WHEN TATA MOTORS signed on the dotted line to acquire Jaguar Land Rover on March 26, 2008, it was beyond doubt that Tata would bring in these prestigious cars to India, especially when every other manufacturer from Europe was beating its way into our market. A year and few months later, the dream has been fulfilled and the Jaguar range is available in India. Of the entire range, the model that’s stepped into the thick of things is the Jaguar XF. Mercedes’s E-class, Audi’s A6 and BMW’s 5-series are slugging it out in that segment, and the XF will have a lot to contend with, but there’s no doubt that the brilliant styling will draw instant admiration.
The XF’s fluid form is more fitting for a coupé than a saloon. It possesses an aura which makes even the other cars in the segment seem watered down. The big pupils in the slit-like eyes house advanced cornering lights for better visibility at night. The gaping silver grille feels a bit excessive and the new Jaguar logo at the centre makes the car unmistakable. The high rear deck lid is more likely to be found on a mid-engined car like Jag’s unforgettable XJ220. The crease lines, embellishments and the slinky tail-lamps weave a memorable rear. Under the small boot lid there is 530 litres of storage. While the space is decent, access is a little tight from the high and small boot opening.
Tata has chosen to get the Jaguar down with the best kit possible to help carve out a brand image that appeals to the crème de la crème. That explains the massive 5.0-litre V8 engine on the Jaguar XF Portfolio as the India-spec variant is called. The power-dome on the hood celebrates the engine underneath but it is inspired from the days of the straight-six motors that wouldn’t fit under the hood without hammering out the hood. The XF’s boron steel- based chassis however can take a beating. It is super-stiff, super-strong and tipping the scales at 1,780kg isn’t too heavy.
I couldn’t wait to jump in and blast off. Push down on the brake, jab the pulsing engine start-stop button and . . . get distracted. Instead of blasting off, I sat and stared at the hidden air vents as they coolly rolled open. Then I noticed that the gear selector had been altogether missing, which, at that point, was gliding up from the transmission tunnel. Cool. I did it all over again. And again. After my initial amazement waned, I wondered how many extra motors were stuffed in to make that happen. I set about exploring the XF’s interiors in more detail and found a curious bronze circle on the mock wood garnish on the dash. A light touch releases the glovebox lock. Though this feather-touch release is one of the XF’s ‘delight’ features, it is ergonomically flawed. It’s hard to locate at night and unless you hit the small button exactly, it won’t open.
Other than these nifty touches, there were the usual goodies like the multimedia screen with controls for GPS, car set-up and six-disc audio system. The cockpit with its cool-blue lighting feels really special at night and serves up an extraordinary soothing ambience. The driver’s seat is really plush and comes with ventilation. The rear isn’t so impressive. Though kneeroom is decent, it doesn’t feel as spacious as a 5-series or E-class. Headroom is seriously limited thanks to the swooping roofline and passengers, even those with average height, will have their hairstyles messed up.
Then it was back to the serious business of driving. To select mode, you only need to turn the drive select like a volume control and point it in the mode required. The drive select mode also features a sports mode that I was keen to try but refrained from experimenting with then.
I started off in the city and the XF proved to be quite an animal. At every dab of the throttle the XF leapt forward, demanding cat-like reflexes from me and dollops of luck as I waded through a sea of ricocheting motorcycles, bully buses and maverick taxi-wallahs. The quick steering didn’t feel too heavy while negotiating the course. The 5.0-litre V8 is a brilliant engine. It’s instantly responsive, pouring out all of its 52kgm in a silky fashion. Even better is the burbling sound track and the deliciously throaty roar of the engine. It had been quite a while since a petrol engine thrilled me so much.
Snaking my way out of the city, the XF bowled me over with its compliant suspension. The ride quality for such a sporty saloon was amazing and there’s a magical suppleness with which the Jag coasts over our monsoon-ravaged roads. Yes, there is a hint of firmness but it’s never to the point of being jarring. However, the XF’s ground clearance is a weak point and large speedbreakers need to be approached with great caution.
Once out in the open, the XF was able to run unfettered. The engine revved quickly and without any hesitation all the way to 6500rpm. The six-speed ZF box works seamlessly and is unobtrusive. That is until you up the ante by turning on the sports mode. Quicker throttle responses, a tauter stance and adaptive suspension livened up things. The XF doesn’t have the pin-sharp, point-and-shoot steering of the 5-series but the taut chassis still manages to entertain. The smooth and effortless manner in which the XF tackles corners is sheer delight. With the traction control off, the rear will step out (especially on a wet road) in a flash and it’s easy to overcome the grip from the 245/45 R19 tyres. That can be a bit hair-raising, so you’re better off letting the electronic controls cut in with an iron fist to curb any sideways action.
On a very wet road the XF bolted to 100kph from standstill in 6.74 seconds, even with the rear wheels hunting for grip on the slick tar. Once off the line, the XF surged forward relentlessly to astonishing speeds. Not with a neck-snapping tug but more of a giant push that somewhat belies the rate of acceleration.
Be in no doubt, this is one very quick saloon gobbling up speeds in an utterly effortless way. The steering, which felt great at everyday speeds, gets a shade light at speeds this 380bhp rear-wheel- drive missile is capable of. In terms of performance, no other saloon comes close unless you include the Mercedes AMG range. But you could counter that with the 508bhp supercharged Jaguar XFR!
The German trio of Audi, BMW and Mercedes may have the luxury market locked up but Jaguar wants to transcend the segment with the exclusive (and expensive) XF.
Priced at an eye-popping Rs 61.6 lakh (ex-showroom Mumbai), the XF is way more expensive than the regular E-class, 5-series and A6, so it won’t sell in huge numbers and demand will be limited. Ironically, for those who can afford it, that will be exactly the reason to buy it. The XF’s exclusivity and enticing character is meant for the aficionado and stand-out-of-the-crowd type of person. And when every head turns when you step out in the XF, it will seem like money well spent.