Among the best Jaguars ever?
When all the problems are worked out with electric cars and the final history of gas-powered automobiles is written, which generation of Jaguars will be most revered? Will it be the handcrafted, beautiful and rare pre-WWII British roadsters? The groundbreaking sports cars and sedans that followed the end of the Second World War? The classic but mechanically challenged machines of the Swinging 60s? The technologically improved but more generic vehicles produced after Ford bought the company in the late 1980s? Or will it be the current generation that mixes graceful styling, luxury, performance and reliability under the direction of the new owners, Tata Motors of India?
The simple truth is, while many things look better through the lens of time, the current Jaguar models are arguably the best ever produced. Although none are as iconic as 1935 SS 90 roadster, 1948 XK 120 sports car and 1959 Mark 2 sedan, today's versions are striking in their own right - sleek, muscular and fully compliant with government safety standards that did not exist in the company's Golden Days. They are also far more dependable, thanks to Tata Motor's commitment to maintaining the high mechanic standards Ford established before selling the company in 2008.
Although Jaguars were once seen as exotic cars reserved for the wealthy, the XF sport sedan is intended to compete against such upper middle class staples as the Audi A6, BMW 5 series, Infiniti M series, Lexus GS and Mercedes E-Class. Some of those cars might outperform the XF in specific road tests, but the Jaguar has a unique character that reflects and builds on its legendary British heritage. The look is long, low and sexy, with fastback styling and huge wheels. The interior is wrapped in rich leather, with tasteful metal features and wood trim accents. Even the modern touches - including the pop up shift knob - are fully integrated into the design, not gimmicky add-ons.
On the road, the XF drives like no other sport sedan. The supercharged 5.0-liter V8 in our test car was punchy without being harsh. The suspension was supple enough to float over broken pavement but take corners at high speed. The steering was precise but not twitchy. The overall effect is that of a very grown up car - a car for someone who's arrived but doesn't have to brag about it.
Our test car was the XF Supercharged, which is positioned between the entry level XF and the high performance XFR. The base XF comes with a normally-aspirated 5.0-liter V8 that nevertheless produces a very respectable 385 horsepower. Supercharging increases the output to 470 horsepower, more than enough for all but the most demanding driver. And for that person, the supercharged 5.0-liter V8 in the XFR pumps out a ridiculous 510 horsepower, more than every Corvette except the racetrack worthy ZR1.
Even the entry level XF is packed with luxury and convenience features, including heated front leather seats, transmission and suspension controls, a navigation system, and portable audio and Bluetooth connectivity. The XF Supercharged adds front seat cooling, more transmission and suspension controls, a rear parking camera, an upgraded stereo system and quad exhaust tips. The XFR Supercharged ups the ante with unique body and interior trim elements, including a larger air dam, aerodynamic spoiler and R embossed softgrain leather sport seats.
About the only shortcoming with any of the versions is the dash-mounted entertainment, climate and navigation touch control screen, which requires too many steps when moving between system. Although tricky to master, cramming so many controls onto the screen at least allows for the dash and center console to be cleanly designed.
Of course, with all the power under the hood, none of the XF models qualify as economy cars. Ours was only rated at an EPA average 17 miles per gallon, which is below many other performance cars, including the most powerful Chevy Camaro, the 6.2-liter equipped SS, which is rated 3 milers per gallon higher. This will undoubtedly cause a challenge for Tata Motors as the federal government increases its mandatory fleet mileage standards. But that doesn't prevent the current Jaguars from being among the most desirable cars available today.
Facts and figures
• Model: 2011 Jaguar XF Supercharged.
• Manufacturer: Tata Motors.
• Class: Full-size sport sedan.
• Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel-drive.
• Style: Five-passenger, four-door car.
• Engines: 5.0-liter V8 (385 hp); Supercharged 5.0-liter V8 (470 hp - as tested); Supercharged 5.0-liter V8 (510 hp).
• Transmission: Six-speed automatic with sport and manual shift modes (as tested).
• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 15/21 (as tested).
• Price: Beginning at approximately $52,500 ($68.475 as tested).