Review: Jaguar’s new diesel XF in a class by itself
With no competitors, there's truly nothing else like this Jag
If you’re shopping for a new, midsize luxury sedan with all-wheel drive and a diesel engine, your pickings are more slim than ever. The once-venerable Audi A6 TDI is gone, a victim of Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scandal. Americans can also forget about the indefinitely delayed BMW 535d xDrive, and the Mercedes E250 4MATIC won’t go on sale in the U.S. until 2018.
Luckily, there’s a new player in the game. See, at the same time the Germans were dealing with fallout from Dieselgate, the EPA was quietly in the process of certifying Jaguar Land Rover’s new Ingenium series of diesel engines for the Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery, and Jaguar XE and XF sedans.
The timing of the Ingenium’s debut put Jaguar in a unique position: Absent any and all competition, the all-new Jaguar XF 20d AWD (MSRP $51,250, as tested $61,900) has unexpectedly cornered a niche market by default.
Despite its distinct lack of challengers, I was still curious how the diesel, all-wheel drive XF would have fared against the Germans had they not all quit or been disqualified. So I spent a wintry week with the oil-burning Jaguar in order to compare it against the ghosts of diesels past.
Overall, the entire XF lineup is finally on par with its luxe rivals. That’s largely thanks to a much-needed redesign in 2015—its first since the car’s 2008 debut. It now comes with must-haves like active safety technology and optional all-wheel drive.
New for 2017 is the entry-level 20d trim, which offers a 180-hp, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine. That might sound like too small a powerplant for an upscale sedan, especially when you compare it to the former A6 TDI’s 240-hp six-cylinder turbodiesel. But even during a leisurely 7.9 second jaunt from 0 to 60, the Jag feels plenty responsive thanks to its lightweight aluminum construction—408 lbs. lighter than the erstwhile Audi.
If you don’t like how the Jag handles, you’re not entirely out of luck. Upgrade to the optional Configurable Dynamics system, and you can make custom adjustments to the XF’s throttle response, steering feel, and suspension firmness.
I played around with the different settings, and while I appreciated Dynamic Mode’s livelier throttle, the XF’s electronic power steering stiffened up so much that the car got a bit squirrelly at high speeds. I mostly kept the car in Eco Mode, which was perfect for a long, comfortable highway cruise at 70 mph—and 42 mpg.
Although the XF is no Land Rover, all-wheel drive still helped on snowy roads, lending a gentle hand whenever a wheel lost its grip. Another nice touch: a low-speed start setting that helped me extricate the XF from a snowy driveway without sublimating the rear tires into a cloud of smoke.
Yes, the 2.0-liter diesel’s exhaust note sounded a bit more gravelly than a gas engine, but it had none of the clatter of a Mack truck or a Reagan-era Oldsmobile. If it weren’t for the badge on the back and the mileage estimate on the window sticker, you’d probably never realize that it's a diesel.
In fact, you might not even realize the XF is a Jaguar. Unlike the chrome-and-hood-ornament-laden sedans of years past, the XF is more MI5 than Golden Jubilee. Indeed, it’s so understated that I didn’t get a single comment from the coworkers and neighbors who usually ooh and ahh whenever I test a luxury car. If you find that kind of attention unwelcome, a Jaguar that’s no flashier than a Hyundai Sonata might be a nice perk.
Inside, thing get a little more extravagant. You’ve got vents that conceal themselves behind panels when the AC is turned off, a shift knob that descends into the center console when the car is off, and a start/stop button that pulses like a heartbeat. Those touches might have felt like gimmicks when they debuted on the original XF a decade ago, but they’ve since become part of Jaguar’s identity.
Most importantly, Jaguar finally ditched its sluggish old infotainment system, which was bad enough to justify skipping the brand altogether. The new touchscreen-based setup is responsive, and can play cool tricks like memorizing your commute to automatically route you around traffic. It can also search for a parking garage when you arrive at a destination, or play apps from your phone.
Unfortunately, the XF’s new kit doesn’t come with CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility. So, despite all the work that went into it, the infotainment system still feels at least two years behind a current Audi—let alone a $15,000 Mitsubishi Mirage.
Similarly, the full color LED screen behind the steering wheel is a wasted opportunity. Like Audi’s Virtual Cockpit, it’s customizable and can show everything from vehicle settings to a full color map. Unfortunately, the Jaguar’s screen returns to its default display—a simple gauge cluster—whenever the car is turned off.
No, the XF isn’t perfect, and if the diesel A6 still existed I’d sing its praises until my own CO2 emissions exceeded those from a TDI’s tailpipe. But well-heeled diesel aficionados in Snow Belt states can rest assured that Jaguar had all its former competitors in mind when it was designing the XF.
Car manufacturers are locked in such tight competition that it’s impossible to lag too far behind—and that’s especially true in the luxury segment. In other words, buying the XF instead of an A6 is like staying at a Conrad because the J.W. Marriott was fully booked. The execution might be a little different, but the basic concept is almost identical.
While the absence of competition might be good news for Jaguar dealers, I can’t help but feel like the XF’s victory rings hollow. Over the decade I’ve spent covering the auto industry, I’ve learned just how much pride manufacturers take in bringing a new model to market—especially when it’s designed to go against a more established rival.
When Jaguar’s engineers and product planners decided to sell the diesel XF in the U.S., I bet they never expected a global scandal would decimate all its would-be challengers. Instead, they built a car designed to go toe-to-toe against them. It’s a shame the XF never had the chance.
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