I’d say that writing car reviews can be difficult at times but then it’s not really seemly to complain when nice folks drop off free cars to drive. Still, the gig does have its challenges. The last time that I reviewed the Jaguar XF Supercharged, a day after the fleet management company picked it up, their competitor, which works for Kia, dropped off a nicely equipped Sportage. At the time I joked with Ed Niedermeyer about reviewing both cars simultaneously. After all, with the democratization of luxury the cars were similarly equipped, sort of. Ed and I decided that silly or not a comparo wouldn’t be fair to either manufacturer. Still, it’s hard not to ruminate about comparisons when you’re working on a review.
The Sportage comparo was a joke but not long before I was loaned a 2012 Jaguar XF Supercharged, I reviewed the 2012 Chrysler 300 Luxury Series and in this case it was very hard not to compare the XF to the 300. Both cars are fairly large rear wheel drive four door sedans with just about every convenience and luxury option checked off down to the power sunscreen for the back window. As a matter of fact, the Chrysler had a couple of toys that aren’t available on the XF. Of course the Jaguar is significantly more expensive. As equipped with the 470 HP supercharged version of Jaguar’s corporate V8, the XF is $69,845, just about $25,000 more than the Chrysler. I gave the Chrysler a positive review and I was very impressed with it, so I couldn’t help but keep asking myself if the Jaguar was worth $25,000 more than the Chrysler. I recently reviewed a Jaguar XJ, which stickered out at about $80K so I was also mentally comparing the XF Supercharged to the larger, but less powerful, Jaguar.
My conclusion after a week with the XF Supercharged was that I really couldn’t say if the Chrysler was a better bargain or if the XJ was worth spending an extra ten (without the supercharger) or twenty thousand dollars (with the blown motor). I can say that if you’re looking for a fast, comfortable and luxurious 5 passenger car, you could do worse than the XF Supercharged. The ultimate difference that I perceived between the XF Supercharged on one hand and both the Chrysler 300 Luxury Series and the Jaguar XJ Portfolio on the other is summed up in that word “Supercharged”. The Chrysler had the 292 HP Pentastar V6 and the XJ Portfolio had the normally aspirated 385 HP version of the Jaguar V8, and it’s that 470 HP compressed charge engine that’s the XF Supercharged’s raison d’etre.
The Chrysler wasn’t slow. I said that it had adequate power for all situations you’d find on a public road. The XJ Portfolio was also quick. Though less powerful than the blown version in the XF Supercharged, the NA V8 in the XJ was hauling around a bit less weight than the XF since the larger Jaguar is made of aluminum and actually is a bit lighter than the steel XF. Pardon the pun but as quick as the Chrysler and bigger Jag are, the supercharged XF blows them away. With almost 100 more HP than the XJ and almost 200 HP more than the Chrysler, the XF Supercharged effortlessly surpasses “adequate”. Simply put, if you need power to do something in traffic, you’ll have it with this car. Anything requiring more power would probably be something imprudent and unsafe to do with other drivers on the road. You decide to do it, you put the right pedal down, and the car goes.
Getting back to the hypothetical comparison reviews, I had praised how quiet the Chrysler was and how smooth the ride was. In fact the Jaguar was noisier. Some of that noise was deliberate – any time you step on the gas you can hear the exhaust burbling in the way that only a V8 can do. As with the XJ, some underhood engine noise is also ported to the cabin. Though not as hardcore as the 510 HP XF-R, the XF Supercharged has most of the XF-R’s chassis upgrades, and it was undoubtedly tuned for a “sportier” ride than the Chrysler. That doesn’t explain, however, the amount of wind noise around the XF’s front side windows. A couple of times there was so much wind noise I had to check to make sure that the windows and moonroof were fully closed. With the windows down it also seemed to me that there was an unusual amount of wind buffeting the interior. The ride was sports sedan firm, stiffer than the Chrysler but also a bit more controlled, and a bit less harsh over irregular pavement.
That wind noise was a bit out of place considering how luxurious the XF’s interior is. Though a good chunk of the 25K difference in price between the Chrysler and the Jaguar is that exquisitely smooth and powerful supercharged engine, and though the Chrysler indeed is well featured and nicely appointed, if I had to pick a word to describe the difference besides the engines, I’d say refinement. That extra money definitely buys you refinement. The refinement extends to things like the trick articulated trunk hinges and struts that take up no cargo space at all, compared to the Chrysler’s goose necks that lose a lot of trunk space. Yes the Chrysler’s interior is slathered with leather, but the leather in the Jaguar is softer, even that appliqued to the dashboard and other panels. I regularly work with leather in my day job, machine embroidery, and all split grain leather is not created equal. Jaguar uses superior skins. Concerning embroidery, as is au courant with automotive interiors these days, there is contrasting detail stitching on the dashboard leather, which is made up of about a half dozen separate pieces. I’d like to believe it’s old world craftsmanship but it’s more likely a computer controlled sewing machine, but however they do it, the number of stitches and their locations are so precise and uniform that wherever two pieces of leather are seamed together the detail stitching precisely bridges the seam with a single stitch.
