2010 Jaguar XF Supercharged - Click above for high-res image gallery

There have been very few cars like the 2010 Jaguar XF Supercharged, and that's a shame. Yet it's difficult to explain why this car is so special, so let's just start by describing what it is. You can order Jaguar's S-Type replacement in four flavors (more if you live in a diesel-friendly part of the world). The first and least expensive comes with Jag's tried-and-true 4.2-liter V8 for $52,000, although we're told that the 4.2-liter is now out of production, so get 'em while they're hot. For $5,000 more, you can get the company's new direct-injected 5.0-liter V8 with 385 horsepower, which is most assuredly worth every penny.

Skipping ahead one, the fourth and final flavor is the top cat XFR, equipped with a 510-hp supercharged and monsterized version of the 5.0-liter V8 for $80,000. Put another way, that's $23,000 for an extra 125 horsepower. Worth the stretch? Honestly, when are we not going to tell you to buy a 510-hp vehicle? However, there is a third flavor and it's called the XF Supercharged. Starting at $68,000, the XF Supercharged comes with the same 5.0-liter supercharged V8 as the XFR, albeit "detuned" down to 470 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque.

We know we shouldn't be shocked, but come on. We are living in seriously miraculous times if 470 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque is the detuned version of anything. That's quite nearly Nissan GT-R power, and Godzilla is a supercar killer. Oddly, Jaguar has decided not to make a big deal out of the release of this car (i.e. no launch) and that's a shame, because as you've probably surmised by now, the engine alone makes the XF Supercharged pretty special. Keep reading to learn why this is the Goldilocks of the XF range. In other words, just right.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

In 2006, BMW changed the Q-ship game when they released the sneering E60 M5. Gone were the subtle cues that softly announced the previous E39 M5 (a couple of extra pipes, a large intake, a badge), replaced instead by a whole new level of heavily-vented visual audaciousness. Translation: The former King of the Sleepers was now anything but. The new M5 loudly announced to the world that a monster of a motor lurked just underneath its taught, flame-surfaced skin. Since the E60 M5 debuted, competitors have been following suit.

Take Jaguar's own XFR – it looks like it just geezed up on steroids. Gulping, chrome-ringed air intakes, scalloped hood vents inlaid with the word "Supercharger" and low hanging side sills that simply scream "I'm a very fast car indeed!" The XF Supercharged, however, doesn't have any of that. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to notice any differences between it and a "lesser," naturally aspirated XF. The Supercharged model gets bigger wheels, a body-color matched rear fascia and four tailpipes instead of two. Visually, that's about it, save a lone "Supercharged" badge on the trunk. Think of it like this: From the view afforded by your rearview mirrors, there's nothing to indicate that the nice looking kitty cat has the potential to badly embarrass whatever you're driving. This Jag is more than just a credible sleeper; it's the new king of the Q-ships.

The inside is pretty good, too. Not perfect, mind you (though we have sat in the upcoming XJ and yeah, it's pretty much perfect), but it's by no means lacking. Press the start button for a few moments and a few things happen. Naturally, the big engine roars to life, then all four vents rotate open while the aluminum-puck gear selector rises out of the center tunnel. The latter two are nifty party tricks, though we do wonder what happens a few years down the road when those particular parties are over. Still, they're fun to watch.

The XF thrones are fully leather, many-ways adjustable (16 if you're the counting type) and sufficiently British. All good stuff. The bad part is that they almost totally lack lateral bolstering. This is perhaps the most important difference between the XF Supercharged and the angrier, sportier XFR and its deeply, properly snug seats. Our tester was topped off with the wonderfully named "Truffle and Barley" interior. The "Truffle" references the thick slabs of chocolate colored leather that adorn the top of the dash as well as the surprisingly good steering wheel and the pretty polished wooden bits. The "Barley" is the color of everything else, save the knurled aluminum dash trim and the Truffle cross-stitching on the Barley seats, it's the same modern take on British luxury we've come to know and love in the XF. Especially those thick, shaggy carpets

The interior geeks amongst us will go crazy over the 1970s Marantz-like vent wheels and thumb-controls on the steering wheel – super high quality stuff we're happy to report – and the suede headliner is fully and completely righteous. However, first and foremost in the negative column are the plastic shift paddles behind the wheel. We found it fully incongruous that Jaguar would make such an excellent steering wheel, fit it with world class roller buttons and then attach cheap and chintzy paddles. Even the Mitsubishi Outlander GT has magnesium flappers these days, so there's simply no excuse not to have something more special. Some of the switchgear is also sub-par, particularly the center-mounted door lock buttons. None of which are deal breakers, but we've come to expect better, particularly from Jag.

