The 2013 Jaguar XF's exterior styling is carried over virtually unchanged from the freshened look of the 2012 model, giving little indication of the added mechanical choices lying beneath.
We parked a 2013 XF next to a contemporary BMW 5 Series and were startled by what we saw. The Jaguar and BMW are very nearly the same size. The 5 Series is nothing if not handsome. Yet next to the BMW, the Jaguar seemed not merely larger but somehow grander, more chic. The XF doesn't merely look fine; it makes an impression, requiring you to take it seriously. Some of this impression may be caused by the XF's relative rarity compared with the ubiquitous 5 Series. But bolstered by Jaguar's recent extremely high quality and reliability ratings, the XF is more than a nice-looking car. It has about it that intangible element, dignity. Even our most-affordable value XF test car had it. In spades.
The Jaguar XF applies a host of high-tech metals like high-carbon steels, dual-phase, bake-hardened steel and hot-formed boron to create a vertical safety ring around its occupant cell. This careful structural engineering pays dividends in everyday driving. Jaguar claims that the XF 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 starting point for dynamic capabilities such as good handling and ride quality.
All Jaguar XFs use quintessentially British wire mesh grille work, but the finish and shapes below the bumper vary with the model. The Jaguar XFR has black mesh and larger openings below the bumper. The Jaguar XF Supercharged hood is fitted with louvers featuring Supercharged script.
The bi-function HID xenon headlights are slim and compact but still incredibly bright, and bordered with LED running lights in Jaguar's signature J-Blade shape. The tail lights use LED elements exclusively, which extend onto the trunk lid.
The body is defined by a single, uninterrupted line flowing from the front bumper to the rear edge of the trunk lid. The beltline, or 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 at rest. The rear deck is higher than that of any previous Jaguar sedan, but this less-formal look pays dividends in excellent aerodynamics and an expansive trunk.
The basic shape does more than create a high-impact presence. Aerodynamically, the XF is very efficient, with an impressive 0.29 drag coefficient and a front-to-rear aerodynamic lift balance of zero. That means neither end of the car is more inclined than the other to lift in the airflow as speeds increase. The excellent aerodynamics keep the XF stable at high speeds and reduce wind noise inside.
Jaguar interiors have always had a nice clubby feel, with beautiful leather seating and ample wood inlays to make the point. The contemporary Jaguar XF interior continues this tradition, but it is somewhat less formal and more straightforward.
Our Jaguar XF had handsome Figured Ebony veneer, one of several veneer choices. But the dominant theme on the dashboard was a broad expanse of scored aluminum running from door panel around the dash to door panel, bright and handsomely adorned with instrumentation. It lacked the clubby warmth of the premium XJ line, but exhibited a flinty pragmatism all its own. Unencumbered by improperly complex technology, it made us want to get in and drive.
Slide into the XF with the proximity key in purse or pocket, and the Start button glows, ready to be pushed. Press it, and the vents rotate in the dash, exposing the registers. The gear selector is a big, aluminum dial-knob that rises from the center console when the engine fires up. It's unique, nicer than the drive-by-wire shifters other luxury manufactures have developed, and more functional. Jaguar claims this electronic selector will keep working even if it's drenched with a half-gallon of coffee.
The speedometer is quite small, with small numbers and a thick indicator needle, making it difficult to determine a precise speed reading, which can be unsettling when certain civil servants are following you in a speed zone. The combination of small speed gauge lines and a fat needle made us wish fondly (and for the first time) for a digital speed readout. Fortunately, such a digital speedometer is among the options in the trip-odometer Info bulletin board between the speedometer and the tachometer. So there's our digital readout.
The tachometer was similarly small, running up to its 6500-rpm redline. With the superb Jaguar 8-speed automatic sequential transmission, which precludes over-revving either while upshifting or downshifting, a tachometer is becoming less relevant, more and more a curiosity. However, it does let you know how low your revs are when you're trying for maximum highway mileage. The XF was quite happy gurgling along at a low 1700 rpm on the Interstate, getting a reasonable 28 mpg.
Between the speedo and the tachometer, the Info screen delivers trip mileage, fuel range, miles per gallon, average speed, and as mentioned, digital present speed. Above this is an analog clock, a linear bar fuel gauge, and at the top, a linear gear indicator, activated when the paddle-shifters are used. When the paddles are not used, a generic fully automatic PRNDS transmission indicator is displayed.
