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Jaguar XF 3.0 Sport: Good, But Competition Is Tough

This is yet another example of a good car, which might have been the class leader three years ago, but which shows that the competitive environment has advanced materially in three years. The goal posts have shifted.

The Jaguar XF 3.0 Sport is a midsize to almost-large rear wheel drive sedan, somewhat equivalent to BMW 535 and Mercedes E350 as examples. One might also suggest Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, although they feel like they have bigger interiors.

This sport model comes with a relatively aggressive tire and wheel package, and the engine is a 340 horsepower V6. This leads me immediately to the biggest strengths of this car.

The engine is on par with the smoothest and strongest I have felt, especially in combination with how quiet it is. You can floor it, and still almost not hear anything at all. I don't think the 2014 Rolls Royce Wraith I drove in late 2013 was any quieter.

Basically, the drivetrain is smooth, strong and silent. Perhaps three years ago, this would have been a knockout blow, trumping any other downsides with the car.

However, these days there are enough cars that are only fractions behind the powertrain performance of this Jaguar. The Volvo V60 T6R that I drove a few months ago was extremely impressive, and close to $10,000 less. The Mercedes C400 was not too far behind to not being able to make up for it in other areas.

If you think creatively and expand the circles further, how about either the Volkswagen Golf R, which was shockingly flawless to drive, or at the other end of the spectrum both the heavily revised 2015 Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300? The point here is that competition is brutal.

You see, the Jaguar XC 3.0 Sport also has some annoying drawbacks compared to the competition. Let's start with the seats. They are just not as comfortable as anything from VW/Audi, Mercedes, BMW or Volvo. They are hard and uneven. Very strange.

The overall look of the dashboard is not great. It feels a bit dated, and not as expensive as anything from Audi or Mercedes. The controls on the steering wheel are very mushy. The volume control in particular is worst-in-class.

Other little things: There are too many steps, on too small a screen, to turn on the seat heaters. Oh by the way, the steering wheel isn't heated. And the seats aren't cooled. You get that on a $28,000 Kia these days. You should get it on a $58,100 Jaguar.

The trip meter is controlled by a button at the end of the steering wheel stalk, which isn't good. Also, there is too little information provided in any case.

Bluetooth connection to podcast on an Android smartphone? Worked well, most of the time -- but not always. Could be slow to connect. Nobody should be anything but 100% flawless here, especially anywhere near this price.

The single best part of the interior is the transmission shifter. It is a big round knob, similar to Chrysler 200 and 300, except this one goes up and down when the car starts and shuts down. The up and down part is completely unnecessary, but the function is superb. I like it as much here as I do in the Chryslers.

The rear seat has sufficient leg and foot room, but sadly as with a few other peer group entries, not enough headroom. Seriously, a car this long and expensive shouldn't have less headroom than the excellent Volkswagen Golf. The trunk is okay, but certainly not class-leading either.

All in all, the Jaguar XF 3.0 Sport is a good car, and the $58,100 price is not totally unreasonable given where BMW and Mercedes price their class-equivalent cars. Three years ago, this car may have been the class leader.

But this is early 2015, not early 2012. Competition has improved, not only among the traditional Mercedes and BMW competitors. From VW/Audi to Chrysler/Dodge and Volvo, the competitive environment has gone through the proverbial roof. I mentioned earlier in this article some of the more competent competitors, some located outside the traditional competitive matrix-box.

I found just as much joy driving an Audi A3 diesel or a Volkswagen Passat diesel, and their MPG is dramatically better than the Jaguar. In the Jag, I got 17 MPG city and 29 MPG highway, which is not the worst in the class, but also not the best. This car deserves a diesel, among other things.

The fact that this Jaguar XF 3.0 Sport doesn't rise to the very top of my evaluation, despite having such a superior engine, transmission and silent power delivery, speaks volumes of how rapidly the automotive competitive landscape has moved in just the last three years. I look forward to the next Jaguar, which could set the bar even higher.

Disclosure: The author has no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.

Additional disclosure: Jaguar provided the car for review. The author regularly attends product launches, press conferences and similar events with many automakers. Some of those events are paid for, in whole or in part, by the automakers. The author regularly test-drives cars provided by many automakers. The author’s stock positions can change at any time.