

There’s a plethora of controls on the steering wheel in the form of both buttons and dials, allowing you to control pretty much every operation without having to take your hands off the wheel. Behind the wheel you’ll find paddle shifters in case you want to take control of the gear changes. And talking of gear changes, the aluminium rotary dial that Jaguar has implemented for gear select is truly a thing of beauty.

If you want to explore the ability of the XF’s chassis, you can switch to the Dynamic setting, which allegedly firms up the ride, thus reducing body roll when cornering. I drove with the car in Dynamic most of the time, but that’s just me.

Unsurprisingly pretty much everything is automatic – auto lights, auto wipers and automatically dimming mirrors. The wing mirrors also fold electronically, which should save them from being knocked off by a passing bus if you leave the car parked on a busy road. And of course a mechanical handbrake would be far to passé in a car like this, so Jaguar has equipped it with an electronic parking brake.

As you’d expect from a luxury saloon, you won’t need to take the key out of your pocket when you want to get in the car. The XF has keyless entry and start, while the car can be locked by touching a button on the door handle as you leave. The key fob can still remotely lock and unlock the car, while arming the alarm, but believe me, once you get used to leaving your key in your pocket, you won’t want to go back.

You also get a plethora of airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and a whiplash reduction system for the front seats, which will all help keep occupants safe in the event of an accident. And for any little passengers, there are Isofix mounting points in the rear for securing child seats.

Another neat touch is the blind spot indicators in the wing mirrors – a glowing yellow warning illuminates in each mirror when there’s a car coming up alongside you. With traffic moving fast in the outside lane of the motorway, this type of system will give drivers that extra peace of mind when moving across.

With a large car like the XF, many drivers may find parking a challenge. Jaguar has attempted to allay this fear by fitting parking sensors at both the front and rear of the car. You also get a visual representation on the main screen of how close you are to obstacles at the front, as well as a reversing camera at the rear. If you hit something while parking an XF, you really have no one to blame but yourself!

I’m not the biggest fan of luxury saloon cars, but I have to admit that I can’t help but like the Jaguar XF. Not only does it look great, but it’s also beautifully put together and a genuine joy to drive. The twin turbo diesel engine in this test car is incredibly capable and will no doubt shock many buyers when they put their foot down.

But it’s the way that Jaguar has melded its traditional values with a modern design and execution that makes the XF a success. Whereas it felt like Jag was trying to recreate former glories with the S Type, the XF feels like a car for this millennium, and one that can truly take the battle to the competition.

And to prove that the XF’s contemporary design isn’t just skin deep, pretty much all the technology within the car is as cutting edge as I’ve seen. The Bowers & Wilkins sound system is truly staggering, the satellite navigation system is as close to perfect as I’ve seen, and even though the communications system isn’t quite up to the same high standard, it’s still better than much that I’ve seen elsewhere.

It really does appear that Jaguar is no longer trying to catch up with the German competition, it has actually taken the lead. I’ll be looking at the Jaguar XKR next month, and if this XF is anything to go by, I’m in for a real treat.

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