Jaguar reestablished itself as a car company worth caring about with the F-Type sports car and the upcoming XE sport sedan. Now they’re trying to turn that sparkle into real money by making the larger 2016 XF sedan distinctive, but practical enough to be a real rival to the Germans. I think it’s close.

(Full disclosure: Jaguar Land Rover flew me all the way to Spain, did the whole hotel and food thing, just so I could drive the new Jaguar XF. I promise it’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Or maybe it is, but I can’t keep food down around Americans who say “Barth-eh-lon-a.”)

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The “quick and comfortable” midsize luxury sedan genre is more than just hard to stand out in. It’s the definitive battleground for brands looking to win the wallets of important buyers: mature business bros who set the trends for what’s cool in valet lines and premium parking lots at international airports around the world. Also old people.

Look at the field. BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6; these are the vehicles we’ve basically benchmarked everything against since the last time James May had a socially acceptable haircut. The Japanese entrants, the Lexus GS, Acura TLX and Infiniti Q70, are objectively pretty good too if a little less elegant.

To compete with brands this embedded Jaguar has to be more than good, but it doesn’t have to be the best. It does need to be unique. The company has great pedigree and Britannic charm to differentiate itself, but the F-Type’s roaring exhaust alone isn’t enough to blow away the dust Jaguar has collected over the last couple decades.

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With a new “performance” emphasis across Jaguar’s entire lineup (read: sales pitch), it feels like the company’s looking backward to the future. They’re trying to stoke the energy they fired up the American market with forty years ago in their iconic E-Type, but without going faux retro.

Jag spent a few decades circling the drain until Indian megacorporation Tata scooped them up, gave them a huge capital injection and lit a fire under their asses. We got the F-Type as a direct result and it’s perfect. Centerfold styling, more than enough performance to make you feel okay about spending 80 grand and most importantly a brilliant balance between “tight” and “tourer.” You feel dangerous driving it, but don’t hate yourself when you take it for a weekend run from Manhattan Beach to Mammoth Mountain.

That car’s value proposition isn’t that it’s a Porsche 911 fighter, it’s that it’s got loads of personality. And that’s a genuinely great reason to buy that car over something with more power on paper.

So basically all you really need to know about the XF is whether or not it pulls off the same trick. And if you’re reading this on your way to the BMW dealer you probably wish I’d get on with evaluating Jag’s restyled sedan just in case I can change your mind.

First I’ll bring you up to speed on Jaguar’s new sales strategy: “Make the cars cheaper.”

The 2016 XF starts about five grand below the outgoing model, and just about everything in the Jag lineup is getting a five year, 60,000 mile transferable warranty that includes all scheduled maintenance and 24/7 roadside assistance. Which is, wow, actually pretty amazing and a pretty decent strategy to combat the piss-poor reliability reputation of British cars.

New Jags are supposed to be cheaper to run, too. The company wants to drop a diesel into everything besides the F-Type (‘Why not!?’ I asked, to eyerolls), including the XF which gets a 2.0-liter turbo that’s quick, smooth and very very quiet. Pair that with a body that’s 11 percent lighter than the outgoing model and I bet a lightfooted pilot could hit MPGs in the high 30’s.

Is it actually any different from the old car?

As per Jaguar’s website, there are a few differences to spot:

The XF has been shortened and lowered just a little bit for 2016, but the wheelbase has been stretched and interior room actually increased. That gives the car a more aggressive, and basically more usable, footprint. Looks tits too.

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A new enormous infotainment system is optional, as is a 2.0-liter diesel engine and All-Surface Progress Control (ASPC) which is like a more practical version of the “off-road cruise control” you get on Land Rovers. Theoretically you can just turn the system on and hit the gas, while the car will regulate power and braking to get you going on any slippery surface.

But what’s the new XF like to experience?

Starting from the outside, the car really pulls off an elegant posture without being all asshole about it. Not something I’d necessarily say for anything with an S, M, or AMG badge on the trunk.

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Open the door and you’re treated to a pleasant but bland swath of flat silver pieces and stitched leather. As you sit inside, the sporting presence Jaguar’s trying so hard to sell prepares you to be enveloped in an aggressively over-bolstered seat like a baby bird in a baseball glove. But nah, you just kinda plop in.

The details are nice enough. Soft-touch materials are good and the steering wheel’s got great girth and weight. An advanced (optional) new infotainment rig is at the center of the vehicle’s world and front passenger’s focus. The screen is the size of what would have been a decent TV years ago, and the software skin’s nice to look at.

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Navigation feels on-point with Google Earth-style satellite views as well as animated maps, plus trick features like “automatically tell a contact when you’re going to be late to a GPS waypoint.”

Of all the infotainment systems I’ve tried, and I’ve pretty much tried all of them, this one feels closest to a tablet (or giant phone, I guess) which is probably where they’re all headed.

