Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Freshened for 2012, it remains a standout.
The Jaguar XF is exactly what a sporting luxury sedan should be. The Jaguar XF is smooth, quiet, responsive and exceptionally powerful in all variants. Jaguar's rear-wheel-drive mid-size luxury car feels lighter and more agile than some of the other cars in its class, and it bears up like a top-rank sports sedan when driven aggressively.
The Jaguar XF introduced a fresh design theme for Jaguar when it was launched as a 2009 model. For 2012, Jaguar XF gets cosmetic updates inside and out. Bi-function, high-intensity discharge xenon headlights come standard on all 2012 Jaguar XF models, with new LED taillights and a couple of welcome functional changes inside. The four 2012 XF models now look a bit more distinct.
We like the XF best for its out-of-the-mold quality. It has fewer gadgets than do the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series or Mercedes E-Class, and perhaps less excess.
The XF's styling retains themes that have identified Jaguars for decades, but its overall impact is contemporary. The swooping roofline and side glass create the impression of a sleek two-door coupe more than a four-door sedan.
Slide into the driver's seat and an interactive greeting that Jaguar calls the handshake welcomes the driver, activating the dash vents, lifting the aluminum shift knob out of the console and reminding the operator that driving is an active process. The wood, wool and leather create the expected Jaguar feel, with the hint of an exclusive British club room, but the design is light, modern and airy. The XF interior is more minimalist than some competitors, but it's also more charming and makes familiarization easy.
The standard 5.0-liter V8 has variable valve timing, efficient direct fuel injection and a substantial 385 horsepower. It's the most powerful base engine in this class, with acceleration quicker than anyone really needs. The six-speed automatic is one of the most pleasing and effective transmissions on the market. The upgrade supercharged engines are thrilling, and the line-topping XFR is a true ultra-performance sedan, keeping pace with the likes of the Mercedes E63 AMG.
The 2012 Jaguar XF line offers one of the best equipped base models in this class, with GPS navigation and four years of scheduled maintenance included. It comes standard with the full, sophisticated range of active electronic safety systems. A review camera and a simple, effective blind-spot warning system are optional.
Those options are valuable, because the XF's coupe-like styling has its drawbacks. Visibility is a bit more constrained than it is in some sedans. And while there's plenty of rear space for passengers of average height, the flowing roofline and raked rear glass make the back seat feel more confining. On the upside, the XF trunk is larger than those in competitors, and an optional folding rear seat offers expanded capacity.
The Jaguar XF has some mildly annoying idiosyncrasies of its own, but after hundreds of miles of test driving, we'd rank it near the top of its class. It's a fantastically enjoyable drive, as dynamically capable as the best in class, but it's easier to get comfortable in than some its very complicated competitors.
The 2012 Jaguar XF sedan is available in four models. All are powered by a 5.0-liter V8 engine in one of three power ratings, matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle-operated manual mode.
The Jaguar XF ($53,000) delivers 385 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. The seating is bond-grain leather, with Burl Walnut veneer trim, a 400-watt, 10-speaker stereo and 18-inch alloy wheels. Standard equipment includes heated front seats, rear park assist, passive keyless start, a power glass sunroof, Bi-xenon self-leveling headlights and GPS navigation with touch-screen and voice command.
Options for the base XF include Premium Pack 1 ($750), with reverse camera, front park sensing and adaptive headlights, and Premium Pack 2 ($1,500), with blind-spot warning, automatic high beams, electro-chromatic mirrors and rear-window sun blind. There's also a 1,200-watt, 17-speaker Bowers & Wilkins audio system with CD changer ($2,300), heated windshield and steering wheel ($700), a split-folding rear seat ($650) and stand-alone wheel upgrades.
Jaguar XF Portfolio ($59,000) adds soft-grain leather on the seats, dash and door panels, cooled front seats, passive keyless entry and 19-inch wheels, among other things. The Portfolio can be equipped with adaptive cruise control ($2,300) and Sport Appearance packages ($3,000) inside and out.
Jaguar XF Supercharged ($68,100) adds a supercharger to the V8, generating 470 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque. The Supercharged includes the Portfolio's feature upgrades, electronically controlled adaptive suspension and 20-inch wheels.
