If I were walking the grounds at Castle Bromwich today, as I did 12 years ago, I'd hope to see the same excitement, pride, and unabashed enthusiasm that workers there displayed for the Jaguar S-Type upon its debut at the 1998 Birmingham Auto Show.
The S-Type harkened back to the styling of the 1963 Mark 2, reviving Jaguar's heritage during the company's open heart surgery from then-parent company Ford. The sleek sedan — crisply pressed for refined executives — was instantly recognized as a Jag, replete with the leaper springing from the bonnet's leading edge. Later models included an S-Type R supercharged edition, but the brand migrated and later morphed into seclusion with a small, unspectacular wagon.
The S-Type line left in 2008. Yet my trip to England will never dull the image of a British Spitfire symbol outside the plant I toured. There, pointed one man, is what we went through, what we're made of, and how far we've come back against insurmountable odds.
Today, the bones of Jaguar are held by an Indian firm, Tata, and the transformation, I imagine, might be the same if I were overseas today. The S-Type successor, the XF, is also instantly recognized as a Jag and everything the company stands for: athletic, aesthetic, and aspirational.
Our tested car was the XF Supercharged, and for 2010 there's a new XFR flagship and an XF Portfolio that joins the Luxury and Premium Luxury models. Power is also new with a pair of direct-injection 5.0-liter, V-8 engines. The XFR is juiced — as a flagship should be — with a 510 hp version of our car's V-8, which in standard form makes 385 hp.
The XF Supercharged has you from the get-go. The creased hood lines hint at the power emanating from the 470 hp supercharged motor hidden under the hood. The grill's somewhat square, projector-style headlights are built into the front fenders where the arched wheel well leads to tactful air intakes. The lines continue up and over, swooping and swerving to the backside and a tastefully finished trunk that can house the requisite number of mashies and spoons for the links (golf clubs in Brit-speak) atop double chrome-tipped exhaust pipes.
Slipping inside is where the magic melts the mind, telling you the XF is a technological marvel. The electronic key fob sends a signal that unlocks the door while residing in your pocket. In the deep bucket seat, the push-button ignition blinks a red glow — eerily like a heart in surgery, a friend opined — and a rotary knob rises on cue for your gear selection. You feel a tad Harry Potter-ish after the air vents rotate into position from what appeared to be a solid dash panel. Cool.
The raised knob brings unfounded fears of BMW's cursed iDrive do-it-all selector and another sign of the past being passed over with the departure of Jag's historic J-gate jagged shift pattern. But it's intuitive to use.
From the engine came a subdued growl, until my foot sank deeper into the gas pedal and the XF sat back ever so slightly before advancing with an alacrity I haven't seen in a Jaguar in some time.
This time, this car has the mettle to make what a Jaguar sedan promises.
Deeper into the pedal you push, and the XF accelerates, rushing forward with a refined sense of urgency without shedding its demeanor. It's as if the late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden told Jag engineers the car should be quick, but don't hurry.
Through hard corners, patched roads in New Hampshire, and the Boston commuter roads, the XF never appeared bothered by inputs or corrections. On the open road, and from a standing stop, it took off with the ease befitting its name, sans the leaper up front.
It was at Pocono Raceway one day that former Jaguar chief Michael Dale waxed eloquently about the benefits of supercharging: no turbo lag time to spool up power. Rather, the supercharger provides a flat torque curve (an ironic choice of words) for an "instant on" feeling that leaves the impression that no matter how much one asks of this 5-liter mill, its ability to run fast is never sated. On the open road, you'll run out of courage long before you run out of pavement.
Paddle shifters behind the steering wheel let your Walter Mitty-self go boy racer. But why Jaguar has plastic paddle shifters when everywhere else is brushed aluminum, leather, and wood shows the maker hasn't dotted all the "i's" on its checklist.
All of this motoring fun can be had for a smaller price than most people guessed ($68,000 with destination) with surprisingly good EPA numbers of 15/21. In city traffic, the dash gauge showed mileage dropping to 14 mpg while a prudent highway run routinely scored 16 mpg or better. In more than 300 mixed miles of driving I averaged 16.6 mpg. And don't forget the premium petrol at the pump, if you please.
For those who liked but felt scorned from the S-Type, the XF line should be on your shopping list to rekindle that old love.
A version of this story appeared on page J1 of The Boston Sunday Globe on June 13, 2010.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee