Two generations of mid-size Jag cats meet on a drizzly day, play with rainwater and fight a little.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Two generations of mid-size Jag cats meet on a drizzly day, play with rainwater and fight a little.

My Reading Room

ENGINE 1999cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbo-diesel

MAX POWER 180bhp at 4000rpm

MAX TORQUE 430Nm at 1750-2500rpm

POWER TO WEIGHT 118.4bhp per tonne

GEARBOX 8-speed automatic with manual select

0-100KM/H 8.1 seconds

TOP SPEED 229km/h

CONSUMPTION 23.3km/litre

CO2 EMISSION 114g/km

PRICE INCL. COE $223,999 (after $10k CEVS rebate)

THE first XF saved the company. The new XF takes the fight to the Germans.

It’s easy to understate the importance of the first- generation XF to Jaguar’s fortunes. Think of the British marque today and a picture of modernity comes to mind. Some of us, however, will remember the S-Type, a saloon that elevated frumpiness to the level of performance art.

Back in 2007, even the company’s flagship XJ was a luxury barge that, despite being underpinned by an advanced aluminium structure, looked scarcely different than it did back in 1968.

Having the Queen as Jaguar’s only remaining customer after she has outlived all current buyers was a real danger.

Something had to be done. Enter the XF, introduced in 2007 as a 2008 model. Crucially, it looked like nothing Jaguar had been stubbornly doing for the past four decades.

And what a stunner it is. All voluptuous curves and graceful lines, it makes every other mid- size rival, even those pretending to be coupes like the Mercedes CLS, look dowdy by comparison.

Stand a few paces back as a setting sun cascades silken gold over the XF’s sultry shape and it’s hard not to be enthralled.

The visual theatre continues with a cabin full of surprise- and-delight touches. Taking centre stage are rotating air vents and a pulsating engine start button that, when pressed, makes a gear selector rise up out of the centre console. Make of that what you will.

Gone are the heavy wood- panelling, stuffy leather and obsession with olde worlde Englishness. This was Jaguar finally leaving the red telephone box for an iPhone.

Peel back the prettiness, though, and you’ll find the steel-heavy platform from the old S-Type underpinning the car. That was a handicap, but hardly a lethal one. Plucky British engineering came into play, and a genuinely excellent vehicle still emerged from the engineering efforts.

On the road, Jaguar’s first XF impresses with its tactility. It feels eager to wag its tail, and entertainment is available in corners balancing the machine against its limits of adhesion. Yet, because it is vibrantly communicative, the XF remains surefooted, and the driver is given abundant confidence in pushing on.

In a market segment populated by entrants ever more competent but increasingly more anodyne, it feels great to be in an executive car still primarily concerned with engaging the driver in mechanical conversation.

Weight is the nemesis of dynamics, however, and while much credit has to be given to Jaguar’s engineers for making the first XF as involving as it is, the big cat at 1670kg lacks somewhat in outright agility. Its sense of heft conveys some luxurious overtures, but the car cannot offer its successor’s deftness of touch. Piloting it is thus a more effortful undertaking.

Look upon the new XF, and its aesthetic seems almost conservative by comparison. With its more angular contours, it is a bit of a shame that the predecessor’s sultry, sinewy lines have been chamfered to something largely indistinguishable from its XE stablemate.

Much of this, however, wisely comes down to packaging considerations. Still, the new XF remains handsome, if a little less striking than the old one.

Hop in, and immediately you notice how much more relaxed you are. It is now possible to sink, with a satisfied sigh and cocooned comfortably, in every seat front or rear.

Riding in the first XF is no penance, but the relatively unsupportive and stingily padded seats lack both thigh and lumbar support. Unless you are a gorilla, the steering wheel also hangs too far away.

Jaw-dropping exterior design comes with neck-cramping interior compromises, and the steeply raked rear profile of the original XF indeed affects headroom noticeably. A short, insufficiently angled rear bench also means weight is never fully taken off your knees – a critical misstep in a saloon ostensibly playing in the luxury segment.

No such ergonomic criticisms can be levelled at the new cabin, now bestowed with the space and seats to match its material richness.

Today, with the brand’s identity firmly established, the dashboard’s melodrama can be tuned down. Rotary air vents are now only present outboard. Residing in the middle is a quicker-responding and more intuitive touchscreen infotainment system.

My Reading Room

ENGINE 2179cc, 16-valves, inline-4, turbo-diesel

MAX POWER 190bhp at 3500rpm

MAX TORQUE 450Nm at 2000rpm

POWER TO WEIGHT 113.8bhp per tonne

GEARBOX 8-speed automatic with manual select

0-100KM/H 8.5 seconds

TOP SPEED 225km/h

CONSUMPTION 18.5km/litre

CO2 EMISSION 149g/km

PRICE INCL. COE Not applicable

Personally, I prefer a rotary controller, like you get with BMW’s iDrive, to relieve the need to aim your finger while on the move, but all expected connectivity functions are present in the Jaguar and easily accessible. 

The first thing you notice upon driving off in the new XF is the comparative lack of weight. It feels lighter on its feet and is effervescently nimble, while smothering the rutted imperfections of Bouna Vista’s repeatedly cut-up roads with impressive sympathy. 

Gratuitously throwing the XF through violent lane changes reveals body motions that are superbly corralled. Jaguar sees itself as the champion automotive athlete, and this car is yet more testament to its success in this regard.

Believers that luxury means not sounding like a taxi will also appreciate the XF’s strides in turbo-diesel refinement. An intrusive diesel clatter never quite lets you forget the older car’s agricultural fuel type, while a slight shudder resonates through the structure at lower revs.

There is a concerning “nobody home” sensation at throttle tip-in, and all the action is over by 4000rpm. Another aspect plucked from Ford – the older powertrain functioned credibly in isolation, but was outclassed by its German brethren in economy and performance.

Jaguar’s own Ingenium 4-cylinder diesel engine in the new XF brings much quieter operation to the table.

Don’t let the lower on-paper numbers (180bhp and 430Nm versus 190bhp and 450Nm) fool you – a combination of less mass and a more energetic, flexible character with a higher 5000rpm redline makes enthusiastic progress far more rewarding in the newer Jaguar.

At once graceful and dignified, the first XF is still a beguiling, attractive car. Yet, a few notable compromises, primarily in weight and packaging, ultimately kept it in the left field of the hyper- competitive premium mid-size class.

The XF was a car you chose over a 5 Series more because of your heart rather than your head. Jaguar has diligently corrected the car’s shortcomings with the second XF generation. On top of falling in love, you can now buy an XF knowing it can legitimately go toe to toe with the Germans in every technical respect. 

If the first-generation XF was the boot to the backside Jaguar needed to rise from its Victorian armchair and enter the current century, then the new one is the confident, and brilliant, next step forward.