Jaguar XF Portfolio

It lacks the old Jaguar elegance – but you'll get over it

Price: £43,050
Engine capacity: 2.2 litres
Top speed (mph): 140
0-60 mph (seconds): 8
Fuel economy (mpg): 52.3
Co2 emissions (g/km): 149

You may be thinking: hasn't the Jaguar XF been around for a bit? And you'd be right. The first model was unveiled in Frankfurt in 2007 and was in British showrooms in 2008. It was conceived as a replacement for the old S-type Jaguar, the long sleek sedan touchingly name-checked by Kanye West as the car he thought his mum would like. "Imma get you a Jag, whatever else you want, jus' tell me the kind of S-type Donda West like," he sang on "Hey Mama".

Anyway, the first XFs in 2008 had socking great V6 and V8 engines. The new version carries a much smaller 2.2-litre, single-turbo, four-cylinder diesel. It's aimed at the company-car market: when it comes to low CO2 emissions, it's well beneath the 160g/km tax threshold; when it comes to good-value driving, it offers an economical 52.3mpg. It's a luxury car to pamper the executive classes, matching similarly priced Audis and BMWs.

When you first encounter this beast, you curse Jaguar's design director Ian Callum and say: Ian, it doesn't look like a Jaguar. From the big grille, apparently borrowed from a Bentley Continental, to the plump matronly hips and the substantial rear-end, it lacks the old Jaguar elegance, the trophy-wife sexiness of the 1999 S-type.

You get over it, though, once inside. The charcoal suede roof, leather-trim walls and walnut dashboard are amazingly stylish. Apparently unique to this model is the graceful electrical foldout of air-con vents and gear lever. Like many new cars, there's no ignition key, just a start-stop button. Prod the button and the four air vents whirr open, while the circular gear dial glides out of the central console like the parts inside HAL 9000. A slightly maddening "intelligent start-stop system" kills the engine dead at traffic lights and kicks it back into life when you take your foot off the brake.

But don't get me started on the special features, the slightly crackpot refinements that come as standard with the XF: two extra airbags on the side walls, "rain-sensing" windscreen wipers, fog-anticipating headlights, pedestrian contact sensing, front-back-and-sides beeping, a reversing-aid camera that shows on-screen exactly what's behind you. It's like being inside a neurotic and paranoid guard dog. My 16-year-old daughter absolutely loved the extras, especially the heated steering wheel and the dashboard television (although all we could tune into was Welsh-language TV).

It's a heavenly drive. For such a seemingly bulky car, it's surprisingly nippy in cornering and sleek in cruising. The steering is light and responsive, the acceleration so smoothly powerful it'll make you smile like a Bond villain. It doesn't so much sail over sleeping policemen as ignore them completely.

I have three cavils. The automatic gearbox has a mind of its own, choosing high gears when you're idling in traffic. The engine doesn't have sufficient power to whompf this big car away from a standing start: maybe it does nought-to-60 on eight seconds, but I'd add two seconds of just-sitting-there time. And if you're not familiar with a car key whose mere presence unlocks the door, you'll spend a maddening time locking the car. But idiocy apart, this is a big-hearted, beautifully designed car that'll give any grey-templed senior manager an instant James May complex.

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