Monday 14 March 2011

Driven #24:- Jaguar XFR

Jaguar are moving on. They have to. With new Indian owners and new money to invest, staying still was really not an option. The first sight of the new, brave Jaguar was the XF, replacement to the much underrated S-Type.

Bits of the S-Type still lurk under the skin, but all you can see and feel is all new. It has done very well since launch, winning plaudits and selling very well indeed. But the car you see here takes the fight to the very top. This is the XFR, Jaguars challenger for the super-saloon heavyweight belt.

I still don't think the XF is a great looking car. Contemporary and attractive, for sure. Expensive and prestigious even. It even makes a statement on where Jaguar are heading, a new direction without so much as looking backward over their shoulders. I can't help thinking, though, that there should at least be a tacit acknowledgement of the past.

The sole link with heritage is the squared-off Jaguar grille, a cue from the original and wildly successful XJ. However, it looks a little lost on this cars nose and the headlamps look a little contrived; like the designers were trying oh-so hard to integrate the traditional Jaguar twin headlamps into a modern shape. In profile there are certainly suggestions of Aston Martin but also, dare I say it, quite a heavy dash of Lexus, too.

At least the extra aggression implied by the “R” tag lends a bit of extra distinction. The 20” wheels are embossed around the hub with JAGUAR SUPERCHARGED. The vents carved into the top of the bonnet are inscribed with SUPERCHARGED. Generally, Jaguar seem quite keen on telling onlookers that this car is SUPERCHARGED. At the nose the lower vents are highlighted with a polished aluminium lip, but astern, the British Racing Green “R” badge and the four suprisingly subtle exhaust exits are the only clue towards the nature of the beast.

Swing open the door and behold the 21st century wonderland that greets you. Light grey leather with matching suede or Alcantara headlining contrasts with brushed aluminium and dark Piano Wood, applied unlike Jags of the past with notable restraint and subtlety.

The surfaces, the materials, are first rate. Everywhere you look, everything you touch, it all seems to have been designed to delight, even if the touch sensitive glovebox release may be pushing things a bit far. The instrument cluster, with only two main gauges, is clear and expensive looking; only an imprecise digital fuel gauge annoys. There's technology, too. An infomedia system sits recessed into the dashboard, offering touchscreen access to Sat-Nav and Audio facilities. 

Here, though, is a slight ergonomic facepalm; bits of the screen are more than a slight stretch from the drivers seat and I can't help but feel that an I-Drive type system might have been a tidier way of doing things. It would also prevent build up of fingerprints, a most unwelcome side-effect of touchscreens. 

Jaguar have clearly aimed to make starting the XF as much of an event as possible, but I could live without the air-vents that swivel theatrically open when you hit the start button. That gear selector, too, which rises provocatively from the console, is pure showmanship - and is no more functional than a push-button selector. It seems it has also been known for The Great Uprising not to happen at all, which renders gears unselectable. 

 All this aside, you have to give praise to the designers for creating the finest Jaguar interior of a generation. However, I must report that I found the much vaunted Bowers & Wilkins Hi-Fi system to be a little disappointing. The balance of sound always wavered a little on the bassy side of ideal, no matter how I adjusted the settings. A newsreader's voice shouldn't boom like a ghetto Escalade, and the soundstage wasn't expansive like it is through B&W CDM1s at home. Mind you, I only tried FM and DAB, CD might still be a revelation.

Then it occurred to me. What the bloody hell am I doing sitting here listening to the stereo when I have 503hp sitting in front of me?. Engine running, and key discarded onto the passenger seat (I always struggle for somewhere to put the keys on a car with keyless-go), I rotate the painfully named 'JaguarDrive' selector to reverse and the rear view camera instantly appears on the infotainment screen. I hate these systems at the best of times, I find them unintuitive and difficult to make accurate judgements with, so I ignored it and still found XFR the car-park maneouverability rather good.

That slightly vague fuel gauge was reading decidedly empty and text on the dash reminded me that I had “LOW FUEL”. Well, you can't do a proper test with the spectre of breakdown dragging at your shoulder, so I gently strolled the car to my nearest garage. Keen not to be too generous, I splashed fifteen quid into the tank, that's about two and a half US Gallons. It didn't even touch the sides of the tank, that might-as-well-guess fuel gauge hadn't moved a jot. 

