2009 Jaguar XF Expert Review
The timing of our first hands-on experience with the Jaguar XF is, to say the least, awkward. Less than a week after Ford agreed to sell both Jaguar and Land Rover to India's Tata Motors, we find ourselves in sunny San Diego behind the wheel of Jag's supposed savior. While the business end of the equation will be exhaustively covered in the coming months, the renaissance underway at Tata's newly acquired pet is of equal importance. The XF is a serious step on the road to recovery, but undoing the perception gap that's plagued this cat for the last couple of decades won't be easy.
All photos © 2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
Among the myriad issues Jaguar has to overcome, the greatest is attracting young consumers into the fold. While the average age of a modern Jag buyer isn't nearly as high as a Buick's, it is still rare to see someone behind the wheel that isn't well on his or her way to collecting Social Security. Unfortunately, this kitty got neutered when it made the transition from concept to production. If there's anything that's going to draw new, youthful buyers to the brand, it's sinuous sheet metal that blends balance and bling. The XF just doesn't have it. The new Jag floats in an air of anonymity that may cause a few people to take notice, but it won't produce the neck trauma normally induced by Ian Callum's designs.
Viewed from afar, nothing seems to stand out. The beltline is high enough to convey the sedan's sporting intentions and the haunches that flow into the taillights are attractive enough -- in a watered-down, Aston Martin-sorta way. But you get the sense that the majority of the design took place a few inches from the clay, rather than taking in the vehicle as a whole. This approach, while doing little for the XF overall, has its benefits. The fluting that begins aft of the headlamps and flows into the hood is a nice touch, and the C-pillar is almost a dead-ringer for the XK. But as well-proportioned as everything is, nothing grabs your attention by the collars and screams at you like a drunken drill instructor on leave.
The interior is another issue entirely. The fit, finish and execution are totally unmatched in this highly competitive class and we can say with impunity that nothing short of a Roller or a Bentley comes close to the design and materials inside the XF. The top of the dashboard benefits from a double dose of stitching that flows from door to door, while underneath an aluminum belt encompasses occupants and blends some 21st century styling with the old-world feel of acres of wood. Chris Braeendale, one of Jaguar's marketing crew, says there's more wood in the XF than in the 1962 Mk. II, and we believe him. But its execution doesn't suffocate inhabitants like the XJ and its predecessors.
While our assessment of the exterior confirms Callum's creed that more designers were tasked to work on the interior than the metal surrounding it, it is obvious that OCD-levels of focus were paid to how the driver and passenger interact with the electronics. The very large central-mounted touch screen is standard equipment on all XFs, and controls everything from the satellite navigation to the stereo. An iPod connector integrates directly into the system and allows navigation through playlists, artists, albums and more, while a USB input and a standard auxiliary jack can be used for other portable media devices. We even took a moment to hook up our iPhone to the system, play a few tracks from The Bravery and make a quick call from our contacts list through the Bluetooth connection – all of which worked seamlessly. Jaguar's interior boffins were also smart enough to place a volume control knob, track selection and audio source buttons into the console below to avoid iDrive-levels of frustration, along with redundant stereo controls mounted on the steering wheel.
It's unfortunate that the simple, elegant execution of the electronics is playing second fiddle to the pseudo-dramatic JaguarDrive starting sequence. Depress the brake, push the pulsating start/stop button at the top of the center console, and the rotary gear selector rises into the palm of your hand while the air vents slowly spin into place. From there, you can select from your normal assortment of gears (P, R, N and D), and with a slight press down and a twist to the right, you're in Sport mode. The whole process is impressive the first, second and third time, but after a while it is just another routine that will likely lose its allure after you've show it to the neighbors. What's more impressive is the JaguarSense system. Rather than grabbing a handle to open the glove box or pushing a button to turn on the map lamps, a proximity sensor allows you to glide your finger overtop the light (or the circular sensor mounted on the dash for the glove box). The system worked flawlessly with the overhead lights, but the glove box control needed a more deliberate action due to the sensor's programming to avoid unnecessary openings. Here's hoping that it works as intended when a boy in blue is waiting for your insurance and registration.
