The Sport-Sedan Jaguar XF is Exotic

by Chris Jackson

There’s something about the XF that doesn’t translate well in photos, a feeling of specialness that’s unique to Jaguar. This car feels somehow more precious than its competitors, like a rarer, more exotic beast. It’s not just the materials; running a finger over the XF’s interior trim will reveal some surprisingly cheap-feeling plastic edges here and there.

That X-factor (no pun intended) is one of Jaguar’s secret weapons in the sports-sedan wars, and it marks the all-new XF as a full member of the family. The S-Type, which the XF replaces, never quite had it. Whatever the mojo is, Jaguar has definitely rediscovered it. The XF is the kind of car that your friends don’t mind squeezing into to get a ride. It’ll seat four comfortably, but I frequently had five passengers–someone was always willing to ride the hump, just to spend some time in the Jag.

The choice of sweet-sounding 4.2 liter V8 engines under the hood is a not-so-secret ingredient of the sauce as well. In standard form, the XF gets a naturally-aspirated powerplant producing 300 horsepower. That’s more than enough to allow this cat to get up and run, and Jaguar’s engines produce just the right amount of sound, roaring without being overtly uncouth. Stepping up a level, the supercharged 4.2 adds 120 horses to the stable, and makes the supercharged XF a stunning performer.

The suspension is borrowed partly from the XK coupe, with lightweight aluminum components and a multilink rear that provides a supple, agile ride.

Dynamic Stability Control, Cornering Brake Control and Understeer Control Logic, which helps to keep the front wheels from washing out when they should be steering, are standard equipment. It feels athletic but not hard-core enough to be uncomfortable on public roads. The XF’s reflexes are great, though it feels somewhat heavy and tends to understeer. It’s also easy to catch the transmission napping when coming out of a turn. This was a surprise, considering the completely electronic shift-by-wire interface. The six-speed Jaguar Sequential Shift transmission is a selectable autobox that can be controlled by steering wheel paddles or from the console.

The XF subscribes to the “coupe-sedan” styling philosophy of cars like the Mercedes CL-Class. The body has been penned with graceful, sweeping lines that make it easy to forget that the XF has four doors. It looks good in black, with a chrome-mesh grille up front and arched-eyebrow headlamps. The grille drops deep into the front bumper, so the XF appears to be ready to pounce even when it’s standing still, and prevents it from looking like a four-door XK; this car has its own personality. Big nineteen- or twenty-inch wheels are wrapped in low-profile performance rubber. The aggressive hood bulge leaves no doubt that the XF is a serious piece of equipment, and at the rear the blade-shaped taillights are mounted in a high, aerodynamic tail.

Haters of Jaguar’s J-gate shifter, rejoice; the XF doesn’t have a traditional shift lever at all. To control the transmission, there’s a knob that rises out of a flush recess in the console, and rotates computer-game style to select gears. Its name is the JaguarDrive Rotary Gear Selector, not surprisingly, and it’s the business end of the fully electronic interface with the transmission. The air vents close themselves when the ignition is turned off, as well. The XF is a very dramatic vehicle. The instrument panel features “halo” style ice-blue illumination at night, and coupled with the mood lighting makes the XF a handsome and intriguing place in the dark. Even the map lights are high-tech: rather than the usual mechanical switch, they’re operated by touch-sensors. There’s comfortable seating for four, or in-a-pinch seating for five, and even a moderate amount of cargo space in the 17.2 cubic foot trunk. A seven-inch display screen contains controls for the navigation system and sound system. Uplevel sound systems are provided by Bowers & Wilkins, and Bluetooth communication, Sirius satellite radio and MP3/iPod connections are all part of the package as well.

XF pricing is about what you’d expect, considering the company it keeps. Prices start in the mid-$50,000 range, with plenty of opportunities to drive it upward from there. My tester stickered for $61,550 after the B&W sound system, optional wheels and other accessories were added. One thing modern Jaguars have always done well, however, is justified their price tags from the driver’s seat. Sitting inside the XF, you’ll never wonder where all of the money went. Give it a bit of juice as you point it down your favorite country road and you’ll probably think you’ve gotten a bargain.