2012 Jaguar XF Driving Impressions

The Jaguar XF delivers everything we like about medium-sized sport-luxury sedans, and it stacks up nicely with the best cars in this class. It's smooth, fast, and responsive, but also quiet and comfortable. Its six-speed automatic transmission might be the best in any luxury car anywhere, and contributes considerably to the enjoyable driving experience. The supercharged XFs lean toward the sporty end of the spectrum, with the BMW 5 Series and sport-tuned versions of the Audi A6, rather than the softer, cushier end.

The XF's standard 5.0-liter normally-aspirated V8 delivers a more-than-healthy 385 horsepower, and plenty of acceleration-producing torque. The base model will accelerate from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds, and that's more than fast enough for daily rounds. Still, the upgrade engines are at the very least thrilling. Floor the gas pedal in the supercharged versions, whether the 470-hp Supercharged or the 510-hp XFR, and you'll be blown away. The supercharger whine is so subdued, compared to previous Jaguars, that it takes a couple of full bursts before the thrust convinces the driver of the full potential under the hood.

At 4.7 seconds to 60 mph, the XFR is among the quickest cars in this class, up to and including ultra-performance cars like the Mercedes E63 AMG. Yet nothing in any model of the XF line suggests a hot-rod quality. Nothing except maybe the exhaust growl. In the XKR, it isn't obnoxious, but it's aggressive (and very satisfying if you enjoy such things) and near the upward limit of what we'd expect in a luxury car. Otherwise, these cars shoot ahead in a smooth, unruffled fashion completely befitting a luxury sedan.

One of the things we like best is the XF's acceleration under part throttle. It isn't easy to explain, but you'll feel it. A lot of contemporary cars, even so-called sports cars, have what feel like two grades of acceleration: casual or full-on. You'll either putter along at a placid pace or step on it, feel the transmission shift down a couple of gears, and take off. The XF delivers a few stages in between, where half or two-thirds application of the throttle delivers strong, viscerally satisfying acceleration that gets you ahead of the pack without flooring the pedal or watching the gas gauge drop.

The transmission has a lot to do with that. This six-speed automatic contributes to the sporting character of the XF, using adaptive gear-change strategies based on the type of road and the driver's application of the gas pedal. It anticipates well and shifts smoothly. And in this car, sport mode isn't just a button you push. It makes obvious changes in the transmission's performance: raising shift points up in the rev range, dropping down a gear more quickly and sometimes even cruising in a lower gear. Manual shifting with the steering-wheel paddles is excellent as well. The shifts are quick but not harsh, and in manual mode the transmission stays in the driver's chosen gear to redline.

The steering uses variable-ratio technology, which was developed to reduce parking effort at low speeds while maintaining precision and feedback at higher speeds. We like the way it's weighted, particularly in the XFR: certainly not too heavy, but not the airy, no-effort feel that's becoming all too common in this class. Nor is the XF's steering overly quick, wherein a little twitch sends you toward the next lane over. It is nicely linear, with no dead spot in the center.

Turn the XF's steering wheel a little and the car turns immediately, but only a little. Lane changes are accomplished at interstate speeds with an eighth of a turn. The XF tracks neatly into bigger, slower curves, always where the driver aims it, and the sport tires on the Supercharged and XFR deliver sports car-style grip.

To go with good steering feel, the XF has an excellent ride-and-handling balance. It rides firmly, but it glides over most bumps, and the reward for firmness is that it doesn't lean in fast curves. It stays nice and level front to rear under hard braking or hard acceleration, and it's as stable as granite at high speeds.

JaguarDrive Control is a feature that lets the driver tailor various functions to taste with a single adjustment. This system, which comes standard, incorporates most electronic control programs, including: How early or late the transmission shifts; the throttle map, or how much the engine accelerates for a given dip of the gas pedal; and the Dynamic Stability Control, or skid-management electronics.

The driver can switch through three options. Winter is the most conservative: the transmission shifts up at low engine speeds, the throttle works lightly and the DSC intervenes quickly, all useful in slippery conditions. Dynamic is the most aggressive setting, best for driving hard in dry conditions. There is also a set-and-forget Automatic mode.

Still, the slickest electronic systems aren't worth much if the underlying mechanical components aren't up to snuff. The XF's are first-rate. It starts with a tight, flex-free unitized chassis and body, which lays the foundation for all of a car's dynamic behavior. The suspension uses a sophisticated multi-link arrangement in back and aluminum components to reduce weight and improve response time. The Supercharged and XFR models also have Adaptive Dynamics, a damping system which automatically adjusts shock absorber settings to suit both road conditions and the way the vehicle is being driven.

A drive in the rain shows a couple of important things: First, that the XF is inherently balanced, meaning it's no more prone to slide on its front tires than it is to spin out in back; and second, that the Dynamic Stability Control does a great job. In the Automatic mode, where most drivers will keep it, the DSC works early, throttling the engine back or tapping the brakes before the driver anticipates that one end of the car or the other might be sliding. Yet those who want to see a little more of what the XF can do can choose the Dynamic mode. This allows the XF to move a bit more laterally, and it allows the driver to slide the car a little, as enthusiast drivers are want to do, before the DSC clamps down.

In a sense, the XF delivers the best of all worlds: A comfortable ride, responsive, consistent handling, stress-free, secure skid-management in the rain or a bit of latitude that allows capable drivers to express themselves.

The brakes are outstanding. All models have large rotors and calipers, and the brake pedal has a nice solid feel. It's progressive in application, meaning that a little bit of pedal delivers a little bit of deceleration, while a lot of pedal stops the XF right now.

Dynamically, we like most everything about the XF, but performance is only one requisite in this class. Luxury buyers expect extra smooth, quiet operation for the money and the XF holds up its end.

Cruising at 70 mph is generally a serene experience, with minimal wind noise to interrupt the solitude. The biggest noise-maker might be the low-profile sport tires available on the Supercharged and XFR, because they can crack soundly over pavement seems. Or maybe the assertive growl of the V8 if the driver decides to slam that gas pedal. The XF is thoroughly wonderful ride, with fewer of the cookie-cutter qualities that increasingly pervade this class of all-things-to-everyone luxury cars.

Our biggest gripe? Probably outward visibility, and that's largely a function of the sexy exterior design. We wouldn't call it bad, but in any direction other than forward, the view out of the XF is more restricted than we'd expect in the typical sedan. The side mirrors aren't small, and with the steeply raked windshield pillars, the form a triangle of mass that blocks chunks of vision when the driver glances slightly left or right, as when pulling from a parking lot onto a busy street. The rear glass is expansive, but it's raked at a long, flat, coupe-like angle, so the view through the rearview mirror is short.

Bottom line: It takes a while to get comfortable with the XF's mirrors, and to set them in a fashion that minimizes over-the-shoulder glances in traffic. The optional blind spot-warning is useful, and easy to learn. Backing up, the standard rear park assist helps, with audible beeps and a graphic display on the touch screen. A reverse-view camera is optional, and we strongly recommend it in this car, given the relatively high rear deck and the narrow view through the rear window.

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