— -- It's no stretch to say that the just-launched 2009 Jaguar XF sedan is more than a Jaguar. It is the Jaguar.
It's the only new-design Jag model on sale. It's the only Jag you could consider a mainstream product (by luxury-car standards). And the vehicle is doing so well that Jag could sell only the XF and match past total sales.
Based on the XK coupe, this sedan's swooping style, tasteful interior, V-8 power and modest (by luxury standards) $50,000 starting price have quickly made it a hit.
It went on sale March 10 and corralled 1,161 buyers for the month, according to Autodata — two-thirds of Jaguar's total sales and about 100 more than all models combined in February. Last year, Jag averaged 1,307 sales per month in the USA.
Salients from time in a $65,475 Supercharged and a $56,950 Premium Luxury:
•Quiet. Wind and road noise were almost non-existent.
Alas, the front edge of the driver's door panel creaked in the Supercharged, and the driver's door pillar in the Premium Luxury had a faint tapping or creaking.
•Quick. Deceptively so, slipping to 70 mph or more as you're thinking 50 mph.
The 420-horsepower Supercharged was far more exciting than the 300-hp Premium Luxury model, but the latter's hardly sluggish or dull. The Supercharged delivered its punch with a wonderful growl.
Both engines deliver that substantial power smoothly, rather than suddenly. Thrill-seekers, look elsewhere.
•Taut. Far from the cushy feel you might associate with Jaguar, the XF had the firm European ride beloved by driving enthusiasts and despised by those looking for a soft, gentle demeanor.
The high-performance Supercharged actually had the smoother ride. It comes equipped with an adaptive suspension that adjusts to conditions: soft on the boulevard, tight and firm in the twisties.
•Pretty. The sweep and swoop of the body holds the eye and caresses the mind.
Some of the design details, however, are less inspirational. The big grille and sloping nose have an unsettling similarity to the far less premium Chrysler 300M of the 1990s and early 2000s (that's the old front-drive 300 built on the LH architecture — not the big, buff, rear-drive 300 on sale now).
Also, the chrome leaping Jaguar seems crowded on the trunk lip by the fat chrome strip beneath it.
•Flawed. Visors swivel to the side, but don't slide, and there are no auxiliary visors. Better hope the sun doesn't move in the sky where you live. There's no head restraint for the middle position of the rear seat. The rear fold-down armrest has only a cup holder, no storage for, say, a first-aid kit.
Hey, rivals do the same things, Jag says.
And next time your kid says, "Everybody else does it," you'll accept that excuse, right?
•Inviting. The interior is well-done, not overdone.
The well-leathered interior beckons almost irresistibly. Jaguar has made the hides more pleasant to touch by, for example, putting a thin layer of foam under the dashboard leather to make the point it's a soft, organic fabric. In previous models, the leather was tightly fitted and buyers weren't recognizing it as lush material, not plastic.
Honest wood trim in several choices is attractive, minimal and classy.
Comfort accompanies the pleasing appearance. Even when the front seat's far back, there's adult-size knee and legroom in back. Don't count on fitting anybody big in the middle, though.
Options such as heated steering wheel and heated/cooled seats keep front folks happy.
•Innovative. Teched-out V-8 matches or beats fuel economy of rivals' six-cylinder motors. The blind-spot monitor (orange icons that appear in the outside mirrors) worked just so and didn't annoy.
High-end British audio purveyor Bowers & Wilkins supplies the top-level sound machine, its first time in an auto. The Supercharged test car had that system and the sound delivered was OK, but not aurally ravishing as expected.
The big start-stop button on the console begins to double blink when you enter holding the key, the visual equivalent, Jag says, of a thump-thump, thump-thump heartbeat. The beast is alive and awaits your command.
Push the button and dashboard air vents swivel open. The beast awakes.
Really. Jag says that's what it had in mind. You can't make up this stuff.
The gearshift — it's a fat knob, not a lever, and saves space on the console — rises in greeting when you press the starter. You rotate it through the PRNDS sequence to pick your poison, "S" being the aggressive sport-shift mode that holds lower gears longer, boosting scoot but slicing mileage. Manual shifting is by paddles on the steering wheel. Handy, but not as satisfying as a shift lever.
Maybe you like the folderol, but XF could lose the heartbeat button, the eye-opening vents and the rising-and-rotating shifter without sacrificing serious appeal. In fact, it would seem less contrived, more honest.
And it would drive just as well, be just as quiet and composed, look just as good, and probably still be the marketplace home run that its early results suggest.
ABOUT THE JAGUAR XF
What? Midsize, rear-drive, five-passenger, luxury sedan.
When? On sale since March 10.
Where? Castle Bromwich, U.K.
Why? Gotta have something that sells well and makes money.
How? Underpinnings of the XK topped with sexy four-door body.
How much? Luxury starts at $49,975 including $775 destination. Premium Luxury, $55,975. Supercharged, $62,975.
Test cars: $56,950 Premium Luxury, $65,475 Supercharged.
How potent? 4.2-liter V-8 in Luxury and Premium Luxury is rated 300 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, 310 pounds-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm. Supercharged is rated 420 hp at 6,250 rpm, 413 lbs.-ft. at 4,000. Six-speed automatic standard.
How big? XF is 195.3 inches long, 73.9 in. wide (80.8 in. with mirrors), 57.5 in. tall, on a 114.5-inch wheelbase.
Passenger space is listed as 95.3 cubic feet; trunk as 17.7.
Weight is listed as 4,194 lbs. (Supercharged), 4,017 lbs. (others).
Turning circle diameter is listed as 37.7 feet, curb-to-curb.
How thirsty? Non-supercharged rated 16 mpg in town, 25 highway, 19 in combined. Supercharged is 15/23/17.
Supercharged's trip computer: 13.6 mpg in mixed suburban and freeway use. Non-supercharged: 13 mpg in pure suburban driving.
Overall:Power, gorgeous body, tasteful interior, a few silly gadgets.