What's not to love about a pearl white Jaguar with a 300-horsepower engine? The only problem is: I can't figure out how to shift it into drive.
There's no gearshift lever on the floor console or steering column. If I was in a dealership, the sales manager would have explained this in his walk-around. Problem is, I'm not in a dealership, and there's no owner's manual in the glove compartment.
I went to college: how difficult can it be to find the gearshift? Fortunately none of my neighbors are around to watch me make a fool of myself.
At least the “start” button is easy to find. As the engine turns over, a knob rises out of the floor console. It's a rather large rotary knob, with familiar letters such as P, D, R, and S around its perimeter. It finally dawns on me that the rotary knob is the gearshift mechanism.
The rotary gear selector is just one of the high-tech devices on Jaguar's new XF sport sedan. The rest of the controls are easier to figure out. Once in “drive,” formula-one style paddles on the back of the steering wheel allow one to manually select gears.
The power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel has redundant audio and cruise control buttons, to minimize driver distraction on the road. A screen at the top of the center stack displays media, navigation and temperature settings, while a second smaller screen between the speedometer and tachometer shows the time and gear selection.
Styled for Sport
A quick glance at the XF's exterior makes it obvious that this is not a car to be driven slowly. From the side, the XF looks more like a coupe than a sedan, with a long front end and sharply raked roof. The sharp roof angle and large wheel arches give the appearance of a cat ready to pounce.
The premium luxury model comes with standard nineteen inch wheels and low-profile R-rated tires. Large rotors peek out from inside the wheels: definitely all business.
Up front, the Jaguar logo sits perched in the center of a mesh grille flanked by wrap-around headlamps. Air intakes in the lower bumper help the engine breathe.
In back, a second leaper graces the trunklid. LED taillamps wrap around the back corners, making the rear of the car look wider and more planted. Two large exhaust pipes are perched beneath the rear bumper.
In keeping with its namesake, the XF doesn't roar; it purrs. Unlike many sport coupes with loud, rumbling exhaust notes, the XF takes care of business in stealth-like fashion. There is very little noise intrusion to the interior from the wheels or engine bay.
Goose the throttle, and the 4.2-liter V8 engine comes to life. Zero-to-sixty acceleration time is 6.2 seconds. For those who want more torque, a supercharged block on the top grade reaches sixty in 5.1 seconds.
All models come standard with a six-speed automatic transmission. Though it took me some time to find the gear selector, I'm glad that Jaguar engineers have abandoned the J-shift lever. I always found rounding the corner to shift into manual mode a little awkward. A sport mode on the rotary knob adjusts the shift points for more aggressive driving.
A fully independent suspension with double wishbones front and rear provides a compliant ride, while keeping the chassis flat in the corners. The low profile tires create four large contact patches with the road: the driver can dive into decreasing radius turns as fast as he or she dares.
Understeer control logic prevents the car from pushing in the corners. If the driver needs to stop suddenly, electronic controls precharge the brakes with hydraulic fluid for better pedal response.
Standard dynamic stability control has two modes: normal and winter. The winter mode allows some wheel slippage for maneuvering through snow.
Power rack-and-pinion steering produces more assist at low speeds: steering is tighter at highway speeds for a positive on-center feel. Visibility is good all the way around the car. Buyers can opt to add a blind spot detection system, that automatically warns the driver about vehicles in the car's blind spots.
All models come standard with park assist: it produces audible signals to warn the driver about obstacles to the front and rear of the car.
The nicest thing about all of this technology is how invisible it is to the driver. With the exceptional of the park assist feature, there are a minimum of flashes and bleeps when the electronic controls take over. This leaves the driver free to enjoy the ride, and the sound of the upscale Alpine audio system inside.