Road Test: 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2014.
By Tony Swan of Car and Driver
By now you've heard more than enough about Jaguar parting with its stylistic past and adopting a new design idiom, personified by this handsome sedan, a car whose production appearance has changed little in its transition from the dramatic C-XF concept that was unveiled at the 2007 Detroit show. It's a car whose good looks are as contemporary as anything in its class.
In terms of sheetmetal, we think it's fair to call it a success despite criticisms suggesting it's a me-too interpretation of the Mercedes CLS "four-door coupe" look. But when we say "in its class," we're talking about some formidable competition, particularly in the middle range of luxury sports sedans — cars with German accents and distinguished performance pedigrees.
So here's the question: How does this all-new Jag measure up as a car? To be more specific, how does it measure up as a driver-gratification car? Is this a credible contender for restoring Jaguar's faded credibility in a hot segment? Or is it just a pretty new wrapper around yesterday's news?
Let's start with the foundations. How new is all-new? Answer: It's newer than some but not an absolutely clean CAD/CAM design file. The XF replaces the S-type, a car that drew heavily on '60s design themes, and we were a little suspicious when the wheelbase of the new car — 114.5 inches — turned out to be exactly the same as that of the old one.
But Jaguar assures us this is almost the only similarity between S and XF, dimensionally or architecturally, and that there is little in the way of recycled S-type structural elements in the underpinnings. The XF is made of sterner stuff, based on XK coupe componentry, though there's a lot less aluminum and a lot more high-strength steel. Jaguar has been one of the very few carmakers to actually reduce the weight of recent new models, but this is not one of them — it's 4215 pounds versus 4066 pounds for the most recent S-type R we tested ["Deep-Pocket Rockets," May 2003].
Increased mass notwithstanding, Jaguar claims a 25-percent increase in torsional rigidity versus the S-type and further, that the XF is best in class in this regard. Considering some of the players included, that's a bold assertion. But after a couple weeks of terrorizing Michigan's often-lumpy rural back roads, we find no reason to disagree. The new unibody is as flex-free as the blades on a Hyster forklift.
At 195.3 inches, the XF is 2.2 inches longer than the S-type, and it is 2.3 inches wider, at 73.9. It's 1.5 inches taller, too, though the muscular shape, added width, wider track (61.4 inches front, 61.8 inches rear), and fender-filling 20-inch wheels conspire to suggest otherwise. With the exception of height, the XF's body dimensions exceed those of the Audi A6, BMW 5-series, and Mercedes E-class cars.
Those 20-inch wheels wear some fairly serious overshoes — Pirelli P Zeros, 255/35 front, 285/30 rear. With rubber like this, we weren't surprised at the XF's 0.87-g skidpad performance, which rates as better than average for this class. But we were pleasantly surprised by the ride quality that came with it. These are very low-profile tires, and while low profile is the right prescription for decisive handling — less sidewall flex, better response — there can be undesirable side effects, such as molars and bicuspids clattering over every expansion joint. But that's not the case here. Jaguar's suspension engineers have conjured up a blend of crisp response and supple compliance that makes the XF a treat to drive on pretty much any surface. BMW, the perennial ride-and-handling pacesetter, may do this better. And then again, maybe not.
Jaguar can make a strong case for all-newness in connection with the XF's body and chassis, but the powertrains are familiar — a 4.2-liter V-8 in naturally aspirated and supercharged editions. There is also a 3.0-liter V-6 and a 2.7-liter turbo-diesel six, not yet offered in the U.S., and all the engines are mated to Jaguar's terrific new ZF six-speed automatic. The latter offers three operating modes, and its responses in the sportiest setting — sequential manual — are as prompt as anyone could wish.
Thus propelled, the XF scurries to 60 mph in five seconds flat and lopes through the quarter-mile in 13.5 seconds at 107 mph. The best we've achieved with an S-type R is 5.4 to 60 and 13.8 at 103. The XF times would have been near the top of the charts in our November 2006 comparo ["Faster Horses"] involving, among others, a BMW 550i and a Mercedes E550. But those cars are one rung down from top performers such as the BMW M5 or Mercedes E63 AMG, though the supercharged XF could keep pace with the Audi S6.
On the other hand, the hot-rod member of Jaguar's new XF family is considerably less expensive than the German über-sedans — more than $20,000 less than the ticket for an E63, base price to base price ($88,225 versus $62,975). The last E63 we tested ["Bullet Sedans Reloaded," February 2007] was the sprint champ of that group, hitting 60 mph in just 4.2 seconds. That's brisk, but when you're paying almost $3156 for each 10th of a second compared with a car doing the dash in 5.0, it loses some of its appeal.
More important, in terms of everyday driving realities, the supercharged XF furnishes a level of dynamic reward that some of its rivals may equal, but none really surpass. In urban traffic, it's sedate, comfortable, and quiet — Jaguar has essentially eliminated the Eaton supercharger's whine, which was a little too audible in the S-type R. There's more than enough punch for traffic sorting, plus this cat has excellent audio and, as noted, ride quality that's wonderfully benign for a sedan with such a playful spirit.
But the essential feline really emerges when the road starts to snake and the stoplights disappear. The Jag's power rack-and-pinion steering is light but tactile, and quick, at 2.7 turns lock-to-lock. There's modest body roll in hard cornering, a small trade for exemplary ride quality, but even so, the XF turns in like a cheetah adjusting its line to a fleeing gazelle, and responses in quick zigs and zags are equally eager. Braking, a weak point on the S-type R, is immediate, strong, and repeatable. Stand on the pedal as often as you like — there's no fade, no increase in pedal travel, no stretch in stopping distances.
Delightful is not too strong a word to use in connection with this car's dynamics.
The inner XF drew mildly mixed reviews from the many C/D staffers who put the XF through its paces. For example, there were one or two who found the new interior décor a little cold compared with Jaguars of yesteryear, although it's only fair to observe that yesteryear is precisely what Jaguar is trying to escape, and big slabs of walnut burl belong to another era.
We heard varying observations about rear-seat headroom. Some thought there wasn't quite enough of it, although one of the tall guys, six-foot-four divided more or less equally above and below the beltline, had no problem with it at all. However, rear-seat leg and knee room drew more rants than raves. Jaguar has scooped knee wells into the front seatbacks, but even so, it's a snug fit back there for anyone with more than a 32-inch inseam, and of course, like most mid-size sedans rated for five passengers, the middle rear seat is only for people you don't like.
The front seats, for their part, are long-haul comfortable and broadly adjustable but a little deficient in lateral support when the big cat is making quick moves. BMW still sets the standard in this department.
And what about this pulsing, red start button when the driver climbs in? And the rotary gearshift selector rising out of the center console? And the dashboard vents revealing themselves when the driver lights the fires? And the occasionally labyrinthine logic of the touch-screen secondary controls? Some found all of this entertaining. Others dismissed it as a little too precious.
We plan to organize a séance to consult Jaguar's founder, the late Sir William Lyons, on that last issue. But in the meantime, our few reservations notwithstanding, we think Jaguar has put one in the 10 ring with the XF. The last couple of Jaguar renewals — XK and XJ — possessed most of the dynamic virtues of this new car but surrounded it with replicar sheetmetal. Whereupon sales diminished to a trickle. The XF shows that the product planners got the message. Finally.