Jaguar’s XF R-Sport Sticks It to the Germans

With power and pomp, the XF R-Sport exudes the posh exclusivity that defines British automobiles.

All luxury vehicles with sporting pretensions must take their fight to the Germans. That’s the yardstick against which performance-sedan traits are measured in the minds of both the media and consumers. How does it hold up to a Merc, a BMW, or an Audi? It’s true for the Japanese, the Americans and the British — the latter, of course, meaning Jaguar, since Bentley and Rolls-Royce more or less own their own categories.

In some ways, that perpetual comparison is fair. (After all, the Germans make great performance sedans.) But it’s also a pity, because while each of those countries manufactures high-end sedans with their own handling characteristics, design traits and cabin feel, there’s continued pressure to make them somehow “German” in look or feel. And I don’t want that.

I understand that car manufacturers are obligated to produce what their customers want, but I want my USA-made Cadillac or Lincoln to always feel American — whatever that means — and the same thing applies to Lexus, Infiniti and Acura. I want to be able to at least sense a vehicle’s provenance just by being in it, and I want it to be the best version of that nationalistic backstory. As for Jaguar, I made sorting out that uniquely challenged brand’s overall “Britishness” a primary objective when evaluating the newly redesigned XF R-Sport ($60,650) sedan. The question became two-part: why snag a Jag over any of the other deeply entrenched luxury models out there? And does the XF exude that posh exclusivity that one craves from a British automobile?

2016 Jaguar XF R-Sport Specs

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Engine: supercharged 3.0-liter V6
Transmission: eight-speed ZF Automatic
Horsepower: 340
Torque: 332 lb-ft
Drive System: RWD
0-60 mph: 5.2 seconds
MPG (City/Hwy): 20/30
MSRP: $60,650 R-Sport base; $72,285 as tested

The new XF — Jag’s mid-place sedan, above the XE and below the flagship XJ — brings enhancements from bumper to bumper that improve performance and make the driving experience every bit as energetic and modern as its competition. The engineers achieved that firstly through generous use of aluminum in the structure — 75 percent of it uses the material, generating a weight savings of 11 percent and enhancing overall stiffness by 28 percent. Underneath, the suspension is partially ripped from the F-Type sports car, with its aluminum double wishbone up front, and an aluminum integral-link setup in the back.

The front hood arcs downward and inward slightly, aiming for a point just ahead of the bumper, and it echoes not only the ’70s and ’80s cars, but also the renowned, glamorous saloons and estate cars of the ’50s and ’60s.

Jaguar also injects new life into the model with a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 that produces 340 horsepower (380 in S-trim) and 336 lb-ft of torque — all good for a 0-60 time of 5.2 seconds. When I recently gave the R-Sport version a go in the twisty desert roads outside of Sedona, Arizona, the car produced plenty of excitement. It absorbed the curves smartly and smoothly, thanks to its computer-controlled, tunable dynamics and the Torque Vectoring by Braking, which subtly brakes specific wheels to help aim the car around turns. It’s a trick that’s hard to detect, but suffice it to say that the car turned briskly and I never felt I was going to get into trouble with it, even when driving aggressively. The engine produces strong acceleration whether surging down the open road or powering out of turns. It doesn’t have quite the sound and vibration you experience with German powerhouses; instead it’s smooth, quiet and stately, yet forceful — pretty much what you’d expect from a British performance sedan. It can easily be mentioned in the same breath as the A6, E-Class and 5-Series machines produced across The Channel.

There are also technological tricks lurking about, including a low-speed launch control system designed to maximize traction in slippery conditions (ice, snow), optional adaptive cruise control with lane centering and automatic braking at low speed, and the forthcoming chain-driven all-wheel-drive option, which maximizes torque distribution while preserving a more satisfying rear-drive bias. Also forthcoming: a 240 horsepower turbocharged inline-four-cylinder engine and a 180 horsepower turbo diesel. Both should boost fuel economy above the V6’s already very good 20 mpg city and 30 highway.

It’s smooth, flat and unblemished by unnecessary “interest” generated by design flourishes. It’s stately and dignified, very British.

Externally, the car is mostly faithful to its predecessor, but with a crisper headlight design and slightly more pronounced character lines along the sides. There are larger cooling intakes at the bottom corners of the front, and more defined wheel arches. It’s sharper from bumper to bumper, but the classic Jaguar “look” is still present. The front hood arcs downward and inward slightly, aiming for a point just ahead of the bumper, and it echoes not only the ’70s and ’80s cars, but also the renowned, glamorous saloons and estate cars of the ’50s and ’60s. The only complaint is the car’s back end, which feels squared off, too high and too generic. It doesn’t scream Jaguar the way it could, which is a pity, because that’s the part that most people are going to see.

Inside, drivers weary of clunky, confusing touchscreen interfaces will enjoy Jag’s InControl system, which favors simple but visually appealing designs, useful built-in apps and smooth integration of smartphone tech. The XF’s new interior, with contrasting materials, elegant designs and hints of edginess in the S-model via two-tone leathers, doesn’t feel American, Japanese or German. The design is simpler and more symmetrical in the center console than other cars. I particularly like the way the panel stretching across the passenger-side dash, just above the glovebox, is left alone. It’s smooth, flat and unblemished by unnecessary “interest” generated by design flourishes. It’s stately and dignified, very British.

And so the XF makes a case for its own space. It is an English performance sedan, and that means something — in this case, a car with snappy grit wrapped with plenty of sophistication. It stacks up against the Germans favorably, and it gives the sense, in the ultimate model of austerity, that it doesn’t care much how they do things in other places. Being appropriately British is quite enough.

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