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On first getting into the 2009 Jaguar XF, the car seems like the ultimate in automotive tech. A red backlight on the engine start button pulses with a heartbeat cadence. Push it, and panels over the air vents open up while the shift dial rises from the console. That's right, a shift dial. Recognizing that most automatic transmissions are electronically controlled, the XF does away with a big legacy shifter, opting for a big dial that you turn to the different drive modes. The touch-screen interface uses a nicely designed set of menus, reminiscent of the LCARS computer interface from Star Trek.
But there are a few signs that Jaguar isn't quite ready for this tech future. The touch-screen interface is slow, taking a few moments between the time you touch a button and the resultant action. The information architecture is also poor, with too many actions required to access the iPod integration screen, for example. It's too bad Jaguar isn't still a Ford property, as the XF could really benefit from Ford Sync. Driving tech is better, though, as the XF can be had with a blind spot warning system and adaptive cruise control, not to mention the excellent audio produced by the Bowers and Wilkins stereo system.
Test the tech: Look, Ma; no feet!
Our 2009 Jaguar XF came with adaptive cruise control, a $2,200 option, so we set out to drive it as long as possible on a congested San Francisco Bay Area freeway without touching brakes or gas. Similar to other cars we've seen that have it, such as the Volvo S80, adaptive cruise control uses a forward-looking radar to track cars in the lane ahead and measure their speed. Then it limits the XF to that speed if the cruise control is set higher. The driver can adjust the following distance between three set levels. The cruise control in the XF works between 18 and 112 mph, and can't track cars moving below about 6 mph.
We set out on Highway 101, heading south from San Francisco, just after rush hour and set the cruise control to 68 mph and the following distance to minimal, as there was still a moderate amount of traffic on the road. Early on we found ourselves cruising behind a slow dump truck doing about 50 mph. The XF pulled up behind and matched the speed of the truck. But we soon grew impatient and looked for an opportunity to pass. As we had vowed not to use gas or brake pedals, we had to wait for a large enough clearing, as we didn't expect the Jaguar to accelerate hard when we got over.
Our moment came and we moved lanes, the XF accelerating somewhat leisurely up to our set speed. Even at 68 mph, cars were passing by us, so we adjusted our speed upward, easily accomplished by pushing up on the little roller switch on the steering wheel spoke. Although we had a few cars cut into the lane in front of us, the XF always braked easily, cutting down our speed to avoid a collision.
Then we had our most harrowing moment, where we really, really wanted to tap the brake pedal. A large tow truck stopped half in the passing lane and half on the inside shoulder ahead, creating a temporary bottleneck. Cars in the passing lane quickly cut into our lane, with traffic quickly slowing from 70 mph down to 40. The XF approached the dramatically slowed traffic and applied its brakes. We felt it slow down, and were relieved to find that it hit the brakes hard enough to avoid rear-ending the SUV up ahead. Our car matched the reduced speed of the cars ahead, then sped up as traffic cleared.
As traffic thickened, we had another seeming close call, when a Volvo cut very close in front of us. The XF immediately caught that car on its radar and slowed to match speeds and observe the following gap we had set. We managed to cruise along the freeway for 40 minutes without touching gas or brake, only stopping because of lack of testing time rather than any failure of the car's cruise control. We found that this cruise control works exceptionally well, even in traffic, and can help avoid accidents by immediately sensing a car cutting into the lane in front, even if you are distracted. But there's nothing like a good foot on the gas and brake pedals when you are changing lanes or taking an off-ramp.
In the cabin
We mentioned some of the splashier tech features of the 2009 Jaguar XF in the introduction. Even though automatic vent covers and a rising shift dial are gimmicky, we like them. The interior of the XF is also impressive for its materials. Plastic is virtual nonexistent, with metal switchgear for the climate and audio controls. Leather covers the dashboard, and there is some subtle wood trim. We really appreciate the plastic moratorium, something even Audi fails to do in its very expensive A8 L.
The XF's interface for its LCD touch screen is nicely designed. This is the same interface we saw previously in the Jaguar XK, and we really want to like it. Unfortunately, it doesn't give the immediate response we would expect, taking too long to slide menus back and forth on the screen. The default screen, which shows climate control settings and audio information, is an odd choice. We prefer these types of systems to default to the map.