The gear knob (called the JaguarDrive Selector) works fine, but it's simply strange in practice. If you can forgive us for employing one of the most dreaded auto-journo clichés, it falls too readily to hand. Meaning that your right paw is always resting on it, wanting to do something. But what? Shift into neutral? There's also a button to completely close the air vents, isolating the cabin from the outside environment – something we came to adore – and while rear seat passengers have enough room to avoid claustrophobia, the seats are rather snug and the fold-down armrest was clearly an afterthought.

Then you put your right foot down and all that nonsense about British this and truffled barley that is very quickly put out of mind. More than a few colleagues have told us that the new direct-injected 5.0-liter V8 is simply one of the very best engines on sale today, period. We're fully inclined to agree, as the motor is marvelous. As you might imagine, the supercharger takes all those good things things to an even higher level. Torque is everywhere and seemingly never ending, the soundtrack is sufficiently brutal without being crude, and it even revs quickly. Not surprisingly, zero to 60 mph falls by the way side in under five seconds (4.9 if you're counting) and the quarter-mile goes by in about 13 flat at close to 110 mph. Those are big, impressive numbers, close to world-beating just a few years ago and even more shocking when you remember that the XF Supercharged isn't the quickest XF you can buy.

The Supercharged car gets the fancy Adaptive Dynamics system from the XFR, resulting in a wonderful ride that's all the more impressive considering how low the tires are (20-inches all around, 35 series up front and 30 series in the rear). Essentially, Adaptive Dynamics is an active damping system that senses what's going on (i.e. whether you're stuck in traffic or hammering on the bloody edge of the envelope) 100 times per second and adjusts the shocks accordingly. The system works flawlessly, as the XF Supercharged is lounge-like when you're just puttering along and becomes instantly taut and responsive when you're out on a joy ride. And the best part? You don't have to do a thing – it's all automatic.

Likewise, the variable rate power steering works surprisingly well. Being a large, lumbering sedan, you'd expect the XF to be reluctant to boogie around corners, and while it's no Mazda Miata, the XF Supercharged is easily one of the most surefooted four-doors we've driven. At low speeds, the steering is almost old General Motors lazy (and we mean that in the best way, as aside from HVAC, effortless power steering is one of GM's core values) allowing you to easily maneuver the large cat around the most congested of mall parking lots. Once at speed, however, everything tightens up and evolves into a meaty, linear and communicative system. One that loves to be bent around the bends.

The one aspect of the performance goodies we aren't overly impressed with is the electronic differential. Like most e-diffs, the XF Supercharged uses its ABS system to modulate the brakes to control wheel spin, resulting in a plume of brake fumes after a hard drive. Not to confuse the issue, but the electronic differential works just fine, it's just that if we were buying the car, we'd want a mechanical diff or one of the trick new e-diffs employed by Audi ( S4) or BMW ( X6). That said, the big vented mothers fitted to the XF Supercharged work phenomenally well and simply don't fade in normal high-hoonage situations. But you will notice the brakes smell like used brakes after hard driving, even if you weren't hard on 'em. Blame the e-diff.

The six-speed auto 'box fitted to this XF does its job in a sporting yet relaxed manner. Like the Adaptive Dynamic suspension, when you're not in a rush, the transmission just goes about its business, smoothly and quietly shifting between gears. Give it the cane, however, and shifts don't happen nearly so frequently. Still, should you want to take control of the system, just grab a paddle (right for up, left for down and sadly wheel-mounted as opposed to fitted to the column) and you're briefly in manual mode. Briefly, because after about a dozen seconds of no driver/paddle input, the transmission reverts back to full auto. Driving in all types of traffic conditions and fully taking advantage of the near-loony amount of power on tap, we averaged just over 15 miles per gallon.

That is until we found a way to average just under 14 miles per gallon. Remember the aluminum gear selector? For the first three days we had the XF Supercharged, we just left it in D assuming that S was some weird way to indicate "low." Well, a few minutes spent with the owners manual (we were trying to figure out what "ASL" meant - Automatic Speed Limiter it turns out) revealed that S stands for Sport. And man, what a difference a letter makes. In S, shifts happen less often as the transmission will actually hold a gear all the way up to redline. Even better, tap either paddle while in Sport mode and the transmission shifts into full manual – as in it won't shift unless you tell it to. For a manu-matic, the shifts happen quickly, and if you're wondering, those smoky burnouts ( see gallery) happened in S with the left paddles tugged and the traction control all the way off.

Put it all together and the Jaguar XF Supercharged is a majorly impressive piece of machinery nearly without peer in terms of both its grace and pace. Laughably fast without being psychotic, luxurious without being gaudy and quite athletic without being unusable or silly. Which leads us back to what we like most about the XF Supercharged aside from that lusty engine: It's sleeperosity. It's like having a knife tucked into your boot; you just feel special. Seriously folks, they'll never see you coming, which is some of the highest praise we can give.

Photos by Drew Phillips / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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