The first issue that any reviewer must face is perspective. Whether it’s a $70,000 Jaguar or a $15,000 Chevy you have to maintain an appropriate perspective. You have to be fair to the product you’re reviewing while putting it into proper context for your readers. When Jaguar told me that a 2011 XF Supercharged was available for me to test, my first thought was the same as yours would be, “Goody, goody. What’s not to like?” My second thought was to email the other writers and ask if Michael Karesh or Jack Baruth could do a better job on the review. Michael test drives a variety of luxury cars, and Jack’s pretty familiar with high-end sporting machinery, but I have absolutely no experience with 470 HP, loaded-to-the-gunnels luxury sports sedans. I can’t tell you if it’s better or worse than competing cars because I haven’t driven those competing cars. The time with the Jaguar was bookended by a Mazda3 and a Kia Sportage. Not exactly ideal perspectives from which to view a luxury performance car. Notwithstanding my personal reservations, Ed and the other editors told me to go for it, so…
With a base MSRP of $67,150, the XF Supercharged fits between the lower trim and performance XFs and the 510 HP XFR, priced exactly $12,000 more. No Jaguar can be a Q-car, but compared to the XFR the XF Supercharged is definitely a sleeper. For that extra 12 large you get an additional 40 horsepower out of the supercharged version of Jaguar’s new 5.0L DOHC V8, a more aggressive body kit, a different hood (bonnet) and a wire mesh grille. That’s just about it. The XF Supercharged is much more subtle than the XFR. To all but the most discerning Jaguar enthusiast, it’s a plain vanilla XF but the XF Supercharged has all of the XFR’s chassis upgrades, including bigger brakes, upgraded shocks and springs and Jaguars superb Active Differential Control, which uses an electric motor built into the rear end to control wheel slip. Oh, and an additional 85 horsepower over the base XF. There might be one or two luxury options available on the XFR not offered on the Supercharged, but for the most part the XF Supercharged and the XFR are mechanically identical, and have the same equipment except for the additional power. The only available options that this car did not have were Adaptive Cruise Control, inflatable side seat bolsters, and special paint. The press fleet car that I was loaned was painted in a handsome and understated medium pewter that shows of the body contours well.
The XF Supercharged already comes with most of the available XF features as standard, so the only optional equipment my test car had was the $350 heated windshield and the $500 “jet” Alcantara headliner. I don’t know if it’s worth 500 bucks for a nice headliner and A pillar trim but it does add a capping touch to what is already a very luxurious and nicely appointed car. There’s so much leather in the cabin that between the fully leather upholstered seats, the leather covered steering-wheel, the stitched leather on the door panels and the stitched hide covering the dashboard I could still smell leather on me while sitting at my desk hours after leaving the car. Everything is real, the leather, the wood and the brushed aluminum. The wood is as one would expect in a proper British luxury car, finished better than fine furniture. All the switchwork has a silky feel to the controls while also imparting a sense of stolidity. Speaking of switchwork, this XF has the newer glove box release switch, an actual pushbutton that Jaguar has spec’d in response to complaints that the original touch sensitive switch was a bit too touch sensitive.
Actually, I shouldn’t say that all of the controls worked well. Alex Dykes, in his recent review of the XK, alluded to Jaguar’s oft-complained-about infotainment system. The UK is home to a number of audiophile equipment companies so it’s no surprise that the Bowers & Wilkinson sound system (440 watts, 13 speakers plus a subwoofer, Dolby ProLogic II Surround Sound) sounds great, with good imaging, natural highs and clear bass. It has all the head unit bells and whistles too: Bluetooth, Sirius, Voice-activated controls, Nav with voice-guidance, AM/FM/HD, 6 disc CD changer, USB, iPod control, and an aux in.
Regardless of the source it’s a real a pleasure to listen to the B&W system. For additional aural enjoyment, filtered engine sounds are discreetly piped into the cabin. Jaguar’s done a fine job tuning the exhaust and controlling underhood noises because under heavy acceleration you hear a Jaguar’s roar, not the blower’s soprano whine. The controls for the audio and navigation system, though, are clunky. The touch-screen reacts very slowly and you have to be fairly precise where you put your finger or you’ll miss what you’re trying to activate. Selecting an audio source is time consuming since you cannot directly access any of the functions, you have keep pressing the “source” button and scroll through the choices. Having remote controls on the steering wheel are nice, but the control sequences are not thought out well.
