By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Jaguar is going BMW.
And both are going four — under duress from Uncle.
BMW has already brought out a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine as the standard powerplant in both the 3 Series and the 5 Series — which formerly came standard with sixes.
Jaguar will do the same next year in the 2013 XF — which up to now has come standard with a V-8. There will be — reportedly, these stats are preliminary — a new turbocharged four cylinder engine in the 238 hp range as standard equipment, with a 336 hp supercharged V-6 as the step-up option.
If these preliminary stats are accurate, the ’13 XF’s engines will produce much less hp than — and deliver performance inferior to — the current car’s standard 385 hp 5.0 liter V-8. The four-cylinder XF, with 147 fewer hp, will for-sure be much less quick than the current car — with an estimated 0-60 capability of 7.5 seconds (vs. 5.6 for the V-8). Camry turf. The soon-to-be-here supercharged V-6 may match the current base XF’s 0-60 performance — maybe — but will almost certainly fall short of what the current supercharged V-8 XF can deliver.
It will be the first downgrade in performance Jaguar has brought forth in years.
Both Jag and BMW are doing it for reasons of fuel-efficiency.
Not because their customers demand it. But because Uncle does. The government’s not-far-off 35.5 average MPG edict is within sight. Just three short years away. Big sixes — and bigger V-8s — are never going to make the cut. So, they’re being rapidly retired — even in high-end cars like the XF, whose buyers can surely afford not to worry too much about gas mileage.
Unfortunately, Jaguar the company can’t afford not to worry about Uncle’s edicts — and penalties.
So 2012 is a turning point for Jag — and the XF. It will be the last year that V-8 power is standard equipment in the company’s mid-sized lux-sport sedan.
Next year, the 5 liter V-8 may not be offered at all. Or if it is, it may be available only in low-volume, high-cost versions such as the XFR — which starts at $82k.
The question is: Should you snap up a V-8 powered 2012 before they’re gone — or wait for the more fuel-efficient 2013 update?
WHAT IT IS
The XF is Jag’s mid-sized luxury-sport sedan. To date, it has put distance between itself and rivals such as the BMW 5 and Benz E by giving owners a powerful (and prestigious) V-8 as standard equipment — vs. the fours and inline (and V) sixes that came standard in the competition.
Price was — and still is — another strong point for the V-8 powered XF, which starts at $53,000 — vs. $62,400 for the power/performance equivalent (V-8 powered) version of the BMW 5 (the 550i) and $59,790 for the V-8 powered Mercedes E550.
And if 385 hp doesn’t move you sufficiently, Jaguar offers two supercharged versions of the XF with 470 or 510 hp. The latter starts at $68,000 — the former at $82,000.
A new high-zoot Portfolio trim slots into the lineup, as well as updates to the touchscreen interface on all trims. There are also new-design headlights and tail-lights.
Standard (for now) V-8.
Very competitive pricing structure.
Traditional Jaguar elegance — and distinctiveness.
WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD
The V-8′s on the endangered species list.
Touch screen interface has too much info in too small a space; not the easiest unit to use, either.
Only available in sedan form (no wagon version).
UNDER THE HOOD
All ’12 XF’s come standard with a 5 liter V-8 that’s bigger — and brawnier — than the engines in comparably priced competitor models.
The V-8 comes paired with a six-speed automatic and in three escalating states of tune: Base XF’s get a 385 hp version; sufficient to get the car to 60 in about 5.6 seconds. If that’s insufficiently quick, a supercharged version is available, with 470 hp. It knocks the 0-60 time down to just under 5 seconds.
Still not quite enough? Then the 510 hp XFR — capable of zero to 60 in about 4.5 seconds — is for you.
This is mighty performance — particularly from the base version of the XF. Consider, for perspective, the performance of some price-equivalent competitors:
The base version of the Mercedes E-Class — the $50,490 E350 — comes with a 302 hp 3.5 liter V-6 that gets the Benz to 60 in about 6.5 seconds. This is 83 hp shy, two fewer cylinders — and a solid second slower to 60 — than the roughly same-price V-8 XF.
