E-Class, 5-Series—some of the best luxury cars in the world are mid-size sedans. But the battle for hearts and minds, and roads, isn't just between those epic four-doors. We'd put the vaunted Audi A6 and the excellent Cadillac CTS on the list, too.
Is there room for one more truly great luxury sedan in the world? Is it Jaguar's turn to join that elite group?
You can't really answer that without a few hundred kilometers behind the wheel, so we flew to Spain for our first drive of the 2016 Jaguar XF—in turbodiesel and supercharged six-cylinder-powered versions, on uncluttered roads and a near-virgin track.
The first-generation XF was a lovely car with a striking interior, but it was also heavy and had a small back seat. No surprise, since it's now the oldest car in the British automaker's lineup. Jaguar has some catching up to do.
It doesn't just catch up, it moves a smart step ahead. With the new XF, Jaguar has switched its body from steel to aluminum, save for a steel trunk lid and doors. The switch has brought huge changes in how it looks, how it performs, and how it works.
Striking and straightforward all at once, the 2016 XF is an attractively proportioned and detailed car. It wears its rectangular-framed grille more proudly than before; the grille is flanked by big air intakes below and slim headlamps that arc upward as they wrap around the front end.
It shares about a quarter of its content with the compact 2017 Jaguar XE coming next year, and the styling differences really emerge in the side view, where the XF has an extra window that elongates the roofline. At the rear, the XF's taillamps have twin circular insets—where the XE and the F-Type sports car have just one per side.
The XF's cabin has an elegant, airy feel, with a lovely clarity to the design below the midline. Above that, there's a "riva" line, a cue adopted from the boating industry; it bows around the whole cockpit to draw in occupants more closely. It's a visual trick that works subtly in everything from Bernini's Vatican colonnades to a Samsung curved-screen LED TV, and in the XF it creates some relaxing visual space up top.
Below that horizon, the cabin's clear, concise layout is dominated by a touchscreen interface front and center. On some versions it's an eight-inch screen featuring Jaguar's new InTouch interface; Beneath the central screen, there are strips of small buttons for core functions, thankfully marked in big, clear letters and graphics. But on top models it's a larger 10.3-inch screen paired with another 12.3-inch screen that replaces the gauges, governed by InTouch Pro. Those buttons get subsumed into the touchscreen on Pro.
With trim and color options, the XF can seem as sober as a big German sedan, in black-on-black tones—or lively and lush, with a red-and-black pairing. For a paler environment, there's a whitewashed-wood treatment that doesn't do the XF dash many favors—especially on the console, where it floats the rotary shift controller in a sea of wan-looking trim.
2016 Jaguar XF: performance stats
At launch this fall, the U.S. versions of the XF will come with a choice between a supercharged V-6 engine in two power ratings, with either 340 horsepower or 380 horsepower, both turning in an identical 332 pound-feet of torque.
In calendar-year 2016, a turbodiesel four-cylinder with 178 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque will go on sale, with mileage estimates offered by Jaguar of more than 40 miles per gallon on the EPA highway cycle. Even gas models will post up to a 9-percent mileage gain, Jaguar says, with EPA estimates for rear-drive models at 20/30 mpg, or 24 mpg combined.
We drove those three versions on lovely, glassy Spanish roads and on the Circuito de Navarra, a pristine racetrack in Basque country, halfway to nowhere between Bilbao and Pamplona. Diesels on the winding roads to the track, all-wheel-drive XF S sedans on the track, and rear-drive XF S sedans on the route back to Pamplona. When asked if there were XF R sedans with 500-plus horsepower, Jaguar officials smiled and shooed us along patiently.
An eight-speed paddle-shifted automatic is the sole transmission at launch, though Jaguar has a manual shifter in its parts bin now. The automatic has a pendulum damper for better low-speed shift quality, and the V-6 gets a balance shaft for smoother operation.
Jaguar pegs 0-60 mph times for the 380-horsepower, all-wheel-drive XF S at 5.0 seconds, and top speed hits a limited 155 mph. Rear-drive cars take a tick longer to launch to 60 mph; the turbodiesel takes 7.7 seconds.
A lighter-weight, chain-driven all-wheel-drive system will be an option, but the XF is a rear-wheel-driver at heart. Power steering is driven by electric motors, and the XF's stability control system incorporates a torque-vectoring function which brakes an inside wheel in corners for better responsiveness.
The suspension is made up of twin wishbones at the front wheels and an integral-link setup at the rear. A set of adaptive dampers are available, and a set of driver-selectable programs can tailor the XF's ride quality, electric power-steering assist, throttle, and shift timing and speed. The drive modes are accessed by keying through a horizontal switch, the same as it's done in the Range Rover Evoque, but the modes are different: eco, normal, sport, and track are joined by an adaptive-traction mode that uses information on the road surface to set those driving parameters. There's also a low-speed launch mode that pre-loads light throttle for crisp launches in slippery conditions.
The spec sheet cues up all the correct feels—but how does the XF gel? Is it competent, credible, or should we add "in" to either of those? After nearly 200 miles, we came up with some answers.