The Jaguar XF is a gorgeous and engaging alternative to luxury cars such as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class, and Lexus GS. After our test drives, we'd say the 2011 Jaguar XF is one of the most appealing choices in this wonderful luxury/sports sedan category, and gets to the top of the class with charm, distinctively stunning good looks and dynamic driving capability. The XF models offer the full Jaguar experience of luxury, elegance, performance, ride and handling.
The Jaguar XF delivers everything you'd expect in a contemporary luxury sedan, and then some, in styling, interior design, features, technology, driving behavior and overall impeccable luxury. The hardware underneath is anything but ordinary, much of it shared with the Jaguar XK. Factor in a well-engineered body structure, and the Jaguar XF is exactly what it should be: smooth, quiet and responsive. This mid-size, rear-wheel-drive sedan feels lighter and more agile than some of the other cars in this class, and it bears up like a top-rank sports sedan when driven aggressively.
The XF marked a fresh design direction for Jaguar when it was launched as a 2008 model while including themes that have identified the brand for decades. The swooping roofline and side glass are intended to create the impression of a sleek two-door coupe more than a four-door sedan, which is what it is, and to a considerable extent it works.
The same level of appeal is found inside; it's an interior we really like, both for its look and its overall function. Slide into the driver's seat and an interactive greeting that Jaguar calls the handshake, with the aluminum shift knob rising out of the console, welcomes the driver with the reminder that this will be an active process. The wood, wool and leather create the expected Jaguar feel and scent of an exclusive British club room, but the design itself is light, modern and airy. There's a minimalist feel to it, but it's also charming and makes familiarization easy.
The swoopy, coupe-like styling has its drawbacks, and the biggest should be obvious: That flowing roofline and raked rear glass mean rear headroom is tight, and the XF feels more confining than, say, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class or the Audi A6. On the upside, the XF trunk is larger than those of the competitors, and a folding rear seat offers expanded capacity. The importance of the loss of rear-seat headroom or the enhanced trunk capacity will depend upon the buyer's priorities.
For 2011, the Jaguar XF now comes standard with the wonderful 5.0-liter engine introduced for 2010. The XF is one of the best equipped base models in this class. The 2011 Jaguar XF line includes four models: base, Premium, Supercharged, and XFR.
The Jaguar Gen III 5.0-liter V8, normally aspirated and rated at 385 horsepower, uses a spray-guided direct fuel-injection system, which enhances efficiency and allows higher compression ratios. The engines also have variable camshaft timing on all four camshafts and reduced friction. The normally aspirated version has a variable-geometry intake manifold to enhance the torque range. The supercharged versions use a high-efficiency twin-vortex supercharger. The compact Gen III engines are built with a new lightweight aluminum block design with cast-in iron cylinder liners and cross-bolted main-bearing caps to reduce noise, vibration and harshness, and the cylinder heads are made from a recycled aluminum alloy. The result of all this powertrain improvement is a collection of engines that are not only quite powerful, but also deliver very commendable fuel economy for their levels of performance. All engines are matched with a very smooth, electronically controlled 6-speed automatic transmission.
Also new for 2011 is standard Jaguar Platinum Coverage, which includes complimentary scheduled maintenance for 5 years or 50,000 miles, and no-cost replacement of basic wear and tear items including brake pads and discs, oil and brake fluid changes, wiper blade inserts, and 24/7 roadside assistance.
Additional refinements for 2011 include redesigned sideview mirrors reducing wind noise; standard Burl Walnut trim on the base model; heated windshield available on all models; 6CD changer with premium audio system; 19-inch Caravela wheels (from the XK) available on the Premium; new optional 19-inch wheels on the base model; pushbutton opening for the glovebox replacing the stubborn sensor; black grille for the XFR; and new colors for some models.
Jaguar XF ($52,500); XF Premium ($56,500); XF Premium with Portfolio Package ($60,500); XF Supercharged ($67,600); XFR ($79,600)
From its basic shape to its aerodynamic characteristics to its underlying structure, the Jaguar XF is a thoroughly modern automobile. It's also a Jaguar and, while its styling is intended to create a template for Jaguars to come, the XF retains certain traits that the world associates with the brand.
This essential Jaguar character is defined by the XF's face, centered on a prominent grille that launches nearly all of the lines flowing rearward along the car. The grille itself is quintessentially British woven mesh, trimmed with chrome and reminiscent of Jaguar's racing heritage. Wing-shaped headlight clusters wrap around the XF's corners onto its fenders.
