Test Drive: Jaguar's XF now lighter, more nimble

Test Drive: Jaguar's XF now lighter, more nimble

March 18th, 2017 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The Jaguar XF mid-size luxury sedan has been lengthened by two inches.

Photo by Mark Kennedy /Times Free Press.

A red and black interior adds drama to the Jaguar XF.

A red and black interior adds drama to...

Photo by Mark Kennedy /Times Free Press.

Fast facts

- Model: 2017 XF35t AWD R-Sport

- Exterior color: Italian Racing Red

- Interior color: Jet/Red Duotone

- Engine: 3.0-liter, V-6, supercharged

- Horsepower: 340

- Transmission: eight-speed automatic

- Fuel economy: 28 mpg highway, 20 mpg city

- Local Dealer: Jaguar of Chattanooga

- Price (as tested): $64,645

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Six hours after the all-wheel-drive 2017 Jaguar XF35t R-sport arrived in my driveway earlier this week, a rare mid-March snowfall dusted our mountaintop neighborhood.

By dawn, the roads were covered with just enough loose snow and ice pellets to make the commute to work dicey. Still, the all-wheel-drive Jaguar with all-season tires proved tenaciously stable, even when I jabbed the accelerator going uphill in the snow. The security of knowing this Italian Racing Red luxury sedan was not going to suddenly leap off the road and wrap itself around a tree was truly comforting.

The XF was "redesigned" for the 2016 model year, although most of the alterations were nearly invisible. Changes included a 2-inch lengthening of the wheelbase and extensive swapping of steel parts for aluminum bits, which made the car lighter and more nimble. The profile remains essentially the same, as Jaguar sometimes goes a generation or two between major body redesigns.

The five-passenger, mid-size luxury car segment is filled with iconic pieces such as the BMW 5-series, Audi A6, Mercedes-Benz E-class and Cadillac CTS-V. Amid all this German engineering prowess and American muscle, the Jaguar is an island of elegance. The fact that the British-made XF was recently named the top mid-size sedan by German consumers in the annual Golden Steering Wheel awards, speaks volumes.

The digital inventory at Jaguar Chattanooga, at 7645 Lee Highway, shows six copies of the XF in stock, ranging in price from about $53,000 to $67,000. Our tester, provided by the manufacturer, rings up at $64,645 in the penultimate R-Sport trim. Other trims are Premium, Prestige and the top-of-the-line-S.

Two versions of the same 3.0-liter supercharged V-6 engine are available. The base version makes 340-horsepower, and a performance-tuned upgrade returns 380 hp. Zero-to-60 mph times are in the 5-to-6-second range.

STYLING AND FEATURES

For decades, Jaguars were emblematic of eccentricity and old money. But starting about a decade ago, Jaguar began a transformation that made its fleet look more like modern aircraft than mid 20th-century British race cars.

The Jaguar XF was an early example of this transformation and continues to be a defining vehicle in the line. With room for five, the XF has much more usable space than the compact Jaguar XE and has a price point that buys a lot of exclusivity on a relatively modest budget. The car has lots of presence for a vehicle that starts at under $53,000. Meanwhile, its 19-cubic-foot trunk and all-wheel-drive option shows that Jag has designed the XF with family transportation in mind.

The oversized hood looks like the nose of a fighter jet. The front of the XF is highlighted by a black, mesh grille and stately character creases in the hood. The weight of the design flows to the rear — a classic, rear-wheel-drive stance. Indeed, most XFs sold will be in rear-wheel-drive config- uration.

Inside, the Jaguar has a theatrical character. Push the starter button and the rotary shifter dial rises slowly from the center stack. Meanwhile the vent covers, decorated with carbon fiber veneers, swing away silently. This Jag actually feels like a big cat emerging from sleep.

The seating surfaces in our tester feature red and black leather, adding more visual drama. Front seats are ample and two can ride in deep comfort in the back, while a center passenger can settle in for short hops. The leather covered dash features smart, red stitching.

A 10.2-inch touch screen serves as the nerve center for Jag's improved Incontrol Touch telematics system, which accommodates both Apple and Android operating systems.

The $8,750 R-Sport package adds a basket of luxurious refinements including 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, a rear spoiler, and a bundle of safety tech features such as blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning and lane-keep assist.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Much of the XR's appeal is visceral. Settling into the front seats is like changing from flannel pajamas into a dinner jacket, it just makes you feel more attractive. It's easy to find a comfortable position for the heated and ventilated seats, and the virtual gauges on the dash add some visual interest. One circle on the screen cycles through notes on the sound system's song selection and street graphics channeled through the navigation system.

Steering is light, even with all-wheel-drive engaged. Driving dynamics can be configured to your liking, using a system borrowed from Jag's excellent F-Type roadster.

The 340-horsepower engine variant is plenty powerful, even if your road home goes up a mountain.

BOTTOM LINE

Sometimes it takes a sweetener to close the deal. Jaguar's five-year, 60,000-mile free maintenance offer is hard to beat.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

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