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Jaguar XF thrills with smaller engine

| Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 9:07 p.m.

Buying a luxury car comes with the understanding that not only does the vehicle cost more, but so will its care and feeding. But this understanding only goes so far.

Consider, as an example, the midsize Jaguar XF. Until 2013, it was only available with a 5.0-liter V8 engine. Powerful? No doubt. Reaching 60 mph takes less than five seconds. Passing a pump is another matter; the EPA rates its fuel economy at 15 mpg city, 23 mpg highway.

At one time, such numbers might have been acceptable. These days, they seem a bit indulgent. So for 2013, Jaguar offers a pair of smaller engines in the XF: a new supercharged 3.0-liter V6 and the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder first seen in the Range Rover Evoque.

Of course, which engine you choose greatly affects this kitty's personality.

With as much as 510 horsepower, the V8 makes the XF run like a scalded cat. By contrast, the 240-hp four-cylinder is notable more for its impressive EPA numbers (19 mpg city and 30 mpg highway) than its stellar 0-60 mph time, which hovers right around 7.5 seconds. Ideally, you'd want to opt for the 340-hp V6, which gives up 1 mpg in city and highway driving but reaches 60 mph in less than six seconds.

But that's not the car that Jaguar delivered. Instead, I was treated to the four-cylinder model, the XF 2.0T.

The sole transmission is a new eight-speed electronic automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddles for sequential shifting and a sport mode for more enthusiastic driving.

Rear-wheel drive is standard on all XFs, with all-wheel drive now offered on 3.0-liter models.

Most drivers will find the 2.0-liter's performance perfectly adequate given the fuel economy. As a matter of fact, the EPA's numbers underestimate this XF's fuel economy. Even in typical suburban driving, the XF never returned less than 24 mpg, and in one stretch of highway driving, the 2.0T returned as much as 34 mpg.But there's a price to pay: turbo lag.

Under most circumstances, though, power comes on strong, making for a lively ride. The eight-speed automatic shifted unobtrusively.

The cabin retains the quirkiness that has been part of the XF's appeal. Climb into the car with the smart key in your pocket and the starter button light pulses like a heartbeat. Once the car starts, the closed air vents rotate open, while the transmission shift knob rises like Icarus from the console.

There is something just right about the XF, from its size to its revised styling, which has been nicely updated to blend with the larger XJ sedan. What other cars do you know that have a heartbeat — or the ability to quicken yours?

Larry Printz writes for The Virginian-Pilot.

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