First drive: Jaguar XF

AOL Cars tests the new Jaguar XF in Spain

Reaching its 80th anniversary, Jaguar has much to celebrate in 2015, including the arrival of its new XF. Now in its second generation, the big cat has completely overhauled its new BMW 5-Series-rival, which is designed to take the lead in the mid-sized executive segment.

The new model follows in the footsteps of the recently launched XE and will be delivered ahead of the eagerly-anticipated F-Pace crossover. Like the crest it bares, the new XF is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor and, if first impressions are anything to go by, the German giants should watch their tails.

What is it?

This is the new XF, one of two new cars to be delivered by the luxury British carmaker this year and one of three to be launched within the space of 12 months – making 2015 Jaguar's busiest year to date. First launched in 2007, the original XF became the new face of Jaguar, giving drivers a little more agility and driving pleasure at the wheel of a bulky saloon. Now, backed by Tata, it's destined to take on the giants of the premium saloon segment with a more appealing price-tag, which starts from £32,300, and impressive handling and performance capabilities.

While development of the XE has been dominating the drawing boards, Jaguar engineers have been focusing all of their attention on bettering the XF, which looks to have paid off. Thanks to its aluminium-based shell – which is also the basis of the smaller XE – the new XF is 190kg lighter, more efficient and nippier on its feet than the car it replaces. Not only does it have a kerb weight of 1455kg, it's also 7mm shorter and 3mm lower than the original, although it does a 51mm longer wheelbase, providing more space for passengers travelling in the rear. Offering such a desirable package, it's highly likely that you could be looking at the new class leader.

What's under the bonnet?

UK buyers will have the choice of three engines in the XF, with the majority of sales expected to come from the four-cylinder 178bhp 2.0-litre Ingenium diesel unit, which will also be available in a smaller 161bhp variant. Next up is the 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel – available only in S trim – which churns out 296bhp and 700Nm of torque. Adrenaline junkies who require a little more oomph can choose the familiar 375bhp 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol unit, which you'll find under the bonnet of the F-Type – this variant is the only petrol engine on offer and, like the TDV6, will only be available on the range-topping S model. Mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, the entry-level 161bhp diesel is expected to boast a 70.6mpg figure and emit just 104g/km of CO2 emissions. The larger engines can be specced with the ZF eight-speed automatic for an additional £1,750, which cleverly and smoothly manages the gears on the 3.0-litre V6 diesel.

First drive: Jaguar XF
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First drive: Jaguar XF
What's the spec like?

While the XF has been subtly reworked to offer more in terms of performance and refinement, the new model still retains the key qualities of the original car, including a comfy cabin environment, a nicely weighted steering wheel and notably impressive cornering stability for a hefty saloon. Its extended wheelbase has really made the difference in the back, giving tall adults plenty of legroom to sit comfortably, without feeling trapped. Unlike some of its key rivals, the XF benefits from a bold and uncluttered console arrangement, which can be fitted with Jaguar's new InControl Touch Pro infotainment system as an optional extra on all models by the end of the year. It is an extra £1,200, but definitely worth the investment, enabling gesture control and a larger 10.2-inch touch screen. The XF can also trump its rivals with a class-leading boost space, which totals 540 litres.

The XF range begins with the entry-level Prestige 161bhp 2.0-litre diesel, which is equipped with heated leather seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, sat-nav and rear parking sensors as standard. Step up a level to R-Sport, which comes at an extra cost of £1,900, and the XF receives a body kit, slightly larger 18-inch alloys and sports suspension. For a further £2,200, the range-topping Portfolio adds full electric seats, keyless entry, a rear parking camera and a Meridian sound system. The base model is priced from £32,800, while the top-of-the-range V6 models are nearer the £50,000 mark.

Any rivals?

In terms of competition, the XF is pitched against the exceedingly popular (and aforementioned) BMW 5-Series, while its smaller sibling – the XE – keeps the 3-Series on its toes. BMW tends to better its rivals with a more appealing interior design, while Audi's A6 and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class have the edge when it comes to exterior styling. But this means very little, since the XF can offer more tech and greater levels of fun for a more appealing price.

What's it like to drive?

At the wheel, you'll notice how the lighter chassis has further improved the XF's nimble handling qualities, while the clever front double-wishbone and rear Integral Link suspension setup allows for more intense and precise cornering. Aside from the F-Type, Jaguar has never been one for setting the pace in one squeeze of the accelerator, so you'll need to be patient and wait for the engine to hit 4000rpm before you really feel the XF begin to push you back in your seat. The V6 models are available with Configurable Dynamics, which further enhance the XF's handling credentials, allowing it to match BMW's 5-Series for driver entertainment.

The AOL Cars verdict

It would appear that Britain's small luxury car firm has finally managed to ace the task in hand, building a sporty executive saloon car that's outrun the Germans. While BMW and Mercedes may have the edge when it comes to sheer power, the XF is a little more dignified. Rather than raging as if it were a mad bull, the Jag keeps its cards close to its chest – it's stylish, it's comfortable, it's nimble through the bends and, when required, is ready to pounce.

The Knowledge

Model: Jaguar XF R-Sport
Price: £36,850
Engine: 2.0-litre Ingenium Diesel
Power: 178bhp, 430Nm
Top Speed: 136mph
0-62mph: 8.1 seconds
Fuel economy: 65.7mpg
Emissions: 114g/km
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