New Jaguar XF roars to life |

New Jaguar XF roars to life

Andy Stonehouse

We in Colorado are lucky, at the present time, to be excluded from the rather Orwellian spectacle that is Border Patrol checkpoints out in the middle of what I still understand to be the actual United States.

Those down in the border states have become used to them, however. And when a recent automotive debut event brought me to the rolling hills east of San Diego, testing out the fine fury of the all-new Jaguar XF, a run-in with the boys in green was not so cool.

See, it seems my co-pilot of the day, an iconoclastic auto writer from Virginia with a penchant for full performance-testing driving (Jag’s people found me a good fit, rather than the standard crew of geriatric journalists with heart conditions) also had more than a bit of an anti-authoritarian thing going on.

About mid-pack in an hour’s worth of beautiful, expensive looking Jaguars tearing up the country just a heartbeat north of the border with nearby Tecate, Mexico, Dude and I rolled up to the impromptu roadblock on Interstate 8 ” and found ourselves staring down the gentlemen in jumpsuits.

Despite being the holder of a green card and a (mostly) gracious, cooperative and tax-paying resident of this country, La Migra still gives me the willies. We exchanged pleasantries with the two paramilitary types, and then Dude decided it was an excellent time to mention the six Mexican nationals he’d hidden in the trunk, just as we roared off in a cloud of smoke.

Happily, nobody chased us with a Blackhawk or opened up on us with a .50 caliber rifle, and we instead enjoyed more scenic cavorting up near the small town of Julian, in the truly splendid surroundings of the totally new Jaguar.

My trip to San Diego came at precisely the same moment that Jaguar was being sold, along with sister import Land Rover, to Tata Motors of India, after an impressive but cash-losing stint with Ford Motors.

We gathered at the sublime Ivy Hotel in San Diego’s Gaslamp district, where an XF had been hoisted by crane onto the building’s rooftop patio, to see if design director Ian Callum’s latest offering was up to snuff (or if it might serve to effectively line the pockets of the company’s new owners with some hard currency).

The good and the bad news is that the new, rear-wheel drive XF is totally unlike any Jaguar before it, not only in terms of design, but in its overall outlook.

That design seems, for the most part, to have utterly abandoned the classic swoopiness of Jags of yore, opting instead to take bits and pieces of the Jaguar vernacular and apply them more ” dare I say it ” in the style of its Japanese and German competitors.

I met several younger members of Callum’s design team and figured pretty quickly that they’d done a considerable share of the XF’s draftboard work, hence the amalgamation of up-to-the-minute style.

Frankly, from the rear, it’s hard to say that the XF is a Jaguar at all (maybe a more futuristic rendition of the not-so-old XK), with a thoroughly modern but not entirely distinctive rear-quarter aspect that’s bits of BMW, Acura, Audi and Lexus.

XF’s snout is fearsome indeed, complete with a rippled, texturized hood and a glowing wire mesh grille, but it too fails to impart a classic Jaguarness.

That, however, seems to be part of the XF’s mission, updating and contemporizing the brand to appeal to those who’d otherwise be led to other luxury imports.

Much of the automobile’s distinctive character is in its inventive interior, which will either strike potential buyers as totally cool or completely ridiculous.

Central to this concept is the notion of your otherwise metallic and quite inanimate XF coming to life each time you sit behind the wheel. Enter the car and the pushbutton starter pulses like a heartbeat; press that button and as the 4.2-liter V8 fires up (with either 300 standard or 420 supercharged horsepower under foot); a futuristic round gear selector knob rises out of the center console and four robotic air vents swirl up out of the dash and into position.

The knob, the JaguarDrive Selector, is a pretty slick toy ” gears are selected by gently but non-intuitively spinning the dial ” but the recurring comment among the auto journalists in attendance was, “Hmmm … this looks like it’s going to be expensive when it breaks.”

True to Jaguar, the seating space still leaves somewhat limited headroom unless you lower the seats to their lowest position; driver and passenger size is otherwise pretty good, and the leather seating is so marvelously well done that it looks almost synthetic.

Out on the twisting road, the XF has an entirely different feel than its brothers and sisters. The athletic feel of the XK has been slightly transmuted with a sporty but more stolid feel; handling is precise but more comfortable than high-performance oriented.

Dude and I did have fun on the curvy bits with both the supercharged and the naturally aspirated models. I enjoyed the noisy blast of the 420 horsepower setup, with plenty of neck-snapping pull, while the 300-horse base model (yes, sadly, just a mere 300 horsepower) seemed infinitely more sprightly near sea level than it did during a week’s drive a bit later here.

I’m not sure if altitude or my recent exposure to several other near-400 HP machines changed either the XF’s attributes or, perhaps, my mind, but I’d opt for the 420 HP model just to take care of business. The exhaust note of either iteration is pleasant and those not set on speed records could get along just fine with the not especially expensive ($56,000) base model.

A concession to non-Californian driving is the XF’s snow mode, which can’t quite muster up all-wheel-drive but does settle the automobile’s output and stability control gyros to allow for safer winter traveling.

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