Jaguar XF: The Cat is Back

Despite its parent company's shifting fortunes, Jaguar's sleek new XF is a four-door luxury winner

Editor's Rating:

The Good: Gorgeous interior, quickness, available supercharged engine

The Bad: No optional four-wheel drive, relatively high price

The Bottom Line: Beauty and brawn that rivals a Mercedes (at a similar price)

Up Front

Jaguar has been something of an orphan brand since Ford (F) sold it and Land Rover to India's Tata Motors (TTM) earlier this year. Even by the miserable standards of the battered auto industry, sales are weak. Automotive News magazine estimates the combined U.S. sales of all Jaguar and Land Rover models in November at a mere 3,220, about the same as Suzuki.

It's a shame Jaguar is languishing because the new '09 Jaguar XF is one of the finest luxury sport cars I've ever driven. If you want a sporty, rear-wheel-drive sedan with a six-speed automatic transmission that can also be shifted manually via steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters—the package a large part of the buying public is opting for these days—the XF is a marvelous vehicle: Quick, fun to drive, with gorgeous exterior styling and a truly beautiful interior.

The XF isn't a classic driver's car because you can't get it with a stick shift. But it's designed to compete with premium models such as BMW's (BMW) 5 Series, Mercedes' (DAI) E Class, Audi's A6, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti M45, and the Lexus GS 460, and has similar speed, and handling, as well as styling and luxury appointments that match or surpass all of those rivals.

Not surprisingly, the XF also carries a premium price. It comes in three trim lines, Luxury (starting at $49,975), Premium Luxury ($55,975), and Supercharged ($64,475). The Luxury versions of the car are powered by a 4.2-liter, 300-horsepower V8. The engine in the Supercharged XF is a juiced-up version of the same V8 rated at 420 horsepower.

However, even the basic (if you can call it that) "luxury" version of the XF comes well loaded, with standard equipment that includes 18-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, keyless starting, a power operated tilting and telescoping steering wheel, rear parking assist, 10-way power adjustable front seats, an upscale sound system with a CD player, auto-dimming mirrors and full power accessories.

The Premium Luxury trim line adds 19-inch heels, more leather upholstery, a navigation systems, keyless entry as well as ignition, and 16-way power adjustable and heated front seats. Aside from the supercharged engine, the top-end version of the XF adds 20-in. wheels, an even better audio system with a six-CD changer and satellite radio, cooled as well as heated front seats, a power rear window shade, an active suspension system and bigger brakes.

The main option on the Supercharged XF is adaptive cruise control for $2,200. But most of the fancy standard gear on the Supercharged XF is available as optional equipment on the luxury versions of the car. Adaptive cruise control is available at the same $2,200 price, while 20-in. alloy wheels cost an extra $3,700 and a navigation system $1,000.

The XF hasn't yet been crash-tested in the U.S. but comes with standard safety gear than includes front, side, and head-protecting side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, active head restraints, and stability and traction control. A blind-spot monitor (which alerts the driver when the car is being overtaken by other vehicles) is optional on the luxury versions of the car and standard on the Supercharged XF.

With the smaller engine, the XF is rated to average 19 miles-per-gallon (16 in the city and 25 on the highway). Opting for the supercharged V8 lowers the rating to 17 mpg (15 in the city, 23 on the highway).

Behind the Wheel

The XF matches the speed of the BMW 5 Series, which is to say that it's very quick. With the smaller of the two V8 engines, the XF will accelerate from 0 to 60 in just over six seconds, according to Jaguar, which is about the same as the BMW 528i. However, with the transmission in sport mode and using the paddle shifters, I consistently clocked the Premium Luxury XF at 5.9 seconds. The Supercharged XF will do 0 to 60 in 5.1 seconds, Jaguar says, which is about the same as the 535i.

The XF has one of the most gorgeous cabins I've ever seen. The dash, seats, and door are covered in elegant stitched leather, complemented by beautiful burled walnut and dimpled aluminum trim. The front seats are unusually comfortable, with ample and well-positioned armrests both in the center console and on the doors. The shift knob, emergency brake, and starter button are on the left side of the center console next to the driver, leaving room for three large cup holders on the right side. When not in use, the cup holders can be concealed under stylish burled-walnut drawers.

There are numerous other distinctive design touches in the XF. For instance, the glovebox pops open when you push on the walnut dashboard trim. In the place of a shift lever, there's a knob that pops up when you push the starter button. The driver turns the knob to the right to set the electronic transmission in (in order) Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, or Sport mode.

In contrast to some competing models, putting the car in Sport mode makes a noticeable difference. The transmission shifts more quickly and the engine's appealing growl seems even angrier. The paddle shifters respond almost instantly when you do the shifting yourself.

Also in contrast to some competing models, the XF has a big trunk (nearly 18 cu. ft.) The rear seats fold down flat in an unusual 75/25 pattern. The backs of the middle and driver's side rear seats fold down together, creating a large open hauling space when you need one. If all you need is a small space for skis or other long objects, you can fold down the passenger-side rear seat alone.

One small negative about the XF is that head and legroom in the rear seat is slightly cramped, though that's true of other models in this category.

A bigger negative about the XF is that it doesn't do well on ice and snow (I know this for sure because I drove my test car extensively in bad weather). General Motors' (GM) Cadillac CTS, Mercedes E Class, BMW's 5 Series, Audi A6, and Infiniti M45 all are offered with optional all-wheel drive and are much better bets if you do a lot of winter driving.

Buy it or Bag It?

If you're thinking of buying a German or Japanese luxury sport sedan, and you don't need all-wheel drive or a stick shift, the Jaguar XF should be on your shopping list. I liked the car so much I found myself taking it for a spin just for fun, which is something a jaded reviewer like me doesn't do with most test cars.

The XF, however, is pricey. It sells for an average of $54,169, after an average cash rebate of $1,500, according to the Power Information Network (PIN). That's nine grand more than the $45,000 average price of all '09 models in the midsize premium category, PIN says.

At about $50,000, the average price of the '09 BMW 528i and '09 Mercedes E350 is considerably less, though the '09 BMW 535i averages about three grand more than the XF.

The '08 Infiniti M45 ($53,353) and the '08 Lexus GS 460 (about $52,000) both cost slightly less than the Jaguar, according to PIN. The '08 Audi A6, which is selling for about $46,000, costs a lot less, partly because A6 is getting a makeover for the '09 model year. (PIN, like BusinessWeek, is a unit of The McGraw-Hill Companies).

The bargain in the segment is the '09 Cadillac CTS, which sells for an average of $39, 247, PIN says. The Caddie can't match the Jag's elegance, but it's a very nice car for the money.

If you're considering any of the above models, give the Jaguar a test-drive before buying. I found its combination of beauty and brawn far more appealing than I expected to.

Click here to see more of the 2009 Jaguar XF.

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