Jaguar XFR ($82,000) is the raciest model, with sport-tuned adaptive suspension and Z-rated high-performance tires. Its supercharged V8 is up-rated to 510 horsepower and 461 pound-feet of torque, and it comes with the premium audio. Options are limited to adaptive cruise control, interior trim choices, red brake calipers ($450) and a Black Pack ($1,500) with dark wheels.
Safety features include the required array of six airbags: front impact, front-passenger side impact and head-protection curtains for outboard seats. Rear park sensing is standard, as are a tire-pressure monitor and a full range of active safety features, including electronic stability control (ESC) with an understeer management and advanced antilock brakes (ABS) with Cornering Brake Control, which proportions brake force from side to side to keep the car balanced while braking through a curve.
Optional safety features include the rearview camera and blind spot warning system.
The 2012 Jaguar XF gets its most extensive exterior updates since the nameplate was launched. Four years after its introduction, the XF remains a thoroughly modern automobile. Its styling has become a template for Jaguars that followed, including the full-size XJ sedan.
By exterior dimensions, the Jaguar XF roughly matches other mid-size luxury sedans, including the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS and Mercedes E-Class, though most of the Jaguar's measurements stretch toward the larger end of the spectrum. The XF applies a host of high-tech metals like high-carbon steels, dual-phase, bake-hardened steel and hot-formed boron to create a vertical safety ring around its occupant cell.
This careful structural engineering also pays dividends in everyday driving. Jaguar claims that the XF 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 starting point for dynamic capabilities such as handling and ride quality.
Styling updates for 2012 include revisions to the grille, hood, and front fenders, which incorporate new triangular side vents. All XFs retain their quintessentially British wire mesh grille work, but the finish and shapes below the bumper vary with the model. The XFR has black mesh and larger openings below the bumper. The XF Supercharged hood is fitted with louvers featuring Supercharged script.
All XFs now come standard with bi-function HID Xenon headlights. They're slimmer and more compact but still wickedly bright, and bordered with LED running lights in Jaguar's signature J-Blade shape. The tail lights have a new shape, too, with exclusively LED elements that extend onto the trunk lid.
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, or that character-building crease below the side windows, rises up into the roof while 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 basic shape does more than create a high-impact presence. Aerodynamically, the XF is very efficient, 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 keep the XF stable at high speeds and reduce wind noise inside.
The Jaguar XF's interior will seem familiar to old-school Jaguar owners, only different. The great leather and a choice of lacquered wood are familiar, while the difference lies primarily in the design or layout. The XF is less conventional than previous Jaguar sedans, and perhaps less formal. It delivers the comfort, features, useful technology and ambience we want, with less of the distraction or annoyance we find in some other contemporary luxury sedans.
For 2012, there are significant interior updates, starting with new seats, a new gauge cluster with a clearer, full-color text display, and audio system upgrades. All the buttons have a softer, grippier feel.
Slide into the XF with the proximity key in purse or pocket, and the start button glows, ready to be pushed. Press it, and the vents rotate in the dash, exposing the registers. The gear selector is a big, aluminum dial-knob that rises from the center console when the engine fires up. It's cooler than the drive-by-wire shifters other luxury manufactures have developed, and more functional. Jaguar claims this electronic selector will keep working even if it's drenched with a half-gallon of coffee.
The dashboard isn't the rounded-end flat panel longtime Jag owners know. It's lower, and thanks partly to the long rake of the windshield, much deeper. The design is dominated by a strip of scored aluminum, perhaps six inches high, that runs the full width and around onto the door panels. The top of the dash rises slightly from this aluminum plate toward the base of the windshield, stretching a good two feet at the center of the car. Below the aluminum is a thinner strip of wood, with big planks of wood trim on the doors and the top of the center console. The XF offers a choice of satin-finish walnut, glossy, traditional Burl Walnut, lighter oak and Piano Lacquer black.
All seats are leather. The base package gets what Jaguar calls bond-grain, and it's thick and sturdy. Other models have soft-grain leather. It's ultra-soft to the touch, but still sturdy and taut, and in these models it's applied on the dashboard and door panels as well, with genuine double stitching. We'd rank the new seats among the best available. They're comfortable, but not massive, with excellent support. Adjustment and bolster options are plentiful, but they don't require 15 minutes with the owners manual to tailor.