The center stack's premier element is a fine touch-screen monitor, controlling audio, navigation, phone and climate controls. The difficulty with many touch-screens is that if their targets are too small to touch accurately, it can be difficult to make a selection while simultaneously driving over bumpy or curvy terrain. The Jaguar targets were reasonably sized, though you needed to take aim and only occasionally needed a second shot. Fine.
The audio in our test car had Sirius satellite and a fine optional 380-Watt Meridian sound system, which performed admirably, with no distortion when played louder than human tolerance. Better still, controls for manipulating stations and presets with AM/FM/Sirius were instantly intuitive. In the face of German cars with over-engineered audio-system tuning, no one even dares mention the term good ergonomics anymore. But the XF audio's ergonomics are brilliant.
Below the touch-screen is a row of buttons controlling door locks, screen on/off, hazard lights, the navigation screen, phone and main menu. Beneath these, audio volume controls and the XF climate control are, again, efficient and mercifully self-explanatory. Switch the climate control off, and the four aluminum dashboard vent doors scroll shut. Also located here are buttons for front and rear defrosters, front seat heater/coolers and air recirculation.
The center console's main feature, of course, is the pop-up knob aluminum PRNDS transmission shifter, which retracts flush with the console surface when the engine is not running. To the rear of this knob are buttons for Winter Mode, Stability Control/Off and automatic speed control, the latter protecting against the natural impulse to gradually drive faster and faster on long trips. The Jaguar switchgear are of high quality and reassuring tactile strength throughout.
Our Jaguar XF Portfolio Package had soft-grain black-leather heated-and-cooled seats with 16-way adjustment for the driver and 12-way adjustment for the front passenger. With contrasting white stitching, they were handsome and blessed with the wonderful aroma of good leather. They also had good lumbar and side-bolster adjustment, allowing an extremely personal fitment for either performance driving or long-distance cruising. In combination with properly fitted elbow rests in the door and on the console, a balanced driving position with hands at 10 and 2 o'clock can be maintained comfortably all day and all night.
The Jaguar steering wheel has the usual remotes for adjusting cruise control and audio, but they are thumbwheels placed flat in the spokes of the wheel, not protruding from its edges where they can be accidentally brushed during maneuvering. And in the lower center of the wheel is an iconic, wonderfully Mayan Jaguar's head, the growler, watching your every move. Nice.
Cubby storage in the XF is decent as luxury cars go, 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 easy-to-reach cupholders. Bins at the bottoms of the doors aren't very deep, but they're wide enough to lay a phone flat and lined with a soft material that keeps glasses and other delicate items from sliding or scratching. 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 jacks, with a secure place to leave the plugged-in MP3 player while driving.
If the XF's accommodations fall short of the competition, it's behind the front seats. The rear seat itself is comfortable, with decent side bolstering for the outside passengers, using the same fine materials as in front. Yet the rear space seems more confining than the roomiest cars in this class, regardless of what the published measurements suggest. Rear passengers up to 5 feet, 8 inches will find plenty of space, but taller riders might get squeezed on leg and headroom. The back seat also has fewer amenities then some competitors. There's a power point and two amiable vents on the back of the center console, but no temperature control or fan. Storage options are limited to the fold-out pockets on the front seatbacks (good), and small bins at the bottom of the rear doors (bad). Cupholders are provided in the fold-down armrest, but they're not very deep or very good at holding cups.
The XF trunk is among the largest in class. With 17.7 cubic feet of space, it's bigger than the trunk in some full-size luxury sedans, and it's lined with carpet that's richer than that used inside some cars.
To add more cargo capacity, the XF is available with a split, folding rear seat, with clever releases that allow lowering the seatbacks from the trunk without going inside the car. This expands cargo space another 14.8 cubic feet, for an enormous 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.
That's a lot of storage, to be sure, but loading large items could take some work, and 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 load floor narrows significantly between the rear wheels, and the bulkhead behind the rear seatbacks limits the height of items that will slide through. In short, there's a lot of cargo space, but it works best for a lot of smaller items. In the XF, the size of individual items is limited.