Review: 2012 Jaguar XF Portfolio

Way back in 2009, I was fortunate to spend a week in the then-new Jaguar XF sedan. The XF broke new stylistic ground for Jaguar, pulling the company out of a rut of quad-headlamp sedan sameness that they’d been in, literally, for decades. Back then, I thought the XF looked awesome and drove even better.

For 2012, the XF has received a minor facelift both inside and out. On the exterior, the most notable change is a new headlamp design similar to that in the XJ, which eliminates the open-eye bulging top of the lamp assembly; front and rear fascias have also been updated.

Inside, the steering wheel and and controls on the center console have been revised for somewhat better functionality and appearance. Some buttons on the dash have been re-purposed, giving direct access to the “chair” menu (for selecting heating/cooling function of the front seats), and a new button for opening the glove box, which replaces the capacitive-touch sensor which used to (sometimes) do that job. In the instrument cluster, the info screen between the speedo and tach has been upgraded to a higher-resolution, full-color TFT screen from the previous multi-hue LCD type display.

While those changes are useful updates to the XF, the capable powertrain remains unchanged. Under the skin, the 385 HP, 5.0 liter V8 remains the base engine for US-model XF. I love the sounds this engine makes, at startup or under pretty much any throttle condition. The purr of the XF’s V8 is intoxicating. Much like its big brother XJ, the XF has a Dynamic mode that heightens throttle response to enhance performance, and turns the driving experience from “enjoyable” to “awesome.”

While the style of the XF brought Jaguar in to the 21st century, the same cannot be said of the XF’s infotainment system. The touchscreen, menu-based system requires too many button pushes for most controls (for example, three separate entries on the touchscreen to get from Satellite radio to FM radio when starting at the home screen), and scrolling stations is cumbersome with the system, making me long for a simple knob for radio tuning. The system is sometimes slow to respond to touchscreen inputs, leaving you guessing as to whether it actually received the input given. Too, although the system has a backup camera, upon startup the system was still “booting” which meant that I could start the car, back out of my driveway, and be shifting into drive before the camera image ever appeared onscreen.

I found the seats in the XF to be fantastic, with 18-way adjustment (with driver side memory), including adjustable bottom cushion length and the side bolsters for my tall, narrow frame. The seats are also climate controlled, with both heating and cooling available. The steering wheel is also heated, which I appreciated on chilly Northwest mornings.

While the front seats are comfortable and offer ample legroom, the same cannot be said for the back seats. Although the XF’s rear doors are very long, they open into a cabin with very little rear legroom. Even short-legged friends’ knees were pressed firmly against the front seatbacks. Moving the front passenger seat forward had that passenger’s knees perilously close to the dashboard to give adequate space in the back seat. Fortunately, my two children fit in their booster seats back there without complaint. The back seat does fold forward in 60/40 split, and there’s a ski pass-through in the armrest with integral ski sack.

The interior of the XF I tested was tastefully upholstered in two-tone scheme with London Tan seats and charcoal dash/accents, with contrasting tan stitching on the dash and doors (the contrast stitching is standard on the Portfolio trim level). The headliner was trimmed in jet black suedecloth, and piano black trim was used rather than wood with visible grain. I’m a sucker for that deep tan upholstery and stitching on the charcoal dash- it looked great. Too, the leather-wrapped steering wheel with upgraded design compared to the original XF feels great in the hand and looks much better than its predeessor.

The XF Portfolio I tested was equipped with an optional 1200-watt Bowers & Wilkins sounds system. The system was clear at very high and low volume levels, and by far outmatched the sound quality of the Sirius and HD radio offerings. Despite the high cost of this system ($2300) and the upscale construction of the XF interior, the system prominently featured a raised speaker bezel in the center of the dash that was unfortunately an ugly plastic wart in the leather dash facing, with molded-in “Bowers & Wilkins” lettering. That plastic speaker bezel was very noticeable from the driver’s seat, and marred an otherwise beautifully-constructed interior.

