The Jaguar XF proves growing up doesn't mean the fun is over

Jaguar is making an all-out push to even things up with its corporate sibling

It was time for a change
Over the past few years, Jaguar Land Rover has been one of the fastest-growing car companies in the US market. However, most of this growth has been thanks to the Land Rover part of JLR. In 2015, JLR's US sales surged 26% to more than 85,000 cars, but only about 14,000 of them were Jags. In fact, the Jaguar brand's sales fell 8% last year.

For 2016, Jaguar is making an all-out push to even things up with its corporate sibling. At the core of Jag's strategy is the introduction of three new cars.

The new second generation XF is the first of Jaguar's new lineup to land on our shores. The new XF will soon be joined by the BMW 3-Series-fighting XE sedan and the highly anticipated F-PACE crossover SUV.

Although the first generation XF remains very aesthetically pleasing, after nearly a decade in the public eye, it was time for a change.

"Since we now produce the smaller XE, the XF has to grow up a little bit," Jaguar design director Ian Callum told in an interview. "Perhaps become a little less sporty and a little more practical."

"My balance was to really keep it as sporty as possible, but at the same time give it a lot more room on the inside," Sir Ian added.

So, the question must be asked: "Is the youthful sports car still alive in the soul of this grown up Jag?"

The 2016 Jaguar XF starts at $51,900, while the XF S starts at $62,700. Our well-appointed XF S test car left the showroom with the price tag of $74,655.

Jaguar recently dropped off a glacier white 2016 XF S for Business Insider to sample. Let's find out if it's ready to carry the brand into a new era.

Jaguar debuted the first generation XF to rave reviews in 2008.

After nearly a decade on the market, it was time for a new XF. For 2016, Jaguar's midsize luxury sedan arrives in the US with a whole new look.

The new XF is the work of Jaguar design boss Ian Callum, whose résumé includes ...

... James Bond's Aston Martin Vanquish and ...

... the stunning Jaguar C-X75 prototype hypercar.

Up front, the XF sports Jaguar's new headlight and grille design that is also found on the ...

... compact XE and ...

... the F-PACE SUV.

According to Callum, the new front fascia is designed to help bolster brand recognition among the general public.

The front grille and angular LED headlights give the XF a stylish yet aggressive design.

The XF's side profile cuts a suave figure. Callum intentionally deployed a single character line down the side, which highlights the feline hips of the Jag.

The rear end of the XF is distinguished by the car's dual exhausts and integrated spoiler. According to Callum, the rear end design of modern cars, such as the X, is dictated more by aerodynamics than styling.

Step inside ...

... and you'll find a seamless integration of modern design and tech with old-world English luxury.

The XF's cockpit is posh but functional. The driver is treated to Jaguar's easy-to-use steering wheel.

Our test car came with the traditional analog instrument cluster. A 12.3-inch re-configurable instrument panel is available as an option.

The analog cluster does feature an adjustable central display screen. Here, the screen is presenting information from the car's parking assist program.

In a market filled with minimalist center stack designs, the XF is refreshingly button-heavy.

Fortunately for drivers, all of the buttons are clearly labeled and intuitively placed.

Even with the buttons, the center stack it is still dominated by an 8-inch capacitive touchscreen running Jag's updated InControl Touch infotainment system.

The system is shared across Jaguar and Land Rover's lineup. Although it is markedly better than the previous generation, the presentation is simply still too cluttered, making basic tasks, such as changing the radio station, more of a chore than necessary.

However, the navigation system proved to be quick and responsive. It seems to have shed the lag issues that plagued previous versions we sampled in other cars.

As an option, Jaguar does offer a more powerful InControl Touch Pro infotainment system with a 10.2-inch screen as an option. We haven't had a chance to try the system yet.

The XF infotainment screen also manages the car's collection of cameras.

Here's the front camera. Can you spot it?

And here's the rear camera. The side cameras are located under the side-view mirrors.

They all team up to give the driver a birds-eye view of the car and its surroundings. This proved to be invaluable when it came time to squeeze into a tight parking spot.

