By Chris Haak
For decades, Jaguars have been thought of by many as unreliable, old English, snooty vehicles that had bodies that had, shall we say, a traditional appearance. In spite of having high quality leather and other interior materials, Jaguar found itself stuck in a rut, and became a veritable money pit for Ford, as consumers moved onto competitors’ vehicles and Jaguars just didn’t sell.
Fortunately, the 2009 XF immediately takes the book containing everything that people think they know about Jaguar and drops it into an industrial paper shredder. The XF is, quite literally, like no Jaguar ever before it. The car’s designers bestowed it with a modern, elegant feline form, while at the same time managing to maintain a few styling nods to Jaguar’s past (namely, the mesh-look grille, hints of circles around the one-piece headlight units, and the vertical fender vents). The car’s proportions are no doubt modern; it has a fashionably high beltline and fairly tidy overhangs. My top of the line test vehicle had 20 inch wheels, which manage to very nicely fill the wheel openings, and visually add weight to the lower half of the car, giving observers the impression that the car is crouched and ready to pounce. Pounce on what, I’m not certain, but in the flesh, the XF is an object of beauty, particularly in darker colors.
Some folks have criticized the XF’s styling as being too mainstream and not enough like a Jaguar “should look like.” I’ve heard its profile compared to a Lexus GS and its back end compared to an Aston Martin (as if the latter would be a bad thing!) To those critics, I say, “you just don’t get it, do you?” Jaguar literally had no choice but to move beyond the umpteenth iteration of neo-classic remakes of its 1960s hits and into the 21st century. In spite of the S-, XJ-, and XK-Types all being very good cars, few buyers inclined to consider anything but a Jaguar found the XJ and S sedans to be desirable cars. Other buyers in this price range happily walked into Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus showrooms, never to consider Jaguar. So even if Jaguar traditionalists scoff at the XF’s shape and call it anything but a proper Jaguar, I’d argue that the XF’s early critical acclaim, plus its sales success to date (it’s the bestselling Jagaur model by far), prove that by abandoning a hardcore contingent of Jaguar loyalists, the company has picked up many, many more conquests to the brand, and finds itself with a car that appeals to a far younger demographic than the S-Type it replaces in the lineup.
Open the door (which can be done without taking the keyless fob out of your pocket), and the theme of breaking with tradition in favor of a modern interpretation of luxury continues. The expected leather and wood are still present, of course, but the wood is a dark-stained oak veneer (thankfully, not plastic!), which nicely accents the genuine aluminum trim across the face of the dashboard and at the front of the door panels. The top of the dash and all four door panels are covered in stitched black leather that feels soft and looks exquisite. In a nod to simplicity, the XF has far fewer buttons on its center stack than do most of its competitors. I counted just 19 buttons and two knobs, and three of those include the door lock, door unlock, and hazard flasher buttons. Instead, most secondary functions (seat heaters/coolers, audio presets, etc.) are controlled by a touchscreen interface on the 7-inch navigation display. It’s pretty easy to get the hang of using it, but the screen was less sensitive to my touch than some I’ve used, and the graphics and menus were probably about one generation behind state-of-the art. (I’d consider the Cadillac CTS’s navigation/touchscreen setup to be the best I’ve seen, and the XF’s is about a step behind the CTS’s system).
One of Jaguar’s bragging points on the XF’s interior is the available Bowers & Wilkins 440-watt, 14-speaker audio system. I’m not an expert in home or car audio, but this system is one of the best I’ve ever heard. All I look for in a high-end stereo is distortion-free bass, and clean sound at low volume levels, which this stereo handled admirably. The Bowers & Wilkins system is standard in the top-end Supercharged model that I tested, and available in other XF models. The system features surround sound with a 6-disc in-dash CD changer, iPod interface, a remote amplifier with Dolby ProLogic II Surround Sound and 13 speakers plus subwoofer and SIRIUS Satellite Radio. The only disappointments I had with the audio system were not in the speakers or amplification, but in the interface (it’s cumbersome to change stations, particularly manually, and particularly in SIRIUS)) and in the reception of the SIRIUS satellite signal. My own Honda Accord has factory XM, and on my backroad-heavy daily commute, the XM signal rarely cuts out, including in a concrete parking garage in the city I work in. The XF’s SIRIUS signal, in contrast, cut out four or five times each way and did not work in the parking garage at all. The parking garage phenomenon is probably caused by a lack of terrestrial repeater in the city (XM has one, though, so perhaps post-merger, the XM repeater can be used for SIRIUS as well), but cutting out under trees, etc. must be caused by either a poor antenna design, differently positioned satellites, or a lack of repeaters. To be fair to the XF, several other vehicles I’ve tested with factory SIRIUS have had similar problems (300C AWD, Town & Country Limited, Lincoln MKZ, Mercury Sable), so it may not be the car’s fault.
Other interior touches, aside from the leather dash, comfy heated/cooled seats, heated steering wheel, and nice wood and aluminium trim include touch-sensitive actuators for the interior lights and glove box door. There is no physical switch click to turn the lights on or off or to open the glove box; simply touch either with the lightest possible touch and the switches activate. It’s probably unnecessary, but it’s another “wow” feature to file under “impress your friends.”
