PIT LANE, CIRCUITO DE NAVARRA. I’m strapping on my helmet while Jaguar XF senior launch manager Mike Bradley recalls his relief back in July 2014, after his first drive of an XF mule at the carmaker’s Gaydon, England, test track. “The thing’s bloody fantastic!” he’d said to himself. Just what you’d expect the man charged with imbuing Jaguar’s mid-size sedan with the dynamic magic of its F-Type sports car to say. But after a few laps of this complicated 2.4-mile track outside Pamplona, Spain, I’m a believer. Turn 2 is gentle, easy in, easy out. Turn 3 is a New Jersey off-ramp, contorting back on itself. Turn 4, if you manage Turn 3, can be attacked nearly at wide-open throttle. Getting this right takes practice, but at the helm of an XF S, I’m a quick learner. Optional all-wheel drive lets me get back on the power early, before the car quickly reverts to its rear-wheel bias, tail swinging and then snapping into line in a tidy BMW 5-series imitation.
This second-gen XF is the latest Jaguar to switch to aluminum construction, with some 75 percent of its unibody made up of bonded and riveted castings, extrusions, and stampings of the stuff. Jaguar says the XF is both 28 percent stiffer and, in all-wheel-drive form, a claimed 265 pounds lighter than its predecessor. While the body structure is completely new, the supercharged V-6 is carryover. The styling is similar to that of the old car, although the new XF looks lower and sleeker. The cabin is a stunner, with tight panel gaps and just the right gloss of Brit swagger and bold trim options, including red-and-black leather. While the German sedans match the XF on tactile quality, they don’t do this brand of clubby chic. Rear-seat legroom and headroom are both slightly improved.
Although there’s no longer a V-8 option (at least for now), there are two V-6 tunes: 340 hp in the base XF 35t and 380 hp in the XF S. The aged six could use more snap and snarl, but there’s plenty to love about its torque curve: Regardless of horsepower, the same 332 lb-ft is on hand at 4500 rpm. Toggle the steering-wheel paddles to hold that sweet spot via the ZF eight-speed automatic. The electronic steering is precise and communicative, if perhaps a little too light in effort for some.
In fall 2016, we’ll also see the first stateside Jaguars with diesel powertrains. The 2.0-liter turbodiesel XF is both potent-delivering 317 lb-ft as low as 1750 rpm-and quiet. Jaguar promises it will deliver 40 mpg on the highway. It will start at less than $50,000 and, like its gas counterparts, likely be offered with all-wheel drive.
So, in the XF, Jaguar has a credible mid-size luxury sedan, but you wonder if anyone will notice. Jaguar’s been at this for a while now, bringing us model after model with great looks and killer engineering. But although many Americans seem to admire Jaguars, few buy them, and their reluctance is unquestionably due to the brand’s decades-long legacy of lousy reliability. Jaguar’s answer is a new warranty program with five-year/60,000-mile coverage and free scheduled maintenance, rather than the industry standard four years/50,000 miles. If that doesn’t steer a few more luxury-car buyers to Jaguar dealerships, I don’t know what will.
Jaguar XF S
Powertrain: 3.0-liter supercharged V-6, 380 hp, 332 lb-ft; rwd, 8-speed automatic
Weight: 3800 lb
0–60 mph: 5.1 sec
Top speed: 155 mph
On sale: Now