Our only gripes with the interior were the sharp edges underneath the steering wheel's aluminum trim and the JaguarDrive's somewhat shifty feel. This might be an issue with the production models we were given for our road test, but both the transmission selector and the rotary knobs for the stereo and climate control felt like they needed a bit more refinement before they were ready for primetime placement.
Once properly positioned in the driver's seat, it's obvious that Jag is taking serious aim at the sports sedan segment. The seats are nicely bolstered without inhibiting movement and when coupled with the high center console that bisects the front seats, there's a serious sense of focus that's been missing from Jags for far too long.
We opted to start our drive with the naturally aspirated XF, which produces 300 hp and 310 lb.-ft. of torque from ye-old 4.2-liter, V8 mill. With the futuristic gear selector in Drive, we made our way out of the confines of central San Diego and onto the nearest freeway, bound for the rolling hills that separate civilization from the deserts that surround the area.
Cruising along at 75 mph on the highway, the XF proves that Jaguar has done its best to strike a balance between handling and comfort. The suspension's compliance over bumps and breaks is perfectly suited for long-distance cruising, but not at the expense of road-feel. The steering's on-center tactility is only matched by its crisp turn-in and balanced weighting, and while it's a little over-boosted around town, turning at speed is inspiring and instantaneous; we just wish the diameter of the wheel was about an inch shorter.
After our brief jaunt on the motorway, we found ourselves on the most gloriously twisting tarmac this side of Highway 1. Here, the XF truly came into its own. With the gear selector set to sport and the traction control in TracDSC (allowing for minimal amounts of wheel slip), the Jag consumed the road in quick order. The six-speed ZF automatic transmission reacts swiftly to hard acceleration inputs with shifts that are 15-percent quicker than those in the XK. However, the paddle shifters were what truly impressed. With a light pull back on the lever, the tranny drops down a gear, simultaneously blipping the throttle and providing a seamless transition as we brake before the corner. Turn-in, start feeding in the throttle and the lack of an aural assault is countered by the healthy amount of thrust propelling us through the bend. By the time we've reached 6,000 rpm, the transmission's computers are ready to deliver the next gear as we hustle along to the next turn. After a handful of bends, we're convinced that the XF is one of the best handling sedans for the money. But what about that Frost Blue model with the "Supercharged" badges?
You can spec the "Luxury" and "Premium Luxury" XF with many of the interior amenities of the maxed-out supercharged version, including the Bowers and Wilkins, 440-watt, 14-speaker audio setup, which, for the record, is pure ear-porn. But you can't get Jaguar's Computer Active Technology Suspension (CATS) or the Dynamic Mode that integrates with the electronically controlled, two-stage adaptive dampers without making the leap to the forced-induction model. The Dynamic Mode fully exploits the XF's unflappable chassis and allows you to run the blown, 4.2-liter V8 up into its rev-limited 6,500-rpm peak.
Caning the supercharged version through the bends with the checkered-flag button depressed, you can feel the rear suspension firming up as weight transfers to the front under braking. Through the turns, it is obvious that the adaptive suspension is working its magic, but it's more intuitive than intrusive. With 420 hp and 414 lb.-ft. of torque being shuffled between the rear wheels, the XF has no trouble getting out if its own way, but the deft touch and communicative steering seems somewhat lost compared to its naturally-aspirated sibling. While the immediate thrust and slightly more aggressive exhaust note is endearing, the 200-pound weight penalty caused a bout of regret that we wouldn't be spending more time behind the wheel of the standard model.
Sales of the XF began last month and with 4,000 preorders, Jag's new keeper may already have a hit on its hands. Pricing is aggressive for the segment, with the Luxury model coming in at $49,975, the Premium Luxury variant set at $55,975, and the supercharged version carrying a sticker of $62,975. For those of you who can't wait for the XF-R due out sometime next year, it's simply a matter of choosing which features you value most, and being content with the knowledge that whatever version you choose, you'll be able to enjoy the most engaging vehicle ever produced by Jaguar while helping to reestablish the storied marque as a forward-thinking purveyor of one of the world's finest sedans.