One might think you’d get tired of the XF’s “handshaking” procedure. As you probably know if you’ve read anything about current Jaguars, when you power up the car, the ventilation grilles rotate open from their power off position and the round gear shift knob rises up out of the console. Perhaps small minds are amused by small things but I found it entertaining every time. I don’t know if Jaguar was expecting owners to just sit in the car and gaze at its features when it’s powered down, but the dashboard does look pretty snazzy all closed up.
The seats are comfortable, though the driver’s seat cushion’s bolsters could have been more substantial. The dual zone climate control was, as it should be, imperceptible. Like Mr. Popeil says, set it and forget it. The heated seats and steering wheel get warm very quickly. All the automatic gizmos worked automatically. The rain sensing wipers also sense the amount of rain and adjust their speed accordingly. It’s been a long time since wipers sped up and slowed down as manifold vacuum varied. I wonder if younger people realize just how amazing technology is today.
Whenever a car company comes out with an obviously not-ready-for-production concept car, there are people who criticize, saying that it’s a waste of money that could be used to better develop production cars. Still, if you look at the show cars of the 1950s and 1960s you’ll find that all sorts of features that are now commonplace were first proposed on some kind of outlandish concept vehicle. While some “concepts” are just pie in the sky, eg. Ford’s Nucleon, others are pretty accurate predictions about things that might improve the driving experience. In the 1950s before the recently departed Chuck Jordan rose to head GM styling, he designed the Buick Centurion Motorama car. The Centurion had no rear view mirror. Instead it had a camera in the back and a CRT screen in the dashboard. Science fiction in 1955, standard equipment today. I’m predicting that it won’t take half a century for the thin film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) touch screens used in Jaguar’s C-X75 concept to show up in a car that you drive.
And driving is what the XF Supercharged is about. Dynamically, the XF Supercharged is greatly rewarding to drive. Even though it’s made mostly out of aluminum, and it has a curb weight of just over 4,300 lbs. so you can’t exactly call the car tossable, but it is nimble. Like a big man who is a good dancer, the XF Supercharged is light on its feet. It never lost its composure or made an awkward move. With a 0-60 time of 4.9 seconds those moves are made quickly.
Steering is also quick, I measured 2.75 turns lock to lock. That’s Lotus Elan level quick steering. With two tons of aluminum, leather and polymers to change direction, and fat P255/35ZR20 tires in front (P285/30ZR20s in the rear) steering that quick requires substantial power assist. Effort is just right, with good feel for where the front end is. The variable assist works flawlessly. Maybe a dab more weight would have made it perfect for me but I don’t think anyone will find fault with the XF Supercharged’s steering. Turn in is precise, with just the slightest bit of understeer for safety. That understeer, though, can be easily balanced with your right foot anytime even with the nannies on. I hate roundabouts because I’m a cyclist but I discovered they can be fun when you have a powerful and properly sorted out car to drive. It was just a little bit slippery out and I was able to do a modest drift all through the rotary without having to deactivate anything. The Active Differential Control is very impressive.
Anyone thinking that this car is underpowered, that they must have the additional 40 ponies that come with the XFR either has been exposed to some very rarefied machinery or they just really really like really really fast Jaguars. Michigan State Police troopers may judiciously allow you to maybe drive a little faster than their counterparts south of the border collecting revenue in Ohio, but I’m not going to explore the performance limits of a 470 horsepower car. I’m certainly not going to need to find out how fast 510 will do. Even with “just” 470 HP, I found myself inadvertently doing 90mph entering the freeway. From a dead stop at full throttle the traction control will kick as it upshifts to both second and third. There is always enough power to do whatever you want to do whenever you want to do it, at least on the street.
