Quick Drive: 2012 Jaguar XF 2.2L Diesel

I have always considered the XF’s looks to be severely compromised because of its awkward-looking headlights with ‘exposed eyeballs’. But now that is all gone – the facelift has fixed the last blemish of the design, and now the XF looks complete – it is, from bumper to bumper, absolutely handsome.

It’s unfortunate that Jaguar had to go slightly over the top and applied ribbons of daytime running lights for its front lights, which border on the garish, and a overly complicated rear lamp assembly that would suitably keep a driver following behind quite awake. These minor pet peeves aside, there is little to fault the car’s gracious looks. It does not grab attention by any measure; unlike the organic and almost alien facelifted W212 E-Class, or the clean cut suit of the F10 5-Series, the XF is unpretentious, cool yet effortlessly stylish. Very much like an English dandy who enjoys his tea and fox hunting, then.

It has been a while since I acquainted myself with a Jaguar interior, but in the XF I am reminded immediately how similarly well-built it feels when compared to the X350 XJ I had a seat in a few years back. The doors feels especially heavy, with probably the most satisfying closing clunk of any car. Yes, better than how it feels on a Flying Spur, and perhaps on par with closing a suicide door on the Phantom.

Sit inside and the impressive solidity of the cars continue inside. It just feels well-put together and every movable control is heavily damped; it was as if everything had weight put behind it to make sure they feel premium. The huge wood panelling of the door inserts is absolutely sumptuous. The leather stitching on the dashboard which, on this XF 2.2 diesel sold in Singapore (not pictured) comes as standard, feels expensive and lifts cabin ambience up a notch.

The only let-down is the slightly chintzy instrument cluster which feel more 1970s than 21st century. The LCD screen’s graphics in between the instrumentation seem rather dated and the central in-car entertainment system also feel dated next to the richly developed Mercedes-Benz COMAND, BMW iDrive and Audi MMI. At least GPS comes standard, which is fast becoming an expected item in the luxury segment in Singapore. The cool blue ambient lighting also does jar a bit with the look of the interior as a whole, which is more conservative than the lighting would suggest. However, as a whole the interior is a refreshing take on luxury, something that I would be curious to explore, if not as much as the intriguing drivetrain.

Singapore has been one of the late adopters of clean diesel cars in the developed world, so the new diesel tax rebates finally inject life into what has been a niche segment. Although diesel car acceptance is still too early to gauge, it is in Jaguar Singapore’s good interest that it is by far the leader in the segment, thanks to its XJ 3.0L diesel which once used to be the most sensible engine to get for the model, being restricted only to the 5.0L V8. That is all changed now with the new 3.0L V6 supercharged XJ, so it would be interesting to see how the diesel continues to fare.

The XF is the second model in Jaguar Singapore’s line-up to be sold with a diesel engine in the local market, equipped with a Ford Mondeo-derived 2.2 inline-4 diesel that is good for 190bhp and 450Nm. The latter stat is not a typo – modern four cylinder turbodiesel engines really have come that far and can now pack a punch as potent as any petrol FI V6. And don’t shudder at the Ford association either; co-developed with Citroën and Peugeot, the engine is one of the most frugal and efficient in its class. It’s a shame then that while efficient it may be, it betrays its oil-burner roots on an idle with a very noticeable tapping noise that finds its way into the cabin. This is not a problem in the higher-capacity V6 diesels, but in a four-cylinder diesel the rattling is most pronounced. Surely, the driving experience would make up for this right?

To be sure, the engine feels strong and is more than adequate for overtaking and daily driving in the city. However, the delivery is so absolutely linear that it fails to give the sensation of having 450Nm on tap; the power band is also very narrow too so when you do get to peak torque, you only have the sensation for a fleeting moment before it just dissipates into a torrent of above average shove. It certainly does not feel fast in acceleration, although it does give the driver confidence in overtaking due to the on-demand torque that is easily accessible from any gear (eight of those, by the way, which at press time is the only Singapore-bound XF equipped with this ZF gearbox). There is also less torque than I would have liked below 2,500rpm, so it feels like you have to work the engine a fair bit to get the turbochargers spooling before you get any meaningful forward thrust. I guess the paper specifications do lie – I did have 450Nm, just perhaps delivered not in the way I expected. Getting used to the power delivery however helped me to make use of it more effectively, and by then the car started to make a lot of sense. With this car, you are really rewarded to drive efficiently and it does have a feel-good factor when you achieve it. The gearbox is well-suited to quick upshifts to sip as little fuel as possible, the engine is too harsh when driven hard so you would take it gently, and the ride as serene as any modern luxury saloon so you just want to savour it all. Until I got to some bends, where I wanted to explore the XF’s talents.

The engine’s linear delivery and small powerband means overwhelming the rear wheels is nigh on impossible on dry roads without anything but the most ruthless of throttle application. However, what you do get is an engine that is willing to pull you out of corner exits with a vigour that would shame the old 3.0L naturally aspirated V6 in the XF. The car handled whatever my short test-drive could throw at it convincingly, with a chassis control very much akin to an E-Class equipped with Avantgarde suspension, although it handles low- and mid-speed bumps so much better than the Mercedes. This is certainly impressive, as the XF manages to combine minimised body roll with a ride comfort that would make the royal family proud. The XF’s damping has always been one of its strong points, especially being catered for the pockmarked British roads which has honed it to be comfortable without compromising on handling finesse. The steering gives adequate feel, and I would say that it feels better than on a F10 523i I tested more than a year ago.

If you go back in time by just 5 years, reviewing a car like the XF diesel let alone seeing it for sale in Singapore is nearly unimaginable. Jaguar had taken a long time to introduce a four-cylinder diesel into its line-up, which meant it sorely lost out in the critical four-cylinder diesel luxury segment which accounts for most of the sales of 5-Series and E-Class saloons in Europe. Now that Jaguar has finally entered the market convincingly and with a strong mandate, I am equally hopeful that Singaporean buyers would take to the XF as much as the Europeans would. In the context of Singapore, the XF 2.2 diesel is simply the most sensible choice of XF – the cleanest, most frugal, most well-equipped (as tested anyway) – while giving away little of what you would not use most of the time anyway. That is, top-end power and absolute top speed. I have to admit that refinement is slightly inferior to the petrol models, but as a champion of diesels especially in our congested driving conditions, I think it is a small price to pay for the fuel-good factor of efficiency and tree-felling torque in one package.

Pictures: Jaguar Media Centre 

Author: James Wong

The only writer to be based in Asia, James provides a refreshingly different perspective to the automotive industry with his unique experience of living in the Far East. He is a prolific journalist who has written for several leading automotive publications in Singapore, including Torque Singapore and REV Magazine Singapore. He believes in the thrill of driving and champions for an appreciation of driving pleasure above the horsepower race. In September 2010, James relocated to the United Kingdom, London, bringing him to a whole new environment from which to start a new chapter in automotive journalism.

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