It’s been a year since Jaguar gave its XF sedan a mid-life facelift and the changes did a good job of freshening the now four-year old model. Glenn Brooks tries the 161bhp 2.2-litre turbo diesel, an engine which was added earlier in 2012 and which has lowered the price point for XF saloon ownership.

The XF remains a popular model here in the UK – you see them a lot on the country’s motorways, ferrying Important People on Important Business. Not as often as you see the rival 5 Series, E-Class and A6, but the car still sells fairly well in its home market – over 5,000 units were shifted here in the first half of the year, compared to around 10,000 examples of the segment-leading BMW.

Jaguar launched the Sportbrake version of the XF last month and judging by the number of E-sized estates sold in this country, sales of the XF range should soon start rising strongly I would think.

The Volvo V70 used to sell very well indeed here but for reasons unknown, VCC hasn’t freshened the current shape model for five years now – an extrordinary error to make. Still, that decision has meant an unxpected bonus for the V70’s rivals – once you start looking for them, you soon notice just how many big BMW and Benz estates with 02 and 62 registration plates are about. Soon, the car spotters amongst us should start noticing a fair few XF Sportbrakes joining them.

The XF had been previewed by the C-XF concept at the 2007 Detroit show, with the production version, a rebodying of the Jaguar S-TYPE, following at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2007. We first saw it in showrooms here in March 2008. The four-cylinder diesel wasn’t initially offered, the launch engine range consisting of 3.0-litre V6, 4.2-litre V8 and supercharged 4.2-litre V8 petrols plus a 2.7-litre V6 turbo diesel.

In March 2009, the 2.7-litre diesel which Jaguar bought in from PSA and Ford was replaced by the JV partners’ latest 3.0-litre V6 and to this day, that engine remains in the XF range. You can have it with 236- or 271bhp, these being badged 3.0D and 3.0D S, respectively.

A facelifted range was revealed at the New York auto show in April 2011 and with it came a 2,179cc Ford-PSA-Jaguar four-cylinder diesel engine for many markets (but not the US). This car entered British showrooms in September 2011. The new 2.2-litre engine originally came with an output of 190PS but a 163PS version was announced in January this year. Incidentally, the launch engines for the Sportbrake are the 2.2- and 3.0-litre diesels only.

So much for the brief history, what’s it like to drive? Very good indeed. This is one of those cars that feels as if its maker just keeps on refining what was already a well balanced chassis. Being rear-wheel drive, the XF is already off to a great start with anyone who considers themselves an enthusiast driver but the sophistication of the engineering all through the drivetrain is easy to sense.

All diesel XFs come with a standard eight-speed automatic, with 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8  lit up between the speedo and tacho so that when using manual mode’s paddle shifters you’re always aware what ratio you’re in. The company says gearchanges are completed in just 200 milliseconds – four times faster than the average human resting heartbeat. I’m not a cardiologist so I can’t authenticate that claim, but it sounds impressive doesn’t it? Definitely one to tell your mates if you buy an XF with the ZF auto-box.

I should add that the Jag’s stop-start system was far, far smoother than what I found in the 520d EfficientDynamics that BMW lent me a few weeks back. But to be fair, that car was a manual so it’s not exactly a like-for-like comparison. One of the clever components in the XF’s system is a tandem solenoid starter. This has a dedicated secondary battery for instant restarts. So as soon as your foot leaves the brake pedal, the engine is being readied even before the accelerator is pressed. More clever tech info? Here you go: the gearbox features what’s known as Hydraulic Impulse Storage, which supplies oil pressure to actuate the shift elements.

So the Jag is full of high-tech features, this we know. But don’t for a minute think it feels like it’s been engineered by people who’ve spent way too long in the test cells and not enough hours outside on challenging roads. No, this is definitely a car that’s been developed by enthusiasts.

The sporting feel from behind the wheel was a revelation. It comes from a combination of well weighted steering with no hint of vagueness, lots of grip, minimal understeer and a ride that’s on the firm side but in no way uncomfortable for you or your passengers. I chauffeured three adults in the car for many miles over a variety of road conditions, and each reported that they were very happy to be there, when quizzed for this review.

For drivers and passengers alike, the view ahead and out the side windows is very good, though for me, the slope of the rear glass was a bit too steep to be ideal for visibility. It also means that if you have a big-ish object to place in the boot, the back glass extends into the space in a less than ideal way. Perhaps people like me who think that would have the Jaguar salesperson direct us towards the Sportbrake.

Speaking of showrooms, I’m convinced that Jaguar would sell a lot more cars if it could just get people into the driver’s seats of its models. The sense of occasion that comes with sitting in one is like few other cars.

It’s pure theatre as you enter an XF: the steering wheel rises out of the way, down-lighters illuminate the inner door handles and footwells to make you feel welcome and then there’s the treats that follow your first push of the ignition button. If the A/C is on, four flush-mounted panels revolve to reveal the air vents, while a circular silver dial, the automatic gearbox selector, rises out of the centre console. You simply turn it to R or D as you wish. Its sounds like a gimmick, perhaps, but I for one celebrate Jaguar’s interior design team for trying something different.

About the only thing I could find fault with was the interior’s roominess – a fifth occupant perched in the middle of the rear bench might feel slightly shortchanged. As for what most impressed me, high up the list would be the 2.2-litre engine’s economy. I averaged just under 48mpg and the EC’s Combined number is 55.4mpg so with fewer buddies on board for my longest drive, I’m sure I could have managed close to that. That number, by the way, means this is the most efficient Jaguar yet launched, and the car’s CO2 average is 135g/km. Some of the reason for the in-built parsimoniousness is the gearing: I witnessed the tacho sitting on a mere 2,000rpm at a steady 90mph in eighth.

If you’re wondering about performance, the engine has a claimed torque output of 450Nm – impressive for its size – which is enough to propel you to 60mph in 9.8 seconds and on to a theoretical top speed of 140mph (225km/h). May I remind you that this is an executive express that also averages 50mpg? Sometimes I can’t quite believe just how good cars in this class have become: you really do get it all. And for not a huge amount of cash, either. The car I drove costs from £29,940.