August 25, 2008
Mission, British Columbia – A quick scan of any large parking lot will confirm the sad truth that there are very few new cars that look really unique nowadays. One marque however, Jaguar, has managed to hold on to its traditional, identifiable styling cues for decades.
But while sculpted bodywork, lots of curves and long hoods have served Jaguar well over the years, Jaguar’s designers have devised a new strategy to attract new, younger buyers to the Coventry fold. For 2009, Jaguar has replaced its slow selling S-Type mid-size sedan with a slightly larger model that features a slick, aerodynamic body that from some angles can be easily mistaken for a coupe. The Jaguar XF is a very modern design, loaded with features and equipment that will allow it to better compete with its rivals from America, Germany and Japan.
When I first walked around the XF I was struck by the immediate similarities to its more sporting brethren: its tapered tail and long taillights resemble those of the XK8, as does the rake of the windshield and low-slung greenhouse. This is a good thing. The side profile looks elongated due to the shortened height of the glass and the length of the hood, which gives the car a real substantial presence. The front fenders feature the same vertical slash vents that grace the XK, which is fitting, as these cars share the same engines and running gear. My car was fitted with 19-inch Auriga wheels, but their multi-spoke design makes them appear even larger, giving the car a real aggressive stance.
My one gripe would be the appearance of the front end where we find a chrome grille complete with a substantial ‘Growler’ emblem as a centre piece, and headlamp units that look like they were sourced off a Buick. The design team worked hard to retain the unique hood contours that have been a Jaguar signature for years, but replaced the dual lamp treatment (headlight and driving/fog unit) with a single, integrated unit which is far too generic for this class of automobile. The effect left me feeling short-changed, like when you order Almond Chicken at a Chinese restaurant only to discover that they used peanuts!
The car is available in two trim levels- Premium and Premium Luxury- as well as a top-tier Supercharged variant. I found the interior layout to be exceptional. The level of fit-and-finish in my Premium Luxury model put many much more expensive cars to shame. The narrow pillars and long windows give the passenger compartment an airy feel that I found comforting; a feeling enhanced by the luxurious accoutrements of my surroundings, including supple leather hides, deep pile wool carpeting, high-lustre wood veneers and textured aluminium trim. The look is uncluttered and well thought out, and all controls and switchgear are placed where they should be.
A rather unique shift-by-wire mechanism (which Jaguar calls “JaguarDrive”) emerges from the console like a periscope, and a simple twist puts the car in gear or Sport mode, when the road ahead gets interesting. Steering-wheel mounted paddles allow the driver to shift the six-speed transmission manually, and unlike those in some of this car’s rivals, they react very quickly.
A seven-inch touch screen is recessed in the dash and serves as the command centre for various car functions, as well as the Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) surround sound audio system, the dual-zone HVAC, and the available DVD navigation system. This screen can be customized to illuminate with a simple clock, or your choice of several logos, including my favourite, the Jaguar logo accompanied by half the Union Jack.
The front compartment was very roomy, and I found the seats well bolstered for aggressive driving, but rear seating area access is tricky if you are a larger individual as the door opening is quite narrow and the sloped roofline robs taller folks of some headroom. Storage is plentiful, with door cubbies all around, a generous glovebox and centre console, as well as fold-flat rear seatbacks to enlarge the trunk. The trunk offers a wide opening with low lift height, and is significantly larger than most in this class. Underneath its carpeted floor panel you will find the spare tire and associated removal tools, as well as the car’s battery. This helps with weight distribution, but can make jumpstarts difficult should you have a trunk load of luggage or cargo.
The XF is available with a very smooth 4.2-litre V8 engine that generates 300-horsepower and sufficient torque to give the car an athletic feel, but true enthusiasts will want to pony up the extra $12,000 to slip behind the wheel of the 420-horsepower, supercharged model. I must admit that I was impressed with the hustle displayed by my non-blown tester, as I always found its forbearer, the S-Type, to be sluggish and unexciting. In a wise move to reduce development and production costs the car shares most of its underpinnings with the XK coupe and cabriolet. This includes the chassis, engines and transmission (six-speed automatic with manual shifting), as well as the car’s beefy brakes and communicative steering. All of this well-sorted engineering gives this two-ton cat surprising agility.
When you first slip behind the wheel of the XF the car starts with the touch of a console-mounted start button. This kicks off a visual performance that will impress your passengers, as the switches and gauges take on a subtle blue glow, the start button pulses like a heartbeat, and the dash-mounted air vents flip up and open. Once the aforementioned JaguarDrive gear selector arises you are underway with a simple twist. Gear mode selection is indicated on the console immediately forward of the control knob (P-R-N-D-S), but your actual gear is displayed in the instrument cluster on a small driver information screen situated between the large round speedometer and tachometer.
Each touch of the throttle produces a throaty growl, but with the windows up this car is as quiet as the benchmark models produced by Lexus. Sprints from 0-100 km/h take a mere 6.5-seconds as you flick through the sequential gearbox, and the car progresses so smoothly that you will need to watch your speedometer closely as the car insulates its occupants from the sensation of speed.
The XF handles cornering duties like a much smaller car, as the lightly-assisted steering is very precise and the suspension does a great job to deliver sporty handling along with a comfortable ride. The aerodynamic body shell is very stiff when compared to the outgoing S-Type, blessing the XF with moves that should scratch your enthusiast itch. Should the action get fast and furious the XF’s ABS antilock brakes are backed up with traction and cornering controls and feature near 13-inch ventilated discs to reduce fading. After spending a week with this groundbreaker, it is obvious that Jaguar’s design team sought to make this car as much a driver’s car as it is a luxurious executive sedan.
This Jaguar includes a host of safety features including dual stage front airbags, as well as side, seat-mounted units up front, and side impact curtains front and rear. It is nice to see that previous owner, the Ford Motor Company, made good use of the safety innovations of its other charge, Volvo, resulting in the development of active head restraints and a unique blind-spot warning system ($400) incorporated in the two side mirrors. A tire-pressure monitoring system is also on board.
As good as this car is, it is still faced with strong competition from the likes of BMW’s stunning 5-Series, Audi’s A6, the Lexus GS and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. These cars have a faithful following and a proven record, so Jaguar’s marketing teams have their work cut out for them if they hope to attract a new generation of buyers to the showroom floor. Add to this the hiccups that may come with the company’s new ownership (India’s Tata Group) and I worry that this excellent automobile may not get the attention it truly deserves.
Pricing: 2009 Jaguar XF Premium Luxury
|(Blind spot Monitoring – $400; B&W audio upgrade with13 speakers, sub-woofer, 6 CD changer and iPod interface – $1900; Cold Climate Package (heated windshield and steering-wheel) – $600; Warm Climate Package (climate controlled seats and rear sunblind) $1200)|
|Price as tested:||$||
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