Since its 2008 arrival, the Jaguar XF has established itself as one of the best executive saloons on the market. Sadly, it's a car that often proves expensive to run, due to its use of large, relatively thirsty engines.
Fortunately for the tight of pocket, Jaguar's 2012 range of XFs include the brand-new XF SE -- a model aimed at a wider (read: less rich) audience. It's powered by the company's third-generation, 2.2-litre, i4 diesel engine, boasts an eight-speed gearbox and has a new stop-start system. All of which is designed to improve economy and reduce emissions.
The cat's whiskers
The new XF range, which consists of the new XF SE, XF Diesel S and XFR, has been blessed with a host of aesthetic changes for 2012, all of which improve the car's appearance. Its headlights, which are styled to mimic those of its big brother, the XJ, are now more cat-like than ever and feature slick-looking day-running LED lights.
The XF's front grille is now larger and more aggressive-looking, and the lower air intakes are dissected by chrome blades that look as if they were inspired by the front wing of a Formula One car. The rear lights have been given a spruce up too, and have bright, attractive C-shaped LEDs that really are things of beauty.
These tweaks don't change the car's overall aesthetic dramatically, but they help improve on what was already a very attractive vehicle.
While the new XF's interior hasn't changed, it does feature a brand-new entertainment and information system. Out goes the trusty Flash-based touchscreen interface of the previous models and in comes a system based on the one found in the Jaguar XJ.
It's not, at first glance, as easy to navigate as the outgoing system, thanks to a slightly confusing menu layout. The main menu, for example, has 'navigation' and 'take me home' options sat adjacent to each other, when logic dictates the latter option should be a sub-option of the first.
After spending time with it, however, it does become second nature, and you'll appreciate the clear, high-resolution graphics and the wealth of previously unseen features the new system brings with it.
For the first time in an XF, it's possible to play streaming audio from an MP3 player or mobile phone that supports the Bluetooth A2DP profile. If that's not your cup of tea, the car also allows music to be played via other sources, including DAB, AM and FM radio, USB mass storage and CD.
The XF's speakers have been beefed up for 2012. All models in the range now have the option of a 1,200W, 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins speaker system that are a dramatic improvement on the entry-level 400W, 10-speaker setup that comes as standard. It's based on the system used in the Jaguar XJ (though it uses three fewer speakers) so it sounds absolutely epic no matter what music you're listening to.
Those wishing to make the most of the Bowers & Wilkins audio system would be wise to invest in the optional £2,050 sat-nav setup (also new for 2012) as this brings with it a hard disk drive on to which it's possible to rip up to 10 uncompressed music CDs directly to the car. Aside from lugging CDs everywhere you go, this is the only means of playing uncompressed digital tracks and really making the most of the sensational audio system.
The new navigation system is impressive, benefiting significantly from the inclusion of a hard disk. The mapping software feels more responsive than it did when it ran off a DVD, and it's now possible to enter destinations using the car's voice-recognition technology, so you can use it without taking your eyes off the road for extended periods.
The little engine that might
The main highlight of the new XF SE is its 2.2-litre diesel engine. Its a unit that's also found in the Land Rover Freelander and the forthcoming Evoque, but here in the XF, it's been tuned to deliver performance more befitting a luxury saloon than an off-roader. Heard from outside the car, the engine sounds quite rattly and un-Jag-like, but the car's sound-deadening materials suppress the din so effectively it could almost be mistaken for a petrol engine -- even at speed.
Unsurprisingly, the engine's small size means it doesn't give such a good account of itself when asked to propel the XF SE's 1,745kg bulk. The engine delivers 190PS (185bhp), which is enough for a reasonable, if hardly mind-blowing, 0-60mph time of 8 seconds. It's depressingly unresponsive, however, when you initially push the accelerator, hesitating for what feels like an eternity before scrambling towards the horizon.
Speed obviously isn't this engine's forte, but it does deliver the goods where economy and low carbon emissions are concerned. This is mainly due to Jaguar's eight-speed gearbox, which helps it cruise in relaxed fashion on motorways, and its newly devised stop-start technology. The latter makes use of a dedicated battery and sophisticated software to ensure the car's onboard systems (power steering, air conditioning, stereo and so on) aren't affected when the engine comes to a stop.
Jaguar's stop-start system is also slightly more responsive than most. The company is aware of the fact there's a slight delay between the moment a car stops and its engine winds down to a complete standstill, and has introduced a variable speed starting mechanism that can restart the engine before it's reached zero revolutions per minute. This makes means the system is less of a pain in some traffic conditions.
Together, these systems help the XF SE achieve brilliant fuel economy of 52.3mpg on the combined cycle, and carbon dioxide emissions of just 149g/km. That's a significant improvement on the XF Diesel S' 44.8mpg and 169g/km.
Those who want high-speed XF-flavoured thrills should avert their gaze to the Diesel S or V8 models. If you like your luxury cars to deliver high fuel economy and low CO2 emissions, however, the XF SE is a revelation.
Edited by Nick Hide