Do all cats have claws?

The F-Type has shown that Jaguar are alive and kicking – and that the marque is in fine hands. But few of us will ever own one. The XF on the other hand is an attainable dream, and in four cylinder diesel form it can be considered sensible too. But is the XF 2.2d worthy of the Jaguar name? Sam Skelton sets the cat amongst the pigeons…

XF 2.2d SE v E-Type Series 1 4.2

Image © Jaguar Cars 2011

What defines a proper Jag? There are several who would advocate grace, space, and pace as the primary factors and they’d be right to an extent. The most classic of classic cats sums this up to a tee – the ever elegant E-Type is spacious enough for six footers and rapid enough to scare many moderns.

And the car we’re testing here is possibly the ultimate E to own. A Series 1 4.2 FHC in Old English White; the wire wheels glinting in the morning sun. The black leather sits perfectly with the fascia and creates an air of gentlemanly athleticism, and the gentle curves reflect the sense of a feline intent upon pouncing. It’s fair, then, to use this as a barometer for Jagness.

Do E-Types get any better? Series 1 4.2s are the ones to have

Which is where our other twin tester comes in. It’s a Jaguar XF 2.2d SE, the cheapest model in the current Jaguar range. Starting from £29,945, our test car comes laden with kit which nudges the price up to nearer £33k. But a 2.2 litre glorified rep hack? A car which has been likened – unfairly – to the current Ford Mondeo? The bigger engine XFs have proven themselves worthy, but is this car really a Jaguar?

Can the XF 2.2d live up to its forebears?

On paper the E-Type has it. But then it would – its 49 year old 4.2 litre straight six puts out 265bhp to the XF’s 163, hits sixty over two seconds earlier, and slips ahead at the top end by almost thirty miles per hour. It also won’t depreciate – but at £39,950 our test example was rather costlier than the XF to buy in the first place. But there’s more to this than mere numbers – a Jaguar is an emotional product , and whilst we can assess them objectively it means we risk missing that which makes the cars so special. What we need to do is to drive them both, and to assess the way they react and make us feel.

We’ll play fair to the new bug by taking it out first. The XF might be a rival to cars such as BMW’s 5 series and the Mercedes E-Class, but somehow it feels far more exclusive. The devil is in the detail, and Jaguar have got the details of this car spot on. Make yourself comfortable in the leather armchair (Optional – SEs come as standard with a suede/leather interior), press the starter button and the car becomes alive in front of you. Not only is the engine roused from slumber, but the cabin awakens too; air vents which pirouette to face you and a gear selector wheel which rises from the console as elegantly as froth from champagne. The engine is not the weak link you might expect to find, either – whilst there are sufficient overtones of Transit to make one scan for errant builders, it’s quiet enough with the windows up and in motion. The steering is unusually well-weighted for a modern exec, and the ride whilst not exactly Rolls Royce standard is better than the Germanic norm.

The XF feels surprisingly quick. With loads of room and a nice ride, there's little to fault

Plant your foot and it doesn’t disappoint, leaping as only a big cat can. You’d be hard pressed to guess that under that bonnet sit just one hundred and sixty three horses, and to find that 60 arrives in a pedestrian 9.8 seconds is difficult to reconcile with the sense of speed. We’re not a fan of paddle-shifts here at FTCC, not least because they obstruct short-shifting and offer few benefits over a good auto. But the one fitted to the XF works well enough. The 8 speed ZF box is slick enough too, though we’d prefer six well-spaced ratios. Eight is sometimes too many for our liking.

It’s a good car overall then, but is it a Jaguar? To find out, we need to head back in history and find out just what that means. So don your driving gloves and your sunglasses, and step back in time…

Oh God. There’s something about the gruff note as an XK engine starts, and the muted burble as it settles down is an aural delight. The E-Type’s svelte, feline flanks are already well-documented so we needn’t expand the eulogy here. Suffice it to say that few cars – before or since – have looked quite so right. And few of those which have looked so right have been so accommodating. It’s alarming – early Es are famed for bad seats, horrid gearboxes, and for being generally unpleasant places to be. The changes made by 1964 did the job though – with space enough for a 6’2” tester to sit in comfort. Once ensconced, the E-Type cockpit is typically British. Black vinyl, Smiths gauges and a bonnet stretching into the next county are just some of the treats in store for the E-Type driver before he sets off.

Yes, this is as fun as it looks. Hard to believe the design's over fifty years old.

When he does set off, the sublime becomes unbelievable. For one, it’s rapid. And by rapid, the XF won’t get close. If we put this into context and look at it by 1964 standards, it must have been like a rocket. The gearbox is slick, and the sound of the XK at full chat is such that you cannot resist blipping the throttle on the downchanges. To barrel along in an E-Type is both rewarding and slightly scary; the tyres protest when cornering enthusiastically, and whilst we never pushed beyond the ability of the car to grip, we were aware at times that there wasn’t much further to go. The E is a fun old thing to bat about in – and there’s a special quality to it that few cars have.

So now we’re familiar with what Jaguar is. And we’re familiar with what Jaguar was. But are they the same? We need to look more closely and find out just what makes the E-Type a Jaguar – is that replicated in the XF? Grace? I think it has grace – the Jaguar range of 2013 may be bulkier than ever before but the XF retains a muscular poise that cars of its class rarely offer. It’s a bit like James Bond. Debonair, and yet you know full well there’s power lurking beneath. And he nearly had an E Type instead of a DB5…

Image © Jaguar Cars 2011

Space? Well, this is where the E falls down – and where a MKII would have been a better comparison. Whilst both seat six footers in comfort, the E can manage two to the XF’s five. The XF has a bigger boot too. Pace? Well, the E-Type is well in front but the XF ain’t a slow old horse.

The last test is the big one. Does the XF make you feel special in the same way as the E-Type? Opinions will certainly differ on the subject, but we think it does here at FTCC. Not to the same extent, but that feeling of being a little bit separate remains. Are we going to suggest that the XF 2.2d SE is better than a Series 1 E Type? No, of course not. That would both be mental and patently incorrect. But is it a Jaguar? You bet it is.

Image © Jaguar Cars 2011

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