By Kevin Miller
The 2010 Jaguar XF Premium arrived on a rainy autumn afternoon, with five days of heavy rain in the forecast. As I sat in the Ebony Black sedan in my driveway, taking in the striking Spice and Charcoal interior color combination and suede-like headliner while I familiarized myself with the controls and got my phone paired with the hands-free system, it was evident that I was not sitting in a mainstream car.
Launched in 2008 as a 2009 model, the XF introduced a new style for Jaguar sedans, a long-overdue departure from the quad-headlamp look of the XJ, S-type, and X-type. With a sexy body and innovative features like the (somewhat contrived) JaguarDrive gear selection knob, the XF is a sleek, striking sedan which looks like no other sedan on the road. For 2010, the XF Premium gets a new 5.0 liter direct injection V8 with 385 HP, a healthy increase from the base XF’s 300 HP 4.2 liter V8
Admittedly, it took me a few days to warm up to using the XF. With a somewhat unconventional control layout which requires many common functions (like chair warming and HVAC distribution) to be selected through the touchscreen display, use isn’t intuitive. As an iPhone user, I found the XF’s touchscreen to refresh and respond more slowly than my own touchscreen device. Too, for many common tasks such as controlling audio sources there are a lot of sub-menus and “soft” buttons on the screen, which are easy to miss when trying to use them while driving, leading to driver distraction. Finally, soft keys such as “back” and “end call” on certain menu screens are near the recessed edges of the screen, making them difficult to reach easily. Forget operating them with a gloved hand- which is a good reason to ensure your XF is equipped with the optional heated steering wheel in northern climates.
The Spice-colored driver’s seat in my test vehicle featured 16-way power adjustments (part of the Portfolio package); the heated-and-ventilated throne even has a power adjustment for seat cushion length, and sufficient bolstering to hold me in place during the enthusiastic driving that the XF encourages. The stylish Spice upholstery color is repeated in the stitching of the charcoal-colored leather dashboard and door panels.
Pressing (and holding) the pulsing start button gets the five-liter V8 started, and causes the JaguarDrive knob to rise out of the console. It also causes the dash-mounted HVAC vents to motor open almost silently, as though the big cat is waking up. Rotating the gear selector to R activates a rearview camera whose image is displayed on the touchscreen. The rear camera is appreciated in the XF, as rearward visibility isn’t great through the short rear window. Also helpful for maneuvering in small parking garages is a tight turning radius.
On the road, the 385 HP XF was phenomenal fun to drive. The V8 made an intoxicating sound as it revs increased, which led me to goosing the throttle on nearly every drive. The six-speed automatic transmission shifts incredibly quickly, responding almost instantly to the wheel-mounted shift paddles or a sudden prod of my right foot on the accelerator. (In fact, the paddle shifters were the most instantaneously responsive ones I’ve ever used, quickly blipping the throttle for perfect rev-matched downshifts).The steering wheel did an amazing job of communicating what the front tires were doing, and was very responsive to any input. The ride was firm and communicative, but never harsh. The XF was truly remarkable to drive; its 385 HP was more than enough to put a huge grin on my face for any driving circumstance I encountered.
With its excellent road manners and sybaritic features, the XF is best categorized as smooth. The silken purr of the V8 is intoxicating, the transmission’s quick shifts never rough, and the cabin cocoons its occupants in luxury. My fuel economy during the test suffered due to the fact that I needed to hear the sound of the racing V8, over and over again (with a 16/23 MPG EPA rating, I averaged just 16.7 miles per gallon of premium unleaded fuel, over about 400 miles, most of which were around town).
While the XF is a big car on the outside, and offers very spacious accommodation in the front seat, rear seat legroom is tight, especially if the driver is tall like me. Too, rear seat headroom suffers due to the sedan’s sleek roofline. Using the LATCH points to install a rear-facing child seat behind the passenger seat makes that front passenger seat unusable; I had to secure the child seat in the center position, where the low roofline (and minimal legroom) made it difficult for me to reach in to secure my 10-month-old into her seat. Of course, the XF isn’t really a family sedan; it is more of a sports car that happens to have rear doors and a back seat.
My complaints about the XF are few, and minor. The cabin had no place to put sun glasses other than a door pocket or cupholder. As I said before, the infotainment system’s myriad menu screens can be a major source of driver distraction. And the driver’s seat was very comfortable but was a bit too firm, leading to a numb backside after about an hour behind the wheel.
The XF I reviewed was the 2010 XF Premium with Portfolio Package. Standard features included in the base $56,150 price are the 385 HP 5.0 liter V8, six-speed automatic transmission with wheel-mounted paddle shifters, bi-xenon headlamps, blind spot monitor, headed/cooled leather seats, touchscreen navigation system with digital audio/iPod and Bluetooth phone connectivity, and smartkey keyless entry/starting. Options included the $4000 Portfolio Package (16×12 ventilated front seats, contrast stitching, Allston faux-suede headliner, electric rear window sunblind, 20” Senta wheels, and burl walnut veneer) and the $1875 Bowers & Wilkins 440 W, 14-speaker premium sound system with HD radio. Including the $850 transportation fee, the MSRP was $62,875. As a point of reference the 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged we reviewed last year had 420 HP and cost $66,675 with similar levels of equipment.
I really enjoyed my time with the XF; I’m sure my friends (and family) got tired of reading tweets about it and hearing me talk about it. One of those friends, who is admittedly not a “car guy”, finally asked for a ride, and asked what exactly it is that Jaguar automobiles are known for, and why somebody would choose a Jaguar over another marque. It was a bit hard to explain to somebody unfamiliar with any Jaguar: the fact that Jag made cars from the same styling mold for four decades, that the quad-faired-in headlamp look had become a caricature of “Olde Worlde” stuffy luxury, and that the audience for such “classic” styling had shrunk. It was easier to explain that what Jaguar now offers, with the XF and the recently introduced new XJ, is a more personal kind of luxury with unique, dynamic exterior looks and a more bespoke-feeling interior than the engineering-driven designs of Audi, BMW, Mercedes, or Lexus.
When buying a car in the XF’s segment, there are a handful of choices. I would contend that the choice of the XF over its competitors is largely an emotional one- the smell of leather, the sound of the five-liter V8, the design of the cabin, and the feel of the road coming through the steering wheel.
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