Reviews

2011 Jaguar XF Walk Around

From its basic shape to its aerodynamic characteristics to its underlying structure, the Jaguar XF is a thoroughly modern automobile. It's also a Jaguar and, while its styling is intended to create a template for Jaguars to come, the XF retains certain traits that the world associates with the brand.

This essential Jaguar character is defined by the XF's face, centered on a prominent grille that launches nearly all of the lines flowing rearward along the car. The grille itself is quintessentially British woven mesh, trimmed with chrome and reminiscent of Jaguar's racing heritage. Wing-shaped headlight clusters wrap around the XF's corners onto its fenders.

In profile, the XF is defined by a single, uninterrupted line that flows from the front bumper to the rear edge of the trunk lid. The beltline, that character-building crease below the side windows, rises up into the roof while the roof drops down toward the beltline. The effect is a forward-biased wedge shape that creates an impression of speed, even when the XF is sitting still. The rear deck is higher than that on any Jaguar sedan before, but this less-formal look pays dividends in excellent aerodynamics and an expansive trunk.

The overall shape of the XF does not shout Jaguar, but the familiar design cues are everywhere. Within each new-age headlight cluster sit two round, sealed beams that maintain the brand's quad-lamp signature, complete with the traditional fluting above the lights. The chrome trim above the side windows is a reminder of the historic Mk II sedan, while the prominent hood bulge recalls the E-type, which is arguably the most famous Jaguar of all. We're not enamored with all the jewelry, however. The bright metal strip on the trunk lid looks ordinary, and the leaping Jaguar in back is overkill.

The basic shape does more than create a high-impact presence. Aerodynamically, the XF is the most efficient Jaguar sedan ever, with an impressive 0.29 drag coefficient and a front-to-rear lift balance of zero. That means that neither end of the car is more inclined than the other to lift in the airflow as speeds increase. The excellent aerodynamics help keep the XF stable at high speeds, reduce wind noise inside and reduce fuel consumption at a given speed, compared to a car with more drag.

The XF is slightly larger in just about every exterior dimension than the Audi A6, which was previously the largest car in this class. Its underlying structural design is driven by safety considerations, and particularly by the goal of protecting against side impacts and the tendency of tall, sport-utility-type vehicles to slide upward in collisions with sedans. Jaguar has applied a host of high-tech metals, including high-carbon steels, dual-phase steel, hot-formed boron and bake-hardened steels, to create a vertical safety ring around the XF's occupant cell. Jaguar claims the XF will deliver the best crash protection in the class with a body/frame package that is lighter than that of its competitors.

There's a second benefit to this careful structural engineering. While the XF's body is larger, Jaguar also claims that it is the most torsionally rigid car in the class, meaning that it flexes less from end to end under pressure. This overall stiffness and rigidity is one of the factors that separate luxury sedans from less expensive, higher-volume models. It's the foundation for minimizing noise and vibration inside an automobile, and the well from which dynamic capabilities such as handling, ride quality and overall responsiveness flow.

Interior

Inside, the Jaguar XF has everything we want in a sporting luxury sedan, without a lot of things we don't want. We want style, comfort, features, useful technology and great ambience. We don't want the distraction or annoyance that some contemporary luxury sedans demand in return for what we do want.

Is the XF cabin high-tech? We'd say so. The overhead lights, for example, work simply with a touch. Not a switch or even a click of the light lens itself, but just a soft touch. The same with the glovebox latch, which isn't really a latch at all. It's a spot on the wood trim where you lay a finger. In general, the XF's features and controls empower the driver without overpowering. They're there when you need them and not a distraction when you don't.

Like its exterior, the XF's interior will seem familiar to previous Jaguar owners, only different. The great leather and a choice of lacquered wood are familiar. The difference is primarily the design or layout. It's less conventional than previous Jaguar sedans, and perhaps less formal.

The materials are bit different, too. There's a lot more aluminum trim to go with the wood (though there is still a lot of wood). And while Jaguar has always delivered the requisite leather, wood and wool carpet, it has sometimes hidden behind these big-impact materials without paying much attention to lesser stuff. In the XF, even the plastic pieces inside have a rich, latex-like feel. Overall, the package is first rate. It's as inviting in design and ambience as any car in this class, and more so than many.

All seats are leather, with perforated inserts between the bolsters. The base package gets what Jaguar calls bond-grain, and it's thick and sturdy. The Premium models get soft-grain leather. It's ultra-soft to the touch, but still sturdy and substantial, and in these models it's applied on the dashboard and door panels as well, with genuine double stitching. The front seats are heavily sculpted, and they support and cushion as well as the standard seats in any car in this class, with adjustment for just about everything. Yet these seats are less massive than those in some competitors, perhaps thinner, so they seem to fill less space inside the car.

When the driver slides into the XF with the proximity key in purse or pocket, the start button glows, ready to be pushed. The steering wheel is identical to that in the XK sport coupe: Grippy, with heavy spokes and the growling mug of a jaguar in the center. The gear selector is a big, aluminum dial knob that rises from the center console when the XF fires up. It's cooler than the drive-by-wire shifters other luxury manufactures have developed, and as functional as any. Jaguar claims this electronic gear selector will keep working even if it's drenched with a half-gallon of coffee.

The primary gauges are slightly smaller than those in some luxury sedans, but the script is large and easy to read. They're clustered under a compact hood binnacle in the now-familiar luxo-car format: Speedometer on the right, tach left, flanking an LCD message center with a bar-graph gas gauge, gear indicator, time, odometer and other trip information. The backlighting is ultra-crisp phosphorus blue, and perhaps the best going.

The XF's soft blue LED ambient lighting looks nice at night, too.

