Review: 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged

2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged – Click above for high-res image gallery

Ford Motor Company sent Jaguar packing this year when it sold the storied English automaker, along with Land Rover, to Indian mega corp. Tata. On its way out the door, Jaguar took something special: the XF sedan. Its entire development process having been carried out under the stewardship of Ford, the XF is easily the most tasty fruit born of the cross pollination between the Blue Oval and Leaping Cat since they were first joined back in 1989. Read on to find out how the 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharge fared in the Autoblog Garage.

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All photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

The 2009 Jaguar XF is the second manifestation of Design Director Iam Callum's intention for the brand (the first was the 2006 XK) that heralds a completely new look for the automaker's entire lineup. Based on the CX-F concept car that debuted at the 2007 Detroit Auto Show, the new XF is not just unlike any Jaguar you've ever seen, but it's also distinct from any luxury sedan offered by BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi.

Nearly all connection with past Jaguars has been deleted save for the fluting that begins above the headlamps and flows into the hood. Next to those, however, are creases, bold lines and even a power bulge in the hood that's visible from the driver's seat. We generally like the new grille, the chrome split lower air intakes, and the hood that swells with testosterone, but miss the sexy cat slit headlights of the concept that would've put this design over the top.

The XF features a coupe-like profile that flows into broad rear fenders with a strong, high shoulder line. Yes, the rear of the XF, particularly the taillights, still looks very Aston Martin in execution, but average buyers will likely just see a shapely rear end. The XF also features chrome in all the right places with brightwork used to draw attention to particularly attractive elements like the aforementioned lower air intakes, the grille and a strip across the rear connecting the taillights that's emblazoned with the word 'Jaguar' in case the uneducated wonder what it is. While the design of the XF may be polarizing, it does have some particularly fetching angles from which it looks like a million bucks.

Just as the exterior breaks from the past, entering the interior is like hopping out of an E-Type into a Star Trek Shuttlecraft. Overall it is an aesthetic gem with just a few functional foibles. The dash is dominated by a strip of silver that extends from door to door, above which our tester sported soft black leather with red stitching. Muted Oak veneer inlays are also set in the center console and on the doors. The large touch navigation screen is located in that strip of silver, which is met from below by a center console that contains large, easy to use controls for the stereo and HVAC systems. We'll refrain from trashing Jaguar's sluggish nav system (it's been done to death), except to say that its slow performance takes away from a well-designed user interface and attractive graphics.

The center console itself features the interior's most striking element: the JaguarDrive gear selector. Traditional shifters are sticks for sentimental reasons only, as many modern day automatics don't require the mechanical motion of pulling a lever from P to D to get underway. Jaguar replaced the stick with a rotary knob that lays flush with the console's surface when the car is off and rises to meet your hand when turned on. It's purely theater and joined onstage by a Start button that pulses red when you get in and flush air vents that flip open. This startup performance isn't really functional nor even impressive after a few showings, but it always elicits remarks from first time passengers.

Other trick features that set the XF interior apart include proximity sensors for the interior lights and glove box release. Instead of pushing buttons, you wave your finger in front of the front dome lights or the small circle embedded in the wood trim above the glove box. Branded JaguarSense, this technology is more functional than backflipping air vents and thus was appreciated more in everyday use.

While the XF's instrument panel is ultra chique modern, Jaguar does a good job warming up the interior with the aforementioned leather and wood, as well as, in the case of our tester, a striking shade of orange called Spice for the leather seating surfaces. The seats were luxury car comfy, though we were surprised that the XF Supercharged didn't have more side bolstering to prevent ejection out the side window during hard cornering. And like with most luxury vehicles, the driver is given so many ways to adjust his seat that finding the right position is a never-ending pursuit.

So far we've learned that the Jaguar XF has a love-it-or-hate-it exterior and an avant-garde interior, but sedans in this class sink or swim based on how dynamic they are to drive. This is where the XF Supercharged shatters your preconceived notion of a Jaguar. The heart of the beast is Jaguar's venerable 4.2L V8 that's supercharged to produce 420 horsepower and 413 ft-lbs of torque. While not sporting the newest tech available, the supercharged 4.2L V8 is an eager to please engine with an abundance of on-demand torque and subdued purr that's ready to roar with a tap of your right foot.

Facilitating forward movement is Jaguar's six-speed Sequential Shift automatic transmission, a shift-by-wire system that can click off gear changes 15% faster than the same tranny in the XK. There are also large paddle shifters that turn with the steering wheel for manual control, and we actually enjoyed using them. The shifts are shockingly fast and accompanied by a throttle blip that smooths the transition so the car stays settled when shifting during a corner.

What really shapes the XF's personality are the transmission's different modes, which include standard, Winter and Dynamic. Being August, we didn't a get a chance to try out how Winter mode affected grip on slippery surfaces, but we did play with Dynamic mode... a lot. Engaged by a button below the rotary gear selector that's marked with a checkered flag, Dynamic mode not only makes the transmission shift faster, but also increases throttle sensitivity and generally quickens the cat's reflexes. Combine Dynamic mode with a defeated stability control system, and the fate of the rear tires is entirely in your hands. In this most extreme set up, the XF Supercharged feels like a completely different animal, one that's much more aggressive and shouldn't be fed by hand.

The XF Supercharged has a sports suspension with a CATS (Computer Active Technology Suspension) system that features two stages of dampening depending on whether you're puttering around town or really pushing the car. Any change in damping levels while we were driving went unnoticed as the suspension felt firm all the time. We blame the combination of 20-inch, five-spoke wheels wearing low profile tires and a rock hard rigid body structure, as the suspension is entirely on its own in isolating passengers from road irregularities. If you can live with it, the sport suspension rewards by hustling this 4,194 lb sedan around like a running back.

While the standard XF sedan gets 12.83-inch rotors at all four corners, the XF Supercharged receives larger front rotors that measure nearly 14 inches in diameter. They're up to the demands of a powerful sports sedan, but felt grabby during around-town driving where you're not trying to arrest all forward momentum in an instant. The variable ratio rack-and-pinion steering also feels artificially light at low speeds, but builds up a nice weighty feel as speeds increase.

The Jaguar XF Supercharged does come impressively loaded for its base price of $62,200, which is admittedly not cheap. Our only options were an adaptive cruise control system for $2,200 and heated steering wheel for $300, bringing the total with a $775 destination charge to $65,475. That's a premium price for a newcomer to the luxury sports sedan segment, especially one wearing the badge of a brand that doesn't have many of its nine lives left.

Jaguar desperately needs a hit, and we think the XF lineup including the standard model, Supercharged and upcoming XF-R can ultimately deliver. In fact, we don't believe Ford would've gotten the billions it did for Jaguar had it not been for this sedan that proves there are still people in Coventry who still care about the Leaping Cat.

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All photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

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