With a drizzle of V-Power added, I could get to know the car a little better. I threaded the XFR gently towards the slip road, fine weather, traffic levels the quiet side of moderate and the local constabulary attending an accident a few miles in the opposite direction made for excellent driving conditions. Looking over my shoulder for a clear path onto the motorway, I floored it.

In absolute honesty, I wasn't expecting acceleration anything like this profound. The sensation of speed and acceleration hit me like it rarely has before. I know 4.7 seconds to 60 is nothing much these days, but the numbers are only part of the story. This car feels properly, blindingly, stupidly fast. And it does it all with a near total lack of fuss and drama (unless provoked, more on this later). I could hear a very fine V8 soundtrack, but it was low in the mix, almost an ambient sound. Compared to any other superfast saloon I've driven this is almost unnaturally quiet.

The accepted benchmark by which I judge this sort of car is the good old BMW M5. The E60 5-Series that sired this car was never my favourite, but as an M5 the transformation was total. A year or so ago Mercedes launched it's E63 AMG and, as incredible a car as it was (and it was...) I still preferred the four-door Formula One car feel that the M5 exuded. The M5, with that heavenly 8000rpm V10 wail, uncanny body control and sense of all-pervasive precision, handily outpointed the similarly powerful E63. One man's meat, another man's poison and all that.

Today, the M5 is dead. It's replacement will doubtless be astonishing, but it'll go without the E60's V10 heart, probably its defining feature. I've not yet driven the Audi entry to this particular fight club so I am forced to evaluate the XFR against the E63 AMG. It certainly belongs amongst this kind of esteemed company.

In outright speed terms, gut feeling tells me the XFR has the lead. In refinement terms the Jaguar absolutely trounces the Merc, even with all its AMG settings dialled out, the E63 is always goading you to drive harder, drive faster, and never truly rides comfortably. Better than the smaller C63, for sure, but nothing like as forgiving as the Jag, even on “Dynamic Mode”. The E63 hits back a little bit by allowing the exhaust more freedom to thrill, the AMG sounds like a NASCAR racer on every touch of the throttle. Saying that, I actually think the Jaguar has the nicer, richer engine sound, it's just a shame it can't be a bit louder. Incidentally, I'd still rather have the M5s outrageous shriek over either of them.

Taken by the scruff of the neck, the three cars all take different approaches. If you take the time to set the M5 up properly, it will do anything you want it to. It has an agility that belies its size and mass and its obedience inspires great confidence. The E63 feels a little more heavy-handed, masses of fun with oversteer histrionics on demand, but it seems like a harder car to drive fast and do it well. The Jaguar, to be fair to it, felt like it could do everything the M5 can, but would do it automatically and with no further negotiation required. Stuff it into a corner at too ambitious a speed and it will somehow find a way of getting you to the other side. It's absolutely brilliant, but I have to say, this just tarnishes the fun factor slightly.

It flatters your driving skill a little too much. Grab an armful of oversteer on a favourite roundabout and the Jaguar obliges with a lurid slide, but it almost seems like the slide is the solution some onboard computer came up with. It all feels very slightly too good to be true. A touch too polished. The M5, on the other hand, works with you like having your own pit-lane crew for advice. It's a great communicator, drive it well and it pays dividends, drive badly and it emphasises your shortcomings. Meanwhile, the AMG is an absolute animal, in a good way and a bad way. Manhandle it successfully, get a terrific lap time and you'll be a hero. But you're just as likely to give up and spend the rest of your session doing burnouts. It's just so much fun.

On balance, I'm willing to forgive the Jag this slight failing because it's so damn strong in every other area, except perhaps those looks; although it could be argued that for a comparatively bland car to have so much go is all the more delicious. That the two other cars (of which only the AMG really remains relevant) trump it slightly in the fun stakes is testament only to how focussed they are, but as an all-round excellent car that you could jump in, do a thousand miles in no time whatsoever and emerge fresh at journeys end, the Indian car from Birmingham gets two thumbs up.

The Jaguar XFR, then. Until further notice, the best 500hp saloon car I've ever driven.


  1. Chris: I don't comment here often (if ever?) but your writing skills are admirable and are improving with every story. Thanks for sharing and keep up the great work.


  2. In 1989, Ford took over the ownership and this relationship lasted till 2007. Many people wanted to buy the Jaguar ownership but not the combined Land Rover operations also run by Ford. Finally in 2008, Tata took over the entire company.
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