2021 Jaguar XF Cuts Off the Dead Wood

·4 min read
Photo credit: Jaguar
Photo credit: Jaguar

The modern sports-sedan world has been dominated by German brands. Japanese and Korean automakers are getting closer to bottling the driving magic once enjoyed by the BMW 3- and 5-series, but Jaguar's commitment to luxury often overshadows its cars' sportiness. Jaguar did capture the magic when the first-gen Jag XF launched for the 2009 model year and garnered a 10Best trophy, but it's been a bumpy ride since then. Quite literally in the case of track-focused Jaguar's XE SV Project 8.

Introduced in 2016, the current XF lineup had ballooned to 10 derivatives last year. To simplify matters, Jaguar is reducing the number of XF models from 10 to just three—the V-6 and the gorgeous wagon are gone. For 2021, the XF will come only as a sedan, and buyers will have a choice of a 246- or 296-hp 2.0-liter turbo-four. The contraction and otherwise standard mid-cycle refresh seem to have allowed Jag to hone the XF without getting bogged down in an overly complex portfolio.

Photo credit: Jaguar
Photo credit: Jaguar

The first thing you notice in the new XF is the reworked dash and instrument panel. Gone is the retractable dial-a-gear shifter, and in its place is an electronic shifter for the ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic transmission. As expected, you can shift yourself with steering-wheel paddles, although we don't really see the point. Once we were underway, there was never a need to grab a different gear. An 11.4-inch touchscreen controls Pivi Pro infotainment, which if you have never sampled can be confusing at first glance. Don't be intimidated; it is thoughtfully designed, and you quickly acclimate. And for those looking to use the back seat, six-footers comfortably fit back there.

Switching to an all four-cylinder lineup is a curious simplification because Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has a new inline-six that would work well in this sedan. The need for more from the engine room doesn't really arise in casual driving, but put loafer to accelerator and an uncouth snarl of a stressed 2.0-liter makes itself heard. The car we drove was an all-wheel-drive variant, dubbed R-Dynamic S, the only model with the 296-hp four. Rear-drive models, of which there are two (S and SE), come with the 246-hp four-cylinder. When we're able to do our battery of tests on the XF, we expect its nearly 300-hp engine will net a 60-mph time less than six seconds, with the less-powerful rear-driver about a second behind. For some reference, a 248-hp BMW 530i gets to 60 mph in 6.1 seconds.

Photo credit: Jaguar
Photo credit: Jaguar

Of course, acceleration isn't the only way to judge a sports sedan. The XF competes in a segment that includes cars such as the Genesis G80, Lexus ES, and Volvo S90 in addition to the Audi A6, BMW 5-series, Mercedes-Benz E-class. But only the XF, G80, and the ES have base prices that start with a four. Jaguar is looking to undercut the competition. Prices for the XF begin at $45,145. The 5-series and A6 start at about $10,000 more.

Spending 10 grand more at the Audi store buys a little more insulation from road and wind noise, but the XF does a wonderful impression of German isolation and over-the-road refinement. Isolation is hard to quantify because it is about the absence of things, annoying things. You don't realize the importance of isolation until it's missing.

Photo credit: Jaguar
Photo credit: Jaguar

A sports sedan must also handle, and the XF's chassis is a willing participant in the chase for g-forces. The steering delivers on sporting intentions with accurate and crisp responses. While it breaks no new ground in terms of electrically assisted units, the feedback through the wheel and the responses are solid and reliable. It gives the impression that you're driving a car that's a class above mid-size. Only the brakes, which suffer from a dead spot at the top of the pedal stroke, let us down. Maybe a good brake-bleed job could correct this. We'll know for sure when we get one for instrumented testing.

Jaguar doesn't fit the XF with the overly complex settings and controls of its German rivals. It just quietly goes about its business and never annoys or flummoxes its driver. Jag is looking to electrify its lineup by 2025, but there's plenty of life in this XF. Dropping in the new inline-six would extend its life even more. Skewed more toward luxury than the German offerings, the XF is sporty in a mature way. So, it's right in line with what Jaguar should be about, now with a more attractive price.

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