2013 Jaguar XF Driving Impressions

With its dramatically expanded variety of powerplants, ranging from a turbocharged four-cylinder to supercharged V6s and V8s, the 2013 Jaguar XF offers numerous levels of performance and efficiency, each delivered in a highly accomplished medium-size sport-luxury sedan.

The high-performance supercharged XFR will still streak from zero to 60 miles per hour in just 4.7 seconds, competitive with the quickest cars in its class. The Supercharged XF moves to 60 not much behind, in 4.9 seconds, with both V8 engines getting 15/23 mpg City/Highway. But the new supercharged V6 gets to 60 in a brisk 5.7 seconds while achieving 18/28 mpg. And the turbocharged four-cylinder achieves 60 in 7.5 seconds and manages 19/29 mpg. (We consider the 8-second mark generally separates the quick and the slow in 0-60 mph acceleration comparisons.)

It's important to note that, despite their varied performance and efficiency, every one of these models, including the entry-level four-cylinder we tested, feels vigorous, responsive and every bit a Jaguar. All offer strong competition for the large- or small-displacement sport-luxuries in their class, and typical of Jaguar, all deliver good value.

We approached the turbocharged four with skepticism. We were fully prepared to find a buzzy, shrill little engine hobbled by turbo lag, that annoying delayed throttle response, then sudden surge of power, typical of many turbo engines. Such performance would be anything but Jaguar-like.

But our expectations proved unfounded. The inline-4 had remarkably linear throttle response from start and when the throttle was released and reapplied vigorously; the engine had all the benefits of turbocharged power with few of the penalties. Also startling was the engine note. Far from buzzy or shrill, it had a throaty, authoritative grumble that sounded nothing like a diminutive two-liter. Jaguar has done a spectacular job of tuning the exhaust for a confident tone befitting a substantial sport-luxury sedan.

Deserving of very special mention is the new-for-2013 Instinctive All-Wheel Drive now available on the XF. We mentioned the relative rarity of XFs on the road, and the cause of this rarity is plain; in the past few years, XF's competitors from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have taken full advantage of the fact that Jaguar had no all-wheel drive. Now, finally, Jaguar has rectified that lack, and we had an intensive drive with the Jaguar XF AWD in Quebec's frozen mid-winter Laurentians.

This all-wheel-drive is fully automatic and on-demand, engaging instantly whenever needed, and it is sensationally effective. Using a system of electronic clutches to transfer power to the front wheel when needed, it follows Jaguar tradition by being somewhat rear-drive biased. But even driven enthusiastically on snow and ice, the system delivers balanced, grippy drive force that is the match for its German competitors. If wet or snowy weather is a concern in your area, the XF must now be added to the list of serious mid-size luxury combatants.

Similarly successful, spectacularly so, is the new-for-2013 8-speed automatic sequential transmission. Once you have selected D, for Drive, with the big shift knob on the console, you may let the transmission make all the decisions for itself automatically, which it will blissfully do. In daily commuter traffic, that will be most drivers' choice. But the XF is a performance-oriented sport-luxury, and getting the best out of the drivetrain means using the excellent, lightning-quick Jaguar paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.

If you are seriously intent on good performance, at the cost, of course, of some fuel mileage, you will shift the aluminum knob on the console from Drive to Sport. Immediately, the engine note changes as the throttle and shift mapping is changed. In Sport, the transmission holds each gear higher up through the rev range before shifting. With all XF models, the days of false-alarm onboard reprogramming that really does nothing at all are gone. Using Sport and shifting manually with the paddles, the chassis comes alive. What was a quiet, smooth, unruffled luxury commuter is suddenly an aggressive, run-for-daylight apex-strafer. Turbo four to supercharged XFR, the car in your hands is a pur sang, hard-cornering demon, the car you dream of crossing the Alps in, even if this is only Sunset Boulevard.

Not enough can be said of this 8-speed transmission. Its fast, glass-smooth shifts allow constant refinement of engine speed that will suit the driver's wishes. If cruising gently in Drive, the transmission slips softly down into the lowest efficient gear for fuel mileage. And if going for the lap record, each flip of a paddle brings the right amount of engine braking or continued acceleration, all with effortless elegance that is beyond pleasurable.

The XF variable-ratio steering was developed to reduce parking effort at low speeds while maintaining precision and feedback at higher speeds. Jaguar has weighted it carefully, avoiding the airy, no-effort feel that's become all too common in this class. Nor is the XF's steering overly quick, wherein a little twitch sends you to 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.

Complementing 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 level front to rear under hard braking or hard acceleration, and it's 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 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, the foundation for all of the 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 demonstrate two important things: First, the XF is inherently balanced, meaning it's no more prone to slide on its front tires than it is to spin out at the rear; and second, 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.

Those who want to see a little more of what the XF can do may 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 wont to do, before the DSC clamps down.

Especially when equipped with all-wheel drive, 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 consistent 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. In repeated hard applications, furthermore, there is no hint of brake fade.

Dynamically, the XF is first rate, but performance is only one requirement in this class. Luxury buyers expect extra-smooth, quiet operation and the XF excels there as well.

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. And of course, in the bigger-engined XFs, cracking open the throttle may wake up the slow lane. All around, the XF is a thoroughly wonderful ride, with fewer of the cookie-cutter qualities that increasingly pervade this class of all-things-to-everyone luxury cars.

If we have a complaint, it would be the slightly less-than-average outward visibility, due in part to the XF's sexy exterior design and roofline. 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. The side mirrors aren't small, and with the steeply raked windshield pillars, they 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.

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. We found the blind spot warning valuable and easy to use. Backing up, rear park assist helped, with audible beeps and a graphic display on the touch screen, while front parking warnings also proved useful. We strongly recommend the optional rearview camera in this car, given the relatively high rear deck and the narrow view through the rear window. Besides making parking quicker and more efficient, it can help the driver spot a post or, more important, a small child behind the car when backing up.

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