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2015 Jaguar XF Test Drive Review
Jaguar's XF costs less and delivers more than its competition. It’s one of the smartest buys in its segment, with plenty of performance, roomy accommodations, excellent road manners, and exclusivity.
The Jaguar XF is a medium-size luxury sedan from this famous premium builder. It’s a stylish and luxurious choice that’s a departure from the usual BMW, Lexus, or Mercedes-Benz models that make up its most direct competition. Jaguar is known for its performance cars, and the XF delivers classic front-engine rear-drive behavior, even when equipped with all-wheel drive. Power can come from a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, a supercharged 3.0-liter V6, or a 5.0-liter V8 that’s also supercharged. The availability of all-wheel drive keeps the XF on the shopping list of people living where winter strikes. The XF is an individualistic choice that has broad appeal.
Look and Feel
The XF's styling is clean and distinctive inside and out. When introduced as a 2008 model, the XF established the modern design direction for Jaguar, breaking out of a decades-long retro rut. Its styling was mildly updated in 2011 to give it a resemblance to the larger XJ sedan. The roof sweeps dramatically, and the front grille carries the Jaguar Growler. XF Sport models have blacked-out trim in place of the normal chrome, and there are several alloy wheel designs available.
The interior of the Jaguar XF is a blend of the classic elements we’ve come to expect from a British luxury sedan and modern design elements. It still features handsome wood veneers and beautifully stitched premium leather, but the inside of the XF is as much a departure from the past as its exterior. A band of handsome aluminum spans from door to door across the dashboard. It has crisp, cleanly designed controls and a touchscreen interface nestled front and center. The dashboard vents rotate open dramatically when you start the car, and the rotary gear selector also rises from the center console as a special “handshake.”
There’s a wide range of engine choices for the XF, ranging from a 240-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder to the most extreme supercharged 5.0-liter V8 in the 550-hp XFR-S. In between those ends of the spectrum is a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 that provides 340 hp and a 470-hp iteration of the supercharged 5.0-liter V8. The XF is a premium car, and its MSRP starts at $50,175 for the XF 2.0T Premium and tops out at $99,000 for the XFR-S. Within that $50,000 spread, every XF delivers a surprising amount of value compared to its competition, and it does so in a distinctive way.
I drove the XF 3.0 AWD Sport, a surprising performer that packs a lot of value for its $59,875 MSRP. The supercharged 3.0-liter V6 is plenty energetic with its 340 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque. There’s no waiting for the extra boost from the supercharger; it feels eager and powerful even with the modestly sized engine. Part of the muscular impression is thanks to a plateau of peak torque from 3,500 to 5,000 rpm. The transmission is an 8-speed ZF automatic with shift paddles for manual control and a Sport mode. No V8 models are available with AWD.
Jaguar calls its AWD system Instinctive All-Wheel Drive. It’s rear-wheel-drive biased, which means the XF delivers the sporty dynamics of a rear-wheel-drive car until slippage is detected. The system is always monitoring and adjusting torque distribution, and it can move all the power to the front wheels, if necessary. The AWD operates seamlessly, and the transmission is also quick and smooth. When you shift manually, however, the transmission isn’t responsive enough, treating driver commands like suggestions.
The 3.0-liter V6 is based on the V8, so its design and construction details are similar, though it has 2 fewer cylinders and a balance shaft. Its impressively smooth idle doesn’t come at the expense of character, which comes out when you go tearing off for redline. The stop/start system does intrude on the serenity, though. The engine shuts itself off and re-starts with a shudder that can be unnerving. It made the XF feel slow on the uptake, even though it does re-fire the engine quickly. I disabled it most of the time, especially in stop-and-go traffic where its constant action can get especially annoying. Unfortunately, that’s exactly where this kind of system is most effective.
The XF lives up to the expectations the Jaguar nameplate carries. It’s quiet on the road, with steering that has good heft without being too heavy and strong, powerful brakes. I wish more information came to my hands about what grip was like for the front tires—great cars communicate this stuff—but the XF’s steering is kind of numb.
A Sport setting for the JaguarDrive selector knob adjusts the transmission to hold gears longer, and Dynamic mode makes the throttle more responsive and adds extra sport to the XF’s character. A Winter mode smooths out throttle control to avoid spinning the wheels in slippery conditions. The Winter mode in combination with all-wheel drive make the XF a contender when you’re considering a rear-wheel-drive-based premium sedan in snow country. With its distinctive styling and character, the XF is a welcome change among a sea of Mercedes, BMW, and Audi models. And it looks like a better and better deal as you get higher on the performance ladder, where the XF-R and XF-RS crank the horsepower well over 500 and get other performance enhancements to go with that power.
The XF is starting to show its age. Its roots trace all the way back to the Jaguar S-Type of the early 2000s, though it’s been updated and revised heavily. There’s more movement in the structure over bumps than you’ll find in a newer platform, and you sometimes feel a little shudder in the steering column. The suspension strikes a very good balance between comfort and precision, but there were times when the car nearly bottomed out. Perhaps the optional Adaptive Dynamics system, which automatically adjusts the suspension’s damping, would have helped. These are minor complaints only the most picky drivers will notice. It’s also nothing that would keep the XF off my list. It does just about everything right without losing its identity.
