2009 Jaguar XF V8

The Good:
– Sleek design
– Interesting interior
– Great “manual” mode
The Bad:
– Goofy headlights
– Some buggy gadgetry
– Awful “automatic” mode

The new Jaguar XF is a hot commodity right now. It is probably the ailing company’s best-selling model ever and would’ve possibly sold even better had it not been overshadowed by the fact that Jaguar is now an Indian-owned company. But while India brought us gems like the Premier Padmini and the Mahindra Scorpio at best, the British-built XF was designed under Ford leadership. But whatever company Jaguar may be under, the XF truly is an original effort.

Still based on the old S-Type platform and utilising the same old engines, the XF seems old on paper. But everything else has been redesigned from the ground up, including the all-new aerodynamic look. Except for the bulging headlights, everything else looks spectacular. Given its sleek shape, we are relieved that Jaguar didn’t tack on a stupid “four-door coupe” sticker on it. However, the various models need more differentiation, as we had no idea which engine was under the hood until we opened it.

The real buzz over the XF is the gimmickry surrounding the well-trimmed interior. Without using the key, enter the cabin, push the start button, and a gear-selector dial rises from the centre console, while a/c vents flip open automatically. All of this looks even better at night, with blue ambient lighting. Adding to the initial awe are overhead lights and a glovebox that operate at the touch of a fingertip, rather than having to push any sort of button. That actually turns into an annoyance later when you start pounding on the touchable surface multiple times occasionally. In our test car, the oversensitive overhead lights even kept flicking on and off on its own as we cruised on a highway.

But the traditional Jaguar bits remain impressive, with a fully leather-lined dashboard to match the leather trim on the doors and seats, while strokes of real wood and metal add colour to the surroundings. Everything is well-assembled and largely easy to use. The touchscreen serves as an entertainment centre as well as a navigation unit. We didn’t play with the nav, since roads in Dubai change shape every damn day and the built-in maps cannot be updated as quickly. The CD stereo is excellent though, while the automatic a/c with rear vents is fairly decent. Front and side-curtain airbags are standard of course. Other powered conveniences include the usual sunroof, mirrors, windows, front seats and such.

Overall, the swoopy XF is as long as any midsize sedan, although the story is a bit different on the inside. While front passengers enjoy good all-round space, rear legroom is not as much as expected for a car of this size, while headroom is just barely adequate. The front seats are moderately bolstered, but not as much as we expected for a sports sedan. There are at least four hidden cup-holders spread about, as well as a few storage cubbies. The luggage trunk is reasonably spacious for most purposes, and can be enlarged by folding down the rear seat.

Chugging along on the road, the car felt sluggish, mainly due to what seemed like an unenthusiastic engine. We parked it, popped the bonnet and saw what looked like a non-supercharged V8, even though all this time we thought we had a struggling V6. The 298 hp 4.2-litre V8 would theoretically be a competent engine for this 1824 kg car. But even with 411 Nm of torque peaking at 4100 rpm, the car seems slow to respond in most cases. We realised the 6-speed automatic hesitates to downshift most of the time, possibly to improve fuel economy. After enduring this nonsense for a while, we switched to “sport” mode, which improved things considerably, allowing for earlier downshifts and better gear-holding. But the real surprise came in “manual” mode. Shifting gears using the paddle shifters revealed the quickest tiptronic system we’ve ever tested, with instantaneous responses to our gear inputs. This has to be the first automatic car ever that actually drives best in manual mode.

Leaving it in “sport” mode, we managed a 0-to-100 kph run of 7.2 seconds, which is only enough to rival V6-powered cars like the Lexus ES 350 and the Toyota Aurion at best. We turned off the traction control, but we believe the electronic nannies do not go to sleep completely. Overall fuel economy isn’t too great either, at 17.3 litres per 100 km, even after leaving the smooth gearbox in “normal” mode most of the time.

Casual cruising is great though, and the rotary-dial gear is easy to use without straining your brain. The ride quality is very good, leaning towards firm rather than floaty when driving over uneven pavement. Overall noise is reasonably kept at bay, comparable to a BMW 3-Series. Interesting bits include an electronic button that replaces the handbrake, adaptive cruise control that replaces attentive driving, and a blind-spot warning system that replaces common sense. While we saw the fancy parking brake and self-braking speed control before in other Jags, that last bit was an interesting new item, as the system flashed a warning light in the side-mirror every time there is a car in your blind spot. In the city, parking is made easy with beeping sensors and an optional reverse camera, while HID headlights that seemed to “turn” with the steering wheel which helped navigate dark streets.

While the Jaguar XF only matches Japanese family sedans in acceleration, it outruns them in the corners. With rear-wheel-drive, good suspension tuning and limited body roll, the XF can be driven hard and fast. But while grip from the 245/40 tyres on 19-inch alloys is very good, the XF is not tuned to push the boundaries as hard as the BMW 3-Series, and this is evident in the slightly-higher amount of roll during sharp steering inputs. The steering itself has enough firmness, but does not offer enough feedback. The pedals feel good enough, being neither too hard nor too soft, and helps in modulating the ABS-assisted disc brakes easily. The handling is not class-leading, but it is enough to qualify the XF as a real sports sedan.

It is hard to dislike the XF when it tries so hard to woo you with magic tricks and dressy looks. We find its balance with ride and handling to be ideal, as not everyone buying a luxury sedan goes around testing the limits regularly. The technology needs some tweaking though – electrical as well as mechanical – if Jaguar intends to rise up the ranks in the pompous luxury-carmaker food chain, although by all accounts, they seem innovative enough to do that.

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