Claws Sharpened, Teeth Bared The XF succeeds in providing luxury and sport in balanced measure. By Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor Date posted: 04-28-2008 Supercharged 420-hp V8 - 6-speed automatic transmission - Adaptive cruise control - 20-inch wheels Bruised and bloodied, Jaguar's fate now rests in the hands of Indian automaker Tata. The only certainty of its future is that it is uncertain. Now forget about all that. Turn your attention to the product, which is ultimately the most critical aspect of an automaker's success. Here we have the 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged, purportedly ready to do battle with the big German sedans like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, cars that know the luxury sedan game. Only time will tell the story of Jaguar as it enters the next phase of its existence, but we can peek a few pages forward simply by testing the fruits of its labor. Luxury Begins Within Elegant, spacious and comfortable, the XF's cabin is a fine place to be As soon as you take a seat behind the wheel of the 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged, it's obvious that the Jaguar designers expended considerable energy in crafting the XF's interior, and the result is an open, breezy cabin that nevertheless exudes elegance. Glove-soft leather seats are a Jaguar tradition, while wood accents add visual warmth to the cool silver trim without seeming like an anachronism. If there's a downside to the interior, it's that the metallic, jewellike surfaces create a riot of annoying reflections on sunny days. No discussion of the XF would be complete without mention of the dashboard air vents that reveal themselves and the transmission PRNDL knob that rises from the center console as soon as you press the ignition button, which glows red in the rhythm of a heartbeat as it awaits your command. These tricks are a bit Michael Bay, yet lend a sense of occasion to the otherwise routine act of driving to the office that even we could feel. The XF's cabin is an uncommonly special place. Not only do its sundry materials give the XF the look of $65 grand inside, but the positive action of its controls suggest that there is substance behind the style. The center stack and console controls are fairly well laid out and identified with labels that are spare yet artistically presented, designed to enhance the ambience of modern design rather than exist simply as a necessary evil. Fundamentally Sound In our testing, the XF averaged 14.6 mpg; compare this to its EPA rating of 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. The Jaguar XF's long wheelbase pays dividends in rear-seat space and helps to keep more of the XF's 4,200-pound heft within the space delineated by its axles. This stance contributes to the XF's assured demeanor on the road and provides a supple ride quality that surprisingly isn't degraded by the colossal 20-inch wheels as severely as we first anticipated. These rollers dominate the XF's profile and lend it a look that's a little too chunky, according to the armchair stylists among our staff. Some of us would like to see wheels with more slender spokes to reduce visual mass — not to mention mass of the kind that you can register on the scales. Wearing enough tire to keep Sri Lanka's rubber exports humming briskly, our XF tester's standard dubs have 255/30R20 Pirelli P Zeros stretched over them in front and 285/35R20s in the rear. Once we ground these expensive tires into a fine powder around our skid pad, the XF's ultimate grip proved to be a commendably high 0.87g. A flat Chiclet-size button embossed with a checkered flag that's located on the console just aft of the shift knob enables Dynamic Mode, which changes the throttle and transmission calibration and delays the intervention of the stability control. Near as we can tell, this control firms up the two-mode dampers nearly imperceptibly. The XF will still exhibit some body roll when you hustle it along a road worth hustling on, as if to provide an indication that you're piloting something honest rather than a robotized road missile like a BMW M5. This straightforward English character is amplified during slalom testing, where the XF's modest roll stiffness is less important than the tenacious mechanical grip its wide tires have on the tarmac. Still, the XF's slalom result of 66.7 mph is impressively rapid, and in anything short of a full-on blitzkrieg pace, the XF is a willing partner. It turns in cleanly and demonstrates a handling balance that isn't afraid of throttle adjustments in order to tighten the line through a corner. More aggressive seat bolsters would be a welcome addition in this environment, but maybe racy seats would be at odds with the XF's cool vibe. Like It's Scalded The manner in which the power plant goes about its business is the trick part — it provides absolutely zero indication that there's a Roots-type blower forcing air into its combustion chambers Absurdly high horsepower is something of a calling card with modern luxury sedans. The XF's supercharged 4.2-liter V8 is up to the challenge in terms of outright acceleration, powering the XF to 60 mph in 5.5 seconds (5.