For all that's new and revolutionary about the Jaguar XF, it's good to see that the company, in this period of transition, has found a way to pump genuine Lucas-brand electrical smoke back into the wires. That, or it's programmed a secret quirk machine and hidden it deep within the core of the car's structure. Not sure what else could account for my very British experience with the 2009 XF Supercharged.
"CATS SYSTEM FAULT," said the orange-tinted message between the gauges. What did that even mean? Were my catalytic converters melting? Perhaps the car's babe magnet was broken? That would explain why nary a single female has tossed herself spread-eagle onto the hood. I turned the car's new shift dial back to park and hit the big red kill button, then reversed the process to find the car back in working order. (In case you were wondering, CATS is the cheeky acronym for the XF's adaptive suspension.)
Quirk number two came halfway into my evening commute, and this time the message was glowing a very urgent red: "COOLANT LEVEL LOW." I wasn't buying it (this being a quality controlled and press-prepped luxury car with 3360 miles on the clock), but I pulled off anyway. The reservoir seemed to be full of orange cool-juice, but my reboot failed to make the message disappear. I soldiered on and promised the car I'd take a closer look the next morning when the engine was cold. Which I did, only to find this Jag had so much coolant that I could have scooped a Big Gulp out and it'd still be full. Knowing that I'd caught on, the Jag was done whining for good. Or at least, given its tendencies, for the time being.
Those hiccups make some of the XF's other traditional Jag-ness all the more apparent. Like the way the hood curves up and stretches forward like a giant aluminum phallus, or the way the throttle response is just slow enough to allow deep V-8 vibrations without producing excess speed. But that's just half of the XF Supercharged experience — this is two cars in one modern, mostly attractive body.
The second XF is let out of its cage at the push of a button, one marked with a checkered flag and discreetly placed near the electronically actuated parking brake on the center console. In addition to firming up the CATS (now fully functional, by the way) the setting disables stability control and significantly tightens throttle response. And by "tightens," I mean it cuts all 420 horses loose with the urgency of a starter pistol. Jaguar claims that 86 percent of the engine's torque (413 lb-ft) is available from 2000 rpm to redline, and there'll be no questioning the validity of that claim.
What's even better than the insane power being churned by the rotor-type supercharger is that the chassis handles it so well. With the XK coupe on which the XF is based, the naturally aspirated car feels just right but the supercharged XKR's chassis can feel strained. That isn't the case with the XF, which just takes all that power and sets it gently onto the ground. Tail-out antics come only under extreme provocation, while the car's awesome passing power lets the hypermiling Honda next to you know you're not impressed — only with the XF's soft edges and traditional-looking hood, it seems to be saying, "Pardon me chap, but I'm severely displeased with your road manners."
When you consider the smaller size or higher price of other 420-hp machines out there, the $62,200 XF Supercharged is a pretty enticing deal. Just watch out for smoking wires.