That’s John & Horace’s place on the left
That gear selector can be moved over one position from Drive, to Sport. The sport setting changes the engine and transmission mapping for more immediate response. An additional control will stiffen the suspension and speeds up the steering ratio. As a car guy I’m embarrassed to say that for the most part I left all of the settings in normal mode and hardly used the paddle shifters either. With 470 horsepower and an already sophisticated suspension, steering and rear end, do you really need “sport” settings? Drivers who take their XF to the track will appreciate them, and they do make a perceptible difference but on the street the gear shift’s S mode is like painting the lily and the performance suspension setting is gilding refined gold.
Brakes are all you’d ever need on the street. The rotors have larger diameters than the tires on some cars that I’ve driven. While they sometimes can be a little bit grabby after sitting, from surface rust on the rotors, for the most part the brakes worked very well, with good modulation control. I tried some 0-50-0 runs (on a 400′ driveway) and the ABS and other nannies worked unobtrusively. The good braking performance comes at a price: brake dust. After a week and about 500 miles of driving the 20” aluminum wheels were coated with brake pad dust. A friend leases a non-supercharged ’11 XF, with smaller brakes and he says that he also has to wash the brake dust off frequently.
Suspension is a little firmer than I expected, but it seems to me that folks who buy the Supercharged version will expect a sportier ride.
I don’t know if the Superchaged has the upgraded torque converter and additional clutch plates equipped on the XFR, but the six-speed ZF automatic transmission worked flawlessly.
Like most well equipped cars today, the XF Supercharged comes with a backup camera. Since this is a luxury car and even Kia now offers a cam, to make it special yellow guide lines are superimposed on the image to guide you as you back up. The guidelines curve according to steering wheel position. Perhaps in time I’ll appreciate backup cams but for now I think they’re a hazard. It’s one thing to be looking in your rear view mirror while going backwards. You’re looking up and you can still see motion in your peripheral vision. However, looking forward and down when you’re backing up is a formula for disaster. Mandating backup cameras may save 300 kids a year from getting backed over in the driveway, but I suspect such wide scale use will get even more kids hurt or worse when traffic on the street t-bones people paying close attention to the backup screen on their instrument panels. Backup cameras have very poor peripheral vision.
A couple of words about styling: like it. Some feel that the XF is a bit nondescript (a neighbor called it a cross between a Jaguar and a Lexus). I think that’s because the car has that rear window / C pillar with the BMW kink that you see on the Malibu and Altima, but most of the car is original and the styling grew on me over the week. I’m an old XJ owner and as the week went on it started looking more and more like a Jaguar and I started noticing more signature styling elements. The rear of the car is perfect, even if it recalls Ian Callum’s work for Aston Martin. Nobody ever called an Aston ugly. Michael Karesh recently discussed the long overhang of the Kia Optima. Large overhangs are a necessary consequence of front wheel drive packaging needs. You need a lot of space to fit the engine and transmission under the hood. Looking at the XF, one knows right away that it’s a RWD car. The front wheels are pushed to the extreme corners of the car. That visually lengthens the long flanks of the car. Those long flanks, smooth save for a character line near the bottom of the doors, started reminding me of a classic XJ. The flanks flow into rear haunches that Jaguars must have. The beltline has a subtle wedge that combined with the wheels pushed out to the corners gives the car a purposeful stance. Surprisingly for a short guy in a wedgey car, visibility was acceptable (few modern cars have good visibility). I still hate fender gills but at least the XF’s were designed in from scratch. Jaguar adding gills to the last traditional XJ was a travesty. These don’t look half bad.
For the most part I came away very impressed with the XF Supercharged, though it’s likely that I would feel the same about any cars in its class. There aren’t that many crappy cars in that price range. Still, it’s not perfect. While it may be less expensive than German competitors (well, at least the base XF is), the higher powered Cadillac CTS-V is about $10K cheaper than the XF Supercharged. Of course for that ten grand you’re getting the cachet of a Jaguar and not being the samo samo luxury brand is part of Jaguar’s appeal. Gas mileage was about what you’d expect from a perpetual adolescent driving a high powered car. I averaged ~14mpg for the week and when I was driving enthusiastically the instantaneous rate dropped into the single digits. There’s the aforementioned severe brake dust issue and my issues with the infotainment system. Come to think of it, there’s another issue with that system. I decided to use the Jag to pick my mom up at the airport and managed to get stuck at the curb at the wrong terminal. It took 5-10 minutes for things to clear up enough to pull away. In the meantime, the parking assist nannies are warning me that there’s a car next to me. I’m not blind, I can see it. The nannies also mute the stereo when they’re active. Dammit, I know that I’m backing up, I still want to listen to the flipping song I have on, not the stupid nanny chime. Perhaps if I had RTFM I could have muted Mary Poppins.
