New Jaguar XF Whips Up a German Bloodfeast

Second generation of aluminum-bodied luxury sedan preys on Teutons.

As families gather at dinnertime, whether in Rockwellian aspiration or dial-Domino’s resignation, one can only imagine the amount (and variety) of food that gets choked on when someone suggests buying a Jaguar.

“A Jaguar!” a parent sputters, gasping and projecting undigested beef about the dining room, nearly decapitating a high-mounted toddler. “Say, how about a Bentley while we’re at it? Maybe just sell the house so we can afford the repairs. Oh, the neighbors will just be—ORK URK GAK,” upon which esophageal spasms are matched by the spiritual violence of a ruined meal and bedtime recriminations to come.

Jaguar is well aware of its image problem. The company has transformed its once-antiquated lineup, and risen to the podium of nearly every quality and customer satisfaction study. But sales have barely blipped, with Jaguar the slacker in the bustling Jaguar-Land Rover conglomerate. The firm, reverse-colonized by owner Tata Group of India, expects to sell a record half-million cars worldwide this year. Fewer than 90,000 of those will be Jags. That imbalance must change. Quickly.

Minutes before I spin the new 2016 Jaguar XF around Circuito de Navarra in northern Spain, Joe Eberhardt, president and chief executive of Jaguar-Land Rover North America, ticks off Americans’ long-held assumptions about Jaguar. Too expensive. Too risky. Too, well, British. Jaguars have always been sexy, and have “always had a place in people’s heart,” Eberhardt says. But Americans like their sex safe, especially when it requires a monthly payment on-par with a Park Avenue escort.

Stuart Schorr, Jaguar’s U.S. PR chief, sums it up: “We need to give people a rational permission slip to buy a Jaguar.”

So Jaguar is embarking on a practical-performance revolution, beginning with this second-generation XF sedan. Like the larger XJ sedan and F-Type sports car, it’s the sleekest of its midsize class. This XF also promises a sizzling good time, performance roughly on par with Cadillac’s acclaimed CTS VSport, and surpassing that of a BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 or Mercedes E350. To lure undecided voters, Jag is reducing the bottom line on the XF—and those of other models, too. The goal is to undercut the Germans and Cadillac by $1,500 to $5,500, while dangling a five-year warranty. So the XF t35, with its 340-horsepower supercharged V-6, will start at $53k, some five grand less than the previous generation.

And, just like that, Jaguar is offering more reasons to bypass the German dealerships on automobile row.

Back in Spain, at the Circuito de Navarra paddock, Jaguar has the XF’s naked chassis on display. The 621-lb jigsaw of aluminum, magnesium and boron steel trims 265 lbs from the previous car’s curb weight. It’s also a touch smaller in length and height, but rides on a two-inch longer wheelbase to offer more rear leg room. In rear-drive base trim, the XF weighs 3,770 lbs, about 220 fewer than the CTS V-Sport. This hybrid chassis structure is key to saving fuel and sharpening performance, and will be shared with next year’s compact XE sedan and F-Pace crossover. Half of that aluminum is recycled from scrap in JLR’s press shops.

Not that the body is anything to scoff at. In the ever-tasteful vein of chief designer Ian Callum, the XF has clean, disciplined lines. Soft shapes, too, from an enlarged and upright mesh grille to the windswept silhouette. The rear end stretches in carriage-like fashion, finishing in a saucily upturned tail and slim LED taillamps whose elements look like Little Dippers.

Borrowing the F-Type’s sugary 3-liter, supercharged V-6, the XF sprints to 60 mph in 5 seconds flat in 380-horsepower trim, or 5.2 seconds for the 340-hp base version. The eight-speed ZF automatic transmission works its discreet magic, whether left in D or actuated via paddle shifts. By the middle of next year, Americans will be able to choose a 2-liter four-cylinder diesel whose fuel-sipping ways, including roughly 40 highway mpg, we sampled in the Spanish countryside.

“We need to give people a rational permission slip to buy a Jaguar.”

To keep Northeasterns interested, the XF offers a new chain-driven all-wheel-drive system that plays exclusively in rear drive until front-wheel action is needed. The system senses road surfaces—dry, icy, wet—and reacts accordingly. A new low-speed launch control is expressly designed for slippery stuff: Drivers set a target speed and let the car do the work getting moving.

Romping around the 2.4 miles of Circuito de Navarra, the British expat makes itself at home, its stiffer chassis, near 50/50 weight distribution and finely weighted steering helping it connect the track’s 15 corners in impressive fashion. The XF appropriates the F-Type’s double wishbone front suspension and an integral link in back; that latter is superior to a typical multilink, Jaguar engineers say, offering precise tuning of handling and ride quality along both lateral and longitudinal axes. Continuously adaptive suspension is optional, while a torque-vectoring setup is standard, dabbing individual brakes to keep the Jaguar on-line. Another optional system lets drivers dial in steering heft, transmission timing and throttle sensitivity. Lightened and girded with new technology, this Jag makes its predecessor feel like a lasagna-stuffed tabby in comparison.

Tossed into corners on Spain’s brilliant country roads, the XF responds in kind. The handling is frisky, the ride supple and the electric steering is just about perfect for this class. Among rivals, only the CTS V-Sport has a skosh faster steering and tauter body control. For Audi, you’ll definitely need a pumped-up S6 to compete. And considering this is the standard-issue sedan, the XF already provides tall shoulders for an upcoming high-performance XF SVR version to stand upon.

The only caveats are found inside. As in the F-Type, the cabin is reasonable but doesn’t merit the same coos as the exterior. The larger XJ’s “Riva hoop,” a band that wraps the upper instrument panel like the boards of an ice rink, is downsized here to become nearly superfluous. Cool gizmos abound, including an optional laser head-up display and drowsy-driver monitor. But the Jaguar’s standard, postcard-size infotainment screen still seems straight out of the Flintstones epoch. And with no console-mounted rotary controller as you’d find in most competitors, the XF’s balky capacitive touch screen would have Fred losing his shit in animated fashion.

This Jag makes its predecessor feel like a lasagna-stuffed tabby​

(Jaguar showed us its future antidote, an overhauled infotainment system with 10- or 12.3-inch screens, which arrives mid-model year, but it can’t get here soon enough.)

All told, the XF finds Jaguar building on strengths and shoring up weaknesses: It’s the best-looking car in its class, full stop, with the exuberant driving personality that is coming to define the modern Jaguar. Throw in the XF’s newly defensible economics, and Americans can literally breathe easier over these once-finicky British cars. The next time someone innocently mentions Jaguar at the dinner table, neither a Heimlich maneuver nor a 9-1-1 call should be required.

2016 JAGUAR XF
PRICE (AS-TESTED): $66,695
POWERTRAIN: 3-liter supercharged V-6; 380 hp, 332 lb-ft torque; all-wheel-drive; 8-speed automatic
WEIGHT: 3,770 lbs
0-60 MPH: 5.0 sec
TOP SPEED: TBA
MPG: 20 city / 30 highway
ON SALE: Fall