photos by Tony Whitney & courtesy Jaquar
April 7, 2008
San Diego, California – An all-new Jaguar is always an important automotive milestone, even for those who don’t particularly like the cars, but the XF sedan is possibly more critical to the British automaker’s future than any car that went before it. Jaguar and Land Rover operations have recently been sold by Ford Motor Company to prosperous Indian industrial giant Tata. The transfer of power has been no surprise to industry-watchers, most of whom have been pointing out that such a deal is by far the best way to ensure that Jaguar will be with us for many years to come.
Even though Tata has a reputation for a “hands off” approach to companies it acquires, analysts will be watching Jaguar’s progress carefully – especially where it concerns the XF. It would be going out on a limb to talk about “make or break” but the success of this car must surely be vital for the British automaker. But enough of the machinations of international business and let’s take a look at this exciting new Jag.
The car replaces the old S-Type, which stunned the critics when introduced for the 2000 model year with its “back to the sixties” styling and Ford/Lincoln underpinnings. As with all great designs, the car still looks good today, but the new XF seems to borrow not a single element of the car it replaces. Perhaps that’s just as well. Another interpretation of the old Mark II might have been serious overkill from a design standpoint.
But does the new car embody the essential “Jaguarness” that its creators are always ready to talk about? The answer is probably “yes and no” because the XF is very much a Jaguar for a newer generation than the one that lusted after the cars of yore. Jaguar benchmarked the XK sports car when developing the XF, which was an interesting approach. Talk to Jaguar designers like Ian Callum and other key people and you’ll hear terms like “four-door XK” and comments along those lines. Certainly, the car has a very sporty look and from some angles, the XK DNA is easy to see – the windshield rake, for example, is identical to that of the XK.
Perhaps the most open-to-discussion element is the grille, which looks like no Jaguar that went before except, perhaps, the very earliest XJ, which Callum admits was a source of inspiration. It uses neither the narrow twin vents of the current XJ, nor the vertical-oval traditional layout of the most recent S-Type. It’s also very shiny and heavily chromed, though a future “R” version might feature a black mesh design.
Interestingly, the car is claimed to have a better aerodynamics rating than the fabled XJ220 sports coupe of the early 1990s, and that was a very slippery shape indeed. Apart from contributing towards fuel economy, this factor also keeps wind noise down.
The rear end is very much inspired by the XK and the famed leaping cat has found a home there too. For a car with a shape as svelte as this one, there’s a decent amount of trunk space and it’s reasonably clear of intrusions too.
It is a very handsome automobile with a satisfying “stance” and should match well against opposition from the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Cadillac and Volvo. There are three basic versions – XF Premium, XF Luxury, and Supercharged XF. The prices are $59,800, $65,800 and $77,800 respectively, not including a $1,195 “destination charge.” The XF was reportedly being shipped to dealerships early in April.
One of Jaguar’s aims was to make the new car “sporty and alive” when driven hard yet refined and relaxed when simply cruising. Certainly, the XF has a most impressive ride with a Lexus-like level of comfort and refinement when you get tired of chucking it around. Even concrete highway joints on the California freeways where we first drove the car were ironed out with surprising efficiency. On winding mountain roads east of San Diego, the car could be powered through tight corners almost like an XK and there’s no doubt that this Jag has far more handling prowess than most owners will care to exploit. Jaguar claims class-leading torsional stiffness, which must contribute along with a wide rear track.
For the North American market, there are two engine choices: a 4.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 and a 4.2-litre supercharged V8. Horsepower ratings are 300 and 420 respectively. In other markets, there will be a naturally-aspirated V6 and a diesel V6, but not here – at least for the foreseeable future. It might surprise some observers that Jaguar didn’t offer a V6 in these “green” times, but certifying additional engines can be a costly business and the company’s marketers probably decided that everybody would want the V8 anyway.
The engines are all-aluminum and drive the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. Approximate acceleration figures from zero to 100 km/h are 6.4-seconds for the base engine and 5.3-seconds for the blown car. The supercharged Jag has a claimed top speed in excess of 250 km/h. Both engines have a very satisfying exhaust note, but you have to open a window to get the best of it, so well insulated is the cockpit from the outside world.
Climbing into an XF for the first time is going to be quite a surprise for old-time Jaguar fans because the design approach was so thoroughly modernistic. Cutting edge features include interior lights that come on as soon as your finger gets close to the protective glass. The glovebox operates likewise – a small button only needs a finger close to it and the lid drops gently down. Jaguar calls this approach “JaguarSense” and there are examples of such technology all over the interior. According to Jaguar engineers, this is just a start. They’ve even considered a sunroof that opens with a wave of the hand, rather than with the operation of a switch. Naturally, there’s a central screen for all kinds of functions that uses touch control.
One of the aims was to reduce clutter and this has certainly been achieved. Instead of the usual transmission selection lever, a large aluminum knob glides out of the central console at a touch – Jaguar calls it a “levitating gear selector.” Simply turn the knob and you go smoothly and silently to neutral, drive and so on. This system, patented by Jaguar, is so simple and easy to operate that it had me wondering why every car on the planet doesn’t use something similar. There are still a few upscale cars around with shift levers that take quite a lot of grappling with to get going. Mind you, a first timer will sit behind the wheel of an XF and wonder where on earth to start, but the learning process is blessedly fast and intuitive.
The transmission is rather like the one in the XK and it uses paddles on the steering wheel to select gears when needed. Shifting with this semi-manual box is exceptionally fast (faster than the XK) and vastly better than the comparable system available on the Audi R8, AJAC Car of the Year or not.
The car has a full roster of current (and perhaps even future) safety and stability control technology and for the first time in a Jaguar, Understeer Control Logic, which is capable of slowing the car and restoring grip when required, is fitted.
Although the XF has some of that currently trendy polished aluminum around the interior, there’s still enough wood and leather to please a Jaguar purist. It’s a very nicely-executed cabin – fresh, bright and modern with excellent all-round visibility. Best-in-class interior stowage is another Jaguar boast and there are bins and hidey-holes everywhere you look.
Incidentally, this car can be ordered with a truly exceptional Bowers & Wilkins 440-watt surround sound system. I’d never heard of Bowers or Wilkins, but whoever they are, they did a great job with the system in the XF. It’s also very easy to patch in your iPod or iPhone.
This is a Jaguar with a new design language – an appropriate step at this time in the company’s distinguished history and accomplished thanks to an engineering team with an average age of 34. As with so many fields of consumer products manufacturing, Jaguar must move forward to serve new generations who’ve probably never heard of Mike Hawthorn, the Le Mans D-Type or Sir William Lyons. For them, this is a car with very considerable appeal, capable of standing on its own feet without constant reminders of Jaguar storied heritage.
|Price as tested:||$||
Manufacturerâ€™s web site