Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Road Taster: Jaguar XF 3.0 Diesel S Premium Luxury

Our driveway rarely looks so small...
I sometimes get the impression that, in a small way, I was destined to be a petrolhead. Wherever I look, an enthusiasm or involvement with cars is in my family. My dad was and is an avid follower of Formula 1, one family member was a driving instructor, one (RIP) engineered parts of the 1960s Comet commercial jet, another was a traffic policeman for a long time. Cars family members own include a Ford Sierra RS Cosworth and XR4x4, Audi S4 Avant (B5), and formerly a Honda Fireblade, which is an unusual two-wheeled car featuring leather human trim. Then there's my Grandma and her Jaguar fandom. I like to think I was the trigger for this; during a visit to our house many years ago, I'd just got a model of a then-new S-Type, and was looking at it on the table when she walked in and immediately took an interest.

A while later, she'd test driven one and found she had to scale down to a then-new X-Type (2.0 Classic). The car community may scoff at the Mondeo-based X-Type, but as it was her first Jag (replacing her second Rover 820 liftback) it didn't bother her in the slightest, especially as (almost) everything one saw and touched felt very Jaguar-ish. After that she wouldn't look at another car brand for long, and enjoyed the occasional looks of bemusement from onlookers seeing a woman driving a Jaguar, not to mention the local dealer letting her take other models for a spin once in a while. A couple of years later she got the S-Type she always wanted (a 3.0, no less) and loved it, nicknaming it "Lady Jane". Alas, changing from a 2.0 four-pot to a 3.0 V6 was always going to make a difference to fuel economy, so a manual-equipped Fiat Panda Eco acted as grocery-getter (thank you scrappage scheme for not letting that be a grey Vauxhall Astra Mk.III). The S-Type was a beloved companion for longer than the X. But you know how it is. Sometimes you feel like doing a spot of window shopping. Maybe you even get to test drive the replacement model. And maybe everything about it's lovely...

And so here we are, in 2013, with Jag number three (like the S-Type, it's second-hand, but this one is nearly new). With fuel economy in mind, this one's the highly-commended 3.0 Diesel S, which adds a pair of turbochargers and more than a pair of miles per gallon to proceedings. Yet with 240 horsepower and a meaty 370lb/ft of torque propelling an entirely aluminium car, it's no slouch. 0-60 takes 6.7 seconds, level with the brand new Renaultsport Clio 200 Turbo, and the top speed is a heady 140mph. On the flip side, the claimed economy figures are 46mpg (combined) and 159g/km of CO2. Not bad at all for an executive car with a V6. Grandma was convinced it was a smaller car than the S, because her umbrella no longer fits across the tailgate, but that's a deception caused by the XF having wide hips. The cost for all this loveliness? Well, spec'd with the options she mentioned (bluetooth and blindspot monitors) it was pant-wettingly close to £50,000 when new. What they're worth with part-exchange when they're one year and 6000 miles old, I don't know, but I'm hoping it's considerably less than that...

Anyway, the reason I'm telling you this, aside from pointing out that I have cool relatives who love cars too, is because over Easter, she popped round in the new Jaaaaaag and persuaded me to take it out for a spin. At first I was apprehensive. I've driven big expensive cars before - most notably a Nissan GT-R - but those were all on airfield circuits with a trained professional riding shotgun telling me what to do. To drive something with three and a half times the power that's significantly longer in wheelbase and worth probably ten times more than my Grande Punto (plus a great amount of sentimental value to my passenger) on the road, where people who don't care are driving, well, you can hopefully see my concern. Still, I didn't want to be "that guy" who turned down the opportunity of a go in a nice car based on wimpy-ness. So I obliged on the proviso that I picked a route I was comfortable with.

Yup, it's beige-on-beige. But it works a lot better than that makes it sound like it does. Touchscreen easy to decipher.
Early in the morning on a chilly April Fool's Day (no joke), she drove me up to the local pub and we swapped places. The heated seats were relatively easy to adjust, although being electric it takes a shade longer than manual seats. This was the first time I'd ever driven an automatic car on the road. With your foot on the brake, press the pulsing starter button and the diesel engine fires up with quiet refinement, at which point the gear selector rises out of the centre console and the air vents swivel round in their Thunderbirds way. Perhaps the heartbeat starter and swiveling vents are a gimmick, but I say they add some occasion to starting your car up, and that's no bad thing. Foot still on brake, twist the gear selector from P to R, at which point the radar sensors come in and a display appears on the TFT screen (which looks good and is easy to navigate), and reversing wasn't so intimidating after all. I had to remember that the nose is much longer, but spacial awareness was telling me it's a big car anyway.

Having pulled out without issue, what struck me quickly was how smooth everything was. Silky is the best work I can think of to describe it, as everything's so smooth and effortless. That said, the 19" wheels do still tell you what the bumps in the road are doing, but each impact is nicely dampened by the, er, dampers. I'd decided to take it on a shortened version of one of my first driving routes I discovered in the Punto, which goes through trees and over hills, almost entirely at the national speed limit. It's quite easy, not very well-sighted but, crucially, always wide enough. To get there from the pub though, there was a tricky mini-roundabout. I didn't factor in the long wheelbase and the inside rear wheel was within inches of the kerb, but thankfully no contact. Phew!

Above all else, the acceleration is just so effortless. We wafted up to 40mph, then got to the bit where we can go 60. In the Punto, I like to drive past that magic sign in 3rd gear, pin the throttle and let the revs surge gradually climb past 4000rpm before changing into 4th, then going into 5th quite soon after to avoid going 70mph. It's noisy and takes effort. In the Jag? It just sort of happened. With a tighter squeeze on the throttle, you feel it pick up quite quickly and before you know it you're doing 60mph. It was as though all the engine had done was taken a deep-ish breath and we were there. I'm not even sure there was a gear change, although there could well have been. I'd told myself I would use the little short-travel, wheel-mounted paddles to try them out, but honestly when I was actually driving the car it didn't occur to me to use them. The ride felt so smooth without making the car seem disconnected from the road, and the steering did the same trick.

The journey basically continued in this vein, with the oil-burning XF's V6TT never feeling sluggish and always feeling like it could do more if you wanted it to. Part of me did, but would you go speeding with your grandmother watching? She told me afterwards that I peaked at 67mph - probably going downhill from the bridge over a dual carriageway - which I probably shouldn't admit is not the fastest I've been on these roads...

So what's the XF like then? Effortless. It makes the Punto seem coarse, slow and loud. Almost archaic, even. But then at nearly £50,000 new compared to a hatchback we bought for £5300 that's now worth about half that, you'd hope it would really. Still, I'm struggling to think of any flaws, except that when I did flick the paddles before turning the engine on, they felt a bit naff. They're also too small and almost apologetic about their presence. But like I said, you feel no need to use them. Did I miss the clutch pedal? No. That would've affected the smooth driving experience. If it was my only car, I suspect I would miss changing gear, but I'm well aware that it'll be a long time yet before I'm faced with that particular conundrum.

I hope Grandma holds on to this car. Partly because she might let me have another go in it, but mostly because she absolutely adores it, and from what I can tell it's a great car. She maintains that the fact that the rear looks like an Aston Martin is a good thing, and so do I when it along with the whole car looks that good. Even in beige. I mean, er, Cashmere.

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