Don't ever try this, not at home or anywhere else, but let's hypothesize that you're driving blindfolded. Then imagine that you're asked to identify the marque just by the feel. Some cars might be easy, like a Mini or BMW. Jaguar could be on such a list. That lithe, mature, refined yet powerful personality comes up to the hands and the seat of the pants.
This is especially true of the '16 Jaguar XF, which marks the midsize premium sedan's second generation. So it's completely new and enjoys a predominantly aluminum build. In general, it's a soft(ish) ride, comfortable yet still controlled, with an almost organic quality to the suspension, where springs and dampers feel more like the sinews and joints of a creature in perfect health.
Jaguar is justly proud of its skill in manufacturing with aluminum. One benefit is that the new XF is lighter than the previous steel-heavy model, by 132 pounds in rear-drive versions and 265 pounds in all-wheel-drive versions. This not only helps with fuel consumption—30 mpg on the highway for rear-drive cars with either level of power—but also brings a poise and balance to the chassis. The urge to attack a corner will come sooner and more often in the XF than in any heavier rivals.
In normal driving conditions, the all-wheel-drive system sends all of its torque to the rear wheels. When the situation demands, a varying amount will go to the front wheels, determined by a program that's continuously reading steering angle, yaw, lateral forces, tire grip, and all the other factors that go into tackling a corner with speed, precision, and security.
The electrically assisted steering doesn't feel as exciting or informative as the F-Type's system, but that's probably to be expected. This is a sedan, not a sports car. It's light, but not too light. It allows the driver to think about other things or make the decision to tune into it a little more. Anyway, the driver-selectable modes (if that option is selected) allow adjustment of steering, throttle, gearshift points, and suspension settings for more involvement.
Don't be confused by the "t" in the 35t models. They're not turbocharged; they're supercharged. In every variant is the same 3.0L V-6 engine, always with a compressor bolted to it. The 35t versions make 340 hp and the S versions enjoy 380 hp.
One slight disappointment: Both horsepower levels make the same amount of torque, 332 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm. Considering there's a supercharger up front, it's not unreasonable to expect some fun to kick in a little earlier along the powerband. But no, there isn't an ultra-snappy response to a suddenly flexed right foot. The result is under a tenth of second's difference between the 35t and S models in the sprint times from standstill to 60 mph. Having said that, both versions are still more than able to get a move on, and the XF is never less than an absolute pleasure—for the driver and the passengers.
Looks-wise, the differences in design are probably more pronounced if the new XF was parked right next to the outgoing generation. By itself, the car is pretty enough and follows the Ian Callum code for how to style a Jaguar in the 21st century. It certainly holds its own among the sophisticated company of its rivals.
The interior is similarly becoming. It retains that lip from the first generation that runs from one front door, across the top of the dash, and over to the other front door, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on one's aesthetic sense.
The new XF has more rear passenger space than its predecessor, and Jaguar has even been kind enough to add a little rear quarter light to keep things back there friendly for claustrophobes. In spite of this extra room, the car doesn't seem unwieldy, so the aforementioned corner-attacking urge is never far away.
The lane departure warning system doesn't assume the driver is a completely helpless idiot and intervene too assertively with its automatic steering correction. It's nice to be given the benefit of the doubt. How very British. And the optional head-up display uses laser technology to project crucial driving information onto the windshield, as opposed to the LED-based systems deployed by other manufacturers. The difference is that it's possible to wear sunglasses with polarized lenses and still discern the readout. LED versions and Ray-Bans don't get on so well. LEDs certainly have their place in the XF's lighting, though, from head to tail and ambient cabin illumination in between.
Autonomy, or at least the road to it, rears its own shiny head in the form of adaptive cruise control with queue assist, which tracks the car in front during those dull stop/go traffic situations. And semi-automatic parking, where the driver just operates the pedals.
As almost every premium car is doing, the new XF offers an instrument cluster that's a configurable TFT display with graphic emulations of regular gauges as well as the navigation map. And a smartphone app brings the ability to start the car remotely and pre-set cabin temperatures, even down to the heated/cooled seats.
All of which puts the '16 XF firmly in the ring with top contenders like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. And it has enough going for it to steal customers away from Germany's finest.