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“Freshened for 2012, it remains a standout.”
The Jaguar XF's interior will seem familiar to old-school Jaguar owners, only different. The great leather and a choice of lacquered wood are familiar, while the difference lies primarily in the design or layout. The XF is less conventional than previous Jaguar sedans, and perhaps less formal. It delivers the comfort, features, useful technology and ambience we want, with less of the distraction or annoyance we find in some other contemporary luxury sedans.
For 2012, there are significant interior updates, starting with new seats, a new gauge cluster with a clearer, full-color text display, and audio system upgrades. All the buttons have a softer, grippier feel.
Slide into the XF with the proximity key in purse or pocket, and the start button glows, ready to be pushed. Press it, and the vents rotate in the dash, exposing the registers. The gear selector is a big, aluminum dial-knob that rises from the center console when the engine fires up. It's cooler than the drive-by-wire shifters other luxury manufactures have developed, and more functional. Jaguar claims this electronic selector will keep working even if it's drenched with a half-gallon of coffee.
The dashboard isn't the rounded-end flat panel longtime Jag owners know. It's lower, and thanks partly to the long rake of the windshield, much deeper. The design is dominated by a strip of scored aluminum, perhaps six inches high, that runs the full width and around onto the door panels. The top of the dash rises slightly from this aluminum plate toward the base of the windshield, stretching a good two feet at the center of the car. Below the aluminum is a thinner strip of wood, with big planks of wood trim on the doors and the top of the center console. The XF offers a choice of satin-finish walnut, glossy, traditional Burl Walnut, lighter oak and Piano Lacquer black.
All seats are leather. The base package gets what Jaguar calls bond-grain, and it's thick and sturdy. Other models have soft-grain leather. It's ultra-soft to the touch, but still sturdy and taut, and in these models it's applied on the dashboard and door panels as well, with genuine double stitching. We'd rank the new seats among the best available. They're comfortable, but not massive, with excellent support. Adjustment and bolster options are plentiful, but they don't require 15 minutes with the owners manual to tailor.
The new gauges are slightly smaller than those in some luxury sedans. They're clustered under a compact hood in typical luxo-car format: Speedometer on the right, tach left, flanking a message center with a bar-graph gas gauge, gear indicator, time, odometer and other trip information. The backlighting is ultra-crisp phosphorus blue, and perhaps the best going, but the script on the new gauges seems smaller and less legible than before. Or maybe our eyes are getting worse with age.
In general, the XF is stylish, but not overly complicated. The soft blue LED ambient lighting looks nice at night. Pressure-resistant thumbwheels on the steering-wheel spokes adjust audio or cruise-control functions, and they feel right. The headlight switch is on the turn-signal stalk and the wipers are on the right stalk, and both are easy to use, first and every time. Buttons for the sunroof and rear sunshade are overhead.
The mirror adjustor and window switches are clustered on the armrest, and easy to operate with the forearm laid flat. Elbows rest level on the door and center armrests when the hands are placed at 10 and 2 o'clock on the steering wheel, for comfortable, relaxed cruising. Most frequently adjusted controls are available in a rational, attractive array of buttons just below the video screen, in the short center stack. Two rectangular clusters control audio and climate adjustments, with substantial radial knobs for volume and fan speed.
As luxury cars get more features and systems to adjust, the great debate has centered on the best way for the driver to manage these features without being driven to distraction. In the XF, the nerve center is the seven-inch touch screen in the middle of the dash. We generally like it better than the mouse-type, point-and-click devices in most competitors, but Jaguar's system is hardly perfect.
The 2012 updates include a separate, mechanical button for the seat heaters and coolers, which you'll find in just about every other car with seat heaters. Unfortunately, the button doesn't help much, because clicking it just calls up a menu on the touch screen. You still have to use the screen to choose heat/cool and intensity. And any adjustment on the screen can be tricky. It takes your eyes and your brain away from the road, at least for a second, and then your finger must be steady. It's not always easy while you're driving 65 mph in freeway traffic, sometimes bumpy, sometimes turny. Still, our biggest gripe with the Jag system is slow response. Use that seat heater button to call up the menu, for example, and it can be literally seconds before the menu appears.
We definitely like the XF's audio systems. The standard stereo in most models used to be the upgrade, and it still sounds better than the upgrade in many cars. This 440-watt, 10-speaker system was developed with Bowers & Wilkins, the British boutique manufacturer that makes speakers and monitors for recording studios. The highs are incredibly crisp and the lows are pervasive, with virtually no muddling or distortion at either extreme. The upgrade is now a 1200-watt B&W system, and it's hard to beat with high-end home audio. Still, we'd guess most buyer's could keep the $2,300 for the audiophile system and be very happy with the sound.
Cubby storage in the XF is decent as luxury cars go, but not as complete as some mainstream sedans and family vehicles. The center console is wide, almost as we'd expect in a big sports car. Touch-release covers reveal easy-to-reach cupholders. Bins at the bottoms of the doors aren't very deep, but they're wide enough to lay a phone flat and lined with a soft material that keeps glasses and other delicate items from sliding or scratching. The main bin in the center console isn't large enough to hide a standard-size laptop, but there's plenty of room for cameras or a lot of CDs. There's also an easy-access power point and iPod/auxiliary jacks, with a secure place to leave the plugged-in MP3 player while driving.
If the XF's accommodations fall short of the competition, it's behind the front seats. The rear seat itself is comfortable, bolstered some for the outside passengers, with the same fine materials as the front part of cabin. Yet the rear space seems more confining than the roomiest cars in this class, regardless of what the published measurements suggest. Rear passengers up to 5'8'' will find plenty of space, but taller ones might get squeezed on leg and headroom.
The rear seat also has fewer amenities then some competitors. There's a power point and two amiable vents on the back of the center console, but no temperature control or fan. Storage options are limited to the fold-out pockets on the front seatbacks (good), and small bins at the bottom of the rear doors (bad). Cupholders are provided in the fold-down armrest, but they're not very deep or very good at holding cups.
The trunk, on the other hand, is among the largest in this class. With 17.7 cubic feet of space, it's bigger than the trunk in some full-size luxury sedans, and it's lined with carpet that's richer than that used inside of some cars.
To add more cargo capacity, the XF is available with a split, folding rear seat, with clever releases that will lower the seatbacks from the trunk, without going inside the car. This expands cargo space another 14.8 cubic feet, for an impressive total of 32.5 cubic feet. Perhaps as significantly, the folding seat allows alternate access to the cargo area, by leaning in through the rear side doors.
That's a lot of storage, to be sure, but there are some catches. Loading large items could take some work, and the XF's styling is partly to blame. The rear deck or trunk lid is fairly short, and a lot of the cargo space stretches forward under the rear window, so the trunk opening is fairly small. The load floor narrows significantly between the rear wheels, and the bulkhead behind the rear seatbacks limits the height of items that will slide through.
In short, there's a lot of cargo space, but it works best for a lot of smaller items. The size of individual items that can go in the XF is limited.