Speaking of “split grain” leather – in a recent review, Alex Dykes alluded to Honda’s hyping of their use of split grain leather in a steering wheel cover. That’s a case of hyping something that isn’t particularly special. Any real grained leather you see in a car is split grain. Full grain leather is the entire skin (minus the fur and epidermis), it’s thick and stiff and used for things like boots and saddles. One or more layers of suede are shaved off the back of the full grain skin to make it thinner and soft enough to use for upholstery and apparel, leaving what is called split grain leather. If it has suede on one side and real grain on the other (some “leather” is really suede splits with artificial grain glued on), it’s “split grain leather”. The next time a car salesman or PR flack tells you that their product comes with split grain leather, ask them, “as opposed to what other kind of leather?”
So the Jag’s leather was softer. It also had a much stronger smell. Maybe it was just psychological but I thought that the dark brown leather even had a few flavor notes from cigar tobacco. The nannies won’t let us have cigarette lighters and ashtrays in our cars anymore, but a small humidor would not seem out of place in the XF. It’s a modern luxury car, but it’s still a proper British sedan with plenty of real wood to go with the cowhide.
To make the comparison unavoidable the Jaguar’s interior, like the Chrysler’s, was a mix of dark brown and beige. Though the dashboard, upper door surfaces and carpeting were a chocolate brown, the upholstery and Alcantera headliner and pillars were in a light beige, giving the cabin an airy feel. I thought that the light upholstery with dark accent inserts looked great. If you can’t adjust the gazillion-way power front seats with memory, you’re in the 99th percentile. With heated, cooled and ventilated seats your bum will be comfortable year round. My friend Al, who is close to 6 feet tall and weighs a bit more than the 280 lbs it says on his drivers license offered the unsolicited opinion that the back seat was even more comfortable than the front seats, but then there aren’t side bolsters in back.
I’m happy to report that for the first time I don’t have to complain about Jaguar’s clunky infotainment touchscreen. The screen was responsive and easy to use. Voice controls worked but I found them a bit infuriating in how the menus were nested and how slow it was. I also am not fond of navigation systems that don’t let you enter an intersection. I do like how Jaguar has the auxiliary controls configured on the leather wrapped steering wheel. For some functions they use thumbwheels, which strike me as easier to use than up/down buttons. The 600W sound system sounded fine regardless of the source. I did notice a glitch with the car’s Bluetooth. While most of the time the car would automatically recognize and pair with my Android based phone, there were times when they wouldn’t hookup, even if I tried to connect from both devices. In those cases, power cycling my phone would effect a pairing. Once paired, the audio system easily accessed music on my phone. Interestingly, connecting the phone to the car’s USB port, as the owner’s manual suggests for iPods and other portable music players, didn’t work with my phone. When scrolling through music sources from the steering wheel you’re still going to have to use the touch screen to select between user supplied media under the My Music control, which is a bit inconvenient if you have both your phone/iPod and a CD connected.
Geez, I’m reviewing a 470 horsepower sports sedan and talking about music and leather??? You want to know how it drives. In short, the way you’d hope a Jaguar would drive. Yes, the steering could have a bit more feel at lower speeds and the turn in could be sharper around town (though out on the highway it was razor sharp), but the way the car goes from the apex to the exit of a turn induces joy. Set up the car and power through the turn. The XF Supercharged has a trick rear end that uses an electric motor to control torque distribution and even with stability control on and Dynamic mode off, it will let you break the rear wheels loose just a tad before stepping in and keeping you from hitting a tree ass end first. I did notice that the rear end sometimes made a small noise when the car was in gear with the brake on while sitting on a slope but for the most part it does its job without any fuss. If I compared it to a discreet English butler, would that be cliched in a Jaguar review? Sticking with the Brit domestic servant theme, the safety nannies are about as unobtrusive as I’ve experienced.
Once you get an idea of how the car handles, its purpose becomes obvious. This is not a boy-racer car, it’s a car for grownups who want to get someplace in a hurry. It’s meant to move four or five adults in comfort and speed. It’s also not an economy car. Over about 350 miles of what I’d characterize as spirited urban and suburban driving (cf. 470 HP) my avg fuel economy ranged between 14 and 16 mpg, though that lower figure involved some idling. Of course you aren’t reading this review because you’re interested in how miserly the XF Supercharged uses petrol.
