Import Sport Sedan Comparison: Third Place: Jaguar XF

Michael Freed
by Michael Freed

If there’s a counterpoint in this test to the GS350’s robotic rationality, it’s the Jaguar XF. If the Lexus makes perfect sense to the kind of people who see car buying as an equation to be solved, the XFR is the only choice for right-brained aesthetes. It screams sex appeal like nothing has since Sofia Loren could steal your virginity with once glance from the silver screen. And yet, as with most beautiful things, a hard look past the exterior reveals things you might wish you didn’t know. Love at first sight can be a blessing and a curse.

Take a moment to savor the XF’s looks – sleek, elegant, and beautifully tailored. The XF is the best-looking Jaguar since the old XKE, possibly because it’s the first time Jaguar has attempted an all-new look since the E Type came out. The XF also breaks a more recent Jaguar tradition – instead of all-aluminum construction, it utilizes a conventional steel structure and sheetmetal. This adds some mass, but it also undoubtedly keeps the price down. The XF starts at a reasonable $52,800, and unlike BMW, most of the goodies you expect in a car like this are standard.

The XF’s interior also breaks with Jaguar’s past. The usual wonderful-smelling leather and wood trim are there, gracefully echoing the original XJ, but the interior design has been updated to match the XF’s sharp new suit. The result is a sweeping, elegant dashboard swathed in wood and genuine aluminum that looks smashing, and works commendably well. At least until you hit the ignition switch. When that happens, a round aluminum knob about the size of a hockey puck pops out of the center console; this is the shifter, and you twirl it back and forth to change gears. When the XF is turned off, the knob disappears into the console. This arrangement is easy to use, but feels like an unnecessary gimmick, as do the ignition-keyed vents, and the sensor-driven latch for the glovebox, which you wave your finger over to operate.

Call me cynical, but is Jaguar far enough removed from its days as a synonym for unreliability to get away with gimmickry like this?

Other ergonomic details are fine, including the standard touch screen control system, which proves you don’t need a million buttons or MMIDrive-style silliness to use the navigation system or change a radio station.

The wide, comfortable driver’s throne offers decent ergonomics, simple and stylish instrumentation, and a fat, grippy steering wheel with paddle shifters. From the captain’s position, the illusion that love at first sight might last forever is well-perpetuated. As a passenger hauler however, the XF comes up short compared with some of its competitors. The coupe-like profile limits rear headroom, and while the rear seating is comfortable, space is at a premium.

The XF’s base engine is a carryover from Jaguar’s days as a Ford subsidiary, the 4.2 liter V-8 originally found in the old Lincoln LS and Jaguar S-type. While adequately powerful – 300 hp is underfoot – and blessed with a wonderful engine note, the 4.2 suffers from a very narrow power band and a too-low redline of 6000 rpm. This, combined with the XF’s stout curb weight, gives the car’s power delivery a most inelegant “on-off” feel – probably the only true sour note in the XF’s driving experience. For a few more bucks, Jaguar offers a new 5.0 liter V-8 with 385 horsepower, and for a lot more bucks, it also offers the far more potent XF Supercharged and XFR models, with 470 and 510 horsepower, respectively. But the base powerplant is certainly adequate, particularly at this price. And as long as you’re in love, adequate is, well, adequate.

In contrast, it’s hard to have any major reservations about the steering and chassis dynamics. Though definitely tuned for a silky ride, the XF’s steering and chassis setup make it feel eager and quick on its feet, especially compared to the numb joylessness of the Lexus. The current BMW and Audis are machines of pure sport, always seeking that edge which urges you to drive faster, and rewards you when you do. The Jaguar philosophy has more to do with poetry in motion. The XF allows you to drive almost -but not quite- as fast as the BMW, but that misses the point. There’s an elegance to the XF’s dynamics that the two pure athletes fail to capture. While the Germans were playing gym-rat at the Nurburgring, the XF was prowling the winding roads around Monaco: the XF doesn’t lack capability, it’s merely too refined to demand a flogging to the last tenth. In an age of speed cameras and expensive speeding tickets, this may be a surprisingly rational reason to choose the Jag.