In profile, the XF is defined by a single, uninterrupted line that flows from the front bumper to the rear edge of the trunk lid. The beltline, that character-building crease below the side windows, rises up into the roof while the roof drops down toward the beltline. The effect is a forward-biased wedge shape that creates an impression of speed, even when the XF is sitting still. The rear deck is higher than that on any Jaguar sedan before, but this less-formal look pays dividends in excellent aerodynamics and an expansive trunk.
The overall shape of the XF does not shout Jaguar, but the familiar design cues are everywhere. Within each new-age headlight cluster sit two round, sealed beams that maintain the brand's quad-lamp signature, complete with the traditional fluting above the lights. The chrome trim above the side windows is a reminder of the historic Mk II sedan, while the prominent hood bulge recalls the E-type, which is arguably the most famous Jaguar of all. We're not enamored with all the jewelry, however. The bright metal strip on the trunk lid looks ordinary, and the leaping Jaguar in back is overkill.
The basic shape does more than create a high-impact presence. Aerodynamically, the XF is the most efficient Jaguar sedan ever, with an impressive 0.29 drag coefficient and a front-to-rear lift balance of zero. That means that neither end of the car is more inclined than the other to lift in the airflow as speeds increase. The excellent aerodynamics help keep the XF stable at high speeds, reduce wind noise inside and reduce fuel consumption at a given speed, compared to a car with more drag.
The XF is slightly larger in just about every exterior dimension than the Audi A6, which was previously the largest car in this class. Its underlying structural design is driven by safety considerations, and particularly by the goal of protecting against side impacts and the tendency of tall, sport-utility-type vehicles to slide upward in collisions with sedans. Jaguar has applied a host of high-tech metals, including high-carbon steels, dual-phase steel, hot-formed boron and bake-hardened steels, to create a vertical safety ring around the XF's occupant cell. Jaguar claims the XF will deliver the best crash protection in the class with a body/frame package that is lighter than that of its competitors.
There's a second benefit to this careful structural engineering. While the XF's body is larger, Jaguar also claims that it is the most torsionally rigid car in the class, meaning that it flexes less from end to end under pressure. This overall stiffness and rigidity is one of the factors that separate luxury sedans from less expensive, higher-volume models. It's the foundation for minimizing noise and vibration inside an automobile, and the well from which dynamic capabilities such as handling, ride quality and overall responsiveness flow.
Inside, the Jaguar XF has everything we want in a sporting luxury sedan, without a lot of things we don't want. We want style, comfort, features, useful technology and great ambience. We don't want the distraction or annoyance that some contemporary luxury sedans demand in return for what we do want.
Is the XF cabin high-tech? We'd say so. The overhead lights, for example, work simply with a touch. Not a switch or even a click of the light lens itself, but just a soft touch. The same with the glovebox latch, which isn't really a latch at all. It's a spot on the wood trim where you lay a finger. In general, the XF's features and controls empower the driver without overpowering. They're there when you need them and not a distraction when you don't.
Like its exterior, the XF's interior will seem familiar to previous Jaguar owners, only different. The great leather and a choice of lacquered wood are familiar. The difference is primarily the design or layout. It's less conventional than previous Jaguar sedans, and perhaps less formal.
The materials are bit different, too. There's a lot more aluminum trim to go with the wood (though there is still a lot of wood). And while Jaguar has always delivered the requisite leather, wood and wool carpet, it has sometimes hidden behind these big-impact materials without paying much attention to lesser stuff. In the XF, even the plastic pieces inside have a rich, latex-like feel. Overall, the package is first rate. It's as inviting in design and ambience as any car in this class, and more so than many.
All seats are leather, with perforated inserts between the bolsters. The base package gets what Jaguar calls bond-grain, and it's thick and sturdy. The Premium models get soft-grain leather. It's ultra-soft to the touch, but still sturdy and substantial, and in these models it's applied on the dashboard and door panels as well, with genuine double stitching. The front seats are heavily sculpted, and they support and cushion as well as the standard seats in any car in this class, with adjustment for just about everything. Yet these seats are less massive than those in some competitors, perhaps thinner, so they seem to fill less space inside the car.
When the driver slides into the XF with the proximity key in purse or pocket, the start button glows, ready to be pushed. The steering wheel is identical to that in the XK sport coupe: Grippy, with heavy spokes and the growling mug of a jaguar in the center. The gear selector is a big, aluminum dial knob that rises from the center console when the XF fires up. It's cooler than the drive-by-wire shifters other luxury manufactures have developed, and as functional as any. Jaguar claims this electronic gear selector will keep working even if it's drenched with a half-gallon of coffee.
