Sleek and smart, the distinctive lines of the Jaguar saloon make an immediate appeal to the connoisseur of fine motor cars, whilst a few moments at the wheel are sufficient to convince the most experienced motorist that here is a car with a performance to give delight to the most fastidious.
That’s not me, that’s from a Jaguar product brochure from way back when. As the brochure says, a few moments at the wheel are enough to let you know that all Jaguars are special. And the new one especially makes it a point to reinforce that fact. There is more attention to detail, there is more effort to proclaim that it’s exclusive and different and there are some really funky, unseen-before features. In other words, the new XF tries really, really hard to please. Does it succeed? Sure it does, but according to me, that’s only after you cut through the James Bond-kind of gimmicky stuff and get to the heart of the car. You know, it’s easy to get swayed by the aircon vents that swivel into place or the way the round gearshift, um, dial rises up from the console when you switch on the ignition or the touch-sensitive spot to open the glove box (I believe the ejector seats are part of the options list). But the Jaguar-ness of the XF is not these cocktail party conversation starters, but another set of attributes altogether. And that is design, interiors, performance and value for money. So I got a benchmark Jaguar saloon from 1940 to check whether seven decades have dimmed Jaguar’s feline nature or not.
Whether it is the 1940 SS Jaguar 2½-litre or the XF, the lines of both the saloons are indeed distinctive. Where the old-timer has that gorgeous grille flanked by independent headlamps and beautiful, flowing fenders, the XF has got a coupe-like silhouette. Twin pipes emerge from the rear ends of both cars, hinting at performance and aggression. All Jaguars, whether they are coupes or sedans, have to have sleek lines; it will be a mortal sin if it were any other way. The compromise in the modern car could be boot space and access to it and maybe even rear headroom, but that’s all acceptable. The consequence is that the XF looks better than even the new E-Class, the 5er (which hides its age very well) and the A6. Not only is it drop-dead gorgeous, but it looks different from any other luxury four-door sedan. But the most distinguished part of the XF is something that is not too visible, but it shows the attention to detail and the manufacturing prowess of JLR and that is a very, very discreet pinch line that runs across the doors. It helps in reducing the bulk of the sheet metal profile without being too obvious about it. Really, to engineer a delicate line like this, you have to go the extra mile and be convinced about it. Ian Callum has managed to pull it off. And that rear three-quarter view especially is beautiful; it looks so Aston Martin-ish that it would fool even Double-Oh-Seven.
As befits a car which appeals to discriminating owners, the furnishings and appointments of the Jaguar are of the highest quality and are in quiet good taste. In no other car has so much attention been devoted to driver and passenger comfort. Phew, either the words are prophetic or the interior designers at JLR just read up on that before starting work on the XF. They were written in 1945, for a US brochure on the post-war Jaguar range – which included this car here, but renamed as the Mark IV. Back then, the wood on the dash, the instruments, the seat adjustments and the upholstery in the SS Jaguar were much talked about. The lack of chrome around the instruments was considered tasteful and in keeping with the overall sober appearance.
But not today. High quality chrome liberally strewn across the insides of the car is a must if you want people to think it’s a luxury car. It’s no different with the XF. The frequent touch points like the door locks feel solid and as if they have come from the SS, but at the same time there are other sections of the interiors where Jaguar could have spent some more time and money on. And that is primarily the central console’s controls. I didn’t like the quality and the finish, and they didn’t look as if they are built to handle decades of use – unlike let’s say in an Audi or a Beemer. Similarly with the paddles, which could have been less flimsy and plasticky to the touch. But there’s no arguing with the wood and the leather; well, it’s a British car, isn’t it? The XF is quite well-equipped and even comes with a touch screen, which is any day a better thing than fiddly knobs. Also there are the other slots for USB, aux and power tucked in the storage bin between the two seats. Net net, the XF is a great car to be in – it’s instantly comfortable, all the controls fall into place easily, it’s ergonomic, and other than the plasticky controls, is a car to spend quality time in. The gearshift dial is initially a bit fiddly, but you get used to it, though changes between P, R, N, D and S are not as quick as I’d like it to be simply because of the rotary motion.
Built in an exacting tradition that calls for racing car characteristics combined with the ease and comfort of a smart town carriage, the Jaguar has for long enjoyed unrivalled leadership in the high performance field (...) The Jaguar can be driven far, fast and hard with entire absence of driving fatigue – thanks to the finely balanced blend of comfort and controllability inherent in its design.
