Your correspondent gets into a bit of a flap over ‘our’ Jag’s ride quality. Or lack thereof.
Is it possible for one’s palate to remain untainted by daily servings of braised swan? It’s bound to have an effect over the long term – after all, too much of a good thing will skew anyone’s critical faculties. For instance it’s unlikely any mainstream motor journalist working today would place a premium on ride comfort above outright handling and roadholding, if only because there probably aren’t any old enough to remember when such qualities were not only valued, but were what set luxury cars apart from the mass-market hordes.
Leonard Setright, a motoring writer who appeared to know a great deal about a good many things once suggested it was unlikely anyone below the age of 42 could fully appreciate the true value of a luxury motor car. Like many of LJKS pronouncements, it’s something of a sweeping generalisation and frankly it was never clear just how far Setright’s tongue was in his cheek when he wrote it. But one can grasp the essential nub – it’s certainly arguable that a luxury car confers qualities better appreciated with age and experience.
A Jaguar can be deemed a luxury car but is it a quality car? This is a question worth asking, for at a time when Jaguar made cars of ‘quality‘, they tended to be assembled in a somewhat arbitrary manner with bought-in components more inferior than its breeding might have suggested, or indeed its owners might have hoped for. Today’s Jaguars on the other hand are considerably better wrought, but what they’ve gained in durability, practicality and finish, they seem to have lost in the more nebulous qualitative areas. Indeed, it’s quite easy for anyone below the age of 42 to grasp the value of an XF, largely because it isn’t really a ‘quality car’. It simply isn’t refined enough. Its diesel engine is uncooth, too much mechanical and road-excited noise is allowed to intrude into the cabin and worst of all, its ride just isn’t sufficiently supple.
In 2011, Car Magazine’s Ben Pullman, a motor reporter well short of his 40th birthday described the XF 2.2d as “brilliant to drive”, which is accurate up to a point. But this comes at a price. Pullman papers over the Jaguar’s “firm ride” in his report, saying; “we reckon the trade-off is worth it”. But the uncomfortable truth is that it isn’t. Because on every journey, every stretch of road you travel, you are constantly reminded of how over-firm its damping is. ‘Our’ XF rides on 17′ wheels and 235/55-series Pirelli P7 tyres, hardly low-profile by modern standards. Yet it rarely feels settled over urban pockmarks, only at motorway speeds does it begin to feel composed, Jag-like.
Today’s band of auto journalists live in a permanent track-day bubble, so I’m hardly surprised Pullman believes the XF’s trade-off between handling and roadholding over ride comfort is the correct one. How could he be expected to know better? About ten years ago, a decision was made to recalibrate the Jaguar marque both stylistically and dynamically. It was decided that as a sporting brand, Jaguar’s road behaviour should reflect this repositioning, the belief being that to take the fight to BMW, it was necessary to become more like them. Conquest sales could only be made by offering a seamless transition from Munich propeller to Coventry cat.
Yet Jaguar’s dynamic legacy used to centre around a seamless combination of refinement and dynamic balance, largely the work of a series of gifted chassis and development engineers. Latterly, management appear content to dilute this link, upon whose coat-tails the XF and its brethren tug. For what? To attain parity with its rivals. Every contemporary report has praised Jaguar’s ride/handling balance, and by current industry standards, the XF’s ride quality is acceptable, assuming you’ve haven’t experienced Jaguar’s back catalogue. In my view however, it’s too firm, too unyielding. It also suffers from an excessive roll stiffness which can unsettle the car, especially mid-corner. Under the right conditions the XF is a fleet-footed and sure companion, but at other times its lack of compliance gets its dynamic and comfort imperatives into what can only be described as a twist.
The 2016 generation XF has been praised for its combination of handling and ride; journalist, Richard Bremner recently claiming Jaguar have regained the balance for which they were once famed. I’m not sure I’m necessarily buying that, largely because I no longer believe motor journalists hold the mental database to make those kind of comparisons. Their palates have become too jaded. After all, when everyone offers a variation of the same Nordschleife-honed experience, the nuances cease to matter. It all tastes like feathers.
Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I refuse to believe I’m the only (occasional or otherwise) XF driver who would happily trade some sharpness for a smidge more ride comfort. Surely that’s what you buy a luxury saloon for? For heaven’s sake, at least offer a ‘comfort pack’ as an option. The maddening part is how little would be required to provide an acceptable balance. Whoever signed it off needs to lay of the swan canapés for a while. Or perhaps just grow up.