Instead of the pistol-grip shifter from the F-Type sports car, the XF gets Jaguar's rotary unit, which I found to be a bit imprecise to use. Although the great advantage of the rotary design is that it frees up a tremendous amount of space on the center console, Jaguar didn't really take advantage of it.

Here's the XF's Jaguar Land Rover Group key fob. Hidden inside the "Jaguar" lettering is an emergency key.

The seats in the XF were incredible. They were upholstered with high quality leather and stitched with great detail.

Although the rear cabin provides more than enough room for three passengers ...

...two is the preferred head count if you want to travel in comfort.

The rear-seat passengers get both heated and cooled seats, along with dual-zone climate control.

They also get three retractable sun-blinds. Two manually operated ones on the side and an electrically operated blind for the rear glass.

The XF's massive sunroof bathes the cabin in light.

Instead of the roof retracting, the glass panel levers itself up and out of the car.

Due to the XF's relatively high belt line and low, sloping roof, rearward visibility isn't so great. However, the car's bevy of onboard-cameras makes up for the small rear backlight.

Apart from the accent veneers, which look and feel low quality, the rest of the cabin exudes quality and solidity. Overall, the interior of the XF is a triumph for Jaguar. It's a truly pleasant place to be.

And now the for the important stuff.

The Jaguar XF S is powered by a 3.0-liter, supercharged V6 engine, producing 380 horsepower. The base XF comes with a 340-horsepower version of the same 3.0-liter unit. Both engines are paired to a silky-smooth, 8-speed automatic transmission.

Both engines are also available on the company's superb F-Type sports car.

According to Jaguar, the XF S is capable of making the sprint to 60 mph from a standstill in a brisk 5.1 seconds and reaching a top speed of 155 mph. Jag claims the 340-horsepower version takes just 0.1 seconds more to hit 60 mph and has the same top speed.

To drive, the XF is a joy. Even at more than 16-feet-long and nearly 3,800 pounds, the Jag proved to be surprisingly nimble. I'm not saying it's as light on its radials as a Miata or an F-Type, but for a big comfy sedan, the XF's athleticism deserves recognition.

The 380-horsepower motor in our test car was always eager to provide gobs of power on demand. The engine revs freely and quickly works its way towards the redline as it delivers peak horsepower at 6,500 RPM.

In tight corners, the XF remains composed and fleet of foot thanks to its rigid aluminum construction and "Torque Vectoring by Braking" system. This technology applies the brakes on the inside rear wheel as the car is cornering — which effectively pivots the car around corners. The fact that Jag decided to go with the all-aluminum V6 instead of a heavier V8 in this car helps its handling — less weight over the front wheels results in better cornering behavior.

Like all Jaguar products, the XF's transmission, suspension, and steering can be adjusted on the fly by the driver.

The XF's four large disc brakes deliver outstanding performance with good feel and little fade.

Step on the gas and the supercharger's high pitched wail becomes audible over the XF's 380-watt Meridian sound system. At which point it's time to turn off the AC/DC and enjoy the mechanical symphony of belt-driven forced-induction.

Disappointingly, the XF lacks the exquisitely tuned exhaust note of the F-Type. The cabin is incredibly quiet and peaceful. Apart from the supercharger, the Jag doesn't make much noise at all.

So, has the grown up XF lost its sporty spirit? Absolutely not. From its supercharged V6 and fast shifting 8-speed to its torque-vectoring technology and adjustable drive modes, the XF retains the pep of a sports car without shedding its suit of civility. It's a sporty, luxurious, and stylish sedan that falls inline with Jaguar's reputation for producing posh yet athletic cars.

Is it the best sports sedan I've ever driven? No. And it's not even the best Jaguar I've ever driven. That honor goes to the Supercharged V8 F-Type R. But, the 2016 XF is still a reasonably thrilling yet premium saloon with matinee-idol looks. It you don't at least consider the XF when shopping for a mid-size luxury sedan, you'd be making a big mistake.


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