Under Ford management, Jaguar's dubious financial performance had the brand swirling 'round the porcelain throne. The recent purchase by Indian company Tata has tossed it a lifeline, but the myriad reasons for Jag's decline are still very much primed to kick it back into the loo.
Perhaps the biggest reason for Jaguar's problems is the very thing it's most famous for: heritage and tradition. For 30 some odd years, Jags have seemingly been designed to cater to what people think a Jag should be: Specifically, some quaint motor car that, inside and out, looks exactly like a car that came before it. They were built for the people who think of England as a nation filled with cardigan-wearing grannies sipping tea in their Nottingham cottage while spinning yarns about the war.
The 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged tells those people to bugger off. This superb new luxury sedan represents modern Britain, and more importantly, signals a bold new direction for Jaguar. While the stately XJ sedan drives like a thoroughly modern car, it looks like the same ye olde sedan that debuted before the Thatcher administration. With the slinky new XF, the traditional values of distinct styling, powerful engines and a sumptuous cabin remain, but all of it comes together in a presentation that belongs to the 21st century.
The XF also represents a bold new take on the luxury sedan game, with a rich character that's immediately evident. The console-mounted start button pulsates red like there's a real feline heart beating deep inside. Pressing it fires the supercharged V8 to life and then, like the curtain rising on La Traviata, lifts the circular gear selector into the driver's palm and rotates the four air vents into place. This is automotive theater that makes Audis, BMWs and Mercedes feel like modernist furniture galleries.
Of course that doesn't necessarily mean the 2009 Jaguar XF is a better car than an A6, 5 Series or E-Class. Some would say it is; some would disagree. But the fact that the XF is even part of the discussion is a very good thing for Jaguar, an old cat on its ninth life. New Britain has arrived and not a moment too soon.
The 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged purrs, it never growls (that's the last cheesy cat analogy, promise) and it's so docile it can make you forget there's 420 horsepower under the hood. Timid, casual acceleration is possible from the supercharged 4.2-liter V8 without any throttle jumpiness, making for a very civilized motoring experience. But if there's a need to pass a freeway dawdler or charge up an on-ramp, dipping your toe into the throttle will unleash a wave of seamless power that'll push you into your seat and make passengers giggle with delight (or frown disapprovingly, depending on their disposition). A sprint to 60 mph from a stop occurs in a blistering 5.5 seconds.
Sending that power to the rear wheels is a six-speed automatic transmission that features three different shift modes. The regular mode maximizes efficiency, but there were times when it produced some slight herky-jerky motions under light acceleration. Ditto the Sport mode, but its quick gearchanges and ability to remain in a lower gear during aggressive driving was certainly appreciated. The driver can also control shifts with wheel-mounted paddles laid out in the proper fashion (left for downshift, right for upshift). Best of all, there's barely any lag evident between pulling a paddle and a gearchange.
Despite Jaguar's reputation for producing stately luxury cruisers, the XF is quite adept at taking corners. It features a very competent chassis, with loads of grip and surprisingly high limits. The steering is a little on the light side, though, and could use a tad more feel, which means that realizing the XF's impressive capabilities requires a bit of tiptoeing to achieve a good comfort level. Still, even if it isn't quite up to BMW's back road capabilities, this Jag is a heap more fun than most other competitors. And should you need to stop quickly, the XF's 108-foot braking distance from 60 mph is better than them all.
Folks love big wheels, but the XF's standard 20-inch rims have got to go. There was universal agreement among the staff that they were not only ugly but also ruined the ride. The suspension is clearly well tuned to achieve an excellent balance between ride and handling, which is evident over pristine pavement. But over gnarled asphalt and concrete, the ride becomes busy and the XF crashes over bumps. Luckily the big wheels don't seem to boost road noise in the otherwise coffin-quiet Jaguar.
Aside from its bloated dubs, the XF offers a decadently comfortable cabin. The front seats strike a Jag-appropriate balance among distance-friendly firmness, luxury-minded cushiness and sport-friendly support. Standard heating and cooling for those seats is a particularly welcome touch, but the optional heated steering wheel didn't work as advertised. (We thought it was a problem with our test car, but then another XF we drove responded the same.)
Driver seat adjustment is rather good, but the telescoping wheel doesn't come out far enough. With average-sized front occupants, the XF provides adequate rear seat space for this class, with a decent amount of headroom. Taller folks may graze their heads, though.
The 2009 Jaguar XF was clearly designed for form over function, and can be best summed up by the twisting gear selector knob: It's different and is clearly a gimmick, but it works well enough and will impress your friends.
Most audio, climate, navigation and Bluetooth phone functions are controlled via a central touchscreen. Menus are laid out similarly to Audi's MMI system and are certainly logical, but there were mixed feelings about their use. Some editors like the ability to touch an on-screen button rather than twisting and pushing a console-mounted knob (as with BMW or Audi). Others think the touchscreen takes your eyes off the road for too long and lament the small buttons. Everyone thinks the system's processing time is too long and agrees the swoopy graphics are unnecessary.
On the other hand, secondary controls for windows, mirrors, lights and adaptive cruise are all well-placed. Also, the Bowers & Wilkins surround-sound audio system draws enthusiastic raves, while the standard iPod integration is one of the best available.
The XF's trunk is quite roomy, easily fitting two golf bags and a large suitcase into its 17-cubic-foot hold. A rear-facing child safety seat can be squeezed into the backseat's central position, but taller drivers may find themselves scootching their seats up to accommodate junior. Front-facing child seats fit well.
Design/Fit and Finish
We actually drove two Jag XFs. We didn't care for the car's styling when it was red, but when painted the color of the Emerald City (Oz, not Seattle), the XF won more of us over by better displaying its sporty and stately sides. The red one looks too much like a Lexus GS, a sentiment shared by many regardless of the car's color.
The interior is a treat. The soft brown leather covering the low-sloping dash is simply gorgeous. (We actually think it feels better than the seat leather.) The real burl walnut trim accents are restrained and were smartly designed to appear as structural elements of the car rather than just some glued-on bits of tree. The pebbled alloy trim is also of high quality and looks excellent. The simulated metallic accents aren't quite as nice, but are clearly designed to better integrate with the various silver buttons. One design faux pas is the chrome trim mounted on the center console that reflects the sun into the driver's eyes. Keep something handy to cover it all up.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged should appeal to luxury car buyers who find German and Japanese entries too austere and soulless. Whether you're seeking a sporty driver's car, a sumptuous luxury cruiser or something in between, the XF should satisfy.
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