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Even in the stark light of the Arizona desert, the skin of the 2009 Jaguar XF shimmers with a life that seems almost liquid. Next to it, any other sport sedan looks as cold and abstract as a lump of coal. It always seems like the typical sport sedan is wagging its finger in your face, lecturing you about some sort of technology. Instead, the Jaguar XF isn’t afraid to be simply beautiful, even pretty. And then it backs up its modern good looks with a 420-horsepower supercharged V8 that Jag says will get you to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. The 2009 Jaguar XF will completely reinvent the way you think about Jaguar. Of course, it does so by going back to the classic values that have always given Jaguar a lasting place in the imagination, the special magic that Audi, BMW, Cadillac and Lexus still shamelessly envy.

Why Not Be Beautiful?
The XF’s chief designer Ian Callum first applied for a job in Jaguar design at age 12 as a kid in Dumfries, Scotland, and has longed for an opportunity to remake the brand ever since. And it looks as if he’s successfully done so here, combining inspiration from the big book of historic Jaguar design cues (especially the 1959 Jaguar Mk. II) with current enthusiasm for a sedan adapted to a coupe roof line. You can see the Jaguar XF’s modernity in its profile, the way the front overhang has been pulled back, the wheelbase lengthened and then the arc of the roof adapted to very fast angles for the windshield and backlight (identical angles to those of the Jaguar XK coupe, in fact). There’s something of the Lexus GS in the XF’s overall graphic, but the Jaguar’s detailing makes the difference between beauty and abstraction, and you can see it in the modeling of the hood, the chrome surround for side windows, and even the use of the traditional Jaguar badges, the Growler and the Leaper. The XF has been a little juiced up for effect, but, really, this has been the Jaguar way since the original 1935 SS sports car. The XF sits on a long 114.5-inch wheelbase, and the track measures 61.4 inches in front and a significantly wider 63.2 inches in the rear. At 195.3 inches long, 80.8 inches wide and 57.5 inches tall, the XF is a little larger than an Audi A6. The use of a wide range of high-strength steels helps deliver a very rigid body shell, and the suspension pieces come from the XK.

Power With Control
A sport sedan usually expresses itself with only its engine and tires, but the Jaguar XF sends us an entirely different message as we hurtle across the spare, high-desert landscape of Arizona. It is the chassis that tells the story here; light-footed and supple in the Jaguar fashion, yet with a greater degree of body control than you might expect from a Jaguar. The thick rim of the steering wheel fills your hands and the XF instinctively vectors down the highway. There are two different versions of the XF, one with the normally aspirated Jaguar V8 and one with the supercharged version of the same power plant. In normally aspirated form, the DOHC 4.2-liter V8 develops 300 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 310 pound-feet of torque at 4,100 rpm, and it works through a six-speed automatic transmission that Jaguar claims gets you to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds and then does the quarter-mile in 14.9 seconds. Once the V8 is fitted with a Roots-type supercharger, power climbs to 420 hp at 6,250 rpm and 413 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm, and Jaguar says it takes the car to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds and though the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds. The same ZF-built six-speed transmission that does business in the Jaguar XK also is in place here. There’s a mode for normal driving, a mode for sporting driving and a mode for the use of the shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel which blips the throttle on downshifts. The most important thing here is the connection that’s apparent between the engine and the transmission, a real change from the days not long ago when every Jaguar was cursed with a sloppy torque converter that seemed designed only to whip hydraulic fluid into a froth.

To Serve Man (and Woman, Too)
Jaguar interior designer Alister Whelan has rejected the cockpit-type conventions of sport sedans for an environment that envelops you in leather, aluminum and wood (more wood than in any other Jaguar ever built, in fact). The driver seat comes up to support you like a fine armchair, right down to the high, softly upholstered armrests. Yet the cowl ahead of you is very low to foster both a sense of interior spaciousness and the kind of down-the-road visibility you need in a car capable of an electronically limited 155 mph. It’s the fit between the human software and the machine-made hardware that makes the Jaguar XF so unique. The XF invites you to be a part of the experience. You see this in the much-discussed start button on the center console that pulses red in the lub-dub rhythm of a heartbeat when you enter the car, and then the way the unique rotary dial that controls the transmission rises out of the center console once the engine comes to life. There’s a touchscreen interface for the audio, climate and navigation system, so no console mouse is required. The buttons and switches for such things as the glovebox operate with proximity sensors. And despite the low coupe roof line, the rear doors are wide for good access and there’s 37.6 inches of rear headroom (though only 36.6 inches of rear legroom). The Jaguar XF has been designed in the spirit of modern product design, with a sense of ergonomic correctness that’s enhanced by a sure sense of style. At the same time, there are also flashes of pure wit, like the blue lighting for the instrumentation that is meant to recall some vodka bar (and as the blue light’s fuzzy contrast with the silver instrument faces proves, not very many smart decisions have been made in places where vodka is consumed).

Driving in the Jaguar Manner
When you roll out of the driveway in the XF, there’s no telling where you’ll decide to go. This car has the composure you expect from a Jaguar, the lively refinement that can take you 300 miles and deliver you still feeling fresh after your journey. And yet there’s a stronger connection with the mechanical soul of the car than ever before, even compared to the Jaguar XK. When you turn the steering wheel into a corner, the XF commits itself and you can feel the tires nibbling at the pavement. This is particularly true of the 20-inch Pirelli P Zero tires fitted to the supercharged XF, 255/35ZR20s in front and massive 285/30ZR20s in the rear. Yet even the standard XF’s 245/40VR19 Dunlop SP Sport 01s offer reassuring steering response. Once you select the transmission’s Sport setting, you can rely on the automatic to give you sure throttle control, as it kicks down a gear so swiftly and intuitively that rarely do you feel obligated to use the steering wheel paddles. And when you get into the brakes (the supercharged model has larger front rotors), there’s enough anti-dive dialed into the front suspension geometry that the car makes the transition into a corner in a coordinated, intuitive sweep to the apex. Though you might not believe it, this car will carry a slide if that’s what you’re after. After all, it has been tuned by a team led by the legendary Mike Cross, Jaguar’s longtime development chief. Justifiably famous for driving with the enthusiasm his name suggests, Cross recently entered his first drift competition and apparently was a little nonplussed to have finished only 3rd. Perhaps the judges were a little taken aback by Cross’ choice for the competition, the luxurious long-wheelbase version of the Jaguar XJ sedan.

Saving Jaguar
The Jaguar XF makes different choices than most sport sedans, balancing response with smoothness, agility with comfort and reward with refinement. The XF has a kind of beautiful modernity, and it makes other sport sedans seem like crude, one-dimensional imitations of the real thing. When the 2009 Jaguar XF appears in dealerships in March 2008, Ford will have concluded the sale of Jaguar to either an automotive company from India or a private equity company. It is the XF’s task to save Jaguar, and it seems to be up to the task. In terms of pricing, there’s value apparent in the three trim levels: the $49,975 XF Luxury, the $55,975 XF Premium Luxury and the fully equipped $62,975 Supercharged. More important, the 2009 Jaguar XF also has a kind of value in the way it goes about its business. A Jaguar has always meant something more than simple mobility, and the XF is much the same. It is more luxury car than sport sedan, yet it holds all cars in this price range to a higher standard when it comes to dynamic poise and even utility as well as style. It’s the kind of Jaguar you can believe in.