For many people, the idea of driving a Jaguar - as opposed to the alternatives from BMW, Audi and Mercedes - is very appealing indeed.
Jaguars are supposed to stir the soul. But since Jag launched the XF back in 2006, fewer have made it onto our roads than the company might have hoped, because for most of the people who buy this kind of car - management-level company car drivers - the XF didn’t make sense.
That’s because Jag has never offered a smaller capacity diesel with low emissions, so the average 40 percent tax payer was looking at a daft bill compared to the ubiquitous BMW 520d. So for company car drivers who’ve always wanted a Jag, this is the answer to your prayers, the 2.2 diesel auto XF. Question is, should you really be jumping out of your 5-Series, A6 or E-class for one of these?
It’s a commonly held view by many I’ve spoken to that the XF looks better than its German competitors, and the recent facelift makes it better still, ridding it of those surprised-looking lamps which have always looked a bit odd on the car.
Yet there’s a lot of Lexus GS in that side profile – and the car looks a little heavy, particularly in white. It needs bigger wheels than these 18 inches too, and we’re not sure how that would affect the ride.
If you’re a fan of the looks, doubtless you now think we're blind - but the Jag’s premium brand connotations, as communicated by its design, are behind the German competition. You’d never find the black soft-touch locking buttons, which stand out like sore thumbs against the white paint, on a BMW, for instance. Nor stitching and seam lines inside that don’t line up. And those new LED running lights use technology that is a generation old. You can see the bulb sources, whereas Audi’s moved to stunning, diffuse glowing light pipes.
Inside though, there’s a real sense of theatre. Get in and the starter button glows red with an off-beat pulse. Hit it and the milled metal gear selector knob rises out of the centre console, while the air vents turn open through 90 degrees. It’s cosy, rather than cavernous in here though, particularly in the back.
The dash employs a minimalist, clean theme, which means the tech is mostly hidden. Two USB connectors live in the centre bin, Bluetooth works a treat for calls and music, optional DAB radio sounds crisp and clean, while a back-up camera and nav all came as standard on our second from top-of-the-range Premium Luxury. In fact, we’d recommend you drop down just to Premium trim level if buying one, as you lose little of the stuff you’ll really want (keeping nav importantly) and save a good chunk of cash.
The problem is the touchscreen through which you access most of this stuff. The screen has recently been upgraded but it’s still a little slow to respond to prods and in an effort to make the interior clean and largely button-free, most of the major cabin functions are operated through the screen.
So if you want to, say, direct air at your feet rather than your face, while on the move and using Nav, you’ll first you need to press the physical ‘home’ button for the main touchscreen menu. Then hit the ‘climate’ box on the home screen, and then another part of the touchscreen for the virtual button to direct air. Timing myself on the A1, my eyes were off the road for about four seconds trying to do this. And this is just the start of things, I’m not even going to mention the ridiculous switch-on procedure for the heated seats.
The Jag’s an example of how car designers and engineers need to realize that doing stuff on a touchscreen at 70mph isn’t - or shouldn’t be - the same as when you’re wondering around your living room looking at a phone.
But, once everything’s actually connected and working as you want it, the quality of what you get is phenomenal. We sustained a phone conversation for 20 minutes on the motorway and call quality on both ends was very impressive. The Jaguar 600W premium hi-fi system sounds utterly brilliantly - and wasn’t the full-on, optional Bowers and Wilkins system, which must be something else.
It’s just a pity about the clunky graphics of the screen between the gauges, and the fact you’re stuck with the digitally represented analogue clock staring back at you from this screen, unless you’re in sport mode. Remember what we said about those little design elements being half-a-step behind the Germans?
Stop fighting the touchscreen, just drive, and the XF’s a rather lovely thing to lope around in. It makes sense on the motorway where the combination of the diesel engine and eight-speed (yes, eight) gearbox deliver impressive economy - 42mpg over 300 miles of motorway at realistic UK speeds.
The ride is among the best in any car on sale to day, and the XF has beautifully linear, well-weighted steering and brakes. It’s also surprisingly fast for a four-cylinder diesel, when you need to get a move on. Most importantly, other people on the road don’t seem to hate you – as they appear to when you’re driving some of the German opposition.
We're not 100 percent convinced about that eight-speed gearbox though. Tuned for economy, it selects as high a gear as possible in normal driving, in order to use less fuel. The only problem is that from the driver’s seat it often feels like it’s puts itself into one gear too high, making the engine labour and causing some unpleasant vibrations pulse through the cabin.
Still, this gearing means the car’s eerily quiet on the motorway. And flick that silver gearbox roundel a notch round to sport mode and it’ll typically hold one gear lower, which works much better on A and B roads.
Impressive though it is in large parts, we’re not convinced the XF will suit the sensibilities of a typical Pocket-lint reader as well as the equivalent Audi or BMW will. And we simply can’t overlook those user interface issues.
In the final reckoning, we have perhaps a surprising suggestion. If you’re set on an XF - and particularly if you’re spending your own and not the company’s money - then we’d highly recommend plumping for the Premium spec which is one trim level below this, but upgrading to the higher powered V6 diesel. That car will cost almost exactly the same as this Premium Luxury 2.2D but shouldn’t return significantly worse fuel economy. Its engine though, is altogether more suited to the car’s character.
And if you’re a company car user watching your car tax bill, then yes a 4-cyl diesel Jag, with Co2 emissions of 149g/km now means it could be on your list if you’re company caps options at 160g/km, as many do. But the game’s moved on while Jag was catching up. The BMW 520ED drives as well as this, has better interface design and is just about as fast. But its Co2 emissions of just 119g/km mean that a 40% tax-payer should be paying at least £100 less in tax each month driving the Beemer than this Jag.
And in these penny-watching times, that’s not to be sniffed at in anyone’s book. Better interface and more competitive Co2 would have meant more stars. As it is, it’s a good car, but we think you can do better.