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New Jag XF diesel vs BMW and Audi

  1. A Jaguar for the common man? This newly face-lifted and engined XF is many things, but that, unfortunately, isn’t one of them. Not when the entry-level SE costs £30,950.

    Nevertheless, the new four-pot diesel is the cheapest Jag since the demise of the X-Type and is more rule than exception in its class. No executive saloon is cheap: a boggo 5-Series is the best part of 30 grand; the basest A6, a smidge more. And that hasn’t stopped people buying them, has it? Have you noticed how many new 5-Series are out there now? They’re everywhere. Mostly de-badged and under-wheeled in one of the non-cost-option colours. Low-ish spec, in other words.

    Words: Ollie Marriage
    Photos: James Lipman

    This feature was originally published in the August 2011 issue of Top Gear magazine

  2. Whether this is the image Jaguar wants the XF to project is doubtful, but that’ll be the way it works out when the lowest-common-denominator buyer isn’t an early-retiree wafting along the middle lane of life in his cherished V6, but a stressed everyman with places to get to, people to see, meetings to be successful at. Volumes will go up (which will make Jaguar happy), exclusivity will be lost (but it won’t lose much sleep over that) and motorways across the land will be pounded by 2.2-litre diesel XFs.

    So, what every high-miler needs to know is: does the new XF stack up?

  3. Let’s start with visual appeal, that contentious little chestnut that you, individually, are much better equipped to answer than I am. For what little it’s worth, I think the Jaguar is more handsome now than before. I like what Ian Callum has done with the XJ-ing of the headlights, the bonnet lines are more muscular, the flanks crisper. But it does still have that air of maturity, of seniority, which is bound to put a few people off.

  4. But at least you can have an opinion about it. Look at the Audi A6 - how is it possible to have an opinion about something so obvious and underwhelming? Audi’s design team, once the doyen of the motoring world, has lost focus. Hardly surprising, given how many projects they’re pumping out these days. The BMW? Well, that just looks big and Bavarian. It has presence simply by dint of its size.

  5. But that’s fair enough, because it is big - massive in fact - and the Audi’s not far behind. If you simply must carry the most stuff, the biggest loads and the largest ego, then the Germans do that best. But the XF is there or thereabouts, and the cabin design has a level of personality that’s entirely missing from the less emotional Germans. The keyless start-up procedure, with its rotating airvents and rising gear selector, might not have changed a jot during the facelift, but it engages with you, as does the blue night-lighting.

  6. But the Jag doesn’t have it all its own way. Four years old now, the basic cabin architecture is simple and clear enough, but it has no answer to the Audi’s neat pop-up satnav or the BMW’s sleek, expansive dash. The 5 is beautifully assembled, too - a step up from the Jag in materials and their sculpted use. Shame you feel like a dwarf driving it. Seriously, the thing is outsized.

  7. This hands the Jag an advantage when it comes to driving. It’s easier to place on the road, so far better negotiating our multi-storey car park. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Before you start punting up and down ramps there’s a familiar diesel obstacle to be overcome - the start-up. Oh dear, Jag. Well, you and Audi both. Too rattly, too noisy, too much vibration.

  8. It’s disappointing, to be honest - the Freelander’s modified 2.2 sports a clattery edge that doesn’t even totally fade once warm. It’s un-Jaguar-ish and ultimately unignorable. There’d be far less to complain about if this test were solely against the Audi, but BMW does it better. The damn thing’s near-silent at all times. For speed and economy, there’s less to choose between them, and the Jaguar actually feels the quickest car because of its snappier response and fatter torque figure.

  9. It’s also easily the most exciting of this trio to drive. In fact, it’s got a good claim to being the best XF to drive, full stop. The engine is small and light, so doesn’t act too heavily on the front end, which means it changes direction willingly and instils a sense of balance and harmony that neither the nose-heavy Audi nor weighty BMW get close to matching.

  10. The new 5-Series really has changed tack in this regard - it feels hopelessly remote down the average B-road. Technically capable, of course, but where’s the steering feel, the sense that the car wants to join in the fun? For driving enjoyment, the Jaguar whips the BMW’s leather shorts down.

  11. What’s changed is that BMW has pitched its executive saloon at the type of driving it needs to excel at. Get on the motorway, and the roles are reversed. The XF is busier, there’s more road noise and the gearchanges are more obvious (despite the fact both use identical ZF eight-speed autos). In short, it’s a less relaxing car - not what you expect from a Jag.

  12. So now we come to the question of how you like your executive saloon. At this stage, we can rule out the Audi A6. It still lives in the 5-Series’s shadow: improved, but without a genuine USP to its name. The 5-Series feels like a game-changer, halfway to being a luxury car, as refined and insulating as a 7-Series and not far off the same size. It’s a directional shift I’m not entirely happy about, but one that ought to concern Jaguar - this is a BMW that steps on the toes of Jaguar’s normal remit.

  13. Is the new Jaguar left exposed as a result? In a way it is, yes. The XF should have had this engine from the start and now seems half a generation out of date in the light of the cosseting 5-Series. It’s also diving into a market sector where buyers will judge it on merit and costs more than badge and style. Perhaps this doesn’t matter. Jaguar’s sales will rocket just from having this car in the range. But the title of best entry-level diesel exec? That belongs to BMW.

What do you think?

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