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Jag’s also pushing further connectivity between your car and your phone through an app that lets you keep tabs on the car’s condition, location, and a few other such things from wherever.

Let’s drive.

Both the diesel and supercharged V6 versions of the car are swift to the point where I couldn’t really tell which one was under the hood while we carved up Spanish backroads. My advice is to get the one that gets better economy. You don’t need interpret that as “diesel rules and gas drools,” especially in light of recent events in America, but it’s more like the diesel is spectacularly refined and the gas engine is just decent.

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All that said, I tend to drive like grandma on six shots of guaifenesin. Uh, I mean slow.

I tried to explaining that to the Jaguar’s professional driving instructor when we took the XF AWD R-Sport out onto the Spanish F1 test track El Circuito de Navara. But he was confident the car’s Intelligent Driveline Dynamics (IDD) system would make a driving hero out of me anyway.

The Jag XF’s AWD system is engineered to feel like a rear-wheel drive car with the front half only intervening to save you from yourself. The IDD system takes that a bit further by braking wheels on the inside of a corner and basically optimizing power delivery at specific percentages to specific wheels to give you the best chance of whizzing around a corner like you know what you’re doing.

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My assessment is; I either suck at driving so bad that I’m beyond saving, or this system isn’t as idiot-proof as it’s supposed to be. The car felt heavy. It didn’t want to turn when I tried. And three laps wasn’t nearly enough time for me to get comfortable with the car’s automatically modulating throttle.

You can boot the gas and brakes all you want, but the car doesn’t respond to controls without adding its own interpretation of how much juice to let loose. The Jag didn’t feel like it was having that much fun at the limit. Lucky for you, you’re going to approximately obey the speed limit and at any reasonable velocity the XF is a delightful tarmac slicer.

The XF’s suite of driving aids are of course still active at low speeds, but their interventions aren’t nearly as aggressive and the whole experience feels markedly more fluid. Steering is beautifully weighted and the ZF 8-speed snicks up and down seamlessly.

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I’m glad Jaguar’s engineers designed the car that way, just not sure why they thought it was a good idea to put us jabroni journalists on a race track with these things.

Is there an extreme performance variant?

Jaguar would have us say “every trim is a performance variant” but of course you’re asking if that R-Sport version I mentioned adds anything besides a bodykit. The answer is no, XF R-Sport gets “unique ‘R-Sport’ aluminum instrument panel finisher” and there’s an XF S that gets meatier seats.

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There has been no official confirmation of an upcoming SVR variant but we’ve heard tell of spy shots and oh yeah, a Jag driving instructor told me said “for sure it’s coming, just wait ‘til you drive that one.” But who knows what he knows, and just because one is in development doesn’t mean it’s going to get built.

Verdict

From where I’m standing, I think the best (only?) way for the 2016 Jaguar XF to stake any kind of claim in the ultra-competitive midsize luxury sedan market would be to make itself a larger, four-door F-Type.

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It gets pretty darn close on exterior design and interface. Did I mention the vents pop open like James Bond accessories, or that you can change the color of the mood lighting, and the the “start/stop” button pulsates? Gimmicks like that don’t feel lame in a Jaguar; somehow the brand’s inherent eccentricity lets them pull it off.

Mercedes’ new glowing-star option? That’s so freaking gauche I hardly even see it in LA. But Jaguar could totally put LED eyes in their cat and get away with it. (You can have that idea for free, guys. Just keep them dim.)

You read my headline though, so you know there’s a “but...” coming. That is that Jag didn’t take the fun far enough.

The new XF is missing one thing. One feature that would have set the car apart and backboned the new high-performance vibe they’re working so hard to re-cultivate: A decent sounding exhaust.

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The XF certainly doesn’t sound bad. It doesn’t sound good either. It just doesn’t sound. No matter which engine you run the car simply whooshes along with the drama of a kid’s electric train set and for me, that just lets the car’s whole look down. Shockingly, the XF doesn’t have any kind of active exhaust like the F-Type does. Not even as an option.

Jag’s already proven they know how to make pipes that go from socially acceptable to righteous growl at the push of a button, if this car only had a “loud switch” it would instantly be more fun than the elite Germans with higher horsepower counts.

The XF’s design is elegantly aggressive, the interior’s a little on the soft side of interesting, but a sweet Jaguar sound would really help make this car count for something without having to beat BMW and Lexus on performance and practicality.

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And if you’re about to say “the SVR will have that noise,” you’re totally missing the point. According to Jaguar’s new look you shouldn’t have to spend near six-figures and get the stiff-dick shocks to feel like you’re in a sport sedan. The styling’s there, the sound ain’t.

nd you realize how important that is as soon as you step on the throttle... And don’t. Quite. Feel it.

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Images by the author, Jaguar


Andrew Collins is Jalopnik’s off-road and adventure guy who walked into the wrong room and ended up in the seat of a sport sedan. Hassle him at andrew@jalopnik.com or on Twitter.