EDITORS NOTEBOOK: 2008 Jaguar XF Supercharged, Day 5

Read Sam Smith’s comments on driving the 2008 Jaguar XF Supercharged.

Call me a contrarian, but in spite of everyone else’s opinion, I’m just not in love with the XF. It’s modern, restrained, tasteful, and every bit a fine competitor to the Germans in this class, but something is amiss. The chassis is mind-blowingly fantastic, but the relatively short time I spent with the XF still left me completely cold.

Styling: While it’s not necessarily offensive, it’s not necessarily appealing, either. The square-jawed, boring front grille seems like an afterthought, and the C-pillar trim and basic proportions reek of Lexus GS. And while the shape and trim detailing were appealing at first glance, the more time I spent with the XF, the more it blended in with the rest of traffic. Not something you can say for the XK or the current XJ. Something tells me the shape is going to appear dated fairly quickly.

Interior: Wonderfully modern, composed, and nice to look at, but it exudes a cold, sterile feel that seems to be all too common in luxury sedans these days. It’s like being in an uber-hip doctor’s lounge or a shallow martini bar in a trendy neighborhood, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The blue-tinted lighting reminds me of high-end stereo equipment, which is a nice touch, but it also fails to add any warmth or humanity to the cockpit. It’s neat to look at, but harsh. The vents and pulsing start button are gimmicky; the glove box door’s proximity sensor repeatedly refused to work (though admittedly, when it did, it was the source of much amazement for my passengers). The transmission selector makes a cool little mechanical “click” every time you tap it down, but it’s also distant and unsatisfying to use—it removes all sense of drama. You may as well be turning on your toaster.

Also, just as it does on the XJ and XK, the touch screen here sucks beyond belief. Slow, and it locks you out of; other features while it’s thinking. Frustrating, so much so that I eventually just gave up trying to deal with it. At least the stereo rocks.

Chassis/Powertrain: Love love love love the engine. Linear, smooth, pulls like a Saturn V at any rpm and any throttle opening. Endless, unquestionable, to-the-moon thrust with no hiccups. No doubt about it, this thing can move. Arrest-me-and-haul-my-ass-to-jail-for-the-rest-of-the-decade speeds are just a toe-tap away, and while blower noise has been toned down a bit, it’s still there, lurking in the background. Cool.

Shift quality is impressive at higher speeds and large throttle openings, and the paddles always called up instantaneous, glass-smooth downshifts when cranking down into a corner. That said, around town, the XF’s automatic kept banging me into second with a surgy lurch, and (like our XK) it starts off in second gear when in sport mode. Not a fan.

Brakes were probably my biggest complaint – difficult to modulate away from a stop, with a sticky, digital feel at creeping speed. Smooth departures/releases and stops required feather-light pedal pressure and a good deal of concentration, otherwise the car tended to yank itself from/to a stop. (Reminds me of what used to happen in old-school automatic-transmission cars when you cranked the idle speed too high.) Hope this is just a foible of this particular car, and not indicative of all XFs. Otherwise progressive, strong, and easily modulated at speed.

Steering feel is wonderful; it’s accurate, light, and nicely weighted. High-speed damping and wheel/body control is fantastic. Railroad tracks at 45 mph? Not even there. This thing is amazingly tied down over even the craziest of pavement and at absurd speeds. Low speed ride is still a little harsh, though, and exhibits none of the balanced, controlled softness that I always loved about older Jags.;

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not pining for the old-school, drawing-room Jag atmosphere. I applaud the hell out of Jag for taking a giant leap forward, I really do. (The S-Type and X-Type – and their styling language – were in need of a mercy killing from the day they were launched, if you ask me.) I just think there’s a little something missing here. I won’t go so far as to say that emotion got left at the door, but I’m a huge Jaguar fan, and this car doesn’t speak to me.

p.s. Did anyone else notice that the turn signals don’t click when they’re on? Why does this bug me? I always liked the “tock-tock, tock-tock” that our long-term XK made when turning, but I understand if it’s too old-school-Jag to stay. Still, can’t I at least have a noise for my blinkers? Something?