Review: 2021 Jaguar XF P300 R-Dynamic SE AWD
It’s an open secret that Jaguar, the brand built on coupes and sedans, owes its present survival to SUVs. Despite axing its flagship four-door (the XJ) for 2020 and the 3 Series-fighting XE for 2021, Coventry hasn’t yet completely abandoned the sedan. For the 2021 model year, Jag’s sole surviving example of the body style, the midsize XF, receives a thoughtful and extensive mid-cycle refresh. Tweaks include an all-new interior and infotainment system (much like Jaguar did for the F-Pace), a dramatic price drop, and a powertrain lineup consisting exclusively of four-cylinder engines. After a brief hour behind the wheel, we can vouch for the fact that the 2021 XF gains more than it loses.
A luxury sedan in 2021 is an increasingly scarce prospect, and the refreshed XF leans into this truth by narrowing its focus. Gone is the 380-hp supercharged V-6, and with it the $70K S AWD trim. Jaguar is picking its battles. Challenging the German sports sedans in this segment—the BMW 540i, the Mercedes-Benz E 43 AMG, and the Audi A6 55—is evidently less important to Jaguar than nailing a tech-heavy, appropriately luxurious experience within the $40K–$50K range.
Infotainment and interior materials were the XF’s clear shortcomings, and for the refresh Jaguar recognized the need to address these area by nailing creature comforts, especially after sacrificing the top performance model. From our first impressions, it’s a success. The overhauled cabin is elegant and convincingly modern. The dash’s clean, horizontal lines are complemented by luxe materials—synthetic leather isn’t available—accented with tasteful textures. The front chairs, each headrest embossed with the leaping cat logo, are slim and comfortable. The new steering wheel is Volvo-esque in its simplicity and ease of use. As in the F-Pace, a leather-clad shifter replaces the cheap-feeling rotary dial for RND (P is a button). The drive-mode selector, another twistable affair, rises from the center console at a press; a bit much, perhaps, but properly indulgent for a British luxury sedan.
Jaguar isn’t simply resurrected old-school luxury here. Within easy reach of the steering wheel sits a gently curved 11.4-inch touchscreen, the centerpiece of the new Blackberry-powered Pivi infotainment system. Thanks to a dedicated power source, the high-res screen awakens promptly, avoiding the Achilles’ heel of Volvo’s Sensus setup. The screen responds promptly to taps and swipes, and the default black-based color scheme is on-trend. Even though this thoroughly improved user experience has the potential to satisfy even reasonably discerning electronics users from, say, Audi’s customer base, true tech diehards aren’t likely to find themselves in a Jaguar dealership under any earthly circumstances. It’s an uphill battle that Jaguar continues to wage in Sisyphean fashion.
Voice recognition and navigation have their quirks: The system won’t take you to a Starbucks (or Whole Foods), if asked directly, but it will compile a list of coffee shops (or grocery stores) upon command. A few of our favorite details: Spoken navigation prompts can be muted with a single tap, and the home button resides in the bottom lefthand corner.
Curvy backroads with generous speed limits would have told us a lot more about this car’s handling during our hour-long jaunt around Pontiac, Michigan, but our P300 tester’s 296-hp turbo-four and eight-speed auto were generally satisfying on suburban streets and highways. Stop/start response is slightly slow and a bit chuggy. Over more corrugated sections of pavement, the XF’s suspension is surprisingly firm; those who are willing to sacrifice a modicum of ride comfort for a composed chassis will appreciate it, however.
Outward visibility is a weakness of the otherwise delightful perspective from the driver’s seat. Jaguar compensates for this via a roof-mounted, rear-facing camera and a rearview mirror that, at the flip of switch, populates with a 50-degree live video feed. Absent direct glare through the sunroof, this ClearSight system works quite well. For $450, it’s a worthwhile upgrade.
Though at $45,145 the base 2021 XF is $7K cheaper than the outgoing model, don’t be fooled: Jaguar options don’t come cheaply (price includes destination). Pivi infotainment, a leather steering wheel, wireless charging, and heated front seats may come standard for 2021, but Jag’s options catalog is deep. Our P300 R-Dynamic SE AWD model piled nearly $12K of option onto its $50K base price. Many of them are worthy indulgences: the $1800 Extended Leather Upgrade, the $800 Light Oyster sport seats, $1200 adaptive cruise control, and the $600 surround sound system. The broad repertoire of options includes one of Jaguar’s strengths: a rich color palette, both for interior and exterior.
The 2021 XF marks a strange moment in the history of Jaguar. This last surviving sedan for the U.S. market is a highly calculated risk on a vehicle that’s both vital to the brand’s stately image and difficult to imagine as being especially profitable. We tip our caps to Jaguar for the XF’s mere existence—even as we mourn the fact that the Jaguar of 2021 cannot afford to send off a once-signature product like Cadillac has with the ballsy Blackwing twins. Jaguar still knows how to build a decent luxury sedan, even if there aren’t compelling business reasons at present to invest in a truly great one.
The conservative XF is a far cry from the extravagant, brutish saloons that helped build the Jaguar brand, but the 2021 model is wise and well-executed. The refreshed XF with its excellent cabin is worth a serious look for those uncharmed by the German heavyweights and put off by Genesis’ shield-faced barges. Admittedly, this is a small cohort, but this is likely the most competitive, focused XF of its generation.
2021 Jaguar XF P300 R-Dynamic SE AWD
Price (base/as-tested): $51,145 / $62,695
Highs: Elegant inside and out, infotainment is equally handsome and friendly, composed on-road behavior.
Lows: Perfectly adequate four-cylinder won’t carry the label of “most powerful XF” well.
Summary: The most competitive, focused XF of its generation.