The only quality control issue that I noticed was in the windshield lamination. I don’t know if it’s because the glass is heated or if they did a poor job in laminating the safety glass, but at night there was a noticeable interference pattern in the glass. It didn’t affect visibility but there was a star effect around oncoming headlights.
There was also, surprisingly, a driveability issue. Well, that might be a bit too strong, but right off of dead idle the car hesitates. It’s not a stumble, just a hesitation. I started to mention it to one of the fleet company’s drivers and he finished my sentence, so it’s not just me. My guess is that it’s either due to fuel efficiency concerns or that with 470 horsepower, Jaguar didn’t want wheel spins at every green light, so the throttle is mapped that way. Either way it’s so out of character compared to how the car performs in all other circumstances that it stands out.
Other than those few quibbles, I thought the XF Supercharged was damn near perfect. Alex and Michael, who have more experience than I do with cars in this segment might be more critical than me, but as long as someone else was making the payments and paying for the gasoline and insurance, I could be very comfortable using the XF Supercharged as my daily driver. If Jaguar had asked me if I wanted to test the XFR, I would have said “Goody, goody, what’s not to like?” Who wouldn’t want 40 more horsepower in almost any car? But I’m not convinced I’d spend the money on the XFR if I had it. The XF comes in four flavors: base, premium, Supercharged and R. The base car is $52K and the premium trim model is $56,000. So the difference between the XF premium and the Supercharged is about $11,000, close to the difference between the Supercharged and the XFR. For about half of the additional cost of the XFR, you get 2/3rds the power increase and all of the other go fast parts. If you must have those extra 40 horses, I’m not going to tell you that it’s a waste of money, but if the XFR is worth $80K, then the XF Supercharged is a bargain.
Note: Jaguar of North America provided the XF Supercharged and insurance for a week plus a tank of premium gas. The nice folks at the office of Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit helped me find the Dodge brothers. The other photos were taken in the Palmer Woods neighborhood of Detroit.
It’s December and the world seems filled with Michigan grey. On a bootleg mp3 Dylan’s singing Paul Simon about brown leaves and a sky in a hazy shade of winter. Perfect day to be tramping around a cemetery looking for famous dead guys who made cars. Rich and famous Detroiters are at Woodlawn. Auto magnates like Edsel and his good friend Roy. Politicians, car guys. Car guys turned politicians. Entertainers. Lots of entertainers. Aretha’s daddy, Rev. C.L. Franklin, is there, as are her siblings and in the office they told me she’d be joining them. And of course, Motown. Eddie Kendricks, what a tragedy, he’s there. So are a couple of the Spinners. Rubberband Man would make you smile even in a cemetery (yeah, I know they weren’t on Motown, but they’re from NW Detroit). But as soon as I saw the name on their list of celebrities, I knew I had to pay my respects to James Jamerson, the man who put the funk in the Funk Brothers, the bass player in Motown’s house band. It was bitter cold, and it’s a flat marker in the ground. The wrong number was written down, the grave was hard to find. It was bitter cold and I started walking every grave in that section. Finally after a call or two to the nice lady in the office, cemetery office workers are the most helpful people you’ll find, I was able to pay my respects. There were some artificial flowers in the urn on James Jamerson’s marker. I saw no flowers at the Dodge brothers’ tomb. John and Horace drank like fishes, died young. James liked to get a good buzz on too, also left us too soon. The Dodges had storied mansions and people see the name Dodge every day. Hardly anybody knows the name Jamerson was but his music will make people dance forever. I turned on the heated seats and steering wheel of the Jaguar, dialed up the ACC a couple of degrees, put the fan on manual, and pulled out on to Woodward. RIP, James, Horace, John, Roy & Edsel.