I’VE JUST LANDED in Munich, the epicenter of German industry and home to big names like Bayerische Motoren-Werke (BMW), Allianz, Grundig, Siemens, Continental, Adidas and Puma.
BMW advertising hits you as you pass through customs into the arrivals hall. Head toward the austere Kempiniski Hotel Munchen and behind it looms Audi’s forum, a cement and glass monolith housing the company’s showroom and training centre. The size and scale of the structure in BMW’s back yard sends a clear two-fingered message from the Ingolstadt-based brand to every BMW exec who exits the airport.
I walk through this brand battle zone to a row of gleaming Jaguar XFs and have to appreciate the irony of this choice of venue for the 2012 model year world launch. Is this the proverbial British cat among the German pigeons?
The XF has been the most visible signifier of the brand’s rebirth since the Tata takeover two years ago. It’s clawed back credibility for the fans, given a foretaste of the future and at first arrival overshadowed the then German rivals for glamour. In four years the XF has won more than 80 performance and styling awards around the world. But the Germans have fought back. In the mid-size exec market, the new E-Class, 5 Series and A6 are formidable weapons.
So what’s in Jaguar’s latest XF salvo? Bizarrely enough, the new exterior styling is closer to the original C-XF concept unveiled at the 2007 Detroit motor show. Jaguar now has the technology to mass produce elements of the car, according to chief designer Wayne Burgess, in particular the swooping J blade pattern of the LED daytime running lights. This enabled the previous watered down front end to be replaced with those tauter, more pronounced bonnet lines. Completing the picture is a revised bumper, new grille and front wings incorporating new triangular side vents. Out back, the tail lamps are now full LED, the boot lid has been revised and the diffuser is more subtle. The overall effect is distinctive, muscular and svelte, with way more character than the E-Class, more imagination than the cookie-cutter A6.
The new interior with its updated infotainment system offers a selection of new tactile enhancements from new metals and alloys to new painted surfaces. Thankfully the signature rising Jaguar Drive Selector rotary knob, Alcantara leather touches and three-spoke steering wheel stay largely untouched.
The passenger cell is not as capacious as the barge-like E Class, though four adults fit comfortably, while revised front and rear seats incorporate an attractive ‘hoop’ feature on the squabs and backrests that improves support. My major gripe is with the satnav operation. Although graphic resolution and clarity on the new seven-inch touchscreen is better, the system is still not as user friendly as BMW’s iDrive or Audi’s MMI interfaces. Apart from that, the new XF cabin experience is hard to fault. Build quality is peerless as is sound quality from the 17-speaker 1200W Bowers & Wilkins audio system.
Other big news is the introduction of a frugal new 2.2-litre turbodiesel (the AJ-i4D) derived from the Range Rover Evoque stablemate, in line with a global trend towards smaller capacity diesels and maxing Jaguar’s market appeal. A key piece of tech on the engine is an intelligent start-stop system dubbed the Tandem Solenoid Starter. It’s a first for Jaguar and makes it debut in a diesel auto exec saloon, drawing on input from over 70 sensors to decide when the engine should or shouldn’t start. Jaguar claims it operates up to 40% faster than rival systems. As we ventured on to the sodden rural streets of Bavaria before heading for the alpine roads of the Berchtesgaden National Park in Germany’s deep south, I found the system worked both fast and intuitively, never stalling just when I needed to accelerate across a busy intersection.
Key to the small oilburner’s appeal is its combined fuel consumption claim of 5.4/100km and CO2 rating of 149g/km, making it the most efficient engine in the Jaguar stable (though CO2 values are higher than the Audi A6 2.0 TDI’s 129g/km or the 520d 137g/km). Independent tester David Madgwick and navigator Alexander Madgwick recently feathered a 2.2-litre XF the 1313km from the XF factory at Castle Bromwich in Birmingham to Munich on a single tank, passing through four countries and the full gamut of road conditions, averaging 4.9/100km.
While I must admit the engine is smooth and refined, particularly with the new eight-speed ZF auto transmission, I never attempted to replicate their efforts. The Alpine roads were an invitation to explore the loud pedal and push the XF’s agile chassis to its limits. As we wound our way through the spectacular Bavarian Alps, the XF flowed effortlessly from turn to cambered turn, showing off its superb dynamic balance as we sped through fertile valleys and forests to our night stop at the idyllic Seehotel berfahrt.
For the Munich return leg we jumped into the 3.0 V6 turbodiesel derivative which swaps the previous six-speed for that new eight-speed ZF auto, offering swift and smooth changes, plus the option of multiple shifts using the steering paddles, while benefitting both acceleration and economy. Despite the extra cogs, the drivetrain weight is identical, plus an improved oil pump design and gear control system increase efficiency, reducing emissions to 169g/km and cutting fuel consumption by 6% to 6.3/100km.
While most features on the Germans are optional extras, Jaguar SA says the two new XF variants will arrive fully loaded on dealer floors this month, with everything except satnav standard. With pricing of the 2.2D likely to be in the R450 000 to R500 000 region, the only problem I foresee is that dealers won’t be able to keep enough stock on hand.