You only get one chance to make a first impression, so how does ‘our’ XF fare?
Among the tenets of luxury car motoring is the notion that everything you touch and feel should feel expensive and well engineered; that the manufacturer has gone that extra bit further to make you feel more deserving, more special. Approaching the XF for the first time however, the first thing you grasp is the door handle, only to be greeted by a flimsy-feeling plastic arm that wouldn’t be out of place on a car many times cheaper.
As first impressions go, it sets a very low tone. Frankly, my 19-year Saab’s similarly configured door handles feel immeasurably more solidly engineered and durable. In fact, they’ll probably outlive the car. So much for progress.
Having gotten over this initial setback, you take your seat. It’s worth pointing out that ‘our‘ XF was specified with black leather and the living horror of privacy glass, so it’s decidedly gloomy in there. In fact, were it not for the aluminium and light stained wood trim, it would be a fairly unremitting place to spend time. In mitigation, the owner was advised to opt for this interior specification. A Jag in coal-hole black? Misses the point entirely.
Nevertheless, the leather’s soft, even if I don’t particularly like the grain or the pleating. The wood trim is nicely integrated and has a pleasing satin finish – I’ve developed a bit of an allergy to shiny woodwork. I also really like the alloy faced dash. It’s quite Series 1 E-Type and feels lovely against the fingertips. All the switchgear is nicely damped and operates as expected, although I’ll admit to still being a little befuddled by the automatic wipers, technophobe that I am. I really must dig out the manual. Minor switchgear is rubberised and has nicely judged push-feel, as Toyota engineers might put it.
Once inside, the starter button pulses expectantly, which creates a little frisson of anticipation. Pressing it prompts a piece of theatre you think you’ll tire of, but in fact never really do. The synchronised swivelling of air vents, rising gear selector and memory-set steering wheel serve no useful purpose, but I applaud Jaguar for it – after all they didn’t really have to bother.
Which makes the following something I say with something of a heavy heart. The rising gear selector was designed to look like a solid billet of metal but feels more like plastic. Worse still, there’s a couple of millimetres of unnecessary free play as you twist it. For this feature to work, it needed to operate with a feeling of heft, of solidity, but it just doesn’t. It just feels cheap. On balance I think I’d prefer a normal quadrant lever.
The quality of the interior plastics is generally fine, apart from the lower door cards at door-bin level, which is the only really cheap looking and feeling trim on show. The carpet too is a little below expectations. A pity, because again it’s difficult to escape the feeling of pennies being pinched. The headlining’s lovely though.
A combination of shallow glazing, black interior trim and rear privacy glass, combined with the XF’s low roofline, seating position and steeply raked rear screen add up to somewhat compromised outward visibility, particularly rearward. But to be fair, this is part of a long Jaguar tradition, I recall an early XJ being as bad in this regard; you simply had to guess the extremities. Ditto the XF. Frontwards, your view is dominated by the prominent bonnet bulge (very Series 1 XJ again) but where the nose ends is anyone’s guess. Standard-fit (and hilariously over-dramatic) JLR-generic parking sensors are a godsend.
Nice touches abound. The leather covered steering wheel rim feels lovely in the hands. The wheel mounted audio and cruise control buttons are usefully placed. There’s a thoughtfully positioned double interior light above the rear compartment where they could probably have got away with just one. There are no ashtrays, but several sizeable cubbyholes on the centre console which could double as ash receptacles should one find oneself caught short. The large central cubby lid however, isn’t damped as you’d expect, shutting with a startling bang. More cost-cutting. Ditto the gearshift paddles, which are cheap pieces of moulded plastic.
The boot is deep, although the aperture is rather shallow. The rear seats do not fold, nor is there as much as a ski hatch, making those trips to IKEA an exercise in futility. Maybe Jaguar assumes its owners don’t buy flat-pack. I have news – they do. The boot carpet traps dirt and detritus, making it an absolute pig to clean. This particular XF doesn’t have a spare wheel either, just a compressor and a container of tyre foam. Yet, the space isn’t given over to additional luggage capacity, which somewhat negates the point if you ask me. Maybe Jag owners also can’t be bothered with levers and jacks. Can’t say I blame them.
Despite these quibbles, the XF is a very pleasant place to spend time. It conveys a sense of occasion every time you climb aboard – immeasurably more so than its 5-series predecessor. None of these issues actually gets in the way of enjoying the car. I just wish Jaguar had spent a little more money in a few key areas. The forthcoming model needs to be better. To anyone considering an XF, my advice would be to go for a light coloured interior. Screw the resale, you’ll enjoy it more and will also alleviate the slightly snug interior ambience. But whatever you do, go easy on those door handles…