The recent sale of Jaguar to a carmaker in India isn't the only sign that things are changing big time for the storied British brand.
The sleekly styled 2009 Jaguar XF sedan - the newest model - is a decided departure from Jaguar cars that tended to rely on looks from the past.
Even the XF interior shows a break from traditional British formality. The sedan's sporty front seats, and air vents in the dashboard that swivel automatically into place like synchronized swimmers, add modern pizazz.
Best of all, the ride and handling of the XF is thoroughly modern, too, and thoroughly enjoyable. In fact, though more than 16 feet long, the four-door XF drives like a much smaller car.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $49,975 for a "base" XF with naturally aspirated, non-supercharged V-8 capable of producing 300 horsepower.
The 2009 Jaguar XF. Associated Press
The top-of-the-line XF, with 420 horsepower from a supercharged V-8, starts at $62,975.
The pricing is competitive in the mid-size, luxury sedan segment. A 2008 Mercedes-Benz E-Class with V-8 starts at $60,525, including destination charge. But it also has 382 horsepower.
And a 2008 Audi A6 with V-8 starts at $57,075. But it, too, has more horsepower - 350 - than the Jaguar.
Indeed, the V-8 in the XF comes from the car it replaces - the S-Type. But the 4.2-liter powerplant is somewhat revised, and the test XF had more than enough power for whatever I wanted.
The 310 foot-pounds of torque peaks at 4,100 rpm and came on quickly whenever I wanted - not with a raw, rough surge but a sweetly smooth progression.
The Jaguar XF took me up mountain roads without ever feeling like it was starting to lag or struggle for power. I liked how I could regulate the speed through the sensitive accelerator pedal so I could minimize using the brakes to slow down.
All this was accomplished, by the way, via a six-speed automatic transmission that was well-paired to the engine. There were paddle shifters on the steering wheel so I could shift gears myself, without a clutch pedal.
Still, it's a tough call to say whether the power was more pleasing than the car's road manners.
The rear-wheel-drive XF held tight to its line, even in fast descents around mountain curves. The car rolled and leaned some but clung tenaciously, though it wasn't the usual sensation of severe road-hugging that's evident in the German luxury cars.
The Jaguar test car - in luxury premium trim - traveled smoothly overall without making me feel as if I was right on top of every groove in pavement. There was some cushion and some lightness to the ride, which made for an intriguing blend of handling capability and passenger comfort. But it did take some getting used to at first.
There was road noise from the big, 19-inch tires, but there was little noticeable wind noise. I think the latter is due to a shape that combines both coupe and sedan styling.
I didn't baby this five-passenger Jaguar, yet I got 21 miles per gallon in mixed city and highway driving.
That's not exactly a fuel-sipping number, but it was more than I expected, given that the official city mileage rating is just 16 mpg. The highway rating is 25 mpg.
There was pain at the pump, though. Premium gasoline is the recommended fuel, it cost some $80 to fill up the 18.4-gallon tank.
The back seat is roomier than it might seem from the outside. Legroom is a decent 36.6 inches back there, and headroom of 37.4 inches is adequate for most passengers.
Trunk space is a commendable 17.7 cubic feet, though much of it is wedged under the rear window and doesn't accommodate odd-shaped items.
I admit I wonder how Jaguar loyalists, particularly those with a conservative bent, will view this new car.
While I admired the overall shape and flowing lines of the XF, the front, silver mesh grille reminded me of something a car customizer would do. And the rear end, with a large horizontal silver strip, was not distinctive.
And friends asked how long those rotating air vents would last before malfunctioning. For the record, the Jaguar brand finished ninth in this year's J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study, behind Infiniti, Lexus and Mercedes in the rankings.
The XF's pop-up, stubby gear shift dial was another gimmicky item. It was cool the first few times. After that, I wished for a more direct gearshift experience from park to reverse.
Thank goodness for the optional rearview monitor in the test car. It was about the only way I could see what was directly behind the XF as I backed up. The trunk lid is very high.
And I could have used a bit more lateral support in the front seats on those spirited drives.
The XF is one of the few cars in America to offer a blind spot alert system that tells a driver - via a blinking light in the outside mirrors - if a neighboring car is alongside and a bit toward the back. This is a well-known blind spot for driver vision, and the system worked well in the test car.
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