Just as the storm clouds of recession gather, now is hardly the best time to launch an all-guns-blazing, unleaded-glugging super saloon with enough firepower to sink a 1990s Ferrari. But product lifecycles and automotive industrial sequences being what they are, Jag had no choice with its new XFR. It was hardly going to wait until clearer weather to launch its answer to the M5/RS6/E63. Jag’s a company in hot water right now, and it needs new product to lure in new buyers. And the XFR certainly grabs your attention.
Not for its looks, mind. The XFR treatment is meted out subtly on this high-performance Jag. It rides on gorgeous 20in alloys, sports discrete R badging and has the most delicately re-noodled of aero aids. If you like to announce your brawn like Brabus, look elsewhere. Those bonnet vents are perhaps the most obvious giveaway...
Jaguar XFR: the tech story
The new Jaguar XFR is interesting for the depth of its engineering. There’s a sledgehammer version of the new, enlarged, direct-injection V8; where the regular 5.0 is primed to sup fuel, this one has a supercharger bolted on to massage peak power to 503bhp and a tyre-wilting 461lb ft of twist from just 2500rpm.
At last, Jag’s hot saloon gains a proper active differential, too. Not one of those namby-pamby, electro-diffs that’s all ESP and no trousers. This one is a real mechanical diff, albeit governed by electro chips. As we’ll see, it holds the key to the XFR’s handling prowess…
Enough tech! First impressions on the road?
We already know and admire the XF in regular trim (check out our progress with our long-term test 2.7 D here). If anything, the standard car is too stiff and sporting, having lost some of the velvety pampering that have long marked out Jags over their harder German rivals.
However, this intent of purpose helps the transition to XFR. The steering at first feels too light, but it firms up nicely in corners and the helm remains fast-acting and pointy enough to make this 1.9-tonne big saloon feel remarkably agile (thank a new rack with 2.5 turns between locks).
Crack on and the diff comes into play, quelling understeer and – if you provoke it with a surfeit of those 461lb ft – you’ll provoke delicious slides of the sort that make Pirelli shares soar. Regardless of road surface, you can oversteer the XFR all day long and it’s beautifully balanced on the limit. Amazingly, the diff that makes all this sideways progress possible is actually hardware from the Land Rover Discovery SUV.
>> Click ‘Next’ to read more of CAR’s Jaguar XFR first drive review
Does the XFR waft as well as race?
You bet – it’s not just a showboating extrovert. That active diff is a boon if you’re pulling away from a damp junction, letting you accelerate more cleanly without the distraction of wheelspin that’s commonly associated with big-power rear-drivers.
And there is big power. The new 5.0 V8 is strong and brawny, although it fails to provide M5-levels of thrills topping out at 6000rpm where the BM spins to 8000rpm. But the XFR punches out 110bhp and 48lb ft over the old S-type R – enabling it to scarper to 60mph in comfortably less than 5.0sec and hit a 155mph limited maximum (nearer 190mph without the electro-nanny).
Responses are very quick. Flex your little toe and the XFR leaps forward, but if we have one gripe it’s the aural entertainment. Where the M5 and RS6 have edgy V10 soundtracks, the Jag has a V8 whose vocal chords have been strangled by the supercharger. If anything, it’s almost too quiet. It’s like a library in here, shhh…
So the XFR is quick, refined, slides at will… any chinks in the armour?
The CVD continuously variable damping set-up is trick, soaking up road acne with aplomb. Like the regular XF, there’s always an underlying firmness, but it suits the XFR’s focus. We would, however, leave the variable switch in its default position rather than ramp up to Sport mode. (How often do we say this about such variable damping systems?)
We wouldn’t argue with the XFR’s price, though. It’s £5k less than an M5 and a whopping £15k cheaper than the extravagant RS6. That’s cracking value and gives the XFR an immediate head start in the showroom dreaming stakes.
How can the XFR fail to win buyers when it’s so competitively priced? In a nutshell, because the Jag badge is still seen by many as less attractive than the tech-cool of Audi’s RS, BMW’s M and Merc’s AMG hardware. All three of these rivals offer scintillating performance with degrees of driver involvement – there’s not a clonker among them. But on our first drive, we'd say the Jag R deserves its place among these stalwarts of Germanic super saloonery.
Where does the XFR slot in to the pantheon of the great phwooar-doors? Only a back-to-back test will tell, but we suspect its mix of strong performance, comfort and brilliant handling will give it a strong hand come the group test. And we've got just that planned in the next issue of CAR Magazine, out 25 February 2009.
If anything, the XFR is not quite hard enough in character. The raw figures and dynamics are unquestionably well judged, but we can’t help wondering if it’s a bit too sensible for its own good. We remain, however, deeply impressed.
>> Check out CAR’s full photoshoot and feature driving the new Jaguar XFR against its key rivals in our next April 2009 issue out 25 February 2009