2021 Jaguar XF Review: What is ‘a Proper Jaguar,’ Anyway?

Though the Jaguar XF has historically been the brand’s midsize sedan, Jaguar stopped selling their compact XE, tweaking the 2021 Jaguar XF to fit both compact and midsize price points. Sedans aren’t selling as well as crossovers, and every sedan on the market has to be that much more intentional to really justify its existence. This is doubly important for everything sold in the United States by Jaguar and its sibling Land Rover, as their sales figures here are lower than other luxury brands.

Many years ago, the hosts of Top Gear covered a new Jaguar as part of their news segment. The stereotype-filled discussion boiled down to what “a proper Jag” was, not based on a spec sheet, but on the overall vibe it gave off. I’ve always felt that Jaguar was a brand defined by an intangible presence more than anything, so when they dropped off a 2021 Jaguar XF, that “proper Jag” debate was front of mind.

2021 Jaguar XF

What Is It?

This is a 2021 Jaguar XF P300 R-Dynamic. Now in its second generation, this XF has been on sale since 2015 and received updates for 2021 as the XE was discontinued. Jaguar cut the base price of the 2021 XF by $7,000 and shuffled some engine options as well, giving the entry-level “core” XF P250 a 2.0 liter turbocharged four making 246 horsepower. My XF P300 gets the same four-cylinder with more boost, coming in at 296 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. The supercharged V6 of past XFs is no longer available.

Both P250 and P300 engines are paired to a ZF eight-speed torque-converter automatic and, in most cases, all-wheel drive. The XF is on a rear-wheel drive platform, but only the most basic XF P250s will come as rear-drive models.

2021 Jaguar XF engine

Choosing the R-Dynamic trim level locks you in to the higher-powered “P300” engine and all-wheel drive. Wheels are upsized to a 19-inch option and inside, 16-way front seats with heat are added. Subtle exterior tweaks round out the R-Dynamic package.

My specific 2021 Jaguar XF also included the Dynamic Handling package, which added electronically-controlled dampers, red-painted brake calipers, and a trunk-lid spoiler. The extended leather, cold weather, and convenience packages rounded out my particular British Racing Green test car, making it mostly-loaded as 2021 XFs go.

The most basic 2021 Jaguar XF R-Dynamic can be had for roughly $50,000 and my test car came with an MSRP of $62,695.

2021 Jaguar XF R-Dynamic wheels

Relaxed Enough, with Sporting Bones

My week with the XF covered a mix of extended highway travel and some beautiful Shenandoah Valley back roads. In every case, the XF was competent and comfortable. It’s no full-size sedan (RIP, XJ) but four of us fit well enough for a day of adorable fall-themed fun at an apple orchard.

For 2021, Jaguar updated the XF’s infotainment software to their latest, called Pivi Pro. It is a massive leap ahead of their older system, with generally fast response time and easily-navigated menus. Pivi Pro drives an optional Meridian surround sound system that is punchy, crisp, and worth the $600 upcharge.

2021 Jaguar XF Pivi Pro

Jaguar did a fantastic job with the XF’s suspension, offering just the right level of “supple” in its normal setting without feeling too soft or wallowy. Highway miles were soaked up with ease, and when I forgot to change drive modes, the XF still managed corners and quick body movements with grace in its default Comfort setting. Those moments where you crest a small hill and the road seems to drop away more than it should? Handled.

Twisting the drive mode dial to Dynamic firmed things up for back roads, though not to an unreasonable extent. The XF loves corners, remaining composed with solid steering feel and appropriate heft from the wheel. I enjoyed pushing the XF a bit, as the chassis is balanced and just easy everywhere.

Where I appreciate the 2021 Jaguar XF is its duality – crisp styling paired to a vehicle handles cruising through the city for date night or weekend drives in the mountains with aplomb.

2021 Jaguar XF interior

…But Is It a Proper Jag?

While I had the XF and was spending a day evaluating a host of new cars with my local press association, I found out I had been promoted at my day job. Two years of work had paid off, and I felt like a million bucks as I slipped behind the Jag’s steering wheel for my drive home, their “leaper” staring back at me from the airbag cover. I put my foot on the brake, hit the Start button, and wished for a little more as the Ingenium four-cylinder came to life.

The 2021 Jaguar XF is indeed “a proper Jag” in that it exudes presence. Given lower sales figures, it’s not tremendously common to see another XF on the road. You absolutely stand out from something like a BMW 3-series or Mercedes C-Class, and it’s thanks to taut styling that’s not overdone.

2021 Jaguar XF

Presence continues inside, with a relatively low dashboard, good view of the road, and tasteful materials choices everywhere you look and touch. The tactile and visual experience in the XF has been carefully considered, and it adds to the whole package.

Where I think the XF loses the “proper Jag” plot is with the engine. I understand entirely why Jaguar is only offering a turbo four-cylinder in the XF, but economies of scale aren’t sexy and don’t have that special something that I really wanted from this BRG-on-cream British sedan. Knowing that Jaguar Land Rover has a 3.0 liter inline-six in their arsenal, and knowing the noises it makes in the Land Rover Defender, having the XF’s top-dog drivetrain make those kinds of four-cylinder noises was a letdown.

2021 Jaguar XF shifter

Yes, every other luxury manufacturer also plops a standard, fine-but-also-kind-of-underwhelming two-liter turbo four in their midsize sedan. They all make adequate power, and the Jag’s offering is no exception. The 2021 Jaguar XF carries a power to weight ratio of 13.0 pounds per horsepower and can get to sixty in 5.8 seconds. The transmission listens to you and works well if you get playful, holding gears and shifting quickly enough. It’s totally fine.

Where Jaguar falls short is having their basic-Becky engine be the only one offered. I know why they dropped the supercharged V6, I get it. But I don’t like it.

So yes, the 2021 Jaguar XF is proper enough… but a touch more flair and drama wouldn’t hurt.

2021 Jaguar XF

Final Thoughts

Earlier this year, Jaguar announced they would become an all-electric brand by 2025. The notion of “proper” is about to change in a big way. Some of us dream of XJs gone by, with the leaper bolted to the hood looking out at light cast from four round lamps. I am one of those somebodies. Big, brash luxury sedans definitely do it for me, doubly so if they can take a corner.

Crossovers are practical and ostensibly the best choice for a lot of buyers. Sedans like the Jaguar XF aren’t nearly as all-purpose as they once were, and the XF isn’t really “brash” like it used to be. There’s no XFR or XFR-S anymore. The 2021 Jaguar XF is a nice place to spend time, and beyond the engine offering, it’s a very well-balanced and very well-styled sedan that I liked. I wanted to love it, though, and I couldn’t quite get there.

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