What we were looking for Silken refinement, peerless build quality and effortless performance are demanded here. An executive car lives or dies by its image, and running costs are vital, too
Jaguar XF 2.7D V6 Luxury
List price £33,900
Target Price £33,900
Next to the German giants, with their prolific output, Jaguar is a bit of a cottage industry. So it's all the more impressive when a new Jaguar matches a Mercedes for refinement, a BMW for driving dynamics and an Audi for interior wow factor. That new Jaguar, of course, is the XF.
Step inside, soak up the ambience created by the wood, leather and titanium trim, press the pulsing engine-start button and, hey presto, the facia vents revolve open while the rotary drive selector ascends silently from the centre console.
Need more than just theatre? Select drive, set off down the road and immediately it's clear that you're behind the wheel of something very special indeed.
Around town, the steering is limo light and the ride, although taut, has a smooth, unflustered quality that belies the ensuing agility as speeds increase.
Most buyers will plump for the 2.7-litre twin-turbo diesel engine on financial grounds - it will return 37.6mpg - but excellent refinement, smooth power delivery and a slick six-speed automatic gearbox ensure that it's by no means the poor relation of the line-up.
Grace and pace
It's also rather rapid. Sure, it's more grace than pace away from the mark, but as the revs rise so does the XF's appetite for speed.
Precision steering, immense grip and wonderful body control make it the perfect companion for a press-on blast across country. Scythe through a series of corners and those dosing in the rear will remain blissfully unaware.
They'll also be extremely comfortable. Although not as commodious as some, the XF isn't compromised in the same way as Jaguars of yesteryear. That rakish roofline impinges slightly on headroom, but there's masses of leg and shoulder space.
The 540-litre boot also removes another Jaguar bugbear: a shortage of luggage space. There's even a split-fold rear seat.
The XF doesn't disappoint with its provision of creature comforts, either. Electric windows all round, dual-zone climate control, cruise control and alloy wheels, as well as satellite-navigation, 10-way electrically adjustable leather front seats and a heated windscreen are all standard.
Running costs are vital in this sector, and the XF diesel gets within a whisker of the class-leading BMW 5 Series for fuel efficiency. The XF is also set to post the best residual values of any executive car.
BMW 520d SE
List price £27,190
Target Price £25,208
Best buy over £35,000
Mercedes-Benz CLS 320 CDI
List price £43,957
Target Price £41,800