HEAD TO HEAD: Jaguar XF Vs. BMW 5-Series – AskMen

25 Mar 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on HEAD TO HEAD: Jaguar XF Vs. BMW 5-Series – AskMen
Jaguar XF

HEAD TO HEAD: Jaguar XF Vs. BMW 5-Series

Partly because it was the professional thing to do, but mainly because I was bored rigid at 40,000ft on my way to Arizona for my rendezvous with the Jaguar XF, I whipped out its spec sheet and compared it with that of the BMW 550i against which we planned to test it the following day. I’ll say now that it didn’t make pretty reading.

And if you’ll bear with me, I’ll put you in the same picture I found myself in before climbing aboard; it helps give a sense of scale to the mountain that Jaguar’s most important new car of the last generation now must climb.

The XF waiting for us in Phoenix to face the 5-series is the slightly tortuously entitled V8 Premium Luxury, which carries a price tag of $55,200, compared with $58,500 for the 550i. BMW, in its wisdom, has chosen to provide us with a 550i Sport, which changes its price (to $63,875), but not the underlying sense that Jaguar has jacked the price of the XF through the sky. Fact is, this normally aspirated XF not only costs more than the S-type it replaces, but more even than the supercharged S-type R that used to top the range.

True, both XF and 550i use normally aspirated V8 engines, but while the Jag’s displaces 4.2 liters, the BMW’s has 4.8 liters so, unsurprisingly, it has rather more power and torque, making it much quicker. Jaguar claims a 6.5sec sprint to 62mph for the XF while BMW claims 5.3sec, even when fitted with an automatic gearbox like the one that comes as standard in the Jag. Yet astonishingly, it is the BMW that uses less fuel on all quoted cycles.

It is also a fraction lighter.

Which brings us to a fairly blunt bottom line: there is not a single headline figure the most tedious type of bar-room bore would dream of quoting in the local juicer that puts the Jaguar on top; if you set a lot of store by statistical evidence, the BMW has won this test without turning a wheel.

Even if you don’t, the task facing the Jaguar today remains demonstrably massive. This, after all, is the 5-series, a breed of BMW that has remained on top of its class through its last three generations dating back to 1988. Would you, knowing the desperate financial straits Jaguar has been in throughout the development of the XF, bet on it being the one to topple it?

But don’t conclude that this race is already run – not yet, at least. You have only to look at the next most recent Jaguar, the XK coupe, to know that Jaguar retains a perhaps unrivalled ability to make up in design flair and engineering ingenuity what it has so painfully often lacked in folding readies. On paper, an XK coupe seems just as disadvantaged against a 650i coupe as does the XF relative to the 550i, yet there’s not a person with a pulse in our office who’d walk past the XK to get to the 6-series.

Parked beside it, the Jaguar XF is startlingly more svelte than the 550i. Although it is externally bigger than its rival in every important dimension, the Jag appears to be more lithe and sleek, thanks to its clever four-door coupe design and despite the BMW’s Sport Package bodywork.

Which is not to say the XF is perfect; I like almost everything about it apart from the nose in general and the headlights in particular, which simply seem not to fit the rest of the car. You notice it most in strong or dark colors. This car is not like the XK, a car that can appear a little odd on the printed page but which always looks gorgeous in the real world.

If the nose of the XF seems awkward to you, that’s because it is. And it is Jaguar’s simple good fortune that the 5-series, for all its many and manifest talents, is so externally inelegant.

Inside, however, the XF makes no mistakes with its appearance. Jaguar design director Ian Callum says as much time was spent working on the interior of the XF as its exterior and frankly it shows, for there is no classier cabin in the segment.

The dashboard is a particular triumph, comprising classy dials, a swooping fascia and the usually uneasy alliance of wood and aluminum working together with rare harmony. By contrast, the 5-series’ driving environment looks functional but dull, lacking entirely the sense of occasion offered by the Jag’s interior. It’s a place to help you go about your business, but never does it make you feel at home like the cabin of the Jaguar.

Unless, of course, it is your unlucky fate to be stuffed into the back seat of the XF. Both Jaguar and BMW have larger sedans to sell, so it’s no surprise that neither offers space to sprawl, but while the 5-series offers adequate accommodation for four decent-sized adults, the XF does not, lacking both head and legroom.

Jaguar is keen to point out that there’s a lot more room in the back of the XF than there was in the S-type, but that’s like saying measles are better than mumps: true, but you’d rather not have to put up with either. Jaguar also claims the XF has the biggest trunk in the class, but fails to mention this is only true if you give up the right to a spare tire. With one in place, the BMW’s trunk is larger, and it has run-flat tires as standard.

