Every once in a while, you sit down in a car, and immediately know what the engineers were thinking. This only happens when a car is completely focused on its intended niche, and is, all in all, a very good thing. The Jaguar XF is one of these cars, and the XF is a very good thing. More after the jump.
This car looks fast in a way that’s half sleek and half muscle, but not too fast. The styling is clearly aimed at the wealthy executive who would have bought a BMW 5-series but has more personality than that. It’s a balance between looking exciting and not looking like a Lotus. The target market doesn’t want to look like they are going through the stereotypical mid-life crisis, but also don’t want to look like every other well paid man with a master’s degree in business management. Really, the hood bulge makes the car. It’s got bulge like Robin Hood and his men in tights, and they have some serious bulge.
However, it’s the interior that’s really impressive. I simply put the fob in my pocket and the car sensed its master, unlocked, and waited expectantly. I then sat down and was surrounded in extremely comfortable dead cow. Looking around, there’s more dead cow, and a lot of wood. It’s a little like driving a pub. I felt like I had gone downtown and sat down at MacNiven’s but couldn’t find the ale menu. Given that this is in fact a car, that’s probably a good thing. Then I pressed the “Start” button, which is red and throbbing impatiently, and as a result, more fun. Lights everywhere turned on, the V8 purred at me, the gear select dial rose out of the console, and the air vents all slowly rotated into position. This had more pomp and circumstance than the Royal Ascot races in Britain, and made me feel extremely important.
Since it was a fairly cold day, and the car had been parked outside, the salesman from the dealer hit “Climate” on the touchscreen and then turned on the heated steering wheel which was nice, and then attempted to incinerate my buttocks. The heated seats work way, way too well. Mine was set to 3, which nobody in their right mind would ever want to use, whereas 2 is for creatures that are incapable of producing their own body-heat, such as my fiancee, and 1 warms the seat nicely. Once my rear’s temperature was under control, the car was exceedingly comfortable, as the climate control worked flawlessly.
The touchscreen system was exactly the same as the XK, which is a good thing. It was easy to navigate, but still packed a lot of features and power. If you have one, it will also communicate with your iPod, the jack for which is actually conveniently located. Lots of auto-makers like to put this in the dashboard, where it is impossible to reach, and all together inconvenient. Jaguar puts the iPod jack in the arm-rest, where the driver can reach it. Speaking of sound, the Bowers and Wilkins speakers are nothing short of glorious. The bass notes are powerful without being distorted, while the treble is fantastically crisp. If I owned this car, I’d go to my car to listen to music even though I have rather nice 5.1 speaker set from Logitech hooked up to my computer.
All of this comfort is great, but the car needs to perform in order to stand up to zee Germans. The XK is powered by a 4.2l v8 that develops 300 horse power and 310 foot-pounds of torque, and sounds like thunder in the distance. While the fuel economy isn’t exactly wonderful, it’s worth it. This takes the Jaguar to 100 kph in 6.3 seconds an up to an electronically limited 195 kph. If that’s not enough for you, you can get a supercharged version pumping out 420 horses and 408 foot-pounds of torque. This will take your XF to 100 in 5.1 seconds and will run into the limiter at 250 kph. While I didn’t get to play with this, I would like to.
Numbers never really tell the whole story though. Cars with 80 horsepower can still manage to be exciting, and bajillion horsepower cars are still capable of just being a bit off. The XF, however, is quite responsive to the gas pedal. When I gave it a push, the car growled and immediately started to munch pavement. It somehow managed to feel faster than it was, and it is pretty damn fast. It’s still smooth as butter though. Even when I put my foot down and got a feel for the acceleration, the ride stayed smooth. If I had passengers, the only hint they would recieve of speed would be the ominous rumble of the V8. As I stated earlier, my immediate impression was that the engineers were aiming at the Aristotelian golden mean which is the performance luxury sedan, and they hit it dead on. The steering reacts quickly and gracefully to the driver’s input, repositioning the surprisingly stiff chassis significantly faster than I expected it to.
Unfortunatly, if one turns the gear select dial to Sport, not much happens. I assumed that the suspension might tighten and even lower a smidge, but it didn’t, or that the exhaust alter itself to make the thunder sound less distant, but it didn’t. In fact, sport mode just means that the car shifts more aggressively, and won’t revert to automatic mode after the driver uses the paddle override unless it is told to. While sport mode does make the transmission a bit more aggressive, I do wish that it had more effect on the rest of the vehicle.
The gearbox is the same semi-auto as the XK, which is a little unfortunate as the shifts are slower than they should be at 600 ms. This doesn’t both me as much as it did in the XK, as it is in fact a luxury sedan, and not a sports car. A luxury sedan’s transmission needs to be smooth primarily and fast secondarily, and the Jaguar semi-auto’s shifts are almost imperceptible. The gearbox does all the rev-matching for you, and while this can be irritating if done poorly, this car matches perfectly, making for downshifts that are almost as smooth as the up-shifts.
The performance luxury sedan market is defined entirely by careful balance, and in all ways this car is balanced between fun, luxury, and practicality. It can fit four people in incredible comfort, or five in reasonable comfort. It can push your head violently back into the head rest, or it can get to speed so smoothly that your passengers will think they’re still waiting at a red light. All in all, it’s almost flawless. The only real problems I noticed are these: The transmission is a little slow and the gas milage is mediocre at best, but that latter is expected in a car like this. With most vehicles, I can complain alot more than that. I was seriously impressed by Jaguar’s most recent offering, and I genuinely hope that they continue to head in this direction, as they are bloody near perfection with this one.
Summary: A fine balance between performance and luxury.
Exterior Design: 8/10 Pretty, and faster looking than the rivals.
Interior Design: 9/10 This car makes one feel really important.
Engine: 8/10 Good enough for most. If you want more oomph, get the XF-R.
Transmission: 8/10 Smooth as butter, even if the shifts are a tad slow.
Audio/Visual: 9/10 The Bowers and Wilkins speakers make everything fun to listen to and the touchscreen is well implemented.
Value: 7/10 More expensive than a 5-series, but a lot more interesting too.
Edited: 20 Feb 2009