The primary gauges are slightly smaller than those in some luxury sedans, but the script is large and easy to read. They're clustered under a compact hood binnacle in the now-familiar luxo-car format: Speedometer on the right, tach left, flanking an LCD message center with a bar-graph gas gauge, gear indicator, time, odometer and other trip information. The backlighting is ultra-crisp phosphorus blue, and perhaps the best going.
The XF's soft blue LED ambient lighting looks nice at night, too.
Speaking of the dashboard, it's not the familiar rounded-end flat panel we've come to expect in Jaguar sedans. It's lower and, thanks partly to the long rake of the windshield, much deeper. The design is dominated by a strip of scored aluminum, perhaps six inches high, that runs the full width and around onto the door panels. The leather top of the dash rises slightly from this aluminum plate toward the base of the windshield, stretching a good two feet at the center of the car. Below the aluminum is a thinner strip of wood, with big planks of wood trim on the doors and the top of the center console. The XF offers a choice of satin-finish American Walnut, glossy, traditional Burl Walnut, or lighter Rich Oak.
Switches and general ergonomic function are first-rate; the best we've experienced in a Jaguar, and near the top among luxury imports. Pressure-resistant thumbwheels on the steering-wheel spokes adjust audio or cruise-control functions, and they feel right. The headlight switch is on the turn-signal stalk and the wipers are on the right stalk, and both are easy to use, first and every time. Buttons for the sunroof and rear sunshade are overhead.
In general, the XF has what we look for and like. The mirror adjustor and window switches are clustered on the armrest, and easy to operate with the forearm laid flat. The elbows rest level on the door and center armrests when the hands are placed at 10 and 2 o'clock on the steering wheel, for comfortable, relaxed cruising. Most frequently adjusted controls are replicated in a rational, attractive array of buttons just below the touch-screen, in the short center stack. Two rectangular clusters control audio and climate adjustments, with substantial radial knobs for volume and fan speed.
We wish, however, the heated seats had their own buttons, like every car we can think of, instead of having to locate them on the touch-screen by moving through menus. And we found radio tuning on the touch screen distracting to our driving; there are volume and channel controls on the steering wheel, but if you're trying to move between satellite radio stations, you need the screen. It takes your eyes and your brain doing problem-solving to locate the thing you have to push, and then your finger must be steady, not always easy while you're driving 65 mph in freeway traffic, sometimes bumpy, sometimes turny.
We like the audio systems. The base stereo features eight speakers and 320 watts of output. The 440-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system might be the best we've heard in an original-equipment automotive application. It was developed with B&W, the British boutique manufacturer that makes speakers and monitors for recording studios. The highs are incredibly crisp and the lows are pervasive, with virtually no muddling or distortion at either extreme, even at mega-wattage.
Cubby storage options are decent but not as complete as some mainstream sedans and family vehicles.
The center console is wide, almost as we'd expect in a big sports car. Touch-release covers reveal three easy-to-reach cupholders, the largest of which will safely hold a super-size drink cup. With the round inserts removed, there's plenty or room in these bins for phones, remotes and wallets. The main bin in the center console isn't large enough to hide a standard-size laptop, but there's plenty of room for cameras or a lot of CDs. There's also an easy-access power point and iPod/auxiliary jack, with a secure place to leave the plugged-in MP3 player while driving. The glovebox has about twice as much space as that occupied by the owner's manual and documentation. The glovebox in some luxury sedans won't even fit the owner's manual, while others are filled by it. Bins at the bottoms of the doors aren't very deep, but they're wide enough to lay a phone flat and they are lined with a velvety material that keeps glasses and other delicate items from sliding or scratching.
If the XF's accommodations fall short of the competition, it's behind the front seats. The rear seat itself is comfortable, bolstered some for the outside passengers, with the same fine materials as the front part of cabin. Yet the rear space seems more confining than the roomiest cars in this class, regardless of what the published measurements suggest, and it's a bit short on amenities.
A big part of the problem is the XF's diving roofline and long rear window. The rear seat is placed fairly far forward toward the center of the car, so legroom is tight, particularly with anything but short occupants in front. And headroom still comes up short. A passenger taller than 5 feet, 7 inches will sit in back with hair brushing the headliner. Tall passengers might have to contort their necks in some fashion. Cupholders are provided in the fold-down rear armrest; a pair of vents on the back of the front console offer ventilation, and there's a storage bin big enough for some change or a pack of cigarettes and not much else. The only other storage space for rear passengers is a small bin at the bottom of each door.
The trunk, on the other hand, is easily the largest in this class. With 17.7 cubic feet of space, it's essentially as big as the trunk in some full-size luxury sedans such as the BMW 7 Series. Loading large items could take some work, however, and again the XF's styling is partly to blame. The rear deck or trunk lid is fairly short, and a lot of the cargo space stretches forward under the rear window, so the trunk opening is fairly small. The lift-over height seems higher than average, as well.
