Even without the supercharged engine, this sport sedan performs
by: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT, Even without the supercharged V8, the Jaguar FX looks fast standing still — and is still plenty fast on the road.

Writing car reviews can be so random. One week you're driving a minivan, the next week you're behind the wheel of a 2010 Jaguar XF Premium. And sometimes that's the week of your 40th high school reunion.

Naturally, no one would accuse you of being a phony if you show up in a new minivan you don't own. But show up in the Jaguar, and even your old friends look at you askew.

And it doesn't do you any good to argue that the Premium model is the least expensive XF, starting at under $60,000. It only has the 385-horsepower 5.0-liter V8, not the 470-horsepower or 510-horsepower supercharged version. Opting for the less powerful engine saves $8,000 over the XF Supercharged and $10,000 over the supercharged XFR.

Looked at that way, the XF Premium is practically a bargain basement Jaguar.

No one buys that argument, though. They just take one look at the Jaguar's sensuous lines, wide tires and luxurious interior and think you're showing off.

Oh, well.

Fortunately, the sheer joy of driving the XF Premium more than makes up for the ribbing, good-natured or otherwise.

It's only in comparison to the other engines that 385 horsepower sounds small. On the road, it's enough to propel the XF from zero to 60 in under six seconds, and more than enough to make freeway passing a breeze. And the power is delivered so smoothly that extra effort is needed to comply with speed limits. It's simply too tempting to let the engine keep revving.

Having tested both the XF Supercharged and the XFR, I can confirm they are even faster. But you can't really use the additional speed for anything legal, so for most buyers, the Premium should provide all the power they will ever need - especially when the steering wheel-mounted shift lever allow the engine to be wound up to its generous redline.

But all XF models are about far more than just engine output. They also handle like a dream. The suspension is taut and supple, allow the car to glide smoothly over all but the most broken surfaces. The huge four-wheel-disc brakes are also easy to modulate, allowing a little speed to be scrubbed off or well-controlled quick stops in emergency situations.

From their earliest days as British icons, Jaguars have always been about looks and comfort, too. Although the XF is more contemporary than earlier models, it is still very sleek for a large four-door. The large mesh grill is framed by sculpted headlights that flow back into sweeping side lines. The trunk lid includes a subtle spoiler that arches over a traditional leaping cat emblem and tasteful chrome trim strip. The overall result is an image of restrained power, especially in contrast to the XF Supercharged and XFR, which feature larger air dams and spoilers.

All three cars offer one of the best driving environments available today at any price. The interiors are wrapped in rich leathers and accented with wood and aluminum mesh trim pieces. The tasteful woodwork in our test model was lighter than that in the other two cars we drove, giving the cabin an airier feel. The contoured front bucket seats were still fully supportive and almost infinitely adjustable, though, allowing drivers and passengers to find the perfect positions for enjoying the ride.

Perhaps the only drawback is overly-complicated entertainment/navigation screen that requires to much practice to master. This is a common problem with luxury cars that offer more computer-controlled functions than anyone except Bill Gates would ever use. Some manufactures are offering a console-mounted joystick to operate them - a solution that requires even more practice. The trick is to set everything where you want it before pulling out of the driveway, then leaving it alone for as long as possible.

That quibble aside, the XF Premium is one of the best values today for discerning buyers with disposable income. The quality is right up there with BMW and Mercedes, but it is still rare enough to stand out in the increasingly crowded field of luxury performance sport sedans.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 XF Premium.

• Manufacturer: Jaguar.

• Class: Full-size sport sedan.

• Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive

• Style: Four-door fastback.

• Engine: 5.0-liter V8 (385 hp., 380 ft-lbs.)

• Transmissions: 6-speed automatic with manual mode and steering wheel-mounted shift levers.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 16/23.

• Price: Beginning at around $59,000 ($62,500 as tested).

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