Just a single model year after the new Jaguar XF hit the streets, considerable powertrain improvements have found their way under its shapely hood. The previous 4.2-liter V-8 has disappeared from all but the base XF Luxury model, and the main mill has grown to 5.0 liters, gaining both horsepower and torque in its supercharged and naturally aspirated applications. Beyond uprating the engines, Jag added the snarly XFR to the mix, creating a sort of intramodel rivalry and relegating the once top-cat XF Supercharged to middle-child status. How does it stack up now?

Something Old, Something New

A 385-hp, naturally aspirated edition of the 5.0 moves the XF Premium with plenty of verve, and a Roots-type supercharger is added to the same 5.0-liter to create the Supercharged and XFR. Equipped with nearly all the same standard baubles, it’s primarily power that separates the latter two models, to the tune of 470 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque in the Supercharged and 510 hp and 461 lb-ft in the XFR. The XFR, of course, gets all the love because of its added grunt. But examine the performance numbers, and a compelling case emerges for the XF Supercharged.

Same Book, New Chapter

Put your right foot to the floor of the Supercharged, and 60 mph comes in 4.3 seconds, beating the 2009 XF Supercharged by 0.7 second—and tying our best XFR run. The quarter-mile in an XF Supercharged flies by in 12.7 seconds at 112 mph, 0.1 second and 4 mph slower than in the XFR. Coming to a halt from 70 mph is accomplished in 159 feet, not only an excellent number on its own but also identical to big-brother XFR’s. Snowy weather didn’t allow for a skidpad run, but with the same Jaguar adaptive dynamics and active differential control systems as found in the XFR, we’re confident the Supercharged could come close to—if not outright match—the best we’ve seen from the burlier car: 0.89 g.

But the numbers merely add to the XF story, they don’t rewrite the book. The sultry exterior and executive-grade cabins of non-R XFs basically are the same as those of the 2009 cars; the Supercharged model now gets quad exhaust finishers. The XF’s sheetmetal continues to command double-takes, and wood and leather are spread around the cabin like butter on a crumpet. The painfully slow infotainment system and pop-up gear selector linger as gripe getters, however. To avoid repeating ourselves, we won’t rehash the rest of the carry-over goodness. But we will reiterate that the car is athletic and very obedient to inputs, and we still love the exceptional ride quality and the quick shifts delivered by the six-speed automatic, qualities that helped the XF get named to our 2009 10Best Cars list. (Beyond the stellar crop of cars this year, it’s worth noting that the XF didn’t make a repeat 10Best appearance in part because of some quality issues with our long-term 2009 XF Supercharged.)

If the numbers and the styling don’t convince you to give the 2010 XF Supercharged some love, how does $12,000 in savings over an XFR sound? Starting at $68,000—the only option is a $2200 adaptive cruise-control system that you don’t want anyway—the Supercharged model is the bargain of the bunch, delivering most of the performance and panache of the XFR minus some exterior bits and more heavily bolstered seats. Hell, if you want to save even more money, the naturally aspirated 5.0-liter XF Premium is far from slow. Our advice? Never underestimate middle children—they might not stand out, but they definitely hold the power to surprise.

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