Enough about the inside and outside, though – let’s talk about the car drives, since a buyer won’t be thinking constantly about its exterior curves and stroking the leather dash every day, but probably will be driving it. The startup ritual is very similar to that of other vehicles with pushbutton start and keyless ignition, but with a new Jaguar-provided twist. When the car detects the presence of the key, the start/stop button flashes red twice quickly, pauses, and flashes twice again, repeating perpetually. The effect is intended to mimic a heartbeat, as if the cat is waking up or coming alive. Foot on the brake, hold down the button for a second, and the 4.2 liter supercharged V8 growls to life and settles into a very smooth idle. In fact, at idle, the engine is so smooth that literally zero vibration makes it to the steering wheel, although you can feel the V8 underfoot on the floorboards. As soon as the engine has fired, the JaguarDrive gear selector knob rises from the center stack, Star Trek-style, and the heretofore air vents on the dash panel (all four of them) motor from a closed position to an open one (assuming that the HVAC system is on; they close if the system is turned off). It’s something I had read about several times, but really is a crowd pleaser when showing the car to friends and family. In fact, the video below will allow you to experience this pageantry nearly firsthand.
Once in Drive, however, the car is just a rocket. 420 horsepower and 413 lb-ft of torque coupled to an intelligent six-speed automatic with the ratios matched well to the engine’s power curve make it so. There is a moderate amount of supercharger whine present, but the XF Supercharged is deceptively quick. Blasting around someone who is dawdling on a two-lane road barely makes the car break a sweat until you look at the speedometer and see a very high number, stab the brakes, and realize that you’re the one with active sweat glands instead of the car. I haven’t even mentioned the car’s other persona when the JaguarDrive selector is moved to Sport mode, where the car will hold gears longer in automatic mode (or until the rev limiter is approached without upshifting when using the behind-wheel shift paddles). Engaging Dynamic Mode via a button on the center console that looks like a checkered flag, putting the car in Sport mode, and manually shifting with the steering wheel paddles make the car even quicker and responses even sharper. It takes a lot of concentration to hit the 1-2 upshift correctly because the low first gear and the powerful engine make first gear run out of revs in about a blink and a half.
The 20 inch wheels and 285/30ZR20 Pirelli P-Zero performance tires (rear) provide astounding levels of grip in dry or wet pavement (wet conditions are, of course, assisted by electronic aids). However, I had my whole family in the XF one weekend day and the skies opened up into one of the ten strongest thunderstorms I’ve ever seen in my nearly two decades behind the wheel. Although I drove at a prudent speed for conditions, I had no trouble keeping the car going in my intended direction, and in fact, the traction control didn’t even need to engage the entire day. That day proved to me that the XF Supercharged’s tires were quite surefooted. While the car does have a Winter mode to help with slippery conditions (dulling throttle response, etc.), I still wouldn’t even daydream about driving the XF in the snow without a set of four snow tires, and mounted on smaller, narrower wheels. At all but full throttle (when the V8 reminds you it’s there), the XF was extremely quiet, with the only very faint wind noise present at highway speeds. In spite of the car’s surefooted handling and precise steering, as well as its large, low-profile tires, the XF’s ride was perfect for my tastes. It didn’t float at all over bumps, but wasn’t so buttoned down that every undulation was transmitted into the cabin.
However, the downside of the fun and performance that are so easily enjoyed with the XF Supercharged occurs when you happen to glance at the fuel economy display. Driving in city traffic, I routinely saw 8 or 9 miles per gallon; driving in a manner that I would drive a “normal” car (V6-powered) and get over 20 miles per gallon, the XF gave me about 15 miles per gallon. Having too much fun, I’d see a 25 mile trip average in the high elevens. Oh, and it requires premium. My family and I used the car for a highway trip and I drove it to the office one day, and after those two days and about 250 miles, the low fuel light turned on, and $64 later, the car was full of premium and happy again. The EPA fuel economy ratings for the XF Supercharged are 15 city, 23 highway. I didn’t see 23 on the highway; the best I could manage was around 20 or 21. The non-supercharged XF is rated at 16/25. As poor as the fuel economy was, though, the XF is actually the most fuel efficient vehicle in its class; the BMW M5 (with a more powerful V10) is rated at 11/17 and the BMW 550i (V8) is rated at 15/23, so the naturally aspirated V8 in the 550i has the same ratings as the far more powerful supercharged V8 in the XF. The Audi S6 and A6 are rated at 14/19 and 16/23, respectively, while the Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG and E550 are rated at 12/19 and 15/22, respectively. In fact, the base XF’s V8 fuel economy is on par with its competitors’ six-cylinder fuel economy.
Many people have told me over the past few weeks that if you can afford a $66,675 vehicle, you probably aren’t worried about the cost of fuel. Since I can’t afford such a car, I can’t tell for sure if that is true or not, but I can tell you that if the car was $20,000 cheaper, I still would probably hesitate in buying it solely for that reason. It’s no wonder that BMW and Mercedes sell far more six cylinder vehicles than V8s. The good news for the XF Supercharged, however, is that it’s one of the most fuel efficient 420+ horsepower sedans available (the Dodge Challenger SRT8, though obviously not a sedan, has a 425 horsepower V8 and is rated at 13/18.)
Spending a week in the Jaguar XF Supercharged was certainly a thrill. I wasn’t the celebrity for onlookers and fellow motorists that I was driving something orange and flashy, but I felt like I should be. Everyone who I showed the car to was awe-struck by its modern, graceful looks, luxurious interior, and conversation-worthy gadgets. The performance and handling of the car made it feel far lighter than it really is, and the only criticisms I have of the car were its fuel economy, satellite radio reception, and audio controls. Considering that $66,675 is a lot of money to spend on a car, it should be damn near perfect, so kudos to Jaguar for building a car that is.
For more photos of the 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged, follow this link.
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