The R badge is a Jaguar’s answer to Mercedes AMG and BMW M division, but does waving the ‘R’ magic wand over the gigantic super-saloon XJ make any sense? The Jaguar XJR takes the largest car in the range – with its lightweight aluminum body – but instead of an understated diesel, it wields the balls-out, all-or-nothing supercharged V8, a stiffer chassis, larger wheels and R badges. We smoke ’em up in the name of research…
Is this the ultimate XJ, or is the Supersport the king?
Horses for courses: the XJ Supersport, with its 125mm longer wheelbase, has a distinct advantage over the R in terms of rear passenger space and ride comfort. But the benefits end there: the XJR is the biggest, most expensive R-model yet. Its 5.0-litre blown V8 develops 543bhp, it rides on 20in alloys and its 4.9sec 0-62mph claim is only 0.5sec slower than the XKR-S Coupe – the fastest Jag on sale right now. It’s targeted at the Jaguar enthusiast who wants to drive him- or herself, not be plonked in the plush leather rear seat. So, if you want the most grace, pace and performance, it’s the new King of Jaguar saloons.
It’s bloody huge though – surely it’s a mess to drive?
You’d think a 5.1m-long saloon that costs £95K would be more focused on insulating its passengers from the elements rather than involving them in the road ahead, but the XJR is an absolute blast to throw around. Sure, drive it in a reserved, gentlemanly manner around town, and it will cosset Sir or Madam in spite of the slightly firmer yet not crashy ride, with not a drop of champagne spilt on the back seat thanks to the superb body control.
You’ll feel every nuance through the steering wheel, but passengers won’t – they’ll simply notice that you can slice the big cat through heavy traffic and forget about its sheer size, enjoying the comfort and the burble of the silken V8. It does take some getting used to in tighter spaces, making some tighter inner-city turns tricky, but this is a car that’s easy to drive smoothly and sensibly.
What about when you give it a lashing?
That’s when the XJR shows its tyre-frying side. It can spin the 20in rear wheels aplomb, but letting it off the leash shows that it’s a surprisingly agile and capable machine on the twisty stuff, too. On long, high-speed sweepers, you’ll feel it swallow every bump and pothole through the steering wheel, which may initially cause nerves, but the big cat will stay true and hold the road brilliantly. You do have to set it up for corners, but turn-in is crisp and the response – from the steering wheel, the chassis and the throttle – is measured and predictable.
Once you’re at speed, the 501lb ft of torque means that it has the legs to keep layering on the speed. It’s gob-smackingly fast, the larger brakes allowing you to stay on the gas longer and brake ridiculously late into a corner. Once you’ve tucked the nose in, you can flick the excellent metal shift paddles and the eight-speed ZF auto shifts up quickly (although it could be a little quicker to optimise the Jag’s ferocious pace). The XJR’s well-sorted set-up means that it won’t serve up any nasty surprises, either, even if it needs a smooth driving technique to get the most of its mammoth point-to-point ability. It’s so much fun and out of character for a stately-looking Jag that you’ll be in hysterics about the fact that you’re doing this in a car so big it deserves its own postcode.
Verdict: is the XJR better than the XJ Supersport?
For outright comfort, get the Supersport – for more agility, the XJR is The One. Yet by no means is the XJR is an uncouth lout of a saloon: there are still swathes of stitched leather, details such as a heated steering wheel and the opulence a car that costs this much demands – at a price lower than the new Mercedes S63 AMG. With the XJR, Jaguar has given its super saloon a crisper edge in terms of driving enjoyment, and it’s much more rewarding to drive without sacrificing its core business of being a comfortable saloon.