Then again, perhaps we are looking at the XF the wrong way. Its chief engineer, Mick Mohan, is fairly frank on the subject, saying, We are not in the transportation business. We are in the entertainment business.

That sounds like one of the cheesy excuses for building a cramped car that we hear from time to time. But then you actually get this XF out onto the open road.

I’ll deal with the difficult bit first. The BMW has such a power advantage (362hp vs 294hp) that even if its chassis were useless it would probably be able to drive away from the XF on a decent road. But as we all know, the 5-series chassis is extremely accomplished.

Working with typical fluency with that engine, it confers a level of point-to-point speed that, while not enough to embarrass the Jaguar, is nevertheless substantially superior.

Whether that is a significant advantage or not depends on how much you value driving flat out to arrive at any given place a few seconds sooner than you would had you bought a Jaguar instead. I’ve always been more interested in the journey than the arrival time, and regardless of whether we are running fast down the Interstate, flinging the cars up a mountain road or snarled in city traffic, the Jaguar’s driving seat is always the place I want to be.

Away from the hard numbers and into the less easily defined but no less important world of how a car feels and how it makes its driver feel, this particular XF offers an enticing experience beyond anything the BMW can match.

The steering, for instance, is as good as any I’ve tried in this class of car. Instead of appearing to react to your action, so that your progress is defined by the process of input followed by deflection, it flows as seamlessly as if your arms were steering the front wheels themselves. Good though the Beemer’s steering is, it can’t do that.

The XF also rides with rare equanimity, and is untroubled in this area by the BMW with its needless Sport suspension.

If the firmness of the 550i’s setup over that of the XF was matched by a commensurate advantage in poise over a difficult road, then there would be some sense to it; there’s not.

Jaguar XF

Although the XF is substantially more supple, it controls its body movements just as well, and if its grip levels are not quite so high, the feel of its chassis is such that it can be driven with even greater confidence than the still-excellent 5-series. And right on the limit, while the Jaguar has a little more inherent understeer than the commendably neutral BMW, it executes throttle-induced changes of direction more neatly, and feels at least as nimble as a result.

But it is the powertrain that springs the biggest surprise. BMW furnished us with a manual 550i, which did its case no favors at all because the change is notchy and unsuited to the torque characteristics of the engine. But we suspect that even with the same ZF auto offered as standard by the Jaguar, the BMW would still feel less special to drive, despite its superior performance.

Jaguar can make this gearbox do things that none of the other brands that use it can dream of. Its changes are snappy and smooth in both directions, and when you use the paddles on the steering column to call up an instant downshift, the speed with which it reacts, while perfectly blipping the throttle to match the revs, is reminiscent of a DSG twin-clutch gearbox; it really is that good. Yet set the controls to cruise and you at once forget the car has a transmission at all, unless you happen to spot the occasional repositioning of the rev-counter needle.

The speed with which the ‘box reacts also means you are rarely (if ever) aware of the V8’s comparative lack of low-down torque. The engine is so sweet and sonorous in its upper reaches, and the gearbox so eager to keep it there when you’re pressing on, that holding the motor in the 4500-6000rpm band (where it works best) isn’t just easy, it’s natural. The BMW engine will deliver greater grunt at all points in the rev range, but it’s never as easy on the ear or quite so free-spinning at the top end.

So it is because the XF is such a delight to sit in (up front) and drive that I’m going to give it the nod here, and the designers and engineers at Jaguar who have sweated so hard for so long, with so few resources at their disposal, are right to feel proud.

Building a car to beat a 5-series is a task that has foxed many of the industry’s greatest brains for most of the past 20 years, but Jaguar has pulled off what to many must have seemed near enough impossible. It should also be said that the normally aspirated V8 XF is a clearly superior product to its more expensive ($62,200), less likeable supercharged sister.

But that is not the only issue that qualifies this victory, for in truth it asks as many questions as it answers. For example, how will it stack up against the Mercedes CLS, a car whose four-door coupe design was clearly studied hard by Jaguar? We look forward to providing answers to this and many more questions in the coming months.

In the meantime, I would not be so mean as to begrudge Jaguar its victory here; it is deserved for sure. But the real test is yet to come.

-Andrew Frankel/Autocar

Every week since motoring began more than 100 years ago, Autocar has been the essential news, entertainment and reference magazine for committed car enthusiasts. Click here to learn more about Autocar .

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