2014 Jaguar XF Driving Impressions

Jaguar XF offers a range of engines, a turbocharged four-cylinder, a supercharged V6, and supercharged V8s in several states of tune.

The 510-horsepower supercharged V8-powered XFR will still streak from 0-60 mph in just 4.7 seconds, competitive with the quickest cars in its class. The XF Supercharged, with a mere 470 horsepower, dashes from 0 to 60 not much behind, in 4.9 seconds. Both of these supercharged 5.0-liter V8 engines get an EPA-rated 15/23 mpg City/Highway.

The supercharged V6 gets from 0 to 60 in a brisk 5.7 seconds while achieving 18/28 mpg. And the turbocharged four-cylinder achieves 0-60 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.) The supercharged V6 appears to be the performance value here, with dramatically quicker performance than what is offered by the four-cylinder.

We approached the turbocharged inline-4 with skepticism, but our expectations proved unfounded. Throttle response was remarkably linear, and the engine note had a throaty, authoritative grumble that sounded nothing like a diminutive two-liter. It's an enjoyable car to drive.

Cruising at 70 mph in all variants is generally a serene experience, with minimal wind noise to interrupt the solitude. All around, the Jaguar 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.

The biggest source of noise might be the low-profile sport tires available on the Supercharged and XFR.

JaguarDrive Control is a feature that lets the driver tailor various functions to taste with a single adjustment. 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.

The 8-speed automatic transmission that comes on all models is impressive, and works superbly in daily commuter traffic. Its fast, glass-smooth shifts allow constant refinement of engine speed that will suit the driver's wishes. If cruising in Drive, the transmission slips softly down into the lowest efficient gear for fuel mileage. In Sport mode, the transmission holds each gear higher up through the rev range before shifting. Those who want to get the best out of the drivetrain should flick the knob to Sport and try the excellent, lightning-quick paddle shifters, which brings the right amount of engine braking or continued acceleration, all with effortless elegance.

The 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.

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.

The XF's mechanical components 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.

On a wet skid pad in the high-powered XFR, we learned from former professional racecar drivers during a day at the Jaguar R Driving Academy what the XF will do with stability and traction control fully off. Unlike cars made by other manufacturers, Jaguars truly turn off everything, leaving the driver to her own devices. We had a blast deliberately bringing the rear end around coming out of a corner and counter-steering, but we only recommend doing this on a closed course. Later, we drove the XFR around the exterior road course at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where we found the car to handle amazingly well.

The XF 3.0 AWD uses a fully automatic, on-demand all-wheel drive system that engages instantaneously when needed and provides a slight rearward bias carefully tailored to suit Jaguar's traditional chassis and handling tastes. Even driven enthusiastically on snow and ice, we found the system delivered balanced, grippy drive force that is the match for its German competitors.

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.

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