All photos © 2008 Damon Lavrinc / Weblogs, Inc.
Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.
New Car Test Drive
New sedan among the most appealing in its class.
The 2009 Jaguar XF is a new model, replacing the aging S-Type in Jaguar's lineup. This mid-sized, rear-wheel-drive sedan offers a fresh, engaging alternative to luxury imports such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class, and Lexus GS. After a 300-mile test drive, we'd rank the Jaguar XF near the top of its class.
The Jaguar XF delivers everything you'd expect in a contemporary luxury sedan, and then some. The big news with XF is styling, interior design and features, though the hardware underneath is anything but ordinary. A lot of it, including the suspension design, is borrowed from the Jaguar XK.
Factor in a well-engineered body structure, and the XF is exactly what it should be: smooth, quiet and responsive. It feels lighter and more agile than some of its competitors, and it bears up like a sport sedan when driven aggressively.
The XF comes with a choice of two V8 engines. The base engine is Jag's familiar 4.2-liter V8, delivering 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The upgrade is a supercharged version of the 4.2, generating 420 hp and 408 lb-ft and surpassing nearly all competitors in output. Both V8s come with Jaguar's six-speed ZF automatic transmission, which is one of the best automatics money can buy.
The XF will be offered in three trim levels, starting with the normally aspirated Luxury, which is better equipped than most base models in this category. The Premium Luxury adds even more stuff, including double-stitched, soft-grain leather on the dash and door panels. The SC (for supercharged) comes with just about everything Jaguar offers, including CATS automatic suspension control and 20-inch wheels.
Then there's the racy new look. The XF marks a new direction for Jaguar, but it also continues some of the styling themes that have identified Jaguars for decades. The roofline and the shape of the side glass are intended to create the impression of a sporty, two-door coupe more than a four-door sedan, and to a considerable extent it works. The XF presents one of the more interesting designs in a category full of handsome automobiles. If you're intrigued by the photographs, you'll like it better in real life.
The same applies inside. We really like the XF cabin, for both its look and overall function. Slide into this sedan, and an interactive greeting that Jaguar calls the handshake welcomes the driver and reminds him or her that driving is an active process. The wood, wool and leather create the feel and scent of a British club room, yet the design is light, airy and almost Scandinavian. The XF interior is more minimalist than its German competitors, but also more charming and easier to get familiar with.
Of course, the swoopy styling has its drawbacks. By nearly every exterior dimension, the XF is slightly larger than all competitors, but the flow of its roofline and the rake of its rear glass mean rear headroom is tight. In general, the rear seat feels more confining than that in a Mercedes E-Class or Audi A6. On the upside, the XF's trunk is larger than any competitor's, and a folding rear seat further expands capacity. The importance of these packaging issues will depend on the buyer's priorities.
In our estimation, the XF debuts as one of the most appealing cars in its class. Before the XF, well-heeled buyers seeking an option to the dense-pack switches, multi-layered interfaces and alphabet-soup of electronics in most imported luxo/sport sedans probably had to think about a brand with less cachet or dynamic capability. No more. With steady improvement in Jaguar's resale values and customer-satisfaction ratings the last several years, the new XF offers an excellent alternative.
The 2009 XF replaces the 2008 S-Type in Jaguar's line-up, though the two cars will sell concurrently during calendar year 2008.
The 2009 Jaguar XF is available in three trim levels with a choice of two V8 engines. All feature a six-speed automatic transmission with a paddle-operated manual mode.
The XF 4.2 Luxury ($49,200) is powered by a 4.2-liter V8 delivering 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The Luxury is one of the best equipped base models in this class, with features like rear park assist, passive keyless entry and start and a power glass sunroof included in the price. The standard seating is bond-grain leather, with satin-finish walnut and aluminum trim, a 320-watt, eight-speaker stereo and 18-inch alloy wheels.