Speaking of the dashboard, it's not the familiar rounded-end flat panel we've come to expect in Jaguar sedans. It's lower and, thanks partly to the long rake of the windshield, much deeper. The design is dominated by a strip of scored aluminum, perhaps six inches high, that runs the full width and around onto the door panels. The leather top of the dash rises slightly from this aluminum plate toward the base of the windshield, stretching a good two feet at the center of the car. Below the aluminum is a thinner strip of wood, with big planks of wood trim on the doors and the top of the center console. The XF offers a choice of satin-finish American Walnut, glossy, traditional Burl Walnut, or lighter Rich Oak.

Switches and general ergonomic function are first-rate; the best we've experienced in a Jaguar, and near the top among luxury imports. Pressure-resistant thumbwheels on the steering-wheel spokes adjust audio or cruise-control functions, and they feel right. The headlight switch is on the turn-signal stalk and the wipers are on the right stalk, and both are easy to use, first and every time. Buttons for the sunroof and rear sunshade are overhead.

In general, the XF has what we look for and like. The mirror adjustor and window switches are clustered on the armrest, and easy to operate with the forearm laid flat. The elbows rest level on the door and center armrests when the hands are placed at 10 and 2 o'clock on the steering wheel, for comfortable, relaxed cruising. Most frequently adjusted controls are replicated in a rational, attractive array of buttons just below the touch-screen, in the short center stack. Two rectangular clusters control audio and climate adjustments, with substantial radial knobs for volume and fan speed.

We wish, however, the heated seats had their own buttons, like every car we can think of, instead of having to locate them on the touch-screen by moving through menus. And we found radio tuning on the touch screen distracting to our driving; there are volume and channel controls on the steering wheel, but if you're trying to move between satellite radio stations, you need the screen. It takes your eyes and your brain doing problem-solving to locate the thing you have to push, and then your finger must be steady, not always easy while you're driving 65 mph in freeway traffic, sometimes bumpy, sometimes turny.

We like the audio systems. The base stereo features eight speakers and 320 watts of output. The 440-watt Bowers & Wilkins audio system might be the best we've heard in an original-equipment automotive application. It was developed with B&W, the British boutique manufacturer that makes speakers and monitors for recording studios. The highs are incredibly crisp and the lows are pervasive, with virtually no muddling or distortion at either extreme, even at mega-wattage.

Cubby storage options are decent but not as complete as some mainstream sedans and family vehicles.

The center console is wide, almost as we'd expect in a big sports car. Touch-release covers reveal three easy-to-reach cupholders, the largest of which will safely hold a super-size drink cup. With the round inserts removed, there's plenty or room in these bins for phones, remotes and wallets. The main bin in the center console isn't large enough to hide a standard-size laptop, but there's plenty of room for cameras or a lot of CDs. There's also an easy-access power point and iPod/auxiliary jack, with a secure place to leave the plugged-in MP3 player while driving. The glovebox has about twice as much space as that occupied by the owner's manual and documentation. The glovebox in some luxury sedans won't even fit the owner's manual, while others are filled by it. Bins at the bottoms of the doors aren't very deep, but they're wide enough to lay a phone flat and they are lined with a velvety material that keeps glasses and other delicate items from sliding or scratching.

If the XF's accommodations fall short of the competition, it's behind the front seats. The rear seat itself is comfortable, bolstered some for the outside passengers, with the same fine materials as the front part of cabin. Yet the rear space seems more confining than the roomiest cars in this class, regardless of what the published measurements suggest, and it's a bit short on amenities.

A big part of the problem is the XF's diving roofline and long rear window. The rear seat is placed fairly far forward toward the center of the car, so legroom is tight, particularly with anything but short occupants in front. And headroom still comes up short. A passenger taller than 5 feet, 7 inches will sit in back with hair brushing the headliner. Tall passengers might have to contort their necks in some fashion. Cupholders are provided in the fold-down rear armrest; a pair of vents on the back of the front console offer ventilation, and there's a storage bin big enough for some change or a pack of cigarettes and not much else. The only other storage space for rear passengers is a small bin at the bottom of each door.

The trunk, on the other hand, is easily the largest in this class. With 17.7 cubic feet of space, it's essentially as big as the trunk in some full-size luxury sedans such as the BMW 7 Series. Loading large items could take some work, however, and again the XF's styling is partly to blame. The rear deck or trunk lid is fairly short, and a lot of the cargo space stretches forward under the rear window, so the trunk opening is fairly small. The lift-over height seems higher than average, as well.

To add cargo capacity, the XF is equipped with a split, folding rear seat, with clever releases that will lower the seatbacks from the trunk, without going inside the car. This expands cargo space another 14.8 cubic feet, for an impressive total of 32.5 cubic feet. Perhaps as significantly, the folding seat allows alternate access to the cargo area, by leaning in through the rear side doors.

The exterior design plays a role in our biggest single gripe inside the XF: Outward visibility. We wouldn't call it bad, but in any direction other than forward, the view out is more restricted than we'd expect in a sedan. The rear glass is expansive, but it's raked at a long, flat, coupe-like angle, so the view through the rearview mirror is short. The side mirrors aren't small, but they seem to be shaped more for style or noise reduction than optimized visibility. Bottom line: It takes a while to get comfortable with the mirrors, or to get them set in a fashion that minimizes over-the-shoulder glances in traffic.

Rear park assist solves that problem, with audible beeps and a graphic display on the touch screen. A reverse-view camera is optional, and we strongly recommend it because it could help the driver spot a child or adult behind the car and thereby avoid a tragic accident when backing up, especially given the relatively high rear deck and the narrow view through the rear window.

Request More Info