Nobody really knows how old Mary Poppins is, but odds are good she was around when William Lyons, founder of Jaguar, started building motorcycle sidecars in the 1920s. And when Ms. Poppins made her screen debut in 1964, the stunning Jaguar E-Type sports car was in its prime.
Indeed, one would never dispute the fact that both Jaguar and this famous umbrella-toting nanny are British icons of the highest pedigree, trading in equal parts style and mystique.
So it was fitting that while performing at the Dunfield Theatre in Cambridge, Ont., Mary Poppins (played by Jayme Armstrong) ?dropped? in to have a peek at my 2013 Jaguar XF 3.0 AWD tester.
She seemed to approve. New-for-2013 all-wheel-drive to keep the children safe? Lovely. A new 3.0L 340 hp supercharged V6 that sips less fuel yet still keeps this cat on its toes? Jolly good. Sleek and restrained styling with undeniable undertones of simmering sensuality that promise untold pleasures once behind its closed doors?
Oh my! Children . . . off to the nursery.
Penned under the watchful eye of designer Ian Callum, the Jaguar XF saloon has been with us since 2008, but up until now only available in rear-drive V8 guise. Not such a big concern in other markets, but here in North America if you want to play in the premium Euro mid-size sedan sandbox, you gotta get the power to all four wheels. A strong six-cylinder is a prerequisite too.
Six-pot rivals BMW 535i xDrive ($64,900), Mercedes-Benz E 350 4Matic ($66,300), Audi A6 3.0T ($59,800) and Volvo S60 T6 AWD ($46,550) are all-wheel-drive only in Canada. Now Jaguar can say the same for its 2013 V6-powered 2013 XF that replaces the outgoing naturally aspirated rear-drive 5.0L V8 base XF.
With a starting price of $61,500, the well-equipped Jag is aggressively priced. For that we get xenon headlights with LED accent strips, auto wipers, sunroof, dual-zone climate control, rear park assist, 10-speaker Meridian audio, 7-inch touchscreen, USB and Bluetooth. The car also sports a new 8-speed ZF auto-box and paddle shifters.
Upping the luxury ante here was the $4,300 Premium Pack I adding 380W Meridian Audio, navigation, satellite radio, front and rear-park assist and adaptive headlights. Heated and cooled seats with upgraded leather ran $4,000.
The $2,500 Convenience Pack bestows proximity key, auto-dimming headlights, voice command, electric rear sunshade, auto-dimming exterior mirrors and blind spot monitor.
The direct-injection 3.0L supercharged V6 is essentially Jag?s 5.0L V8 with a coupe of cylinders lobbed off. It?s an impressive engine ? eager, smooth, and with 332 lb.-ft. of torque it propels the XF with enthusiasm. In the upper reaches there is a just a hint of supercharger whine that in my books rates as pretty cool. Equally impressive is the 8-speed ZF-sourced auto-box.
Fittingly, there?s a bit of theatre when firing up the XF. The illuminated start-stop button pulses like a beating heart, and when pressed the HVAC vents in the dash rotate open and the big chrome rotary shift knob rises Phoenix-like from the console.
The cabin has an intimate feel and its unique design and fine detailing caress the senses. The touchscreen interface was updated last year, and while a big improvement it?s still fussy.
One other gripe: a car with this poise and pedigree deserves metal paddle shifters ? not flimsy plastic ones.
Other than that, driving the XF 3.0 AWD is a joy. Jags tend to drive like they look ? flowing, refined and athletic. The ?Instinctive All Wheel Drive? operates in rear-drive mode most of the time so this five-place luxury sedan feels like a rear-driver ? just with more security. Steering feel is well weighted and sharp, and the car responds immediately to inputs with nary a bit of slack.
Jaguar has tweaked the XF?s suspension for a slightly smoother ride. It?s still sportingly firm, but the payoff is a taut and flowing comportment. This is certainly one of the finest handling cars in the segment with limits than would likely have Ms. Poppins alternately harrumphing and squealing in delight.
No question, Jag knows how to tune a chassis and most of the credit goes to suspension guru Mike Cross who signs off on every car.
I mentioned to Mary P how I was somewhat disappointed in not being able to test this car in the snow. Lo and behold, when leaving the theatre that night, the white stuff was coming down fast and furious.
On snow tires and with winter mode selected (starts in second gear, short shifts, reduces throttle sensitivity) the XF 3.0 AWD turned into an Arctic cat. I headed for an empty parking and turned off the stability control to explore its handling balance. Maybe a little oversteering fun?
Not to be. As soon as the XF got really out of shape the electronic nannies automatically snap back to full alert, curbing all attempts at hooliganism.
Damn nannies. Mary Poppins excepted, of course.
BASE PRICE/AS TESTED: $61,500/$73,500
ENGINE: 3.0L supercharged V6
POWER/TORQUE: 340 hp; 332 lb.-ft.
FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 13.1 city, 7.7 hwy.
COMPETITION: M-B E 350 4Matic, BMW 335i xDrive, Audi A6 3.0T, Volvo S60 T6, Infiniti M37, Lexus GS, Cadillac CTS, Lincoln MKS
WHAT?S BEST: compelling styling, excellent dynamics
WHAT?S WORST: trunk and back seat tighter than most competitors
WHAT?S INTERESTING: upcoming F-Type roadster gets this engine and tranny in 340 hp and 380 hp guise