The XF 4.2 Premium Luxury ($55,200) has the same normally aspirated V8 as the standard model, with even more luxury features. Its standard equipment list adds a GPS navigation system, soft-grain leather on the seats, dash and door panels, three-stage heated front seats and 19-inch wheels, among other things.
Options for Luxury and Premium Luxury: The Advanced Vision Package ($1,800) adds a rearview camera, front park assist, a radar-operated Blind Spot Monitor and self-leveling Bi-Xenon headlights. Larger wheels, an electric rear-glass sunblind ($450), Sirius Satellite Radio hardware ($375) are among the standalone options. A premium audio package ($1,500) features a 440-watt Bowers & Wilkins unit with surround processing, 13 speakers, an in-dash six-CD changer and Sirius Satellite Radio.
The XF 4.2 SC ($62,200), or Supercharged, comes standard with just about everything Jaguar offers, including 20-inch wheels. Most significantly, it features a supercharged version of the V8 and CATS, the Computer Active Technology Suspension. SC options are limited to a heated steering wheel ($300) and radar-guided Adaptive Cruise Control ($2,200).
Safety features that come standard include dual-stage front airbags, front-seat side-impact airbags, head-protecting curtain airbags for all outboard seats, and a tire pressure monitor. As noted, rear park assist is standard on all models, with a graphic display on the dash. The rearview camera, front park assist and blind-spot monitor are standard on the SC and optional on other models. Active safety features include Dynamic Stability Control, with an understeer (or push skid) managing feature, and the latest-generation antilock brakes (ABS). The ABS features brake assist for full force in panic stops and electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), which includes a component called Cornering Brake Control that proportions brake force from side to side to keep the car balanced while braking through a curve.
From its basic shape to its aerodynamic characteristics to its underlying structure, the 2009 Jaguar XF sedan is a thoroughly modern automobile. It's also a Jaguar, and while its styling is intended to create a template for Jaguars to come, the XF almost requires certain traits that the world associates with one of Britain's best-known brands.
This essential Jaguar character is defined by the XF's face, and centered on a prominent grille that launches nearly all of the lines flowing rearward across the car. The grille itself is quintessentially British woven mesh, trimmed with chrome and reminiscent of the racing Jaguars that have performed so well in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Wing-shaped headlight clusters wrap around the XF's corners onto its fenders.
In profile, the XF is defined by a single, uninterrupted line that flows from the front bumper to the rear edge of the trunk lid. The beltline, that character-building crease below the side windows, rises up into the roof more than the roof drops down toward the beltline. The effect is a forward-biased wedge shape that creates an impression of speed, even when the XF is sitting still. The rear deck is higher than that on any Jaguar sedan before, but this less-formal look pays dividends in excellent aerodynamics and an expansive trunk.
The overall shape of the XF does not shout Jaguar, but the familiar design cues are everywhere. Within each new-age headlight cluster sit two round, sealed beams that maintain the brand's quad-lamp signature, complete with the traditional fluting above the lights. The chrome trim above the side windows comes straight off the historic Mk. II sedan, while the prominent hood bulge recalls the E-type, which is arguably the most famous Jaguar of all. We're not enamored with all the jewelry, however. The bright metal strip on the trunk lid looks ordinary, and the leaping Jaguar in back is overkill.
The XF's basic shape does more than create a high-impact presence. Aerodynamically, it's the most efficient Jaguar sedan ever, with an impressive 0.29 drag coefficient and a front-to-rear lift balance of zero. That means that neither end of the car is more inclined than the other to lift in the airflow as speeds increase. The excellent aerodynamics help keep the XF stable at high speeds, reduce wind noise inside and reduce fuel consumption at a given speed, compared to a car with more drag.
The XF is slightly larger in just about every exterior dimension than the Audi A6, which was previously the largest car in this class. Its underlying structural design is driven by safety considerations, and particularly by the goal of protecting against side impacts and the tendency of tall, sport-utility type vehicles to slide upward in collisions with sedans. Jaguar has applied a host of high-tech metals, including high-carbon steels, dual-phase steel, hot-formed boron and bake-hardened steels, to create a vertical safety ring around the XF's occupant cell. The company claims that the XF will deliver the best crash protection in the class with a body/frame package that is lighter than that of its competitors.