The new gauges are slightly smaller than those in some luxury sedans. They're clustered under a compact hood in typical luxo-car format: Speedometer on the right, tach left, flanking a 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, but the script on the new gauges seems smaller and less legible than before. Or maybe our eyes are getting worse with age.
In general, the XF is stylish, but not overly complicated. The soft blue LED ambient lighting looks nice at night. Pressure-resistant thumbwheels on the steering-wheel spokes adjust audio or cruise-control functions, and they feel right. The headlight switch is on the turn-signal stalk and the wipers are on the right stalk, and both are easy to use, first and every time. Buttons for the sunroof and rear sunshade are overhead.
The mirror adjustor and window switches are clustered on the armrest, and easy to operate with the forearm laid flat. Elbows rest level on the door and center armrests when the hands are placed at 10 and 2 o'clock on the steering wheel, for comfortable, relaxed cruising. Most frequently adjusted controls are available in a rational, attractive array of buttons just below the video screen, in the short center stack. Two rectangular clusters control audio and climate adjustments, with substantial radial knobs for volume and fan speed.
As luxury cars get more features and systems to adjust, the great debate has centered on the best way for the driver to manage these features without being driven to distraction. In the XF, the nerve center is the seven-inch touch screen in the middle of the dash. We generally like it better than the mouse-type, point-and-click devices in most competitors, but Jaguar's system is hardly perfect.
The 2012 updates include a separate, mechanical button for the seat heaters and coolers, which you'll find in just about every other car with seat heaters. Unfortunately, the button doesn't help much, because clicking it just calls up a menu on the touch screen. You still have to use the screen to choose heat/cool and intensity. And any adjustment on the screen can be tricky. It takes your eyes and your brain away from the road, at least for a second, and then your finger must be steady. It's not always easy while you're driving 65 mph in freeway traffic, sometimes bumpy, sometimes turny. Still, our biggest gripe with the Jag system is slow response. Use that seat heater button to call up the menu, for example, and it can be literally seconds before the menu appears.
We definitely like the XF's audio systems. The standard stereo in most models used to be the upgrade, and it still sounds better than the upgrade in many cars. This 440-watt, 10-speaker system was developed with Bowers & Wilkins, the British boutique manufacturer that makes speakers and monitors for recording studios. The highs are incredibly crisp and the lows are pervasive, with virtually no muddling or distortion at either extreme. The upgrade is now a 1200-watt B&W system, and it's hard to beat with high-end home audio. Still, we'd guess most buyer's could keep the $2,300 for the audiophile system and be very happy with the sound.
Cubby storage in the XF is decent as luxury cars go, but not as complete as some mainstream sedans and family vehicles. The center console is wide, almost as we'd expect in a big sports car. Touch-release covers reveal easy-to-reach cupholders. Bins at the bottoms of the doors aren't very deep, but they're wide enough to lay a phone flat and lined with a soft material that keeps glasses and other delicate items from sliding or scratching. The main bin in the center console isn't large enough to hide a standard-size laptop, but there's plenty of room for cameras or a lot of CDs. There's also an easy-access power point and iPod/auxiliary jacks, with a secure place to leave the plugged-in MP3 player while driving.
If the XF's accommodations fall short of the competition, it's behind the front seats. The rear seat itself is comfortable, bolstered some for the outside passengers, with the same fine materials as the front part of cabin. Yet the rear space seems more confining than the roomiest cars in this class, regardless of what the published measurements suggest. Rear passengers up to 5'8' will find plenty of space, but taller ones might get squeezed on leg and headroom.
The rear seat also has fewer amenities then some competitors. There's a power point and two amiable vents on the back of the center console, but no temperature control or fan. Storage options are limited to the fold-out pockets on the front seatbacks (good), and small bins at the bottom of the rear doors (bad). Cupholders are provided in the fold-down armrest, but they're not very deep or very good at holding cups.
The trunk, on the other hand, is among the largest in this class. With 17.7 cubic feet of space, it's bigger than the trunk in some full-size luxury sedans, and it's lined with carpet that's richer than that used inside of some cars.
