Startlingly good: That's my first -- and, after several hundred miles -- my last impression of the 2009 Jaguar XF. In the majority of areas, the new sedan is a far better car than I was expecting, addressing and fixing the majority of complaints I had about the car it replaces, the S-Type. And, aside from reliability issues, the S-Type was a pretty good vehicle.
As you likely know, Jaguar and sister company Land Rover were on the block for quite a while, as cash-strapped parent Ford needed to slim down. Tata, a company well-known in Europe but not here, bought Jaguar and Land Rover, and Tata management has been saying all the right things about maintaining the products' personality and integrity.
Making good on promises like that will be made easier by products like the XF.
Similar in size to the outgoing S-Type, the XF comes in three basic flavors: the Luxury, the Premium Luxury and the top-of-the-line Supercharged. The Luxury, base price $49,200, and the Premium Luxury, base price $55,200, come with the familiar 4.2-liter, 300-horsepower V-8 engine. There is not much new with that engine, nor does there need to be: It's exceptionally smooth and powerful.
The Supercharged gets that same 4.2-liter V-8 but adds a supercharger, which is essentially a fan that pumps gas and air into the engine under pressure when more power is needed. The Supercharged XF has 420 horsepower and carries a base price of $62,200.The test car was the middle model, the XF Premium Luxury, which has a six-speed automatic transmission and the expected long list of safety and comfort items. Several options, including an upgraded stereo, a rear-view monitor, adaptable headlights and a rear sunshade raised the $55,200 starting price to $60,625, including shipping.
I've driven this 4.2-liter V-8 in regular and supercharged forms, and I think the regular 300-horse version is better suited to this car. There's plenty of muscle, more than adequate acceleration and an overall sense of balance that I think you might lose with another 120 horsepower.
"Balance," in fact, is one of the pleasant surprises with the new XF. I've long complained about too-light steering, too-compliant suspensions in these Jaguar sedans, but this XF comes close to the nimbleness of a BMW but still delivers a very smooth ride. The S-Type never seemed this comfortable on a twisty road.
Inside, more surprises. I've complained long and loud about Jaguar's space-robbing "J-gate" shifter, which took up most of the console for no reason. On the XF, start the engine (there's a button), and a round "DriveSelector" rises out of the console: You just twist it from Park to Drive. Works great, takes up almost no space, leaving room for cup- holders and the like.
Indeed, there's very little to complain about inside the XF. Aside from a navigation system that needs some fine-tuning, the instruments and controls were designed not only to look good but also to be easy to operate, something Jaguar interior stylists have not always valued. Front bucket seats are supportive and firm; the rear seat is comfortable for two adults, acceptable for three. And there's lots of truck space.
Outside, designers got three sides right: The profile and the rear work, but there just isn't much up front that says "Jaguar" except for the badge. It's a very pretty car but a bit less elegant than it could have been. Too bad, but hardly tragic.
Bottom line: The XF is well-executed, showing no signs of a company that was forced to skimp on some details for budgetary reasons. Price is competitive with the BMW 5-Series, as well as comparable Lexus, Infiniti and Cadillac models.
Well-done, Jaguar. Hopefully your new owner will be rewarded with healthy sales.
Sentinel Automotive Editor Steven Cole Smith can be reached at email@example.com.
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