Added bonus: The XF’s V-8 is only slightly less fuel-efficient than the E’s much smaller, far less powerful V-6. The Jag’s 385 hp V-8 rates 16 city, 23 highway — vs. 18 city, 25 highway for the Benz’s 302 hp V-6.
There’s also the BMW 5 — which in price-equivalent form (the $52,500 535i) comes equipped with a 300 hp turbo’d six. It’s quicker than the Benz, but not quicker than the Jag: Zero to 60 in about six seconds flat. The BMW’s gas mileage is better — 19 city, 29 highway — but it’s not a startling difference.
To equal or exceed the performance of the base Jag in either the BMW 5 or the Benz E, you’ll need to buy the V-8 versions of those cars — which means spending an additional $10,000 or more. The Jag thus makes a very strong case for itself as the go-to car in this segment for both power and prestige.
After all, a V-8 is what separates the men from the boys. Plebe cars have fours and sixes.
Only a special few still have V-8s.
Unfortunately — reportedly, anyhow — this is about to change. And when it does, the Jag will — in this writer’s opinion — have lost a competitive edge. No matter how powerful the soon-to-be-here turbo four and supercharged six may prove to be, they’ll still be two cylinders less than they ought to be — and no longer anything particularly special relative to the same-type engines available in the competition.
I understand the why.
Even a couple of MPGs’ improvement will stave off Uncle Sam’s golden horde of tax-feeders — and so make it possible to continue selling cars like the XF at all. Otherwise, they’d go extinct as surely as 8 liter Coupe de Villes before them. It’s just sad to see the demands of Uncle take precedence over the freely expressed desire of customers — and see V-8 ownership pushed that much farther out of reach for all but the super-rich who can still afford $80k and up.
In fact, it’s more than sad.
ON THE ROAD
The old S-Type — the XF’s predecessor in Jaguar’s lineup — leaned more toward softness, quietness and smoothness. Those three attributes used to be the most important criteria for a luxury sedan, but as the target demographic for cars of this type became more Gen X — and less Greatest Generation — sharp handling and reflexes became at least as important. The trick is packaging all five attributes into one car without dulling at least a couple of them in the process.
It helps to begin with a “clean sheet” design — in this case, a one-piece monocoque shell that’s partially constructed of a type of very high-strength steel called Boron steel — which Jaguar engineers claims gives the XF’s body best-in-class torsional stiffness. This means the body’s less prone to flexing when stressed — as during high-speed cornering. Another plus about the Boron steel is that it allows slimmer “A”, “B” and “C” pillars around the roof — improving visibility without any loss of structural strength.
It helps the looks/lines of the car, too.
Next, add some XK handling DNA.
Much of the XF’s suspension is either based on (or inspired by) what’s underneath the XK coupe. Major pieces such as control arms are made of lightweight aluminum — which helps reduce unsprung mass. And both front and rear suspension assemblies are mounted on separate, bolt-on subframes, which helps isolate road harshness and keep unwanted feedback from reaching the passenger compartment. With the car’s body structure already being naturally very rigid, it was not necessary to tighten up the suspension overmuch.
This, according to Jaguar suspension engineers, is the key to firm, responsive handling that’s also luxury car smooth when you’re not hammering it.
Supercharged models ratchet things up with a 20 inch wheel/tire package and an active suspension system called (of course) CATS, or Computer Adaptive Technology Suspension. It delivers “real-time, automatic damping” — which means the shocks can adjust their firmness almost instantly and almost infinitely (either firmer or softer) to accommodate changing road conditions — and how rapidly (or not) you happen to be driving.
The six-speed automatic that’s standard in all trims may not have the extra gear (or two) that’s available in some competitor models, but it is well-matched to the high torque output of the 5 liter V-8. Tighter gear spacing is not really needed when you have 380 lbs.-ft of torque on hand — and that’s just the base, non-supercharged version. In the top-line XFR, there’s 461 lbs.-ft. on tap. No need to rev the engine much to get immediate forward thrust — irrespective of what gear the transmission happens to be in.
The only downside, of course, is having all that power flowing through the rear wheels — not the hot ticket for wet or winter driving. You can get AWD in competitors like the BMW 5, the Benz E and the Audi A6.