To add more cargo capacity, the XF is available with a split, folding rear seat, with clever releases that will lower the seatbacks from the trunk, without going inside the car. This expands cargo space another 14.8 cubic feet, for an impressive total of 32.5 cubic feet. Perhaps as significantly, the folding seat allows alternate access to the cargo area, by leaning in through the rear side doors.
That's a lot of storage, to be sure, but there are some catches. Loading large items could take some work, and the XF's styling is partly to blame. The rear deck or trunk lid is fairly short, and a lot of the cargo space stretches forward under the rear window, so the trunk opening is fairly small. The load floor narrows significantly between the rear wheels, and the bulkhead behind the rear seatbacks limits the height of items that will slide through.
In short, there's a lot of cargo space, but it works best for a lot of smaller items. The size of individual items that can go in the XF is limited.
The Jaguar XF delivers everything we like about medium-sized sport-luxury sedans, and it stacks up nicely with the best cars in this class. It's 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. The supercharged XFs lean 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's standard 5.0-liter normally-aspirated V8 delivers a more-than-healthy 385 horsepower, and plenty of acceleration-producing torque. The base model will accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds, and that's more than fast enough for daily rounds. Still, the upgrade engines are at the very least thrilling. Floor the gas pedal in the supercharged versions, whether the 470-hp Supercharged or the 510-hp XFR, and you'll be blown away. The supercharger whine is so subdued, compared to previous Jaguars, that it takes a couple of full bursts before the thrust convinces the driver of the full potential under the hood.
At 4.7 seconds to 60 mph, the XFR is among the quickest cars in this class, up to and including ultra-performance cars like the Mercedes E63 AMG. Yet nothing in any model of the XF line suggests a hot-rod quality. Nothing except maybe the exhaust growl. In the XKR, it isn't obnoxious, but it's aggressive (and very satisfying if you enjoy such things) and near the upward limit of what we'd expect in a luxury car. Otherwise, these cars shoot ahead in a smooth, unruffled fashion completely befitting a luxury sedan.
One of the things we like best is the XF's acceleration under part throttle. It isn't easy to explain, but you'll feel it. A lot of contemporary cars, even so-called sports cars, have what feel like two grades of acceleration: casual or full-on. You'll either putter along at a placid pace or step on it, feel the transmission shift down a couple of gears, and take off. The XF delivers a few stages in between, where half or two-thirds application of the throttle delivers strong, viscerally satisfying acceleration that gets you ahead of the pack without flooring the pedal or watching the gas gauge drop.
The transmission has a lot to do with that. This six-speed automatic contributes to the sporting character of the XF, using adaptive gear-change strategies based on the type of road and the driver's application of the gas pedal. It anticipates well and shifts smoothly. And in this car, sport mode isn't just a button you push. It makes obvious changes in the transmission's performance: raising shift points up in the rev range, dropping down a gear more quickly and sometimes even cruising in a lower gear. Manual shifting with the steering-wheel paddles is excellent as well. The shifts are quick but not harsh, and in manual mode the transmission stays in the driver's chosen gear to redline.
The steering uses variable-ratio technology, which was developed to reduce parking effort at low speeds while maintaining precision and feedback at higher speeds. We like the way it's weighted, particularly in the XFR: certainly not too heavy, but not the airy, no-effort feel that's becoming all too common in this class. Nor is the XF's steering overly quick, wherein a little twitch sends you toward the next lane over. It is nicely linear, with no dead spot in the center.
Turn the XF's steering wheel a little and the car turns immediately, but only a little. Lane changes are accomplished at interstate speeds with an eighth of a turn. The XF tracks neatly into bigger, slower curves, always where the driver aims it, and the sport tires on the Supercharged and XFR deliver sports car-style grip.
To go with good steering feel, the XF has an excellent ride-and-handling balance. It rides firmly, but it glides over most bumps, and the reward for firmness is that it doesn't lean in fast curves. It stays nice and level front to rear under hard braking or hard acceleration, and it's as stable as granite at high speeds.
JaguarDrive Control is a feature that lets the driver tailor various functions to taste with a single adjustment. This system, which comes standard, incorporates most electronic control programs, including: How early or late the transmission shifts; the throttle map, or how much the engine accelerates for a given dip of the gas pedal; and the Dynamic Stability Control, or skid-management electronics.
