Day one: The XF arrives. This is the ‘Prestige’ model which is, confusingly, the entry level. On first impressions it feels quite modern, but also quite humdrum. This tone is set by the interior, which is plain to the point of stark. This is a shame. I don’t want to be one of those old farts who demands Jags to be slathered in burr walnut and cream leather but nor do I want them to feel sterile and bleak. Plenty of people can do that. Part of the attraction of a Jag is that you get more than that. Not here. You’d struggle to call this interior welcoming unless you were being chased by a bear. Based on a bit of trundling around London, the driving experience is fairly plain too.
Day two: A drive across the fringes of the city. Wondering if my first impressions of the XF were a bit harsh. It seems okay this morning. But that might be because it’s sunny. The sunlight can’t really do much for the outside because the paintwork is flat white and the wheels are 17-inchers which look too small. A few weeks ago I saw a dark blue XF on bigger alloys and thought it looked sophisticated, elegant and extremely handsome, especially from the rear three-quarter. The front is good too, but a bit too similar to its little brother. Indeed, my new favourite motorway game to play with cars on the opposite carriageway is the fiendishly difficult ‘XE or XF?’ One of my neighbours has an old-shape XF, also in white and also on the small wheels. The thing about the old XF, like all good Jags, is that it seemed to get better and better looking throughout its life to the point that it doesn’t seem dated, even alongside this new one. This version has sharper lines and less bulbous sides but I wonder if it will age as well.
Day three: Another morning run through the outskirts of town. I’d read some road tests of the XF which suggested that it had an exceptionally good ride. Based on this car, I’d say that’s bollocks. The ride in this car is okay, but no more than that. Sometimes it jiggles so much over a shitty bit of tarmac that it awakens a tiny rattle somewhere within the dash. It’s the kind of thing that undermines your belief in how well a car is put together. On that note, there’s also something behind the steering wheel that makes a peculiar thud about 30 seconds after you’ve set off – I presume it’s to do with the air-con system – and the doors don’t come anywhere close to making the dry whump you’d expect from a 35 grand car with an upmarket badge on the front. This car has the optional ‘soft close’ facility. I wonder if that’s why they don’t seem to latch closed in a positive way. It’s a £485 option you can probably do without.
Day four: Jag has come up with a new widescreen infotainment system which is meant to be very good. This car doesn’t have it. It’s got the older system which is a bit laggy and someway behind the state-of-the-art, like one of those Android tablets that is 80 quid off eBay for a reason. This morning it fails to hook up to the Bluetooth on my phone and, since last night I was streaming music, I find myself driving along for some time without anything playing from the stereo. It turns out that, once warmed up, the engine is quite quiet and the whole car very peaceful. This car has that homegrown 2-litre diesel, Perineum or whatever Jag calls it, and it gets on with the job in that functional way that 2-litre diesels do. According to the trip computer, the XF is doing over 40mpg which isn’t bad considered it’s been stuck in town for three days.
Day five: Another drive across London. Some friends of ours are having their third child baptized. After the water splashing and Jesus business there’s a some lunch in a pub. I end up outside, leaning on the XF and chatting to a mate. ‘Were you boys talking about the Jag?’ my wife asks later. I realize that we weren’t. This seems a bit odd. My friend never noticed it. I never felt the urge to bring it up. Hmph. Much later, the Christening gives me a theory about this car: What if, as I suspect, all the youthful hotshots within Jag worked on the baby XE while all the wisest and most valuable minds developed the vital F-Pace. That left the XF stuck somewhere in between. And maybe that’s why it seems so unexceptional. It’s not as important to the business as the small saloon and the tall crossover. So it’s the attention-starved middle child.
Day six: On the way to get a takeaway this evening I park next to another new XF. This one is grey and it’s in the more aggressive R Sport trim. It has nicer wheels, the chrome is blacked in, it’s a better looking car all round. I’m filled with XF envy. In my white, small-wheeled, non-Sport version I look like someone who really pissed off their fleet manager.
Day seven: At last, a trip out of London and a chance to give the XF a proper drive. After being a bit down on it for the past few days, I’m expecting all to become clear out in the countryside. This is where the magic will happen. Except, it doesn’t. It might be hoping too much for any medium sized saloon with a four-cylinder diesel engine to sparkle on a fine B-road but you’d hope that Jag of all people, given their recent skills at making nice-driving cars, would serve up something beyond the norm. Actually, the XF is rather flat. That’s not much fun in revving a diesel like this and that in turn makes it feel slightly futile to keep titting about with the paddles behind the wheel. Worse still, because the ride is a bit bumpier than it should be, the car sometimes gets knocked off line by bumps halfway through bends and the whole experience is barely worth the bother. I’d hoped for more.
Goodbye: The XF is going away. The last time I had a Jag on test I considered pretending to be out when the collection man arrived. With this, he’s welcome to it back. I can’t help thinking they’ve got this car exactly the wrong way round. It’s actually an extremely expensive bit of kit underneath, what with its (mostly) aluminium shell and its lavishly engineered suspension. Yet on the surface this entry level model looks and feels much cheaper than it is. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the interior. Good car interiors seem lavish and inviting. It’s only later that, inevitably, you notice a few bits where they’ve saved money. With the XF it’s the opposite. Your initial thought is that it seems stark and joyless. Only later do you spot the little bits of silver filigree around the air-con controls, the shiny fillets on the centre console, the clean minimalism of the central dashboard, and you realise there are glimpses of goodness here. But they aren’t your first impression. Your first impression is of the bare minimum. And this isn’t right. Jag interiors used to have something to them. I don’t want to trot out the well-worn word ‘special’ because it sounds like I’m patronising the car’s performance in a school sports day, but there was always something indefinable that made you want to get into a Jaguar and then stay there. It was a warmth and a cosiness. It was the same unique and sometimes disorganised charm that makes your house feel like a home where a hotel room does not. The XJ has it. The F-type has it. The old XF had it. The new XF, at least in this trim, does not. It’s hollow where it should be stout. Hard where it should be cushy. Calculated where it should be human. It’s a coldly monochrome handshake where it should be warmly coloured embrace. Worse still, it feels penny-pinching. The buttons around the touch screen make a flimsy click, the controls on the steering wheel are wobbly, and significant parts of the interior are covered in a terrible leath-a-like that Kia would reject for being too low rent. You could scuff some of this dirt under the rug if the basic XF was a sensational car to drive but it’s not. It is, at best, okay. The ride isn’t brilliant, the handling is functional, the engine is unexceptional. There’s very little of this XF that doesn’t make you think you’re being punished for not choosing a more expensive version, or perhaps a different car entirely. With a new E-class already here and next generation rivals from BMW and Audi on the way, if the XF doesn’t buck up its ideas it’s going to be become embarrassed. Which is a shame because I’d like it to keep the British end up, I really would. I like Jags. In fact, I used to own one. And I’d like to own one again some day. But not this one. This one commits the worst sin possible from a Jaguar; it’s ordinary.
The car talked about here is the Jaguar XF Prestige 2.0 i4 163PS. It has a 2-litre turbocharged diesel engine making 161 horsepower. Jaguar says it can go from 0-60mph in 8.2 seconds and on to 132mph. Without options, it costs £34,050.