There's a second benefit to this careful structural engineering. While the XF's body is larger, Jaguar also claims that it is the most torsionally rigid car in the class, meaning that it flexes less from end to end under pressure. This overall stiffness and rigidity is one of the factors that separate luxury sedans from less expensive, higher-volume models. It's the foundation for minimizing noise and vibration inside an automobile, and the well from which dynamic capabilities such as handling, ride quality and overall responsiveness flow.
Inside, the Jaguar XF has everything we want in a sporting luxury sedan, without a lot of things we don't want. We want style, comfort, features, useful technology and great ambience. We don't want the distraction or annoyance that some contemporary luxury sedans demand in return for what we do want.
Is the XF cabin high-tech? We'd say so. The overhead lights, for example, work simply with a touch. Not a switch or even a click of the light lens itself, but just a soft touch. The same with the glovebox latch, which isn't really a latch at all. It's a spot on the wood trim where you lay a finger. In general, the XF's features and controls empower the driver without overpowering. They're there when you need them and not a distraction when you don't (or when you do). That's in contrast to so many luxury cars that seem to want to shove all their goodies in your face, and then make them hard to operate.
Like its exterior, the XF's interior will seem familiar to previous Jaguar owners, only different. The great leather and a choice of lacquered wood are familiar. The difference is primarily the design or layout. It's less conventional than previous Jaguar sedans, and perhaps less formal.
The materials are bit different, too. There's a lot more aluminum trim to go with the wood (though there is still a lot of wood). And while Jaguar has always delivered the requisite leather, wood and wool carpet, it has sometimes hidden behind these big-impact materials without paying much attention to lesser stuff. In the XF, even the plastic pieces inside have a rich, latex-like feel. Overall, the package is first rate. It's as inviting in design and ambience as any car in this class, and more so than many. The only potential gripe in materials and craftsmanship is the headliner. It's a woven material Jaguar calls Morzine, and it's tailored snugly to the contour of the roof. It's just that the duck-like textile seems a bit ordinary in light of the great stuff everywhere else.
All seats are leather, with perforated inserts between the bolsters. The base Luxury package gets what Jaguar calls bond-grain, and it's thick and sturdy. The Premium Luxury and SC models get soft-grain leather. It's ultra-soft to the touch, but still sturdy and substantial, and in these models it's applied on the dashboard and door panels as well, with genuine double stitching. The front seats are heavily sculpted, and they support and cushion as well as the standard seats in any car in this class, with adjustment for just about everything. Yet these seats are less massive than those in some competitors, perhaps thinner, so they seem to fill less space inside the car.
When the driver slides into the XF with the proximity key in purse or pocket, the start button glows, ready to be pushed. The steering wheel is identical to that in the XK sport coupe: grippy, with heavy spokes and the growling mug of a jaguar in the center. The gear selector is a big, aluminum dial knob that rises from the center console when the XF fires up. It's cooler than the drive-by-wire shifters other luxury manufactures have developed, and as functional as any. Jaguar claims this electronic gear selector will keep working even if it's drenched with a half-gallon of coffee.
The XF's primary gauges are slightly smaller than those in some luxury sedans, but the script is large and easy to read. They're clustered under a compact hood binnacle in the now-familiar luxo-car format: speedometer on the right, tach left, flanking an LCD message center with a bar-graph gas gauge, gear indicator, time, odometer and other trip information. The backlighting is ultra-crisp phosphorus blue, and perhaps the best going.
Jaguar is bragging about the XF's soft blue LED ambient lighting, too. Unfortunately, our test driving came primarily during daylight, so we're not sure what to think. We can say that e.
The new Jaguar XF measures up to the best cars in its class in just about every respect, and its over-the-road performance is excellent.
