Every decade or so, Jaguar launches a truly advanced car that shocks the brand faithful. I’ve heard and said plenty about the current XF and XJ sedans. They are nothing like previous Jaguars, yet are completely like previous Jaguars. People were amazed when the XJ-120 first rolled out in 1949. The E-Type shocked everybodywhen it stormed the roads in 1961. XJ-S coupes were just as controversial when they replaced the E-Type in 1975. The 1986 XJ, which was developed with a pile of British taxpayers’ money, was derided, but lasted 18 years! All of these cars made people uneasy and just a little bit queasy. Each went on todistinguished service.
More recent Jags had their issues too. The S-Type looked like a ’60s S-Type, but was based on the DEW98 vehicle architecture that also supported the Lincoln LS and Ford Thunderbird. The X-Type, while it looked like a twice-dried XJ, was a re-bodied European Ford Mondeo and was given standard all-wheel-drive so it wouldn’t enter the world with the donor’s standard front-drive lay-out. The ’04 XJ was a technically-advanced aluminum bodied flagship that put Mercedes in its place, but looked like every Jaguar sedan since the ’60s and nobody noticed. This had to change if the British automaker was to survive. The XF, replacement for the S-Type, was the first Jaguar to plot a new stylistic course since the ’70s.
I couldn’t help but see a resemblance to the Lexus GS when I first saw the XF. My initial reaction was, “At least the S-Type looked like a Jaguar and was recognizable from two corn fields away!” It drew nobody out of their Mercedes E-Class or BMW 5-Series, but it was undeniably a Jaguar with its quad eyeballs, chrome grille, hood leaper, and stately flanks.
Original thought always causes one to re-consider all they thought was right with the world. The sky becomes green, grass is orange, and Jaguars look like Lexus. Designers embraced a contemporary British aesthetic with a streamlined body that starts with a large mesh grille, long hood, and cabin that flows into the rear deck. Subtle chrome details and side vents are classic touches. Inside, wood and leather tell you it is British, but a dial gear selector, touch-sensor glovebox latch, navigation, and USB audio input trowel new lanes.
Snatch the leather-wrapped steering wheel and haul heal over the throttle to wake up the standard 385-HP 5.0-litre V8 that moves the cool cat from 0-60 mph in 5.5s. An available 510-HP supercharged V8 propels this luxury loafer along much faster, reaching 60 mph from naught in 4.7s. A smooth-shifting 6-speed transmission puts all of that power to the drive wheels expeditiously.
More than adequate power makes a roaring meow, but driving the XF is also fun-laced beverage. A solid body structure lets the firm, yet compliant, suspension system glide over rough roads with little drama while feeling nimble under your bum in the twisties. Steering motions are equally gratifying, balancing direct communication with relaxed cruising. You get the sense that the body structure isn’t quite as bullet resistant solid as a ‘Benz, but is well-engineered by any other standard.
To really make your feline purr, stroke up the XFR. Besides the supercharged V8, XFR receives 20″ alloy wheels, refined mesh grille, enhanced ground affects, and “R” badging. Interiors are enhanced with dark wood and upscale leather. Under the skin, XFR receives Jaguar’s Adaptive Dynamics, a suspension system that automatically adjusts between soft and firm depending on driving behavior and road conditions. Unlike other systems that have only a few settings, Adaptive Dynamics progressively varies damping through the range of possibilities. It can go from all-out sport sedan to luxury cruiser with no thought from the pilot.
Jaguar used to be about shocking competitors and customers with rapidly-advancing technology and design. Under founder Sir William Lyons, Jaguar threw out the baby, poured new bath water, and scrubbed away all sense of history every several years. A lot of Ford money went to develop these great cars, but the brand is now owned by India’s Tata who seems determined to guarantee Jaguar once-again steps out with design and technology worth getting excited about. Prices for the XF start around $53,000.