Thursday, April 12, 2012


You know why I like to drive vehicles with a little kick? (OK, a lot of kick.)
Here’s why.
The other day I was driving south on I-75 in a 2012 Jaguar XF.
Nobody was right behind me and with a couple of trucks coming up ahead of me, I moved to the left lane. Before I moved past the trucks, however, one of the semis pulled out to pass the other.
No big deal. I slowed slightly and settled in to wait for him to complete his pass.
Then I happened to glance in my rearview mirror and saw that a pickup had come up quickly behind me. In fact, it was so close behind me that the pickup’s grille -- it was one of the big models -- filled my entire mirror.
I also could tell from the hand actions of the pickup's driver that he was upset that he had had to slow for both the semi in front of me and, well, me. He was so close it was like he was getting ready to bump draft me a la NASCAR style.
I tapped lightly on my brakes, just enough to illuminate the brake lights, so maybe that would give him a hint to move back just a little, but, of course, that got no response.
So I just hoped there wouldn't be any reason for either me or the semi in front of me to stop so that pickup would overrun my back end.
After a few seconds, the semi in my lane eventually completed its pass and moved back into the right lane, leaving me with clear road ahead in the left.
And so, with the pickup on my tail in mind, I gently pressed my right foot down on the accelerator and within a second or two, the guy in the pickup, whose image had once loomed so large, was a mere speck in the distance behind me.
Eat my dust, as they used to say, except there wasn’t any dust.
And that is why I like the kind of punch you get from vehicles like the XF, which is available with a 5.0-liter, supercharged V8 under the hood that sends 470 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque to the rear wheels. When you punch that throttle, by golly you’re going to get a response!
Of course, there are milder versions also available. The non-supercharged V8 in the base and portfolio editions is rated at 385 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque. But there's also a supercharged V8 in the XFR that is rated at 580/461, respectively.
It all depends whether you want to get from zero-to-60 mph in under six seconds, just under five seconds, or just over four.
Ah, the choices we have to make.
I liked the XF for more than its power alone, however.
Though the XKR remains my favorite Jaguar, especially the convertible, the XF runs a close second for the very basic reason that it does such an excellent job of combining the styling of a coupe with the practicality of a four-door sedan.
In that, it is slightly smaller than the XJ, the top-of-the-line flagship sedan in Jaguar’s present portfolio. The difference in length is six inches, 195.3 for the XF to 201.7 for the standard XJ, and the height is virtually the same -- 57.5 for the XF, 57.0 for the XJ.
But those differences are enough to give the XF a more distinctive, pleasing profile, and the five-inch difference in wheelbase -- the XF is shorter -- gives it a slightly more active performance behind the wheel.
Thus you’ll find the XF, which was introduced for the 2009 model year, probably a bit more appealing to a younger generation of buyers than those who go for the more established XJ, which has roots back to 1968.
The XF’s driving characteristics go beyond the mere power coming from under the hood. As well as its nimble handling, the XF provides a comfortable ride that is adaptable to highway conditions like the ones I experienced on my recent weekend expedition.
But you can also adjust it for a bit more excitement in its performance. The transmission features a Sport mode, which delays shifts until higher revs are reached. Or you can use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifter to select gears. Actually, you don’t have to shift to Sport mode to do that; you may use the paddle shifters when the transmission is in Drive as well.
In addition, you also may push a button on the console -- the one that looks like a checkered flag -- to put the vehicle in Dynamic mode, which loosens stability control just a bit to allow for some lateral movement and provides an overall sportier performance. With the Dynamic mode selected the transmission set for Sport mode as well, the transmission operates in full manual mode, which means you have to watch the rev limiter to make your upshifts.
Of course, when it comes to comfort and styling, the XF gets high marks. One distinctive feature: the dash vents are all closed until the engine is engaged, giving the dash a clean look. When the start button is pushed, the vents rotate open and the rotary dial for gear selection rises from the console.
I’ve heard some people say they don’t particularly like that rotary dial instead of the usual transmission lever, but I don’t see the big deal. Once you select Reverse, Drive or Sport, or put it in Park, you really don’t use it to change gears. When the car is in motion, the transmission is either in automatic, or you’re using the paddle shifters for manual gear selection. No problem as I see it.
In accommodating and coddling passengers, the XF rivals that of its bigger brother, even though its interior volume is slightly smaller -- 113 cubic feet to the XJ’s 120. But they have essentially the same legroom up front, and the difference in the back is only a couple of inches.
One of my backseat passengers did find sitting in the middle a big uncomfortable, but how often is that going to come up?
The base XF starts at just over $53,000, but from there the prices in the line rise sharply. The Supercharged version starts at $68,100.  The optional packages on my test model, which included $2,300 for the upgraded Bowers and Wilkins sound system ran the total $73,065.
I’m just guess that’s a bit more than that pickup that was on my tail. But the XF a lot faster, too.

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