From the driver's seat, the XF delivers everything we like about medium-sized sport-luxury sedans. The supercharged model in particular leans toward the sporty end of the spectrum, with the BMW 5 Series and sport-tuned versions of the Audi A6, rather than the softer, cushier end. The XF is smooth, fast, and responsive, but also quiet and comfortable. Its six-speed automatic transmission might be the best in any luxury car anywhere, and contributes considerably to the enjoyable driving experience. Perhaps best of all, the XF has lots of those subtle little characteristics that some reviewers might call soul.
All XFs have proximity keys, so the doors can unlock themselves. When the driver sits down the start button on the center console pulses red. Press it and, as the V8 draws its first breathes of air, cutouts in the aluminum dash panel rotate to expose four vents. At the same time, a milled aluminum shift dial rises out of the console, ready to rotate three clicks for Drive or four if the driver prefers to shift manually with paddles on the steering column. This introduction is engaging, and perhaps a bit showy, but it's a great way to begin the job at hand. This handshake, as Jaguar calls it, reminds occupants that, while they might be ensconced in a quiet, comfortable cocoon, driving remains an interactive and sometimes demanding process. After the handshake, the soft purr of the engine at idle will leave you anticipating what lies ahead.
The 4.2 liter V8 comes naturally aspirated or supercharged. Both engines are updated versions of those used in Jaguar's S-Type sedan (which the XF replaces), with reinforced engine blocks to reduce vibration and the latest control technology. The normally aspirated V8 is no slouch in output, delivering 300 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. With its belt-driven, rotor-type blower, the supercharged 4.2, or SC, generates 420 hp and 408 lb-ft. It's easily the most powerful engine in this class, save those in limited-volume hotrod cars from BMW's M division, Mercedes AMG and the like, expensive cars with expensive engines.
Floor the gas pedal in the SC and you might be struck by what's missing. The supercharger whine is so subdued, compared to previous Jaguars, that it takes a couple of full bursts before the thrust convinces the driver that this is the upgrade. And thrust there is, in long, effusive swells that make you wish every road ran uninterrupted to the horizon. The supercharged V8 keeps pumping acceleration-producing torque from 2000 revs to its 6200-rpm redline, with no climax that suggests a peak. We'd estimate that the XF 4.2 SC will hit 60 mph from a stop in five seconds, or maybe a tenth more. It will go from 60 to 100 mph much faster than it takes a semi to enter two-lane in front of you. Top speed is electronically controlled at 155 mph.
Put another way, we'd guess that the XF SC is the quickest car in a group populated by some very quick sedans, except for the previously mentioned ultra-performance cars like the BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG. The SC has, after all, the same mechanical package as the former S-Type R, which was Jaguar's version of the M or AMG cars. Yet nothing in XF suggests a hot-rod quality. Rather, it shoots ahead in a smooth, unruffled fashion befitting a $60,000 luxury sedan. The fuel mileage isn't bad, either, despite the power and acceleration advantage on the competition. Jaguar anticipates EPA fuel economy ratings 17 City, 23 Highway of the XF SC, which is better than any current V8-powered car in the class, and better than some six-cylinders.
The six-speed automatic contributes to the XF's sporting character, using adaptive gear-change strategies based on the type of road and the driver's application of the gas pedal. This transmission anticipates.
The all-new 2009 Jaguar XF, which replaces the S-Type sedan, has all the earmarks of a hit. It's great looking, smooth and comfortable, with the features buyers expect in this class, and then some. Perhaps best of all, it accelerates quicker and handles as well or better than some of the best cars in its class, including the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, and Lexus GS. The XF's interior is both gorgeous and charming, and less confusing or annoying than some of its competitors. The 2009 XF offers a choice of powerful V8 engines, and both get excellent mileage for cars with this performance. The least expensive V8 model is priced the same or less than some comparably equipped, six-cylinder competitors.
J.P. Vettraino filed this report after his test drive of all the Jaguar XF models in the Phoenix area.
Jaguar XF 4.2 Luxury ($49,200); 4.2 Premium Luxury ($55,200); 4.2 SC ($62,200).
Birmingham, United Kingdom.
Options As Tested
radar-guided Adaptive Cruise Control ($2,200); heated steering wheel ($300).
Jaguar XF 4.2 SC ($62,200).
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