Of course, there’s the price as well. The XF’s $52,800 base price includes equipment you’ll pay a lot extra for on any of its German competitors – leather seats, navigation, a keyless “comfort access” system, and many other features. The test vehicle stickered out at $53,900, with the only option being an upgraded sound system – very reasonable for this class. Should you worry about cost of ownership? Probably, but it won’t make much of a difference if you’re already head-over-heels in love.

Beautiful, athletic, easy to live with and graceful – not to mention a fairly cheap date – the XF is quite the seductress, as long as all-out performance capability isn’t your bag. Still, as Jaguar’s ads once claimed, “gorgeous gets away with it,” and this XF bats its eyelashes into third place.

Performance: 3/5

XF’s powertrain is amply powerful and sounds sweet, and paddle shifters are a great addition, but the V-8’s power band is narrow.

Ride: 5/5

The XF has a posh, elegant way of dealing with any road surface

Handling: 4/5

Definitely tuned for comfort, but Jaguar baked in quick reflexes and commendable amounts of feedback.

Exterior: 5/5

Sleek, sexy and elegant

Interior: 3/5

Beautifully styled and made, and user-friendly as well; needless gimmickry and poor rear-seat room cost points

Fit and Finish: 4/5

Looks and feels more handmade than any other car in this test, but exterior finish is not up to the German standard

Toys: 4/5

Great feature quotient for the money, but some of the really good stuff, like ventilated seats, require expensive package upgrades.

Michael Freed
Michael Freed

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  • LeaperNYC LeaperNYC on Oct 27, 2009

    @salhany, you asked about reliability in my Jag. Let me first clarify that anyone buying a European supersport sedan is in for a most un-Toyota-like ownership experience. My lowlights of the past year were: 1. Dealer called me weeks after purchase re rear diff recall. Apparently this recall applied to exactly 8 VIN #s on the East Coast - interesting they can track so finely. Anyway, dealer rep came over to pick up the car and returned it the next day: quite painless. 2. Blew a flat on Tobin Bridge (I-93 South) pothole in Boston last winter, causing 2 wheel rims to bend out of shape. Fully replaced under tires & rims supplemental warranty (glad I listened to the dealer on that $600 upsell.) Have been much more mindful of road surface since then. 3. Call from NYPD on a Sunday morning in May, saying they had arrested an unlicensed driver in my car. Turned out a building employee had gotten crazed, stolen my key, and "borrowed" the XF for a late night teenage illegal car meet in Harlem. He's facing multiple convictions. His choices that night from our building garage would have included an 80s Ferrari and M5, as well as LS460, A8, S550, G500, H2, S2000 etc. And for completeness, let me also list the highlights: 1. Won its category at a Jaguar association concours d'elegance. Picture a sunny lakeside garden studded with ~60 gorgeous feline forms all cast from metal over the decades. For those anxious about brand DNA, rest assured the XF fits in (and extends its lineage) perfectly. 2. Selected to compete in Bob Lutz' CTS-V challenge at Monticello racing ground this week. Apparently the 120 applicants also included many boys in M5s .. too many.. 3. Lastly a recurring highlight : any time I'm driving on a freshly laid blacktop on a sunny day, preferably with curves and Hudson views, playing my "British Invasion" iMix thru the peerless Bowers & Wilkins speakers. So @salhany, not exactly a "lot of minor problems" but an eventful year for sure. To summarize, Jag is competitive on reliability and A VERY CLEAR 5 ON DESIRABILITY. Happy driving everyone. (See my comments under the companion 535xi review)

  • Sandy Mathis Sandy Mathis on Mar 13, 2010

    Not only interior but also exterior are designed so carefully. I love this car.

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