Jaguar is the company that won’t die, and the XF is the proof. The company has been on death’s door multiple times and at one time earned a reputation for cars that only started when they felt like it. Yet this cat has had its share of nine live for one reason: style.
The XF represents the first truly original sedan from Jaguar in quite some time. The old S-Type, which this car replaces, was the modern interpretation of a Mark 1 and 2 Jaguars of the 50s and 60s. When we had the XKR in our fleet, it was mentioned that the XK series was supposed to lead the way for Jaguar design, and that is shown in the XF. Which in some ways makes the XF the kind of sedan that is for sports car lovers who need a real back seat.
The exterior alone is what can sell a Jaguar. There is a sleekness that has yet to be embraced by any of the Germans. The XF continues the Jaguar tradition of making sedans that carry the design lines of a stretched coupe. If you though the Mercedes CLS was the first to do this, then you haven’t been spending enough time with Jag’s history.
The front of the car truly looks like a menacing cat. The round light within the clear lenses give the car a slanted-eye look, while the creases in the hood give the car attack ears. The whole package is complemented by bodylines the give the car a low front-end, so this cat looks like its ready to pounce.
This is where the Jaguar shows it really has a personality. The start button lights up like a heartbeat. You literally have to put tour finger on the pulse of this car to get it going. As everything starts up, panels on the dash panel move to uncover the air vents and the round gear selector rises from the center console - It’s as if the car is saying “hi”. This is a cool feature that we were already taking for granted within the first week of driving the XF. But don’t worry, the novelty comes back sometimes when passengers see it for the first time.
The coupe idea is extended into the interior. The dash and center console are positioned higher than expected, giving the feeling of sitting lower and being in a sports coupe. The old S-Type had a terrible problem of making passengers feel cluster phobic. It was trying to fit passengers into the low-roofline design, which meant great sacrifices to the headroom. Somehow Jaguar has cured this idea in the XF, which is only about half an inch taller than its predecessor.
The theme of the car seems to be touch. There are no buttons for the lightning system, just touch the light housing and it comes on. The glove box is opened by brushing a finger across a sensor area on the wood paneling above it. The touch-screen command center is the same we got in the XKR. It’s intuitive and controls all essential functions. Our only gripe with is that it likes to put on a show, so sometimes actions are slowed down.
The rest of the interior is exactly what you would expect from a $50,000 sedan - rich wood, soft leather and quality chrome.
Jaguar never had the biggest budget of the luxury carmakers, so the frame is a direct carryover from the S-Type. But Jaguar has been doing luxury on a budget for decades, so it was able to stretch the proportions and use the suspension bits from the much more sporting XK. The result is a much improved ride over the predecessor.
Many of the German competitors offer cars that have precision settings for sport mode, luxury mode and everything in between. For those who know a lot about suspensions and how they work, this is playtime. But Jaguar takes a different approach. There is no adjusting the ride for different conditions, instead it offers a good mix of sports handling without delivering a bone jittering ride to passengers. For example potholes are only felt once in the Jag. A luxury car may gingerly bounce a few times to shake loose gap in the road, and a sports car doesn’t even bounce, it just crashes into the pavement. But the XF gives one bounce, just enough to diffuse the hole, but not enough to lose any feeling in the roadhandling.
The 300 hp 4.2-liter V8 provides plenty of power, but even better is the exhaust note. We found ourselves driving a little more erratically just so we could hear move tunes from the wide-open V8. The only drawback we found in the powertrain was the transmission. It’s the same six-speed automatic as the one in our XKR, including the quick shift wheel mounted paddles. We like it in both cars, but BMW still lets you row-your-own in its sedan.
We don’t like having to give back the Jaguars after they enter our test fleet. They are distinctive enough that we feel distinguished behind the wheel. It also helps that we don’t have to put down the big bucks for one.
This is a sports sedan of compromises. We’ve got all the bits we like from the XK, including style, engine, simple interior and style (style is that important.) The only reason we would have the XF over the XK is because of the items and people we have to carry in everyday life that requires back doors and a real back seat.