Jaguar XF S test drive: Stealth hunter

This story is over

It might look like a regular Jaguar XF, but this supercharged petrol saloon is everything a big Jag should be – and it’s a marvellous executive car as a result.

Last time we drove the second-generation Jaguar XF here at Lincolnshire Business, it was a car which left us feeling ambivalent. Handsome, undoubtedly, and supremely comfortable in the main, but as a base-model 163hp 2.0-litre diesel on small wheels yet with the R-Sport specification, it felt neither sporty nor particularly cosseting. While that car didn’t have us rushing to our local Jaguar dealership at the time, we could see enough latent talent in the XF MkII to suggest that – should you get the specification spot on – you could be left with a world-beating car.

And this just might be it. This, currently, is the range-topper for the XF line-up and it’s called the S. Available in either diesel or petrol format, in either instance you get a 3.0-litre V6 engine. For the diesel, this is a turbocharged unit and it’s a fine engine with a huge 300hp, but if you want the full-on, wonderful experience of owning the latest XF, then you have to opt for the supercharged petrol.

This might sound like some rather ineffective buying advice, telling you to opt for a £50,000 basic Jaguar saloon that’ll only do 34mpg and which does not have the best road tax or benefit in kind figures; figures that will only get worse next year, when both BIK rates and VED are changed once more. Yet consider that 2.0d XF we mentioned at the top of the piece. It was £34,200 as standard but had been loaded up with options to a frightening £47,585 – less than £2,500 cheaper than the unadorned XF S. That still left you with a low-powered diesel Jaguar with small wheels, a manual gearbox and a few specification gaps that meant it didn’t feel like a properly premium executive.

True, this test XF S had options as well, pushing its ticket up to £58,715, but crucially it felt worth every single penny of that asking price and the equipment list was replete for the cash. Indeed, you could even bring that windscreen sticker back down a touch, because while items like an option paint finish (£690), InControl Touch Pro with a 380-watt Meridian sound system (£1,225), the Cold Climate Pack (£525), a powered tailgate (£440), sliding panoramic roof (£970) and head-up display (£1,265) are all very desirable extras, you can probably live without a carbon fibre veneer interior (£1,125), the optional 20-inch wheels (£1,230), treadplate illumination (£310), the Black Pack (£650) and a cooled glovebox (£55). That would make the XF S more like £55,000 – whisper it, but that’s getting close to a bargain price. That’s because this is precisely what you expect a big Jaguar saloon to be.

It’s comfortable without being soft, cultured without being indiscreet, sporty without ever once ruining Jaguar’s legendary composure.

That it also looks great and has one of the company’s best-ever cabins – complete with an infotainment system that now works brilliantly well, although we don’t like the heated seat button that takes you into a sub-menu in the InControl set-up; we’d prefer just a three-stage switch on the dash for each seat – is what seals the deal.

Jaguar lifts the 3.0-litre V6 for the XF S from the mid-level F-Type coupé, itself also toting an ‘S’ badge. For the smaller XE, the same engine is used but in the 340hp guise as found in the entry-point F-Type. And while 40hp might not sound a lot in this day and age, the 380hp/450Nm outputs here are enough to make the bigger XF feel like a proper missile. There’s little chance you’ll ever find yourself lamenting the sheer accelerative urge of the S, as it collates speed with alarming ease from both standstill and roll-on situations.

Without ever becoming needlessly loud and intrusive, nor relying on a boisterous ‘pop-and-bang’ exhaust to up the excitement levels, the Jaguar nevertheless lets you know its muscular strength via the medium of a muffled, velvety V6 roar. Coupled to one of the finest eight-speed ‘boxes known to man, the outcome is a car which has all the performance needed for the full gamut of road-going situations. A more potent ‘R’ model, using Jaguar’s venerable but still explosively powerful 5.0-litre supercharged V8, is surely on the way – as, possibly, is an even hotter R-S and maybe even a super-limited SVR edition. But given as we’re at a loss to explain why you’d ever conceivably need more grunt than this S can offer, three further stages of XF performance seems profligate.

The most stupendous thing about the rest of the dynamics is the ride. It’s one of those gloriously cushioned, supple machines that can lope across even the worst motorway surfaces without ever once upsetting the passengers inside – and bear in mind we were on colossal optional 20-inch wheels here. Not only that, but the refinement levels are off the chart, as the drivetrain and suspension are both inaudible as the XF cuts through the air with the minimum of disturbance. It’ll even average out at 30-35 real-world mpg when cruising, as its big engine is unstressed at 70mph.

Not that you should stick to motorways exclusively in the XF S, mind. As sports saloons go, it’s a belter. The steering is lovely and precise, and with the car running in its more focused driving modes, it provides strong body control, a razor-sharp throttle and lightning gearchanges from the automatic transmission. Better still, you can feel it’s resolutely rear-wheel drive, a trait which works well with its lightweight, aluminium body. In short, while it does stress-free long-distance comfort to a very high standard, it’s taut enough in the handling department to uphold the marque’s long-held sports car traditions.

Apart from those odd heated seat buttons, after a week in its company the only way we could think of to improve the XF S is to order it as the Sportbrake estate instead of the saloon, although the MkII Sportbrake isn’t ready for market yet. Further delights came simply from the XF’s ease of use, courtesy of items like the beautiful TFT instrument cluster and that cracking Meridian sound system, which can really blast out music with sparkling clarity at immense volume. We did 249 thoroughly enjoyable miles in the XF S at an average 26mpg and 39mph, which are not bad returns at all for a near-400hp performance four-door like this.

All of which means the slightly underwhelming XF 2.0d R-Sport is quickly forgotten, and our suspicion that a class-leading mid-sized executive car was always hiding in the specification lists of the XF range has been proven true. The XF S isn’t exactly what you could call cheap, but as a sublime big all-rounder that is packed with kit, looks fabulous, goes like stink and sounds superb, we can’t think of much else at this price that will do the job anything like as well – and that includes the usual German opposition. This Jaguar XF is truly a class-leading bit of kit.

TECH SPEC

  • Model: Jaguar XF S
  • Price: XF from £32,300, XF S from £49,995, car as tested £58,715
  • Drivetrain: 3.0-litre supercharged V6 petrol, eight-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
  • Economy: 34mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 198g/km – £500 VED year one, £270 annually thereafter; 36 per cent benefit in kind
  • Top speed: 155mph (limited)
  • 0-62mph: 5.3 seconds
  • Power: 380hp at 6,500rpm
  • Torque: 450Nm at 4,500rpm