Only a Jaguar could do this to us. What other car could sweep us off our collective feet with its power, comfort, and elegance, then malfunction repeatedly, and yet remain so beguiling as to make us feel sorry when it leaves? It's not the story we wanted - nor expected - to tell, but it is indeed the bittersweet tale of our Four Seasons Jaguar XF Supercharged.
The irony is that when our liquid silver XF first arrived, one of our biggest concerns was whether it retained enough classic Jaguar character. After all, the XF was designed when the company was part of Ford and is being produced under the control of Tata, an Indian company known best for its $2500 car. And even though it rides on the same basic platform as the S-type that preceded it, the XF clearly represents a clean-sheet approach for Jaguar, an attempt to shake off the brand's old-world cobwebs and compete toe-to-toe with the best modern luxury cars. Early on, some editors wondered if Jaguar had gone too far. Several complained that the styling evoked Lexus more than the heritage of Sir William Lyons, and design editor Robert Cumberford concluded that it was "absolutely generic" from certain angles.
But any concerns about this sedan's identity melted as soon as we had a chance to spend some time behind the wheel. "The XF may look like a Lexus, but the suspension tuning is pure Jaguar," marveled contributor Sam Smith. "It rides more comfortably than a BMW or a Mercedes-Benz, and yet it has almost all of those cars' high-speed poise and refinement." And getting up to high speeds was never a challenge, thanks to the car's silky 4.2-liter V-8, which, despite its supercharger and positively brutal 420-hp output, never felt harsh or out of character for a $65,000 luxury sedan. It was even reasonably efficient, netting 20 mpg over the year. We were also mostly impressed with the thoroughly modern yet inviting cabin. Senior editor Joe Lorio found its combination of brick red leather, dark wood, and aluminum "stunning" and was happy to see no traces of stuffy English traditionalism. "With the XF, Jaguar has landed with both feet firmly in the twenty-first century. Bravo." Although some of us found the overabundance of technology - including the sensor-activated overhead lights, rotating air-conditioner vents, and rotary gear selector - frivolous, we appreciated the car's useful and user-friendly features. "The easy-to-set-up hands-free calling and nicely calibrated adaptive cruise control make the XF a great commuter car," executive editor Joe DeMatio reported. On longer journeys, DeMatio and others discovered, to their chagrin, that there's no apparent way to switch cruise control into a more conventional mode, a problem in heavy traffic or when rain and snow confused the XF's radar sensors. But neither that oversight nor the somewhat cramped back seat prevented the XF from becoming a popular choice for long road trips. Its heated and cooled seats, crisp Bowers & Wilkins stereo, and easily configurable, if somewhat slow, navigation interface helped the miles fly by - which they often did at criminal speeds.
Quick, smooth, and luxurious, the XF was an obvious choice when we selected our All-Stars for 2009. In fact, the XF posed a serious challenge to the Nissan GT-R in our Automobile of the Year considerations. The Jag was also the hardest vehicle to grab for a weekend. Four months into the car's stay, senior Web editor Phil Floraday - never known as a whiner - complained that he'd had only one opportunity to sit behind the wheel. No doubt about it, we were in love.
The problems started innocently enough. We barely noticed when one of the fuses died and when one of the power-window regulators needed replacing. We were only mildly concerned a few months later, when the digital fuel gauge started providing faulty readings. Had this been the extent of the XF's issues, all of which were easily remedied under warranty, we would have simply chalked them up as first-year glitches. Alas, our misadventure was just beginning.
In early January, production editor Jennifer Misaros discovered a pool of dark differential fluid dripping from the XF onto her garage floor. West Coast editor Jason Cammisa complained soon thereafter of the "ever-worsening stench of hypoid gear oil." After a weeklong stay at the dealer, during which it received a new differential, the XF returned to our fleet. Only nine days later, it was back in the shop, this time due to a complete loss of power-steering assist. Again the dealer kept it for a week and replaced the affected components (the steering gear, pump, and fluid reservoir) under warranty.
But the car's rock-bottom moment was still to come. That would be the morning when Misaros again found an unpleasant surprise in her garage. "The XF's battery was dead. Not just a little dead - completely dead," she reported. She then found out just how difficult it can be to jump-start a car in which everything is electronic. She couldn't access the battery, which is in the trunk, because there was no apparent way to open the trunk lid with a key. Neither could she simply have the car towed, as there was no obvious way to manually move the car's rotary shift knob into neutral and roll the XF out of the garage. The solution from Jaguar's roadside-assistance guy was to charge the car through a fuse box under the hood until there was enough power to open the trunk and then charge the battery. Total time? Two hours. We later learned that there is a keyhole for the trunk hidden out of sight, and that there's likewise a way to work the shifter without power. Misaros might have found all this information in the owners' manual, but of course, it was locked away in the power-operated glove box.
