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If this were a normal test of a Jaguar model, I’d be talking earnestly about its suave British style, impeccable refinement and comfort, while grumbling about the absolute quality of the drive. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but this XF 2.0 Ti is no ordinary cat.

Ironically, refinement is one of its less impressive features, while there’s every reason to be enthusiastic about the way it handles. That’s not to say that the latest XF is anything other than fashionable, or that its ride is anything less than sophisticated. It’s just that for once, such things don’t define the Jaguar experience.

It makes a refreshing change to be able to say that the real pleasure of driving this Coventry motor comes not from worthy (but ultimately not particularly outstanding) attributes, but rather from the experience behind the wheel.

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As a driver’s car, the Jaguar XF 2.0 Ti ranks right up there in the executive sedan pantheon with the F10 BMW 5 Series and W212 Mercedes-Benz E-Class. In some ways, the Jag is a more complete package than its German rivals. Its steering feels more natural, for a start.

No matter how underrated or forgotten the ageing XF may be, the RM388,888 2.0 Ti (considerably cheaper than the comparable 528i and E 250) is a competitive rival for the likes of the usual suspects. If you like being a little bit different (don’t anyone mention the word hipster now), the Jaguar is a completely reasonable choice, if not exactly the best around.

At its heart is the same Ford-sourced 2.0 litre EcoBoost engine as the one in the XJ L 2.0 Ti that Paul tested. But while a downsized 2.0 litre engine is new to the large luxury sedan class, it’s par for the course in this one.

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In fact, here, Jaguar is rather late to game, having held on to its (relatively) underpowered and thirsty naturally-aspirated 3.0 litre V6 motor for far too long. It’s perhaps the very reason why the XF has never really caught on with buyers here. Until now, Jaguar hopes.

The new turbocharged direct-injection engine makes as much as 240 hp and 340 Nm of torque, which is very much comparable to BMW’s similarly sized turbo four in the 528i. Zero to 100 km/h takes just under eight seconds, 0.4 seconds slower than the much larger but lighter aluminium-bodied XJ L.

It’s far from the quickest in its class – the 245 hp and 350 Nm BMW does the century sprint in 6.3 seconds – but it’s still a healthy gain from the old 235 hp/293 Nm 3.0 V6’s 8.3 seconds. Fuel efficiency is up from just 9.5 to 11.2 km/l, though again, that’s a far cry from the 528i’s claimed 14.7 km/l. It’s a step in the right direction, at least.

Despite being a modern turbocharged engine, in Jaguar’s bespoke state of tune, it has to be revved hard to maximise its performance potential, but it’s certainly not averse to a bit of that.

The rewards come in the form of ‘touch-me-and-watch-me-jump’ throttle response and fabulous induction howl with the turbo running at full capacity, providing a real incentive for the driver to use the full breadth of the engine’s 6,500 rpm rev range.

That’s all well and good when you’re in the mood for a thrash-about. The problem is that, half the time – particularly during city driving or when you’re trying to make passengers’ lives as pleasant as possible – you really don’t want to be bouncing off the red line, which then means you miss out on the good part of the engine’s stage show.

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Sometimes, all you want is a nice, effortless wave of torque to carry you along. Below, say, 3,500 rpm though, the engine feels decidedly ordinary, lacking the torque-fuelled low-rev tractability of newer Bimmers and Mercs and even the old 3.0 V6 Jag.

Truth be told, it would be far more usable if the EcoBoost motor is tuned to offer more low down delivery, even if that comes at the expense of top-end power. The oddly spaced and programmed eight-speed ZF automatic transmission doesn’t help either. Somehow, the same gearbox feels more flexible and far quicker to react when paired to BMWs.

While it may be frustrating at times, the XF is 100% up for a cross-state blast, if you are. On these occasions, it all comes together in an enormously satisfying way, the driver feeling connected to the car in the best possible manner, through the throttle, the steering wheel and seat.

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In place of the Mercedes E-Class’ numb, understeer-laden chassis, there’s one with real feel and control and adjustability. And in place of the Audi A6’s light, lifeless steering, there’s weight, feedback and smooth precision. The meatiness of the steering comes as quite a shock the first time you drive the XF, but after that it simply feels brilliant.

The only caveat is that the steering’s performance deteriorates swiftly when the roads get rough, showing a tendency to tramline on uneven surfaces. Given the state of our local roads, the Jaguar will inevitable end up spending a fair bit of its time with less-than-perfect steering.

The intimacy of the relationship between the car and driver is taken to greater heights by the cocooning interior. It feels like a classy gentlemen’s club in there, with supple leather, polished walnut and real aluminium trim everywhere. Real British ingenuity is clear to be seen.

It’s not the last word in modernity, though. It may have been a real game-changer when it first appeared in 2007, but in the eight years since, the game has truly and deeply moved on.

Between then and now, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have all released all-new models, and the 5 Series and E-Class have even gone through their mid-life facelifts. And it’s in the interior department that the XF’s age is most exposed. It just feels old, and not in the good aged Victorian way, either.

Virtually everyone who has tested the Jag XF has come back waxing lyrical about what a sensational piece of kit it is. There are plenty of times when I’m of the same opinion. But on the whole, I had more of a love/hate relationship with it during the drive session.

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When I was in the mood to drive quickly, it came to the party with gusto and a flurry of activity that was hugely rewarding. But when I was commuting to work, hacking up a highway or carrying passengers, I kept finding myself wishing it wasn’t quite so busy. And the passengers tended to agree.

More than anything else, the Jaguar XF 2.0 Ti would benefit from a better-tuned transmission and more low-end torque from the engine. As is, it makes for a fantastic party piece, but is far from being relaxed or refined on a highway cruise. Inspiring and highly talented though it is, the Jag is a little too compromised to be a truly satisfying car to own.

Let’s put it this way: more than ever, it’s a worthy alternative to the usual suspects, but an alternative it remains, still.