The really compelling thing about Jaguar's new entry-level XF, the 2.2D Luxury, is that you can sit inside it and not be confronted with much evidence that you're piloting the least expensive model in the range.
As the Luxury nomenclature suggests, the quality of fit/finish and equipment is everything you'd expect of a top-line executive car and not easily distinguishable from more upmarket XFs.
It's impressive on the road, too. It might be a four-cylinder diesel, but peak torque of 450Nm and a 0-100km/h sprint of 8.5 seconds (as fast as the XF V6 petrol) makes it a very satisfying car. One you can feel smug about, as well: with combined economy of 5.4 litres per 100km, it's capable of small-car economy. That's a pretty amazing resume for $90,000.
But the XF 2.2D is not the car we're here to talk about. Meet the XF 3.0D S Luxury, which has a lot of work to do to justify its $115,000 pricetag in light of the paragraph above.
I've driven the standard 3.0D and while it has more power (177kW/500Nm) and superior refinement to the 2.2D, I'd still be reluctant to spend the extra $10,000.
The leap is larger again to add that "S" to the 3.0D name. But you get enough extra performance to really feel it (202kW/600Nm, 0-100km/h 5.7sec), an Adaptive Dynamics chassis package, bigger brakes and a subtly sporty aerodynamic body kit.
The only visual miscue is the tiny green/red "S" logo on the back, a reference to the badging on the mighty flagship XFR V8 super-sedan.
The 3.0D S is unobtrusively swift in a straight line and undeniably sporty through the corners. As a sports sedan it's supremely appealing, especially now that most of the XF range has a new eight-speed automatic transmission.
The gearbox is one of the bigger changes in the facelifted XF. I also approve of the styling revisions, especially the more aggressive headlights, which mimic the look of the larger XJ. The XF cabin still shows that Jaguar does leather and wood better than any of its German rivals, although I'm a bit over the gimmicky "handshake" gearlever and dashboard vents.
Glad to note the demise of the touch-sensitive glovebox button, which only worked intermittently if you happened to have sunscreen on your fingers. A proper pushbutton is best.
The cabin is kept relatively clean thanks to a comprehensive touch-screen control centre, which is nicely arranged - if a little slow to respond to inputs in sat-nav mode.
For $115,000, the 3.0D S Luxury represents fantastic value compared with the entry-level XF. It feels a little rough around the edges compared with diesel rivals from Audi, BMW or Mercedes-Benz, but given that it has more power/torque and a sportier chassis than any of them, yet is at least $20,000 less expensive, it stands as a killer package at a killer price. With fuel economy of 6.3 litres per 100km, still pretty green too.
The bottom line:
Jaguar XF 3.0D S not only looks the part, it delivers on performance and handling too. The quiet achiever in the executive class - and at a bargain price.
Audi A6 TDI S-line $140,700
BMW 530d SE $137,500
Lexus GS450h $157,600
Mercedes-Benz E 350 CDI Avantgarde $142,900