Finally, a four-wheeled feline with all-wheel drive

Jaguar XF

Wheelbase: 114.5 inches

Length: 195.3 inches

Cargo space: 17.7 cubic feet

Curb weight: 4,415 pounds

EPA rating (city/highway): 17/27 mpg

Base price, base model: $51,175

Base price, test vehicle: $59,875

As tested: $60,800

NHTSA safety rating: Not rated

There was a time when all cars used rear-wheel drive. When winter hit, drivers put sand in the trunk for extra weight and placed studded snow tires on the wheels for extra grip. If none of that was enough, tire chains were deployed for cutting through the icy morass.

And so it was until two OPEC oil embargoes in the 1970s led automakers to replace their rear-wheel-drive chariots with front-wheel-drive cars in an effort to save weight and decrease fuel consumption. But along the way, something funny happened.

As drivers became comfortable with front-wheel drive, they also became accustomed to the added grip it afforded. By placing most of the driveline’s weight on the front wheels, foul weather grip is superior to that of rear-wheel drive. This gives solace to those who panic when a broadcaster forecasts a winter storm, sending the fearful to deplete grocery store shelves of French toast fixings. (That would be bread, milk and eggs.)

But like everything in modern life, this resulted in an arms race.

While front-wheel drive is more than enough to get drivers through most snowstorms, in the past few years, all-wheel-drive became a must, even in the South, where snow is greeted as warmly as General Sherman. Maybe it’s fear of climate change; or and the thought that we may not be able to get to Whole Foods when we ran out of bread, milk and hummus.

This is apparent in any cul-de-sac, where any number of Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class models fitted with all-wheel drive resides. And while this may not be true in Phoenix, Ft. Lauderdale or Los Angeles, it is in Boston, Chicago or Minneapolis.

So you have to wonder what took the good folks at Jaguar so long to fit the midsize XF sports sedan with all-wheel drive, when the same company produces Land Rovers. Well, you can keep wondering, but it doesn’t matter. For 2015, you can finally take your favorite four-wheeled feline to your favored ski slope without fear of sliding off some twisty mountain road.

The XF is offered with a V6 in Premium, Portfolio and Sport trim, and the final two can be had with all-wheel drive. Opting for a V-8 means choosing among the 5.0 Supercharged, XFR or XFR-S trim levels, but only with rear-wheel drive.

So while rear-wheel-drive XF buyers have a choice of engines, including a 240-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a 340-horsepower supercharged 3.0-liter V-6, a 470-horsepower supercharged 5.0-liter V-8, a 510-horsepower supercharged 5.0-liter V-8, and a 550-horsepower supercharged 5.0-liter V-8, opting for all-wheel drive means getting the 340-horsepower V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Disappointed? Don’t be. This driveline is also used in the new F-Type sports car. In this application, the V-6 provides more than enough thrust to get you to the Piggly Wiggly, soccer practice or the opera with more than a little gusto.

But it’s this Jag’s underpinnings that make it such a willing dance partner, with quick reflexes and a vibrant disposition that combine with a supple suspension that still manages to answer the demands of enthusiastic driving. The chassis can be set to one of three modes: Normal, Dynamic, and Winter. As you’d expect, each one adjusts the car’s performance parameters depending on driver preference.

Having driven this car from Boston, Mass. to Burlington, Vt. in February, I can attest that Winter mode is most helpful this time of year since it sends 30 percent of the torque to the front wheels when needed. It adds just enough traction to keep things fun without sacrificing the joy inherent in a rear-drive set-up.

Once comfortable with the XF’s performance, you’ll notice the airy cabin retains the simple eloquence and unique quirkiness that has always been a part of the car’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 out of the center console. A touch screen controls vital functions, including a heated steering wheel and seats as well as navigation system and an exceptional Meridian audio system.

It’s a unique flavor, one unlike its competitors. This car is not for those in the witness protection program. Its sexy looks still draw admirers, despite an aging design. Add in an animated driving feel, ample power and foul weather friendliness and you’ll find this Jaguar will satisfy you no matter what the weather.