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and tripping the quarter-mile in 13.6 seconds at 104.6 mph. In simple terms, the XF is plenty quick, and in sync with the capabilities of its chassis. The manner in which the power plant goes about its business is the trick part — it provides absolutely zero indication that there's a Roots-type blower forcing air into its combustion chambers. No whine, whir or odd chuffs, just the muted churn of 420 horsepower. However, considering it is packing a blown V8, power delivery seems surprisingly on the soft side at low engine speeds. This situation is easily resolved, as the steering-wheel-mounted paddles allow the driver to command manual gearchanges from the XF's six-speed automatic. Shifts are delivered in a reasonably prompt time frame, though the transmission does a fine job of selecting gears on its own, especially when you rotate the gear selector to S, whereupon gears are held longer as the revs climb on the tachometer and the throttle is blipped to provide quick, rev-matched downshifts. When using the brakes to the ultimate of their capability, this big Jaguar delivers performance rivaling some of the quickest-stopping cars we've tested. Reaching a standstill from 60 mph requires just 108 feet. Nits? In no particular order, the dashboard protrudes somewhat into the door aperture and can bonk your shin on your way into the cabin. The steering is precise and quick but could use a shade more feedback from the road. The touchscreen controlling the cabin electronics is slow to switch modes. Also, the brake pads are too grabby in routine driving, which you notice just as you reach a stop. Holding Out for a Hero Twenty-inch wheels are standard. All this goodness and we haven't even reached the most compelling feature of the 2009 Jaguar SF Supercharged — its value. Yes, even at a base price of $62,975, the XF offers a lot of car for the money. Standard equipment levels are comprehensive, including a navigation system, back-up camera, an impressive 440-watt Bowers & Wilkins sound system, a voice-activated interface, Bluetooth, keyless ignition and a blind-spot alert system. In fact, the only options available on the XF Supercharged are a heated steering wheel and adaptive cruise control, bringing our total sticker to $65,475. The Jaguar XF Supercharged adds up to one impressive car. Yet this is not because the XF S/C is necessarily better than its competition at everything a car should be. Rather, the XF succeeds because it is unashamed to propose a new path for the luxury sedan, one that's tangential to the one chosen by the German sedans that we've come to love. This Jaguar suggests that sportiness can be different things to different people and proposes that true luxury brims with modern technology and yet doesn't mystify the experience with a veil of electrons or an absurdly high sticker price. The 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged takes us down a new road. MSRP of Test Vehicle: $65,475 What Works: Packed with features; sumptuous interior and mannerly moves don't compromise its driving dynamics. What Needs Work: Blinding cabin reflections; steering could use more feel. Bottom Line: Stone-faced German rivals have some serious competition. Second Opinion Give the start button a poke and the gear selector knob rises as if summoned. Executive Editor Michael Jordan says: Maybe it's not so useful to remind you that the 2009 Jaguar XF is English. These days, it's a thought that seems hardly relevant, especially now that Tata, an Indian company more famous of late for its introduction of a $2,500 car, has taken ownership of the Coventry company. (Of course, Jaguar isn't even in its old Brown's Lane address in Coventry.) English seems synonymous with antiquated, doesn't it? But you can see the English influence in the way the XF looks, even if the design has been directed by Ian Callum, a Scotsman. London is one of the showcases of modern international design, and the XF perfectly expresses the way in which the English have used their impeccable sense of good materials to express a design ethic that is at once spare and light and yet elegant and luxurious. The Jaguar XF has the sensuousness we love in Italian design, only without the histrionics. It also seems quintessentially English that the mechanical platform of the XF is a triumph of development over innovation. The Ford-engineered platform once shared by the Lincoln LS and the Jaguar S-Type has evolved into a package with terrifically rewarding driving character. For this we have to thank two gifted development drivers, who have endured in their roles much as English engineers are wont to do — Mike Cross, Jaguar's development chief who has influenced the company's modern cars in the same profound way that Norman Dewis influenced the Jaguars of the 1950s and '60s, and Richard Parry-Jones, the rally-crazed Ford engineer who helped transform Ford's reputation in both Europe and America. Of course, we should also acknowledge William Lyons' influence on the 2009 Jaguar XF. Though Jaguar's founder seems from another time, kind of like the Shakespeare of the British car industry, his notion of combining great design with practical luxury and an American-style down-the-road driving character made the Jaguar XJ6 the car that defined the modern sedan, a car that automotive engineers from every country frankly admitted to copying through the 1970s and '80s. The Jaguar XF brings us back to the XJ6 concept, and now it's the English sedan that seems modern, while the overbearing high-tech sedans from Germany seem old-fashioned.