Last month, U.S. Jag dealers sold just over a thousand new cars, despite cut-rate financing. While the entire U.S. car market is going South, Jaguar's stuffy image is sending the venerable marque Hades-wise in a supersonic hand basket. The new XF midrange sedan is supposed to reverse these declining fortunes by burying memories of the bulbous, fusty, pudenda-fronted S-Type (not to mention the execrable X-Type). I grabbed an XF fresh off the transporter to see if Jag’s lobbing snowballs in Hell.
Let’s get this out of the way: the new XF’s design is a pale shadow of the C-XF concept’s drop dead gorgeous sheetmetal. We’re talking supermodel versus neighborhood bartender. The XF’s front end is a particularly boring transmogrification; it's a little weird and the snout’s portal smacks of Volvo’s blandest. The central bonnet creases are a particularly classless affectation. In fact, you could say the XF is nothing more than a Volvo in a slutty dress.
The back end almost saves the day; it looks like an Aston Martin. It's fantastic. But Ian Callum gets no props for designing the same car over (DB9) and over (V8 Vantage) and over (Jag XK coupe) and over (XF sedan). If Jaguar was going to show a scintilla of individuality, well, they could have hidden the door handles in the B- and C-pillars.
As for the XF’s interior, we've all seen the boring press pictures included here. The company’s PR photographer should be fired for not doing justice to this four-wheeled shrine to automotive luxury.
The XF’s interior’s fit, finish and materials are the best I’ve ever seen in a production car, without exception. If you're the type of person that appreciates exquisite detailing of a fine watch, you can do nothing but marvel at the XF’s cabin. The wood trim in my optionless "Luxury" trim model could have been fashioned by a bespoke furniture maker. The matte finish is both unique and stunning.
The XF’s attention to detail dusts the usual standard bearer Audi. The vents rotate into view when you start the car up (royalty payment to Volkswagen’s ill-fated Phaeton?). They boast aluminum inserts to move their direction, with the word "Jaguar" elegantly stamped on their surface. We're talking about slivers of material the size of long grain rice. The same beautifully finished metal sits at the bottom of the cupholders. Every surface is sensuous to the touch. For once, a Jag/Ford product feels… finished.
Okay, so the exterior is lame, the interior is otherworldly. How does it drive? In a word: Yes. Yes as in the new XF drives as well as you'd hope any Jaguar would.
Jaguar wanted to build a luxury-sports car in keeping with its distinguished brand heritage– a tradition of which Larry the Law Firm Partner neither knows nor cares. What Larry does care about: beating the crap out of Bob’s Benz E350. And with this car, Larry’s good to go.
Jag’s 4.2 liter V8– a carry-over from the last generation S-Type– is the XF’s standard-fit powerplant. “But it only makes 300 horsepower! Lots of V6 engines do that!" Quit your bitching brand defilers, lest you taste the business end of my tassled loafers pushing you into an Acura RL. Even with "only" 300 horsepower underfoot, the entry-level XF accelerates from zero to sixty miles per hour in about six seconds. Besides, the Jaguar XF driving experience is fleet footed. The six speed auto is slicker than snot on a doorknob. The suspension feels buttoned down, with just enough feedback to keep it fun without being abusive.
There are downsides. While the XF is light on its toes, changing direction with confidence-inspiring predictability and hoon-compatible ease, it doesn’t have everlasting grip. Canst thou squeal like a porcine? The XF’s tires can. And the sport sedan’s steering is far too light for a car with genuine performance aspirations. But overall, driving the XF is like piloting a BMW without the e-Nanny hovering over your shoulder.
So much of this car is so right – the interior, the suspension, the engine and the transmission. Killer depreciation aside, the $50k asking price for a fully loaded V8 XF makes a mockery of the similarly-priced, stripped-out 535i. Unlike the Bimmer, Lexus or Audi equivalents, driving the XF makes you feel special.
It’s too bad that the mid-size Jag’s exterior went from a quaint retro curiosity to an OMG concept car to a quintessentially boring sedan. If Jag had found a way to keep the CX-F’s drama, they would have had a huge hit on their hands. As it stands now, all they have is a bit of time to kill before Ford sells Jaguar or, let’s face it, pulls the plug. Even as a swan song, the XF lacks the looks it needs to fly.