In an automotive marketplace shaken to its very roots during 2008, the variety of responses by automakers has ranged from whistling-past- the-graveyard insouciance to ambitious graspings at the opportunity. But, said F. Scott Fitzgerald, "let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me." So are their cars, as it turns out; and no mere global financial meltdown will ever come between a top- hat swell and his drophead coupé.
Granted, it's going to take a while to get used to the idea of the fabled British Jaguar playing the role of house pet at the Indian concern Tata Motors. But at least the feline sultriness of the new Jaguar XF touring sedan renders it all too likely that "Ta-da!" is what one hears as the XF slinks down the driveway towards the gatehouse.
With a 4.2-liter, 300-horsepower V8 underhood, the XF "Premium Luxury" model is deceptively fierce. Svelte, gentle body curves suggest a languid personality, like smoke curling upwards from Greta Garbo's cigarette holder. But at full throttle, this Jaguar will roar; and its classic layout of rear-wheel-drive and fully independent suspension create a vivid sense of sport-touring in the grand tradition of Jags of yore.
The XF is easily the most "modern" Jaguar ever produced. Not because it's a 2009 model, mind you, but because of interior features, telematics, iPod- and Bluetooth-compatible sound system and auto climate controls, the XF is ahead of the curve instead of merely chasing its rivals' coattails. Take, for example, the stage-management of the start-up routine. Thanks to the wireless keyfob, there's no need to insert a key into the ignition. A light touch on the starter button fires the engine, of course; but it also sets into motion a brief choreography in which portals on the dash swivel to reveal climate-control vents while a small cylindrical tower elevates out of the console. With a gentle click-click-click twist of the cylinder, the transmission migrates from "Park" to "Drive, and the XF is ready for take-off.
Priced just a whisker under $60,000, as-tested, the XF resides in that border country where near and real luxury meet. (An optional 420- hp supercharged V8 hikes the price to $63,700.) Certainly, the interior ambiance of the car exudes leathery comfort, and rear seating is ample for two although a squeeze for three adults. Still, some details suggest that a bit of anguished economizing has taken place. With the moonroof shade drawn back, for example, the headliner developed a slight rattle that was as visible as it was audible.
But if the XF is Ford's swan song, it is also Tata's Kohinoor Diamond; and Jaguar's essential, delightful Britishness remains remarkably intact for yet another generation to come.