Payne: Jaguar XF, Goddess of Beauty

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The gorgeous, all-new 2016 Jaguar XF in my driveway looks oddly familiar.

Credit the big cat’s influence on automotive design. The XF shape is the Aphrodite of autos. The Goddess of Beauty. Unveiled to swooning audiences in 2007, the goddess’s iconic face and shape became instant industry standards, emulated by other makes from the Tesla Model S to the Lincoln Continental to the Chevy Malibu. Like Gwen Stefani groupies, we see the XF influence every day.

Just as the Ford Fusion’s savvy adaption of Aston Martin’s grill made seeing an Aston less shocking, so has Jaguar envy made its look more routine. Still, like seeing English royalty in the flesh, the real thing still begs us to linger a moment to evaluate the famous details.

The sensual curve of the hips. The sculpted lip of the grille. The alluring, cupped tail-light LEDs. The 2007 model was such a design sensation that the folks in Coventry have changed it only subtly for ’16 — a more vertical grille here, less front overhang there — focusing their attention instead on the all-new aluminum architecture that saves weight and increases interior room. Dress it in British Racing Green like my tester and the vision is complete. I am the celebrity’s bodyguard.

“You brought me my dream car,” said my car-gal neighbor as I cruised the neighborhood one day.

I get that a lot. But then fans drive the XF like it’s a Faberge egg. Don’t. This royal carriage wants to be ridden. Hard.

With rear-wheel drive, 50-50 weight balance, and a stiffer chassis more than 100 pounds lighter than the last steel generation, Jaguar is making cars that live up to its namesake’s athleticism. “From an engineering perspective, our targets with the all-new XF were bound by one holistic goal,” says Jaguar designer Ian Callum. “It had to do everything better, and it does.”

When I wasn’t urging friends to drive the Jag harder, I spent my first days with supercharged V-6 XF seeking out Oakland County’s curves (and thinking how to explain to any oncoming officer why the Jag was coming at him at such lurid angles. “Hello, officer. You want some time behind the wheel?”)

But then winter intruded, as inevitably happens in Michigan in January. Suddenly it didn’t matter that the Jaguar was gorgeous because I couldn’t see it under two inches of snow and a layer of salt grime. Worse, I figured my joy-riding would turn to finger-nail-biting as I dared take the 340-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive goddess out onto treacherous roads full of slip-sliding commuters. Readers of this column know that I recommend AWD in luxury brands for just this reason – otherwise you have a lovely date you only want to take out six months a year.

But one of the pleasant surprises of the rear-drive cat is how impressive its claws are on ice.

The engineers call it All-Surface Progress Control that “enables smooth, effortless drive-away on low-friction surfaces such as snow and ice — all the driver has to do is steer.” Sure enough, the Jaguar was unperturbed in a climate more suited to a snow leopard. The RWD system was surprisingly smooth, its computer measuring slip and applying the right amount of grip to manage hostile terrain. No rear-slewing, tire-spinning slogs out of stoplights. No unnerving rear step-outs around corners. So determined was I to get the XF out of shape, I sought out a local, snow-packed parking lot where the XF continued to hold its head high even as I turned off traction control and did everything I could to make it spin like a top. The big kitty stayed on its feet.

Outside, the XF’s stance benefits from a two-inch-longer wheelbase that pushes the front wheels out to the corners without increasing the car’s overall length. Inside, this benefits aging basketball forwards like yours truly with best-in-class rear legroom. But as impressive as the Jaguar’s interior is, it also shows how much digital technology has narrowed the gap between luxe and mainstream.

The XF’s rotary dial-shifter and Apple Car Play-Android Auto-connected, eight-inch console are done better by Chrysler’s 200, for example (though I never tire of the rotary knob rising from the console on startup like a game-show button). Heated rear seats? Adaptive cruise control? Self-parking? All can be found on vehicles costing half the XF. So let me recommend you splurge on the XF’s $3,100 technology package, which will give you the faster, fully-digital, 12.3-inch instrument display and 10.3-inch console screen. Throw in another $3,100 for driver-assist tech and your Jag will do pet tricks like regulating itself according to speed limits.

Now that’s luxury to impress Aphrodite.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

‘16 Jaguar XF

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear or all-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $52,895 base ($74,785 supercharged V-6 R Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 3.0-liter, supercharged V-6

Power: 340 horsepower, 332 pound-feet of torque; 380 horsepower, 332 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.2 (manufacturer, 340-hp V-6 as tested)

Weight: 4,085 pounds (AWD twin-turbo V6); 3,657 pounds (RWD turbo-4)

Fuel economy: EPA 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway/24 combined

Report card

Highs: Easy on the eyes; RWD traction in the toughest conditions

Lows: Sub-par base infotainment screen; Same price as a full-size Caddy CT6


Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★

Good ★★★

Fair ★★

Poor ★