I noticed that Jaguar did something clever with the brakes in terms of aesthetics. Front and back rotors appear to be close to the same outside diameter, so the 20″ rims look to be about equally filled. Significantly smaller rotors in the back sometimes look a little bit funny with all that empty space. The front wheel hubs on this car, though, have a narrower diameter, allowing a greater swept area for the front’s six piston calipers to the rear’s four pot grippers. The result is superb braking, easily modulated at all speeds, perhaps the best brakes I’ve experienced. That comes at the cost of budgeting for a weekly car wash – as with other Jaguars that I’ve tested the brakes shed copious amounts of pad dust.
The XF’s styling was updated for 2012, in part to harmonize it with the newer XJ. The Supercharged edition shares most body panels with the normally aspirated XF, though there are non-functional hood vents that read Supercharged. I said that this is a car for adults. If you want more boy-racer styling, you’ll have to upgrade to the XFR, or the almost cartoonish XFR-S, on sale later this year, that fastest production Jaguar ever made. In general I’m a fan of Jaguar stylist Ian Collum but I don’t particularly like what his team has done with the highest performance Jaguars. The R and R-S models seem fussy compared to their cleaner forebears.
I do have a styling complain about the engine compartment. While shooting the photos to accompany this review, I noticed that the molded plastic engine cover could be removed rather easily to expose the housing of the supercharger, which like in the GM LS9, is nestled in the V between the cylinder banks. Though the aluminum supercharger housing bears the marks of some rough grinding, it’s basic shape is rather pleasing to the eye. It’s possible that there were some cost savings involved, but the supercharged engine is so much a part of the XF Supercharged’s character that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to show it off. I suppose that cosmetic finish machining can be expensive, but then the cost of machining a multiple cavity injection mold for a piece as large as the polymer engine cover is not insignificant either. I’m not saying they should go to a hood with a window, like on the Corvette ZR1, but I think most Jaguar owners would like to see what their money was buying instead of a piece of plastic.
In general, though, I think the XF looks great. People admire it, and while the previous XF looked a bit generic, the new one is readily recognized (and approvingly so) as a Jaguar.
So, ultimately do I think that the XF Supercharged is worth $25,000 more than the Chrysler I recently reviewed? For the cost of a nicely equipped compact car or even an average D segment midsizer, you get a bit more refinement, a better handling car (though the 300 was perfectly competent in that regard, it was tuned for comfort, not maximum grip), and that wonderful, mailed fist in a velvet glove of an engine. I was impressed with the Chrysler’s 292 HP Pentastar, but the XF Supercharged’s 470 HP really separates the two cars. It should be noted that the XF Supercharged is the cheapest XF with a V8. With new CAFE standards on the horizon, Jaguar has been introducing downsized engines. The engine in the $46,975 base XF is a 240 HP I4 though I don’t see them selling very many, because for just $3K more, you can get the 340 HP V6 which still gets 28 mpg on the highway, compared to four cylinder’s 30. One thing is for sure, you have an abundance of powerplant options and if almost twice as much power as the base model isn’t enough, you can upgrade to 510 HP in the XFR and even 550 with the XFR-S.
Four cylinder Jaguars. God it sounds wrong to even hear that said. Speaking of comparos, it would indeed be interesting to drive the XF Supercharged back to back with the four cylinder model since the blown model is just 10 HP shy of having twice the power.
So I think that yes, the XF Supercharged is worth the difference in price over the Chrysler (though I’d be perfectly happy with the big Mopar as a daily driver). Going in the other direction, comparing the XF-Supercharged to the more expensive normally aspirated XJ I recently reviewed, though I liked the XJ and think that in general it’s a bit better balanced (the XJ is all aluminum, the XF is ferrous so the larger car is actually lighter), the XJ Portfolio that I tested was about $13,000 more than the XF Supercharged, and while you get a larger and nicer car for that 13K, you also have to give up that marvelous supercharger. Then the question becomes, is the $89,600 XJ Supercharged worth 20K more than the XF Supercharged?
That’s not a real world question that I will ever likely have to answer since I can’t afford either one. However, Jaguar is returning to the Detroit auto show this year, after an absence, so there’s a good chance that at the NAIAS media preview I’ll run into the nice lady who manages Jaguar’s press fleet. If there’s a XJ Supercharged available for review, I’ll let you know.
Disclaimer: Jaguar of North America provided the car for a week, insurance and a tank of 91 octane. Thanks to the Inn at St. John’s for the photography location.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks – RJS