As I fired up the six-cylinder Jaguar early one morning at the start of a journey from Glasgow to Inverness, it occurred to me that I was about to do what many enthusiastic drivers must have done back in the 1950s, and hoped that my experience was going to be exhilarating and rewarding as theirs had been.
Between Scotland’s largest city and the capital of the Highlands there are two obvious routes. The quicker one takes you up through the centre of the country, mostly on the A9, which is beautiful but frustrating. Although the scenery is beautiful, most of it is also a long way off, so you get very little impression of speed.
60mph – or 70mph on the rare stretches of dual-carriageway – feels like a dawdle when any reasonably powerful car feels as if it could be held at 110 along the straight and through the long, lazy curves. Best not to do this, though, for various reasons, including the tremendous number of speed cameras in the area.
I prefer heading west then north up the A82, which is twistier and more interesting. Also, unlike the much revised A9, it’s not very different from the way it was sixty years ago. The section along the lower part of Loch Lomond is almost unrecognisable, Crianlarich has been bypassed and there are a lot more roundabouts in Fort William, but that’s about it.
I need hardly point out that six-cylinder Jaguars have changed far more dramatically in the same period. The one tested here – quite unlike a sporty model of the 1950s such as the XK120 – is the XF 3.0 TDV6 S. The XF is at heart a premium saloon but the S has sporty pretensions, notably its engine. It’s a deeply impressive twin-turbo diesel producing a maximum of 296bhp, with 196bhp available at just 2000rpm. This and ZF’s superb eight-speed automatic gearbox, sending all the power to the rear wheels, make a wonderful drivetrain.
Without it I might have trundled up the A9 after all. With it, taking the A82 instead wasn’t something I even had to think about. It was the natural choice.
The XF S also has adaptive dynamics (which Jaguar says “constantly adjusts the dampers to provide the optimum balance between poise and comfort at all times”) and, usually, 19″ wheels, though the test car had the optional 20s with very low-profile 255/35 tyres. All very promising, but to my great disappointment it doesn’t work. While the XF S is very good in a straight line and on above averagely smooth tarmac, it rides poorly and feels unsettled on most corners.
I switched between Normal and Dynamic driving modes to see if that made any difference. It did. In Normal, there is a wide gulf between the firmness of the tyres and the compliance of the suspension. In Dynamic, it’s just too stiff. In changing road conditions one mode may prove to be better than the other, but neither can overcome the basic problem of the XF S, which is that it’s trying to be two things at once and fails to make a good job of either.
On those 20″ wheels at least (it may be better on 19s) it is no longer a luxurious cruiser, but nor has it become a sports saloon. It has fallen into the wide gap between the two.
What a pity. It’s a handsome machine, its interior is beautiful in a way that only Jaguar interiors are, I love its engine and gearbox and try as I might I can’t make it average less than 40mpg. I want to admire it and wish I owned one, but to feel that way about an XF I know I’ll have to search elsewhere in the range.
I park in Inverness, go about my duties and next day head south again. This time I take the A9. I can’t face another run on the A82, the road on which I believe the XF should excel but simply doesn’t.
Engine size 2993cc
Top speed 155mph
0-62mph 6.2 seconds
Fuel economy 51.4mpg combined
CO2 emissions 144g/km
Towing capacity 2000kg (braked)
Euro NCAP (2015) Overall 5 stars Adult occupant 92% Child occupant 84% stars Pedestrian 80% Safety assist 83%
Information correct at publication date