Jaguar encountered changes galore during the 2008 calendar year. The proud British car brand purchased by Ford Motor Co. in the late 1980s was sold to Tata, an aggressively expanding Indian car company. Tata also purchased Land Rover (another one-time Ford property) in the deal, providing Ford with much needed cash as it struggles to turnaround sagging market share and sales in the U.S. The move also provides Tata with instant access to a dealership network in the United States.
During its time with Ford, Jaguar's marketing budget improved, as did its build quality. Some in the industry are convinced Jaguar lost its identity and independent spirit, but if Ford didn't step in, the Jaguar brand may have died an earlier death.
Also in the 2008 Jaguar introduced brand new offering, the 2009 model year XF rear-drive sedan, which started reaching dealers in August. It's an important addition to the lineup as XF replaces the sporty mid-size S-Type which never quite found a strong following. Jaguar is also dropping its entry X-Type sedan, so for a time, XF will serve as the entry vehicle to the Jaguar lineup.
Don't let the entry tag fool you. This mid-size cat has more than prowling horsepower going for it. It's a sedan with coupe-type styling that turns heads and demands double takes when cruising down the boulevard. As one passerby noted, XF looks more eye-popping in motion than when it's parked. Indeed, still photos don't do XF justice. Safe it so say XF ranks as the most impressive entry Jaguar in the last 30 years doing battle with such rivals as the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series.
Suspension, engines and transmission are shared with the more expensive XJ sedan. That's good. Jaguar's premier XK starts at about $15,000 more than the new XF. The outgoing rear-drive S-Type and all-wheel-drive X-Type sedans had more Ford Motor Company's DNA associated them. The pricier and longer-running XJ sedan and XK coupe retained more of its original British Flare. Give Ford its due credit, XF was developed under the Blue Oval reign and it's a giant leap forward from either Types.
This U.K.-built sedan is available in three trim levels: Luxury, Premium Luxury and Supercharged. All three are V-8 powered, a significant deviation from the S-Type and X-Type sedans which also offered V-6 engines. Like the S-Type, XF is a performance sedan for sports-driving enthusiasts. Only rear-drive is offered in XF for peak driving performance. All-wheel drive is not available. Those seeking a softer luxury glide would be best directed to another dealer.
The motivated V-8 is a 4.2-liter delivering 420 horsepower in the supercharged version, and 300 in normally aspirated Luxury and Premium Luxury trims. The fuel tank holds 18.4 gallons of recommended premium (91 Plus Octane) fuel. The XF is built for performance, not fuel conservation. The supercharged V-8 engine delivers 15 mpg city and 23 highway.
The V-8 engine rumbles to life via a push-start button on the center floor console. With the electronic key fob in a pocket or purse and the brake pedal pushed, the engine purrs with a push of the button (and turns off as well when the trip is finished). For those who still enjoy the art of engaging a key or key fob to the dashboard, there is a docking station for the fob under the trunk release button on the far left side of the dash. These push-start systems are popping up more frequently in luxury sedans, including the new 2009 Lincoln MKS.
Speaking of popping up, drivers will notice a new six-speed automatic gear-shift selector when starting the XF (called the JaguarDriveSelector). Instead of a steering column or floor-mounted automatic transmission gear shift, XF's gears are moved forward and reverse by a chrome-like dial that pops up from the center console region when starting the vehicle. This dial is simple to use even for the electronically ungifted driver. A simple twist of the dial moves the transmission from park, to reverse, to drive. This system is much more user friendly than previous attempts by Mercedes-Benz (in the 7 Series in particular) to modernize the age-old art of transmission shifting. For those who enjoy more driver input when changing gears, steering wheel mounted paddle shifters manually move gears when desired.
Also between the two heated and ventilated 10-way leather power bucket seats is a deep flip-top arm rest which features iPod input port and USB connector port for portable music devices. Power controls for the front buckets are on the outboard sides of the seats. Three in-line beverage holders (with wood-grain covers) are nearby the chrome selector. The comparatively diminutive instrument panel features two analog circular gauges (speedometer on the left, tachometer on the right) and a digital fuel gauge bar along the bottom. A secondary gear shift indicator and digital clock is in the neighborhood, too. Also coming to life when starting the engine are air vent covers which slide open when the engine turns over (and retract when the cat's powertrain takes a nap).
The steering wheel "T" also includes secondary audio, cruise controls. The glove box doesn't pull, but retracts down via a swipe of a touch pad circle. Ventilation functions can be activated via the navigation touch screen, or dials and buttons below. Power locks are nearby on the center console while outside power mirrors and windows are activated via the driver's side door.
Head room is decent, but leg room is tight in back. Two adults fit most comfortably in back since the rear-drive linkage runs the length of the floor. One nice feature not always found in a performance luxury sedan is a backrest that fold down with a 60/40 split. Even driving enthusiasts need to transport odd-sized items from time to time. Seat backs unlock once pull-rods in the trunk region are engaged. The 17.7-cubic foot trunk (generous for a mid-size sedan) is well designed with struts outside the cargo area so items are less likely to get squashed or attached by interior-type goose-neck hinges.
Pricing for the all-new 2009 XF is more than the outgoing S-type or X-Type. Our top-level supercharged model checked in at $63,700 for a nicely equipped edition. The bottom line after factoring in a $775 destination charge and $2,200 adaptive (radar) cruise control was $66,675. A Luxury trim starts at $49,200 while a Premium Luxury cat checks in at $55,200. A top-line Jaguar XK rear-drive sedan starts at $63,835 while the most opulent supercharged XK model reaches a mere $94.085.
The rear-drive XF comes with a good array of safety features, including a blind spot detection system built into the side-view mirrors (standard in supercharged XF). When a vehicle sneaks into the driver's blind spot, an amber icon illuminates in the mirrors, visually alerting drivers to exercise extra caution. A great idea. Another simple but effective trait are turn signal indicators built into the same side view mirrors. Dual front, front bucket seat side mounted and side curtain air bags are standard as are anti-lock brakes, traction control, child safety rear door locks and stability control.
Interior quietness does not quite live up to Lexus standards. Some engine noise seeps into the cabin, but in a sports car, that's sometimes comforting. The brake reacts promptly as the vehicle remains cool as a cat during panic braking situations with minimal nose diving while keeping occupants secure thanks to standard electronic brakeforce distribution. Handling is precise. All three trims include most popular items standard (cruise control, power heated seats, etc.)
Dual exhausts add to the sporty look. The sculpted hood incorporates a raised center nose and mildly flared front fenders. Narrow headlight housing continues the cat's eye theme, while the rounded trapezoid, mesh-like front grille includes a round Jaguar logo front and center. No leaping cat hood ornament on the bonnet. Instead, the sleek cat is attached to the trunk lid (or do you say boot) where once a key hole was found. The narrow side glass is off-set with a large rear window. Front fender side air vents are for show.
Jaguar still has a magical name in automotive circles. The all-new XF rediscovers that magic.