But of course, they’re less fun to drive.
Laying a little rubber down may be juvenile — but anyone who says it’s not fun doesn’t understand cars like this, or doesn’t appreciate them. And either way, probably shouldn’t be driving one.
Final point: The XF’s exterior shape — and its excellent aerodynamic profile — helps mute wind noise as well as aids the car’s stability at higher speeds. The windshield rake of the XF is almost exactly the same as that of the XK coupe; Jaguar claims the XF’s coefficient of drag (CD), at .029, is actually lower than the CD of the exotic XJ220 supercar of the 1990s.
AT THE CURB
The shape of this car is slick and modern — no faulting it on that score. But it’s also less distinctively Jaguar than the old S-Type. This is true of all current Jags — except the XK. Traditionalists may — or may not — like the new look. But the car seems to be selling well, even though it’s now nearly three years old. So, Jaguar’s aesthetic gamble appears to be paying off.
And there are still “Jaguar” touches that give the car a unique personality. For example, the pushbutton ignition backlighting that pulses like a living creature’s heartbeat — and the swank rotary knob gear changer that rises from the center console to greet your right hand. Other unusual touches include dash vents that rotate open in a choreographed symphony — along with the rotary knob’s rising — when you first key (well, push-button) the XF to life.
Above all, though, this is a relaxing car to drive. Despite the toys, it’s not over-teched. Most of the controls are happily basic, even if they are finished with beautiful trim plates and fonts. There is no mouse controller, no forbidding array of buttons. The only thing about the car that seems a bit dated — and clunky — is the too-small LCD display through which you view the GPS and scroll (by touch) through the various menus to access peripheral features such as the heated seats or change the audio system’s settings. Inputs are not immediate. For example, when selecting “audio” — there’s a moment’s lag before the new menu scrolls up. This is also a problem with BMW’s and Mercedes’ computer inputs — hell, all of them. Every current luxury car suffers from this same issue. So, the Jaguar’s no worse — or better — than the others. The chief deficit is the size of the monitor itself. There’s too much info, too many functions, for six inches wide and about three-and-a-half tall.
There is another thing you ought to know: The XF’s coupe-like styling is striking, but at a cost. Interior room is a bit less than in more upright, conventionally sedan-ish sedans like the BMW 5 and the Benz E. For instance, the Jag has about an inch less front seat headroom than the Benz E — 37.1 inches vs. 37.9 for the E350 — and a much tighter backseat, headroom-wise, with only 37.6 inches of noggin space vs. 38.2 for the Mercedes. The difference is similar relative to the BMW 5, which has 40.5 inches of front seat headroom and 38.3 inches of rear seat headroom. Taller drivers — and occupants — may therefore have issues.
The Jag’s frontseat legroom, though, is about the same as the E’s and the 5′s at 41.5 inches vs. 41.3 for the Benz and 41.4 for the BMW. And rearseat wise, the XF’s actually got slightly more legroom (36.6 inches) than either the Benz (35.5 inches) or the BMW (36.1 inches).
It will be interesting to see what effect four (and six cylinder) power has on the XF — and not just fuel efficiency-wise. Will buyers be more interested in a more economical XF? Does a 4-5 MPG improvement really matter all that much to people who buy cars that start at $50K?
I’d say no. I’d say people who buy $50k cars are interested in gas mileage as a fourth or fifth consideration — if they’re interested in it at all. They may say they care, but if they really did care, then they wouldn’t be spending $50k on a car in the first place.
They’d spend $25k — on a 35 MPG Camry.
No, what they really want is prestige — and power. Not necessarily in that order, of course. But it works out being the same thing. A V-8 is — these days — very prestigious, because only a handful of cars are still available with them. Anyone can own a four — or a six. So even if said four or six manages to produce V-8 levels of power through the assistance of force-feeding (turbocharging or supercharging) it is still just a four or a six when all is said and done.
I personally miss the twelves that used to be a Jaguar’s signature feature. But forget about that. We’ll be lucky to see the V-8 survive.
Here’s to hoping.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Get a V-8 … before it’s too late.