Jaguar's XF failed to progress beyond the first round of COTY 2008, however this is far from an accurate reflection of the enthusiasm many judges felt for the new sedan.
Nor, let it be said, of Jaguar's achievement in developing a highly competitive sports-luxury car.
The panel was unanimous in thinking this is the most complete Jaguar sedan in decades, and a credible alternative to its premium German rivals. "This is how Jags should look, feel and behave," noted Poppitt.
Jaguars should be beautiful and the XF's contemporary exterior earned near universal praise, at least from the rear-three-quarter view. "Like a four-door Aston Martin," enthused one judge, though others found the front-end contrived and the headlights slightly awkward and out of keeping with the otherwise flowing lines.
Jaguar presented the full four-engine line-up for the COTY evaluation: the identically priced $108,350 petrol or diesel V6s, through to the $134,830 V8 and range-topping $173,170 supercharged SV8. The spread of performance and subtle handling nuances between the models, as defined by their engines, intrigued the panel who collectively concluded that the engineers had achieved just about the right balance for each variant.
Both V6s offer a supple low-speed ride ("wafts across the road like good Jags do," said Newton) and lighter steering than the more sporting V8s. On bitumen the chassis' poise, agility and body control earned praise, though a few judges were disappointed when they became aware of mild steering kickback on corrugations and only average wet and gravel braking. The ESP tuning, too, was intrusive on gravel, totally shutting down the engine if the XF started to drift. In contrast, with the ESP switched off (or in the SV8's dynamic mode), the chassis' natural balance transformed the XF. "A riot on dirt," according to Poppitt. "SV8 has razor-sharp throttle response."
"Everybody is enthusing over the looks from outside; I think the real delight is from behind the wheel," said Stahl.
The judges found it hard to ignore the fact that the weakest link in the XF line-up - the 3.0-litre V6 petrol - is also the best selling model. "Not as strong or as characterful as the Germans," opined Newton. In this class, the 3.0-litre V6 was found wanting: the Ford-based engine lacked both the refinement and low-end power expected of a luxury sedan. (The Falcon in-line six is clearly superior in both areas.) There was unanimous agreement that the 2.7-litre twin-turbo diesel delivers enhanced performance and finesse, yet achieves 7.5L/100km in the combined fuel cycle. The 4.2-litre V8s - 219kW/411Nm normally aspirated and 306kW/560Nm supercharged - notably upped the performance whilst subtly altering the XF's personality from polished luxury limo into true sports sedan.
Bulmer, quickly settling into a perfect driving position, loved the interior's combination of contemporary style with traditional Jaguar character. Functionally, the interior works almost as well as it looks. There is plenty of wood for traditionalists, but you're more aware of the crafted aluminium and leather surfaces.
"The XF delivers near-BMW levels of driver satisfaction with a much better ride," noted Newton. "The engines aren't as good, but this is a really nice package."
But not quite nice enough to go through to the next stage, for which that uncouth V6 (and a disappointing lack of any innovative engine tech) can take most of the blame.