To add cargo capacity, the XF is equipped with a split, folding rear seat, with clever releases that will lower the seatbacks from the trunk, without going inside the car. This expands cargo space another 14.8 cubic feet, for an impressive total of 32.5 cubic feet. Perhaps as significantly, the folding seat allows alternate access to the cargo area, by leaning in through the rear side doors.
The exterior design plays a role in our biggest single gripe inside the XF: Outward visibility. We wouldn't call it bad, but in any direction other than forward, the view out is more restricted than we'd expect in a sedan. The rear glass is expansive, but it's raked at a long, flat, coupe-like angle, so the view through the rearview mirror is short. The side mirrors aren't small, but they seem to be shaped more for style or noise reduction than optimized visibility. Bottom line: It takes a while to get comfortable with the mirrors, or to get them set in a fashion that minimizes over-the-shoulder glances in traffic.
Rear park assist solves that problem, with audible beeps and a graphic display on the touch screen. A reverse-view camera is optional, and we strongly recommend it because it could help the driver spot a child or adult behind the car and thereby avoid a tragic accident when backing up, especially given the relatively high rear deck and the narrow view through the rear window.
The Jaguar XF measures well against the best cars in its class in just about every respect. In overall, balanced performance, it surpasses many other cars, in this category populated by the best brands in the world.
From the driver's seat, the XF delivers everything we like about medium-sized sport-luxury sedans. The Supercharged model in particular leans toward the sporty end of the spectrum, with the BMW 5 Series and sport-tuned versions of the Audi A6, rather than the softer, cushier end. The XF is smooth, fast, and responsive, but also quiet and comfortable. Its six-speed automatic transmission might be the best in any luxury car anywhere, and contributes considerably to the enjoyable driving experience. Perhaps best of all, the XF has lots of those subtle little characteristics that some reviewers might call soul.
All XFs have proximity keys, so the doors can unlock themselves. When the driver sits down the start button on the center console pulses red. Press it and, as the V8 starts up, cutouts in the aluminum dash panel rotate to expose four vents. At the same time, a milled aluminum shift dial rises out of the console, ready to rotate three clicks for Drive or four if the driver prefers to shift manually with paddles on the steering column. This introduction is engaging, and perhaps a bit showy, but it's a great way to begin the job at hand. This handshake, as Jaguar calls it, reminds occupants that, while they might be ensconced in a quiet, comfortable cocoon, driving remains an interactive and sometimes demanding process. After the handshake, the soft purr of the engine at idle will leave you anticipating what lies ahead.
The 5.0-liter normally-aspirated 32-valve V8 delivers a more-than-healthy 385 horsepower, which is 85 more than the 4.2-liter in the 2010 base XF. It will accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds.
Floor the gas pedal in the supercharged versions, whether 470 hp or the 510 hp of the XFR, and you'll be blown away. The supercharger whine is so subdued, compared to previous Jaguars, that it takes a couple of full bursts before the thrust convinces the driver of the potential under the hood.
We'd guess that the XF Supercharged is the quickest car in a group populated by some very quick sedans, except for the previously mentioned ultra-performance cars like the BMW M5 and Mercedes E63 AMG, and that doesn't include the even more powerful XFR. Yet nothing in any model of the XF line suggests a hot-rod quality. Rather, these cars shoot ahead in a smooth, unruffled fashion completely befitting a luxury sedan of this price range.
The 6-speed automatic contributes to the sporting character of the XF, using adaptive gear-change strategies based on the type of road and the driver's application of the gas pedal. This transmission anticipates well and shifts smoothly. Manual shifting works nearly as well. The paddle shifts are quick but not harsh. In manual mode, the transmission stays in the driver's chosen gear to redline.
We do not like the shift dial, however. It looks and feels too much like a navigation system controller. Also, it's slow to engage. Parallel parking, for example, when you're shifting between D and R, you have to wait for the gears to engage.
JaguarDrive Control is a feature that lets the driver tailor various functions to taste with a single adjustment. This system, which comes standard, incorporates most electronic control programs, including: How early or late the transmission shifts; the throttle map, or how much the engine accelerates for a given dip of the gas pedal; and the Dynamic Stability Control, or skid-management electronics.
