Super looks and supercharged engine revive British icon
by: ANNI TRACY, Sleek and sexy, the new KX raises the bar for performance coupes at a critical point in Jaguar's history.

Longtime James Bond fans will have no trouble understanding the history of that other British icon, Jaguar automobiles.

Bond and Jaguar both burst into the pop culture consciousness in the early 1960s. As portrayed by a young Sean Connery, the film version of Ian Fleming's British agent left a lasting impression. And so did the sexy Jaguar coupes and sedans of the day, with their elegant lines and luxurious interiors.

But neither aged well in the 1970s and 1980s. Connery was replaced by an unconvincing Roger Moore, who looked old enough to play his father. Jaguars also got boring and stodgy - with the exception of the Italian-styled XJ-S, which did not ultimately influence any of the other models.

Things got a little better in the 1990s. Moore was replaced by the younger though generic Pierce Brosnan. And Jaguar was bought by Ford, which began revamping the entire line. Although not all of the new models were embraced by Jaguar purists, they were at least more reliable and modern than the outdated ones they replaced.

But then, after the turn of the century, both icons returned to their glory days. As played by the lean Daniel Craig, Bond got edgy again. And so did Jaguar. The XK coupe introduced in 2006 looked like a muscular version of the earlier XKE sports cars. And the XF sedan, which replaced the traditional-looking S-Type in 2008, broke new ground with its thoroughly contemporary styling.

Best of all, the mechanics of the new Jaguars are light years ahead of the previous models. The 5.0-liter V8 available in both the XK and KF is considered among the best high-performance engines in the world today. And the six-speed automatic transmission it comes with is also first-class.

Even more surprising, Jaguar upped the ante with not one but two supercharged versions of the 5.0-liter V8. The most powerful, 510-horsepower version is available in the XFR, the top-of-the-like XF model that also includes a huge front air dam and lower body moldings.

One step down is our test model, the KF Supercharged. With 470 horsepower, the slightly detuned 5.0-liter V8 is still among the most powerful engines on the market today. But, compared to the XFR, the air dam is smaller and there are no body add-ons, not even a rear spoiler. In fact, the dual twin exhaust tips are about the only external sign the engine is more powerful than the base, 358-horsepower version.

Drivers will immediately know the difference, however. The base XF is fast, especially in the manual shift mode. But the XF Supercharged is awesome, even when the automatic shifts itself. The additional power is immediately available, whether from a dead stop or in a freeway passing situations. Stomping on the gas pedal also produces a satisfying growl out the exhausts.

In fact, despite having 40 horsepower less than the KFR version, the engine is almost too much for the car. Our test model was equipped with numerous systems to keep the rear end from breaking loose. According to the run sheet, they included Dynamic Stability Control, Adaptive Dynamics, Active Differential Control and Jaguardrive Winter and Dynamic Modes. But under hard acceleration, careful attention was still needed to keep the XF Supercharged going in the right direction. Jaguar might consider adding all-wheel-drive to help keep everything under control.

During normal driving, drivers and passengers will appreciate the care and attention that went into the interior design. Everything seems wrapped in fine leather, from the seats to the wide dash and door panels. The wood grain accents are tasteful, while the aluminum and chrome trim pieces give the cockpit a purposeful look.

The jury is still out on the pop-up shift knob and touch screen information/control system, however. Both are more gimmicky than the rest of the car, and the need to switch back and forth between screens for such simple functions as turning the heated front seats on and off is annoying. On the other hand, the Bowers and Wilkins 400-watt stereo sounded great.

Ironically, both Bond and Jaguar are facing an uncertain future at this time. Financial problems have caused a delay in the third Craig film, while Jaguar fans are still waiting to see what the company's 2009 sale to Tata Motors will meet. The new Indian-based owners promise to continue the recent progress embodied by the newest model, the full-size XJ sedan released last year. Fans of both icons are hoping the thrills will continue.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 XF Supercharged.

• Manufacturer: Jaguar.

• Class: Full-size sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive.

• Style: Four-door, five passenger car.

• Engines: Supercharged 5.0-liter V8 (470 hp, 424 lb-ft).

• Transmissions: 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 15/21.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $68,000.

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