Form and Function
The XF is great at the things Jaguars have traditionally been great at. The comfort is top-notch, materials are excellent, and most controls have also been laid out well. Standard power seats are 6-way adjustable for driver and passenger, and I enjoyed 18/14-way adjustable heated Sport seats in the XF 3.0 AWD Sport. Standard bond grain leather, wood accents, and aluminum interior trim look and feel beautiful, and other standard standouts are an electrically adjustable steering column, the Jaguar Smart Key System with keyless start, exclusive Phosphor Blue Halo interior illumination, a split-folding rear seat with ski pass-through, and a 380-watt Meridian audio system with 12 speakers, Bluetooth, and a 7-inch touchscreen.
It only gets better from there. The XF 3.0 AWD Sport had deeply bolstered Sport seats in a blend of grippy Alcantara and bond grain leather with red stitching. There are three basic choices for interior color combinations to start, and your choices expand as you climb the model range. Portfolio models are the ones to go for if you view a car as a canvas for your expression, as they offer the most color and trim choices.
With such a solid showing for the cabin atmosphere, driving position, and location of the main controls, the XF struggles when it comes to secondary controls. It’s entertaining to watch the dash vents rotate open when you start the car, but it’s no fun using the 7-inch touchscreen to try and operate the ventilation system itself. The icons are too small and crowded on the screen, and the system is sluggish to respond, so it winds up being a distraction.
This is a midsize car, with good front-seat space and a 17-cubic-foot trunk, one of the largest in its class. Watch out for rear-seat legroom if you’re holding court with taller folks, as it can be tight. And the sweeping roofline that looks great can also block outward visibility, though not all drivers will find this problematic.
The XF carries technology that’s made its way into the mainstream. In 2008, things like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive front lighting, voice control, navigation, and parking aids were novel and new. They’re certainly worthwhile features, which is why they’ve taken the industry by storm. Middle-of-the-road sedans now offer that stuff, and the XF’s direct competitors offer far more sophisticated systems with functions that extend to phone apps, much better device integration, and even the ability to enter text with the swipe of a finger.
A new XF is on its way to dealers for 2016, and you can be sure that it will have a much higher level of sophistication for its in-car electronics and driver aids. In the meantime, the system in the current XF performs its limited functions in a satisfactory way as long as you don’t ask it to hurry. The system is slow to respond to presses on the touchscreen and to switch between screens. It’s also confusing to have to rely on the LCD for control of things like heating and air conditioning, which really belong on dedicated hardware instead of buried in menus.
It’s difficult to get a definitive idea of how safe the XF will be in a collision. The car has not yet been rated for crash safety by U.S. agencies or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In Europe, the Euro NCAP (New Car Assessment Program) rated the 2010 and 2011 XF with 4 stars overall. The passive safety systems are all there: airbags, seatbelts with pretensioners, and a body structure that uses high-strength steel in key locations to create a ring of protection for occupants. Jaguar’s predictable chassis behavior is its own kind of safety feature as well, helping the driver maintain control during evasive maneuvering.
Active safety systems bring technology to bear. Emergency Brake Assist delivers a full-power stop without having to stomp hard on the pedal in a dicey situation, Cornering Brake Control adjusts braking force at individual wheels, and dynamic stability control is also standard. When driving the XF, you feel in control, and that’s comforting. On the other hand, the lack of safety testing by U.S. agencies and the 4-star Euro NCAP results lag the stellar collections of 5-star ratings received by the XF’s direct competitors.
The Jaguar XF is a surprising value. It’s loaded with standard items that you’ll get nickel-and-dimed for with other brands. You have a lot of choice in colors and finishes, and the performance models deliver the goods. Because it’s a Jaguar, you’re not going to see other XFs everywhere you go. That kind of exclusivity often costs extra, not less. The Jaguar brand carries its own special cachet, as well.
I saw a combined fuel economy of about 19 mpg in mixed driving, pretty close to the 20 mpg combined rating Jaguar says to expect. City and highway EPA estimates are 17/27, respectively. That’s fully competitive with the other players in the XF’s segment, though the Jaguar’s city economy is lower.
Comparing base prices doesn’t tell the whole story, because the XF is so well-equipped. A Mercedes E400 4Matic, BMW 535i xDrive, or Audi A6 3.0 TFSI all carry base prices between $57,000 to $58,000—the same as the XF 3.0 AWD Sport. The difference is that you’ll wind up paying thousands more to get those German sedans matched feature-for-feature with the XF. The Jaguar is therefore a tremendous bargain. Residual values are a few percentage points lower than the others, and reliability with a complex and sophisticated performance sedan may offer a few surprises along the way, but that’s across the class and not exclusive to Jaguar.
Dan Roth is a Boston-based automotive journalist who’s been writing about cars for a decade. A parallel career as a video producer and creative professional helped open the door to car writing in 2006, when he started working with Autoblog on its long-running podcast and producing videos. Dan has been fascinated with cars his whole life, leading to a large collection of tools, a driveway that houses a broken Volvo, and many sketchbooks filled with designs for his own cars that will never get built.
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