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The Jaguar XF came late to the mid-size luxury sedan soiree--decades after the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, even the Audi A6 had carved up much of the territory for themselves. But the XF has had the Jaguar name and a deft styling pen at its back, and now it has the few missing pieces of hardware it's needed, as it tries to elbow its way into that exclusive set.
The XF's look is proof that retro is mostly a crutch. It's spirited and sleek, with few cutlines, and yet the catlike stance plays off its brand name beautifully. The knockout interior is no retread, either. It's the glitziest cabin in the segment by at least a square yard of metallic trim. The rotary shift knob, "heartbeat" lighting and vents that wake up when the pushbutton start is tapped, and chic panels of wood or piano-black trim are framed by high-grade leather.
V-8 engines are no longer the only pathways to power in the XF. This year the naturally aspirated eight is gone--but it's supplanted by both a turbo four-cylinder with 240 horsepower and a supercharged V-6 with 380 horsepower. One's an economy-minded offering that helps cut the base price and boost gas mileage; the six is more a direct replacement for the V-8, with 0-60 mph times roughly its equal, and a more classically British engine note, complete with supercharger whine. It's also equipped with stop/start to increase fuel economy, and it's a juddery system that makes plain the sacrifice to the EPA gods.
Both supercharged V-8s return, and the 5.0-liter engines turn in stunning, confident performance, with a brawly baritone exhaust note and 0-60 mph times of 4.9 seconds and less, depending on your choice of 470-hp XF Supercharged or 510-hp XFR models. All versions have a paddle-shifted eight-speed automatic, but only the V-6 has Jaguar's new all-wheel-drive system, a mid-cycle addition that makes an XF a practical reality for drivers in northern climates.No matter which powertrain's under hood, the XF delivers tactile satisfaction and has an understated, graceful feel from behind the wheel. Shifts are smooth and perfectly muted, but the personality changes during enthusiastic driving and the attitude sharpens, especially with the most powerful models. Well-weighted, direct steering and capable brakes add up to a joyful driving experience. With 20-inch tires and electronic systems like Active Differential Control and Adaptive Dynamics shuffling power between the rear wheels and adjusting suspension and steering firmness, the 4,200-pound Jaguar XFR out-nimbles some of the lighter sedans in its class.
If we had to pick a single weakness for the XF, it's that the swoopy roofline leaves behind an especially small back seat. The XF is packaged more like a four-door coupe than a family sedan, which limits back-seat head room, but the trunk is large for the class, and the rear seats fold down for access to the trunk. If that isn't a deal-breaker, there's lots to swoon over, with lavish materials that, like the new XJ, set a new high-water mark for Jaguar. The seats are supple and well-contoured, and no matter where you're sitting, you're surrounded by rich leather and other snazzy materials, from walnut to aluminum.
The XF is a sport sedan, but it surrounds passengers with serious luxury-car features. Jaguar's chucked its brilliant Bowers & Wilkins audio systems for lower-power-use Meridian units, and we think bass response isn't nearly as strong in either of the new systems. All models have two USB ports, Bluetooth connectivity, and built-in music storage; to get the base price down to $47,850 on XF 2.0 sedans, some standard features become options--namely, navigation, satellite and HD radio, and a rearview camera. The $53,875 XF 3.0 AWD is the new heart of the lineup, and a winning strategy at that--but we wouldn't steer anyone away from the $84,075 XFR, the best sedan Jaguar sells today.