The 2664cc 102 bhp straight-six in the SS Jaguar is magnificent. It started its life as a Standard engine, and later on was worked on by Jaguar’s immortals who gave it a new overhead-valve head and extra cubes. The same engine also featured in the legendary SS100, a contemporary of this car. The inline-six is so flexible that even first gear feels like fourth and empty stretches of road just disappear under its thin rubber. The motor pulls strong in any gear and that makes it easy to drive in conditions they wouldn’t have imagined 70 years back. Now apply those 70-year old sentences to the XF, and heck, nothing has changed! Performance with comfort – that’s key. This V8 is majestic; it can move gracefully at slow speeds as if without a care in the world and when required, it could break the speed barrier! This powertrain is a wild but civilised (if such a thing could exist) feline beast, all right. You know, Tata Motors could have introduced the XF with a V6, but by giving a V8, they have ensured that they could charge a premium over the Germans – remember, this car is a full import versus the others who are assembled in India. So the XF you get in India is the full-blown Jaguar experience, no compromises on that front. Displacing 5000cc, this 32-valve V8 fills up the vast engine bay of the car and there is no space for even a dusting cloth to squeeze in. The V8 develops 385 bhp at 6500 rpm and 52 kgm of turning force at 3500 rpm. Lots of cubes, lots of horses and lots of balls, if you’ll pardon my French. And we aren’t even talking about the same engine that’s supercharged in the XFR to develop five hundred-frigging-ten bhp! So until I drive that, this is where it’s at. This marvel of a V8 is mated to a ZF six-speed automatic transmission that transfers the power to the rear wheels. Between the two, they do a solid good job of propelling the XF. For example, keep it in comfort mode and the engine ticks over at a leisurely 1500 rpm, and you are doing not 40, not 50, but 80 kph. If there was an indication of what this motor can do, it is this. Getting out of the city, I am as cool as a cucumber, gently fiddling around with the various buttons while the car is gently nudging itself in traffic. It exhibits no urgency, it’s like a jungle cat that is chilling and licking its chops after a kill. The dimensions of the car are also perfect on crowded city roads – it is a large car without making you feel that you’re driving one. People look at it, people hear that gentle burble and they know it’s a special car. I don’t think any of the Germans would turn heads like this one, besides they have become commonplace. Heading out of the city, I shift the rotary dial to Sport mode and it’s time to rock. Depressing the pedal results in a momentary pause, the miniscule calm before the major storm and wham, you are pinned to the head restraints and the cat, my friends, is out of the bag. The needles go ballistic and timings are demolished. For a car that weighs the wrong side of 1,700 kg and with three fully-grown adults on board, the XF attains 100 kph in 6.5 seconds, 80 to 120 kph in 3.8 seconds and 100 to 140 kph in 4.5 seconds. To say that it’s fast is an understatement.
Though our timing equipment clocked a top speed of XXX kph, it does well above that. Unfortunately we had unplugged the Vbox and kept it aside that we got a real clear stretch of road. We just went for it and the needle maxed out... it had nowhere to go beyond that 270 kph marked on the dial! Keeping speedo error in mind, we think the XF attained a little over 250 kph. Blistering performance aside, the XF’s muscular engine has this silent menace about it. Even at low speeds it snarls through the exhaust, and at high revs, the sound emanating from the tail-pipes is sheer music. It’s ballsy, brassy and bassy! Along with the muscular intake noise emerging from the hood, you have a proper V8-piece orchestra, a moving one at that. The gearing also is well matched to the engine’s characteristics, allowing it that immense flexibility that only a V8 does best. Seriously, all you need to purr about town or show a rapidly-disappearing clean pair of heels is control over your right foot. Capable of speeds in excess of 95 mph, the Jaguar is unique in the complete control afforded throughout its speed range. With its low centre of gravity and scientific disposal of weight, there is an entire absence of sway or roll. The tenacity with which the Jaguar holds the road at the highest speeds is amongst its most outstanding characteristics. Light yet positive steering enables the car to be placed to a hair’s breadth, whilst the immensely powerful braking system is instantly responsive to every need.
Okay, it may have been a paragon of precision in those days, but today, I simply wouldn’t be able to place the car within a laterally-placed cow’s breadth, let alone a hair’s breadth. Still, the SS Jaguar is a marvellous machine to pilot, a driver’s car of that era, if you please.The presence of plenty of electronic English nannies means that the XF doesn’t wag its curvaceous tail. With the traction control and ESP switched on, the XF is so surefooted that it does not step out of the line, and in fact tucks the rear back into your intended trajectory the moment it detects slip. On the curves, the XF is extremely well-behaved, and I would say, more than what you’d expect from the 5 Series or the E-Class. The massive 245/45 19-inchers provide loads of traction and grip that helps those nannies work their way with the car. Ask them to shut up and it can get a bit hairy to have a powerful motor up front and ending up with switched front and rear ends... that’s expensive metal you’re playing with. The chassis of the XF is a delight - it allows you to enjoy the thrills without the attendant chills. Not once does the size and weight of the car spoil the fun of tackling the curves and it comes pretty close to the 5er when it comes to feeling one with the machine. The ride quality of the XF is also where it’s at. It smoothens out virtually all the road surfaces and rear seat passengers wouldn’t have much to crib about. Except for wee bit additional legroom and headroom. So while it comes close to the Beemer when it comes to handling, it’s Merc-like in terms of ride comfort. Hey, that’s not an easy thing to achieve. The brakes are also brilliant and they get the car to a halt without a fuss in a straight-line. And sudden braking is so rapid that you better be belted up and not have any loose objects lying about! But does that mean the XF as a driver’s package is perfect? No. The steering setup is a bit too over-servoed. While that’s nice at low speeds and in city traffic, at higher speeds, it barely stiffens up. At 150-odd kph what you want is more steering feedback and precision and not comfort; you don’t want to pamper your hands at these speeds, right?
So is the new XF a true spiritual successor to the SS Jaguar 2½-litre? Indeed it is, across all parameters except... value for money. See, back in the time of William Lyons, Jaguars used to be superbly appointed cars offering thoroughbred performance, but with incredibly surprising price-tags. That’s why their cars were very popular. But the XF, at Rs 62 lakh upwards, is a bit too stiff, especially when the Germans are cheaper by over Rs 10 lakh minimum. Well, if you want exclusivity, there’s nothing to stop you from getting yourself the XF. Just don’t feel miserable when your neighbour gets himself the XFR. You can console yourself with these words from the old brochure:
In engineering perfection, beauty of design and high quality workmanship and finish, the Jaguar truly merits its title, ‘The finest car of its class in the world.’
We would like to thank the Vijay Mallya collection for providing us with this superbly maintained 1940 SS Jaguar 2½-litre