The driver can switch through three options: Winter is the most conservative; the transmission shifts up at low engine speeds, the throttle works lightly and the DSC intervenes quickly, all useful in slippery conditions. Dynamic is the most aggressive setting, best for driving hard in dry conditions. There is also a set-and-forget Automatic mode. All of the electronics are state of the art. The DSC electronic stability control includes an Understeer Control Logic that helps manage sliding front tires or pushing, which is more likely for the typical driver on a dry road than a fishtail-type skid (called oversteer). The ABS (anti-lock brake system) features Cornering Brake Control, which balances brake application from side to side in a curve, allowing the inside and outside tires to brake with the same effective force.
Still, the slickest electronic systems ever aren't worth much if the underlying mechanical components aren't up to snuff. Our test drive suggests that the XF's are first-rate. It starts with a tight, flex-free unitized chassis and body, which lays the foundation for all of a car's dynamic behavior. The XF's suspension design is taken from Jaguar's XK sport coupe and roadster, with a sophisticated multilink arrangement in back and aluminum components to reduce weight and improve the suspension's response time.
What's important is that the XF delivers a nice ride-and-handling balance and level of steering response. The XF ride is firm, and you can feel some bumps, but it glides over others, and the reward for firmness is that it doesn't lean in fast curves. It stays nice and level front to rear under hard braking or hard acceleration, and it's as stable as granite at high speeds.
The steering uses variable-ratio technology, which was developed to reduce parking effort at low speeds while maintaining precision and feedback at higher speeds. Generally, the XF's steering leans toward the light side, and it's quick for a fairly large sedan. Lane changes at interstate speeds are accomplished with a flick of the steering wheel. The XF turns neatly into bigger, slower curves, always where the driver aims it, and the SC's standard sport tires deliver sports car-style grip.
A drive in the rain shows a couple of important things: First, that the XF is inherently balanced, meaning it's no more prone to slide on its front tires than it is to spin out in back; and second, that the Dynamic Stability Control does a great job. In the Automatic mode, where most drivers will keep it, the DSC works early, throttling the engine back or tapping the brakes before the driver anticipates that one end of the car or the other might be sliding. Yet those who want to see a little more of what the XF can do can choose the Dynamic mode. This allows the XF to move a bit more laterally, and it allows the driver to slide the car a little, as enthusiast drivers are want to do, before the DSC clamps down. In a sense, the XF delivers the best of all worlds: A comfortable ride, responsive, consistent handling, stress-free, secure skid-management in the rain or a bit of latitude that allows capable drivers to express themselves. There's a track mode handy when driving on race tracks. This switches the DSC off completely and allows big fishtails and smoking tires.
The Supercharged and XFR models include Active Differential Control, an electronically controlled alternative to the conventional limited-slip differential, which can vary its locking torque depending upon surface conditions and available power. It optimizes grip at each wheel, thus improving acceleration on slippery surfaces while also enhancing cornering capability.
The Supercharged and XFR models also have Adaptive Dynamics, a damping system which automatically adjusts the suspension damper (shock absorber) settings to suit both road conditions and the way the vehicle is being driven. It does this by analyzing vehicle motions 100 times per second, and continually adjusting each damper to an appropriate level to maintain a constant and level body attitude, thus optimizing handling without compromising ride quality. In addition, based upon measuring steering inputs, it predicts the roll-rate (how much the vehicle is about to lean into a corner) and selectively increases damping forces to reduce that roll-rate, thus keeping the vehicle more level and further improving handling.
The brakes in the Jaguar XF are outstanding. All models have large rotors and calipers, and the brake pedal has a nice solid feel. It's also progressive in application, meaning that a little bit of pedal delivers a little bit of deceleration, while a lot of pedal stops the XF right now.
Dynamically, we like most everything about the XF, but performance is only one requisite in this class. Luxury buyers expect extra smooth, quiet operation for the money and the XF holds up its end. It starts with that solid underlying structure, which is the first defense against vibration and harshness inside the car. From there Jaguar adds more measures, including a double bulkhead in the front of the cabin and rubber mounted subframes for the suspension, which minimizes the transfer of road vibration inside.
Cruising at 70 mph is generally a serene experience, with minimal wind noise and only an occasional slap of the tires on bumps to interrupt the solitude, or the assertive growl of the V8 if the driver decides to slam that gas pedal. Overall, the XF might be the smoothest, quietest Jaguar in memory. It's at least as smooth as Jaguar's larger XJ sedan, and quieter around town than any mid-size luxury sedan we've driven recently. It's a thoroughly wonderful ride.
The 2011 Jaguar looks great inside and out, and it's smooth and comfortable underway. It gets good performance from its 5.0-liter V8 and handles as well or better than the best cars in its class, including the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6, and Lexus GS.
J.P. Vettraino reported from Phoenix; Sam Moses reported from Portland.