The new Jaguar XF: more Bourne than Bond, stealthy and invisible in a crowd but with the right skills to call upon

“I am a young executive. My habit is to brag. I use a slimline tablet. And I drive an XF Jag”.

The words of poet John Betjeman, whose subject in the 1974 poem Executive actually had to make do with borrowing his firm’s Cortina. The latest generation of Jaguar XF is, however, surely a very 21st century kind of saloon.

Certainly, like its predecessor, it’s won many a gong, not least Germany’s prestigious Golden Steering Wheel award – the kind of thing Saudi princes possibly have for real – and the Saloon of the Year as awarded by the troubled Top Gear British entertainment brand.

You can see why they might like it. Without being obviously beefy, it is, like the Jaguar brand, a vehicle that’s very blokey. It’s the kind of car that the owner might chat about with enthusiasm to their wife’s best friend’s husband over a pint of ale; the kind of car that, like the Jaguar Mk II of old, would be an excellent candidate for a new archetypal getaway car for TV villains planning an audacious bank job.

In fact saloon – a word that these days sounds as old-fashioned applied to bars as cars – is rather too genteel to describe the Jaguar XF, especially the latest, top-of-the-range 3-litre R Sport model, yours for HK$516,000. Stealth would be more apt.

From the outside, the XF initially looks rather anonymous. Driven slowly, it could pass for a ho-hummish family car, with its impressive petrol economy, capacious boot, safety features (when my groceries shifted on the passenger seat, the car became very insistent that they put on their seat belt) and excess legroom; although shorter and lower than the original XF of 2007, the XF is considerably roomier inside.

These are the qualities family types profess to look for in a car, while secretly aiming for 20-inch diamond-turned alloys, Meridien sound system, super fast ethernet connectivity and eight-speed automatic transmission, all of which the XF has too.

Fail to pay attention and the XF could be mistaken for something much more pedestrian, like a Vauxhall or Renault. Certainly there is something of the fleet car about it, too.

But inside, and underneath, is another story. Stripped back, decluttered, minimalistic, in the XF’s cocoon of black leather and trendily exposed carbon fibre, it’s more Batmobile, perfect then for the upwardly mobile salesman with that cocksure, “always be closing” mentality.

There’s even a button on the roof console – by the sunglasses holder, natch – marked “SOS”. It’s covered by a protective flap, like those nuclear launch controls in the movies. Perhaps this is for when it’s Friday and that weekly sales figure just can’t be hit. There’s that blue ambient lighting – for when action stations are called.

There’s a sense too that, somewhere in here, must be a hidden lever that ignites rocket propulsion or unfurls wings. Jaguar will neither confirm nor deny.

Indeed, if this obvious leaning towards the “Boy’s Own” flavour sounds like a criticism, it’s not meant to be. If too many cars wear their prowess somewhat too openly – festooning the dashboard with buttons at the expense of clarity and, in a car, arguably safety – the XF hides its lights under the proverbial bushel, even if that bushel is made of some or other hi-tech material.

As any designer will tell you, knowing what to leave out is a harder lesson to learn than knowing what to put in.

Traffic sign recognition, stability control, all surface progress control, autonomous emergency braking – all of the XF’s talents are just there, controlled from a touch-screen if the time comes.

You wouldn’t know it unless the salesman you bought the car from happened to be one so those cocksure kinds. Even the side air vents want to hide, automatically closing – in a nice bit of in-car theatre – when the engine is switched off, leaving the fascia with lovely, seamless lines you only get to fully enjoy if going nowhere.

The car was launched with some unusual razzle-dazzle too – a stuntman more typically spotted in Bond and Bourne films drove it 240 metres across a hire wire stretched over the Royal Dock in London’s Canary Wharf district, presumably much to the admiration of many young executives below (though, wisely, not right below).

This was to demonstrate another of the XF’s hidden attributes: that, with what Jaguar is calling an “aluminium-intensive” construction, some of its variants are 80kgs lighter than rival cars, which certainly helps with the fuel bill.

Electric power assisted steering also gives a 2 per cent cut in fuel expenditure. OK, so that doesn’t sound much, but the fact that Jaguar even wants to mention it perhaps suggests just where this car’s emphasis lies: in considered engineering. And it’s hard to make that sexy.

Solid, assured, handsome – these are arguably the best words for the XF in sum. Flashy it isn’t – and presumably the Prestige model, some HK$11,000 cheaper, is less flashy still.

Understated it is – despite the gadgetry, more Bourne than Bond, if you like, invisible in a crowd but with the right skills to call upon. This doesn’t make the Jaguar XF a hugely exciting car. It is, one suspects, the car you buy when you really picture yourself in an F-type, and it’s at least being a Jaguar is the acceptable face of compromise given that, well, it’s not an F-type.

It’s a desirable family or business car. Given that neither of these categories ever set the heart aflame, that alone is an admirable achievement.

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