The driver can switch through three options. Winter is the most conservative: the transmission shifts up at low engine speeds, the throttle works lightly and the DSC intervenes quickly, all useful in slippery conditions. Dynamic is the most aggressive setting, best for driving hard in dry conditions. There is also a set-and-forget Automatic mode.
Still, the slickest electronic systems aren't worth much if the underlying mechanical components aren't up to snuff. The XF's are first-rate. It starts with a tight, flex-free unitized chassis and body, which lays the foundation for all of a car's dynamic behavior. The suspension uses a sophisticated multi-link arrangement in back and aluminum components to reduce weight and improve response time. The Supercharged and XFR models also have Adaptive Dynamics, a damping system which automatically adjusts shock absorber settings to suit both road conditions and the way the vehicle is being driven.
A drive in the rain shows a couple of important things: First, that the XF is inherently balanced, meaning it's no more prone to slide on its front tires than it is to spin out in back; and second, that the Dynamic Stability Control does a great job. In the Automatic mode, where most drivers will keep it, the DSC works early, throttling the engine back or tapping the brakes before the driver anticipates that one end of the car or the other might be sliding. Yet those who want to see a little more of what the XF can do can choose the Dynamic mode. This allows the XF to move a bit more laterally, and it allows the driver to slide the car a little, as enthusiast drivers are want to do, before the DSC clamps down.
In a sense, the XF delivers the best of all worlds: A comfortable ride, responsive, consistent handling, stress-free, secure skid-management in the rain or a bit of latitude that allows capable drivers to express themselves.
The brakes are outstanding. All models have large rotors and calipers, and the brake pedal has a nice solid feel. It's progressive in application, meaning that a little bit of pedal delivers a little bit of deceleration, while a lot of pedal stops the XF right now.
Dynamically, we like most everything about the XF, but performance is only one requisite in this class. Luxury buyers expect extra smooth, quiet operation for the money and the XF holds up its end.
Cruising at 70 mph is generally a serene experience, with minimal wind noise to interrupt the solitude. The biggest noise-maker might be the low-profile sport tires available on the Supercharged and XFR, because they can crack soundly over pavement seems. Or maybe the assertive growl of the V8 if the driver decides to slam that gas pedal. The XF is thoroughly wonderful ride, with fewer of the cookie-cutter qualities that increasingly pervade this class of all-things-to-everyone luxury cars.
Our biggest gripe? Probably outward visibility, and that's largely a function of the sexy exterior design. We wouldn't call it bad, but in any direction other than forward, the view out of the XF is more restricted than we'd expect in the typical sedan. The side mirrors aren't small, and with the steeply raked windshield pillars, the form a triangle of mass that blocks chunks of vision when the driver glances slightly left or right, as when pulling from a parking lot onto a busy street. The rear glass is expansive, but it's raked at a long, flat, coupe-like angle, so the view through the rearview mirror is short.
Bottom line: It takes a while to get comfortable with the XF's mirrors, and to set them in a fashion that minimizes over-the-shoulder glances in traffic. The optional blind spot-warning is useful, and easy to learn. Backing up, the standard rear park assist helps, with audible beeps and a graphic display on the touch screen. A reverse-view camera is optional, and we strongly recommend it in this car, given the relatively high rear deck and the narrow view through the rear window.
The Jaguar XF is an engaging alternative to luxury sedans such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class, and Lexus GS. The XF rises toward the top of the class with distinctive good looks, first-rate interior finish, excellent driving capability and a charm some competitors lack. The base model has more power and more standard features than competitors, while the line-topping XFR is a wicked fast sport sedan in the purest sense. All in all, the XF is one of the most appealing choices in segment loaded with great cars.
J.P. Vettraino filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after test drives of the XF in Phoenix and Detroit. Sam Moses reported from Portland.
Jaguar XF ($53,000); XF Portfolio ($59,000); XF Supercharged ($68,100); XFR ($82,000).
Castle Bromwich, United Kingdom.
Options As Tested
adaptive cruise control ($2,300); Piano Black veneer ($780); Jet ultra-suede headliner ($525); red brake calipers ($450); Black Pack exterior ($1,660) includes black sport wheels.
Jaguar XFR ($82,000).
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