Jaguar XF — beyond the standard luxury sedan

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For US$51,000, a four-door that sets you apart from the pack

MOST luxury cars these days have leather seats. But most don’t retain the thick scent of an Hermès saddle shop when you sit inside. The Jaguar XF does. If you close your eyes and inhale as you slip behind the wheel, you could be forgiven a momentary pause. The tanned essence lingers even after the initial impression. It’s the first hint of this car’s aristocratic credentials, sticky on the brain like the bourbon musk of a just-empty tumbler.

“It’s not the F-Type,” I texted my friend Ben as I drove to pick him up. He knew I had a Jag, and I wanted to temper expectations. When he saw a sedan rather than a sports car pulling up, I didn’t want him to be let down. (He’s a modelling agent, used to being around beauty that quickens the pulse.) Turns out he wouldn’t be disappointed.

“Oh yeah, I know the one,” he responded. “The XF—the sedan. That one is sweet.”

OK. I guess this car’s reputation preceded it. Or at least its handsome charm.

Prowling the (urban) jungle

I do like how this cat looks: hips slightly tucked, svelte sides and roofline, arched kitten nose. The profile of the car follows the line of the jumping Jaguar logo. The daytime running LED head and rear lights are slanted slightly to make it look just a little coy. The 50cm silver alloy rims, lattice grille, and delicate nostrils on the hood entice with a subtle purr. (Splurge on the US$1,600 (RM5,712) Black package, if you feel tempted. It includes 50cm black alloy wheels, glass back window surrounds, a trunk lid finisher, and red brake calipers.)

It looks good. Simple, but not plain.

The US$51,000 XF is the smaller of Jag’s two sedans, the one with an eight-speed automatic transmission set to paddle shifters and all-wheel drive (AWD) available on the optional 340-horsepower (hp) V6 engine. (A 240-hp four-cylinder and 470-hp V8 are also available; the Supercharged XFR-S version costs US$99,000.)

It has three drive modes (winter mode included) and a start/stop function that engages automatically from the moment you start the car. I did disengage that about 10 minutes into use — the way it constantly silences the engine at stoplights is a buzz kill — but it’s easy to re-engage with the push of a button if you’re feeling frugal.

Jaguar has integrated adaptive steering and an exceptional chassis into this prowler, so the XF feels nimble around corners and like velvet on its way to 100kph. (Sprint time is 4.9 seconds on the V8.) The brakes are impressive — never raw but incredibly alert and ever present. They act like springs in the shoulders of a jungle minx.

Inside the den

The trimming inside this car fits its exterior look and price point well. The soft black Alcantara across the ceiling, the brushed matte steel accents on the dash, the vent covers, and the smooth layer of genuine rosewood throughout all work to cosset the driver and four passengers without stifling them. I like the crisp dial display front-and-centre on the dash, especially the analogue clock smack in the middle. It let me glance at the time in half a blink — virtually no time with eyes off the road.

I will admit that the 7-inch touchscreen in the centre took a few minutes for me to acclimate to; it eventually became usable — if not supremely efficient — for controlling the climate, navigation, seat warmers, and 380-watt Meridian sound system. The interior tech systems from BMW Group (see: BMW, MINI, Rolls-Royce) are far more intuitive.

The shiny black surfaces along the centre console certainly look elegant, but they aren’t great from a practical standpoint: They hold fingerprints like a detective’s wildest dream. I can just hear my mother bemoaning the maintenance — “But it’s so tough to keep clean!”

Not that I’d ever admit to caring about something like that. (Hi, Mom.)

The less expected choice

Another quibble here is the space, or lack thereof, in the rear seats. The legroom there is fine as long as the front seats are pulled relatively far forward, but if you stretch the front seats back far enough to accommodate, say, my 184cm friend Raydar, it eliminates knee space in the rear. Period. There just isn’t any. (Yes, I have a friend named Raydar.)

“Your brother would be screwed,” Ray said, leaning back in the car one evening on Lafayette. My brother is 199cm. So, yeah.

That’s a particular problem, because Jaguar is selling the XF as a unique alternative to the “same old, same old” choices in this segment: the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The target owner for the XF is younger and more contrarian than normal; I consider it a direct competitor with the Maserati Ghibli, and a potential solution to the Audi A4’s ubiquity.

BMW and Mercedes outsell the XF by thousands of units each year. They are de rigueur — so it works in Jaguar’s favour to present something a little different, something in a minor key like a villain’s theme song. But when legroom feels stingy, it’s just one more excuse for buyers to default to a more obvious pick.

Esteemed heritage

Not that Jaguar is exactly unknown. In the East Village of New York, recently, a father and son watched closely as I parked.

“See, that’s a hot rod,” I heard Dad tell Junior as I walked away. “It’s Jaguar, a famous old British brand.”

I might argue for a tighter definition of the term “hot rod”, but he had the right idea.

Jag’s updated 2016 XF will arrive later this fall. That redesign will offer more aggressive styling, more AWD options, and more power in each engine variant. It’s probably worth waiting for, if you’ve got the patience. But if you can’t forgo a whole summer without something new, the 2015 XF is a solid option. It’s a welcome break from the norm. — Bloomberg


This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on April 27, 2015.