During my time with the XF I was stuck in way too many meetings and teleconferences all week, so I took the opportunity early on a Sunday morning to let the Jaguar stretch its legs, making a quick trip from Seattle up US Highway 2 to Stevens Pass and beyond before turning around and zooming home. The XF showed itself to be a confident companion for that trip, cruising along up at extra-legal speeds with plenty of composure and zero drama. The ride was buttoned down, the chassis was communicative but never harsh, and the steering offered good feedback and weight. The standard paddle shifters immediately command quick, rev-matched downshifts, and brakes never felt tired, even on my way back to sea level from an elevation of 4061 feet.

The XF has an EPA rating of 16/23/19 MPG city/highway/combined. During my week with the XF, I drove it 280 miles, of which 180 were on my weekend morning getaway to Stevens Pass. On that one-day trip, the onboard computer reported an average consumption of 23.4 MPG at an average speed of 51.5 MPH, on par with the EPA highway rating (yes, that includes literally flying from sea level to 4000 feet, and back down). My weeklong average was 19.2 MPG at an average of 33.9 MPH, which matches the EPA’s combined rating.

The XF lineup in the US consists of the (base) XF priced from $53,000; XF Portfolio from $59,000, XF Supercharged from $68,100, and the XFR from $82,000. The XF Portfolio we tested comes with XF standard features like keyless start, touchscreen navigation with voice command, paddle shifters for the six-speed automatic transmission, and heated seats, and adds adds soft grain leather upholstery (in place of the standard leather), climate controlled seats with 16-way adjustment for driver and 12-way for passenger, keyless entry for the smartkey, a backup camera, and adaptive front lighting. The XF Portolio we tested additionally had the $3000 Sport Pack (19” Aquila wheels; aerodynamic bodykit including unique front bumper assembly and side sill extensions; 18-way adjustable sport seats, piano black interior veneer); $525 Jet Suede headliner; $700 cold weather package; $2300 Bowers & Wilkins 1200 W sound system; $2300 Adaptive Cruise Control; and $875 transportation and handling, for a total of $67,800.

In doing a bit of fact-checking in the course of writing this review, I checked Jaguar’s global site, which led me to an overview of the XF lineup for the UK. In addition to seeing the beautiful XF Sportbrake (i.e. wagon) on the website, I learned that in Jaguar’s home market, the XF doesn’t get the 5.0 liter V8 I’ve tested, it isn’t even available. In the UK, Jaguar offers the XF with a 2.2 liter diesel four offering 163 HP or 190 HP depending on tune, a 3.0 liter diesel V6 offering 240 HP or 275 HP depending on tune, or the 510 HP, 5.0 liter supercharged V8 XFR which is available in the US. By comparison. the 385 HP V8 I tested is the base engine in the US, with a 470 HP from the XF Supercharged, topping out with the same 510 HP XFR. While the XF is a great-looking car, its performance is one of the compelling reasons to buy it; I’m not sure that a diesel four-cylinder with half the power of the V8 I tested would be a satisfying car to drive.  It seems as if there is a V6-sized hole in the XF’s engine lineup both in the US and in its home market; with its competitors selling six cylinder-powered cars in larger volumes than V8s, it’s curious why Jaguar chose to omit this large swath of potential buyers.  The car would probably still be quite satisfying with a 330-horsepower V6 under its hood – if only Jaguar/Land Rover built such an engine.

The XF competes in the marketplace with vehicles like BMW 5-series and and Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedans, and is priced very similar to eight-cylinder versions of those vehicles. To my eyes, the XF is far more attractive than either of those German cars, and is more rare, making the XF a more individualistic choice. Of course, the German vehicles have somewhat better rear seat space and modern (or at least quicker) infotainment systems than the XF, so as always it will come down to individual choice. That being said, the thrill of driving the XF would make it my choice in the segment.  Reliability ratings haven’t been kind to the XF, but few of its competitors are trouble-free due to their complicated electronic systems.  If you walk into a relationship with an XF and have braced yourself for some visits to the dealer’s service department, you may find yourself very satisfied with the XF.

Author: Kevin Miller

As Autosavant’s resident Swedophile, Kevin has an acute affinity for Saabs, with a mild case of Volvo-itis as well. Aside from covering most Saab-related news for Autosavant, Kevin also reviews cars and covers industry news. His “Great Drive” series, with maps and directions included, is a reader favorite.

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