All-new Jaguar XF promises to be a driver's car on par with the best from Ingolstadt, Munich and other points east.
Jaguar of late has experienced a fading market for nostalgia-inducing sedans, clearly its motivation for focusing so heavily on the all-newness of the
recently-arrived XF model. And from the exterior, it's anything but reminiscent of its predecessor, the S-type. Graceful proportions, flowing lines and
muscular, bulging fenders give it a thoroughly contemporary and handsome presence. Many onlookers pegged it for a Maserati, hardly a bad thing.
The interior is a similar departure from Jaguar's traditional emphasis on lavish use of Old English wood and leather. Like the bodywork, interior design is
equally up to date, a pleasant mix of textures, materials and hues. The XF Premium-model test car did sport some burl walnut trim for the dash and console,
but it was used more as an accent to the tasteful brushed aluminum and contrasting leather surfaces.
Jaguar's obligatory start/stop button is present, something I could live without, and it pulses red when the car is entered. Equally theatrical is the
rotary gearshift selector that rises from the center console upon engine start. And the dash air vents that come to life and reveal themselves with ignition
on. It all works well enough--after you catch yourself grabbing a handful of air in search of a gear lever the first few dozen times--but seems like a
triumph of engineering and marketing sizzle over practicality and ergonomic simplicity.
But the chassis left me feeling much less ambiguous. For starters, it's stiffer than the departed S-Type's by a claimed 35 percent in torsion and feels like
it. Wheelbase measures 114.5 inches, same as the S-type. Width is up 2.3 inches and overall length by 2.2 inches, to 195.3. It also stands 1.5 inches
taller but you'd never notice from outside, due to the combination of a rising beltline and sloping roofline. Front-seat occupants get a pair of comfortable buckets although the side bolsters on the driver's seat come up a bit short on grip. Otherwise the furniture is class-competitive.
Unequal-length A-arms and coil springs are to be found at each corner, with anti-roll bars front and rear. Suspension tuning is spot-on, a near-perfect
blend of compliance and body control. Steering feel and weighting are excellent and at 2.7 turns lock to lock, it's very fast. This all adds up to quick
turn-in, allowing this 4017-pound sedan to be tossed into corners at truly hair-raising velocities with utter predictability.
Handling qualities are stellar, easily the best of any Jaguar sedan in memory. In hard cornering, body roll is minimal and grip is abundant. Slight final
understeer keeps everything manageable at the limit and the stability-control system is always on hand to sort things out, should the driver suffer from a
shortage of talent. The system's threshold is set high enough that the car must be seriously mishandled before it steps in to assist.
Jaguar's silky 4.2-liter, 300 hp V-8 is mated to an excellent ZF six-speed automatic with two levels of manual operation. In advanced sport mode it bangs
off sequential shifts with the same alacrity as the best of its high-end competitors, rev-matching seamlessly on downshifts as well.
Two versions of the V-8 are the sole powerplants at present, although Jaguar offers a 3.0-liter V-6 and a 2.7-liter turbo-diesel six in Europe. For an extra
seven grand, the XF Supercharged model's 4.2-liter is topped by an Eaton M110 positive-displacement blower, good for 420 hp and 413 lb-ft. I've driven
Jaguar XKR and XJR models powered by this engine and while 420 horses is well down from the 500hp-plus offered by the competition, it's more than
enough to make the car both quick and entertaining.
The Jaguar XF is precisely the car Jaguar has needed for some time. Base-priced at $49,975 (XF Luxury) and $55,975 for the XF Premium Luxury model
tested, the Jaguar XF is a well-equipped, beautiful and thoroughly modern sedan. Better yet, for the first time Jaguar offers a sporting sedan that's both
less expensive and dynamically on par with the best of the Germans'.