Less debilitating, but still exasperating, issues included the XF's tendency to confuse and overheat connected iPods, a malfunctioning hood-latch sensor, and a fuel door that occasionally refused to open.
Jaguar claims that many (although not all) of our issues are uncommon. That may be true, and it's worth noting that Jaguar tied for first place in J. D. Power and Associates' 2009 vehicle dependability study. And yet, the number and severity of the problems we experienced with our XF are impossible to ignore, especially for a car hoping to gain buyers in the ultracompetitive luxury-car segment.
And that's what makes our experience so frustrating. Take away the quality concerns, and Jaguar has indeed built a world-class sport/luxury sedan that retains its unique British appeal. "I think I'd choose this over a Bimmer," stated New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman. "The chassis is as good as it gets and is a reminder that bigger companies don't necessarily do it better." It's quite telling that even with all its time out of service, the XF racked up a respectable 29,134 miles. Right up to its last month, when many Four Seasons cars are ignored in favor of the latest new metal, the XF was in high demand, traveling throughout Michigan and to Chicago. Cammisa summed up our feelings best: "I'd love to hate the XF because of its problems, but I love driving it way too much. Dynamically, it's practically unbeatable."
For 2010, the XF received new, direct-injected engines, including a more powerful supercharged V-8. We've sampled the new XFR model and can report that it's even faster and nimbler than our lithe cat. More important, Jaguar says it has addressed some of our concerns, namely the faulty differential. We hope that Jaguar can continue to improve build quality. The XF is simply too brilliant to be dragged down by the less savory aspects of Jaguar's heritage.
4-yr/50,000-mile roadside assistance
11,400 mi: $0
21,287 mi: $247.67
4193 mi: Replace power-window regulator; replace 12-volt outlet fuse
13,446 mi: Inspect fuel gauge
15,520 mi: Replace differential
16,325 mi: Replace power-steering gear, pump, and fluid reservoir
18,980 mi: Replace battery
21,287 mi: Adjust hood and latch; replace tow-hook cover Out-of-pocket
11,158 mi: Purchase, mount, and balance four Dunlop Winter Sport M3 winter tires, $1738
19,501 mi: Mount and balance Pirelli PZero summer tires, $148
24,051 miles: Purchase, mount, and balance four Pirelli PZero summer tires, $1596
EPA city/hwy/combined: 15/23/17 mpg
Observed: 20 mpg
Cost per mile: (Fuel, service, winter tires) $0.34
($1.17 including depreciation)
Prices & Equipment
Price as tested
ABS; traction and stability control; active damping; twenty-inch aluminum wheels; keyless ignition; heated and cooled front seats; heated steering wheel; 440-watt Bowers & Wilkins stereo with six-CD changer, satellite radio, and iPod integration; power tilting/telescoping steering column; navigation; Bluetooth; blind-spot monitoring system; backup camera; front, side, and side curtain air bags
Adaptive cruise control, $2200
*Estimate based on info from Manheim auctions and edmunds.com
Pros + Cons
+ Superb chassis
+ Refined, V-8 muscle
+ Distinctive, high-tech cabin
- Poor reliability
- Smallish back seat
- Derivative exterior styling
2009 Jaguar XF Supercharged
Body Style: 4-door sedan
Construction: Steel unibody
Engine: DOHC 32-valve supercharged V-8
Displacement: 4.2 liters
Power: 420 hp @ 6250 rpm
Torque: 413 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic transmission
Fuel economy: 15/23/17 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Turns lock-to-lock: 2.8
Turning Circle: 37.7 ft
Suspension, Front: Double wishbone
Suspension, Rear: Double wishbone
Brakes F/R: Vented discs, ABS
Wheels: 20 x 8.5 / 20 x 9.5 in (f/r)
Tires: Pirelli P Zero
Tire Size: 255/35R20 97Y X/L / 285/30/R20 99X X/L (f/r)
Headroom F/R: 39.0 / 37.4 in
Legroom F/R: 41.5 / 36.6 in
Shoulder Room F/R: 56.8 / 56.3 in
Wheelbase: 114.5 in
Track F/R: 61.4 / 61.8 in
L x W x H: 195.3 80.8 x 57.5 in
Cargo Capacity: 17.7 cu ft
Weight: 4194 lb
Weight Dist. F/R: N/A
Fuel Capacity: 18.4 gal
Est. Range: 312 miles
Front, side, curtain airbags
Heated and cooled leather seats
Adaptive Cruise Control - $2200
Our Test Results
0–60 mph: 5.1 sec
0–100 mph: 11.7 sec
1/4–mile: 13.6 sec @ 108 mph
30–70 mph passing: 5.2 sec
peak acceleration: 0.65 g
speed in gears: 1) 39; 2) 65; 3) 102; 4) 135; 5) 159; 6) 150 mph
cornering l/r: 0.92/0.89 g
70–0 mph braking: 152 ft
peak braking: 1.15 g