ON SALE: MARCH 2008 / $49,950 (base, est.)
Jaguar fans have always been vocal and opinionated about what sort of cars Coventry should be building. Their opinions usually boil down to "make it breathtakingly beautiful, with loads of performance."
With Ian Callum--the design genius behind such great cars as the Aston Martin DB7 and DB9--now at the Jaguar styling helm, the "breathtaking" part should have been a walk in the park. But there's a contingent within Jaguar that insisted that the XF, which replaces the S-type and needs to sell in big numbers, should also be class-competitive with the likes of the Audi A6 and the BMW 5-series. That means the XF had to have a big trunk and space for five adults, but it also meant a little less freedom to create a truly stunning visual form.
The XF looks a lot like a Lexus GS in profile. That's no bad thing, but the XF hardly provides the drama that you'd expect from the brand that created the original XJ in the 1960s. The overall visual impression you get from the XF is that it's nice but not stunning. It has some really good detailing, such as the chrome strip at the back that sweeps under the taillight cluster and its complex headlamps. But Jaguar has attached a large chrome "leaper" on the trunk lid because, as insiders admit, most onlookers won't know that it's a Jag otherwise.
On a more positive note, the XF's interior really scores--there's plenty of room to seat four large adults in comfort. The cabin overflows with neat details, such as the gearshifter (see sidebar), covered HVAC vents that rotate to open, a start button that pulses red when you enter the car, and blue lighting around the instruments and dials. And the quality of materials and assembly on the XF we recently saw at Jaguar's design studio was as good as anything in the class. The XF's long list of electronic driver aids also is competitive and includes voice control for audio and telephone, a blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, a tire-pressure monitor, and an electronic parking brake.
At launch, the XF will be available with Jaguar's familiar 4.2-liter V-8 in either normally aspirated or supercharged guise, developing 300 and 420 hp, respectively. A six-speed automatic with shift paddles will be standard. Jaguar isn't yet using the R badge--denoting the highest-performance model in the range--for the 420-hp supercharged XF. That will come later, when the XFR launches with 500-plus hp.
In the meantime, we'd really like to see Jaguar succeed with this new sedan. And while it's good that the brand is abandoning retro pastiche design, we wonder whether the XF has pushed Jaguar's new look far enough.