The Jag XFR has never quite lit our fire here at Dep-O, but can the extreme XFR-S version redeem that?
Many moons ago, I once drove a Jaguar XFR. It was a brand new model then, the supercharged, screaming version of the stylish XF, a car which in normal trim was winning editorial plaudits left, right and centre – no surprises there, though, as it came after the goppingly awful S-type retro pastiche.
I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for m’Jags, especially ones equipped with supercharged V8s. But, while it promised so much, I reckon that XFR might have been the last car from an era when the Big Cat company still didn’t know quite how to turn wafting, fast saloons into genuine driver’s cars. It had the most rudely intrusive traction control system I’ve ever encountered, suspension too wallowy to truly suit a 500bhp+ behemoth and steering that had all the feel and feedback of a cloud of vapour. It was a lovely blend of power and comfort, but it was no supersaloon.
However, since that drive, I’ve been in a number of Jags which have moved the game on. None more so than the XKR with the 5-litre, 503bhp AJ-V8 gen III engine it received in 2009. Having driven earlier 4.2s, I liked them but didn’t desire them. However, a Speed and Black version of the 5-litre XKR changed all that, as it possessed lovely steering, throttle-adjustable chassis dynamics and proper firecracker pace. I was never lucky enough to drive the even more extreme XKR-S, but m’learned colleague Charlesworth says it was unbelievably good, and I trust his judgment.
And this XFR-S – sibling to that extreme XK – is confirmation, after a recent blat in an F-Type, that Jag has finally got the dynamics thing sorted. This is certainly a supersaloon, brimming with driver interactivity and equipped with a drivetrain that’s nothing short of sensational. This example is also finished in French Racing Blue, a shade perhaps more suited to a Renaultsport Clio or Gordini, but somehow quite fitting on this wild-looking Jag. For example, that rear wing is probably going to be controversial with the more traditional Big Cat owner; it’s reminiscent of an Evo VI’s example, but somehow it works on the XF, never looking obscene.
The XFR-S might not be as competent an all-rounder as the non-S version, but by gum, it’s the winner if you value driving in any way whatsoever. That rear wing, for example, might be discredited as bling by the casual observer, but it actually negates rear lift by up to 68 per cent. This may be why the XFR-S finds remarkable traction for something ripping 542bhp into the tarmac through the rear wheels only. I was lucky enough to drive it on a sunny day (Oop Nurth, in October? Madness!) but even so, it could fire out of roundabouts and tight bends with barely a flash of the traction control warning light, even when it was in its most nannying mode. This is so much more like it, and it makes the XFR-S much more capable on rougher British roads. It also makes it a devastating overtaker; there’s very little you won’t be able to get around should you want to.
The steering remains some way from the pinnacle of Mount Feedback but is again more informative, friendly and pleasurable to use than the standard car’s. You can thank the steering valve from an F-Type for that. It’s also frighteningly direct, the big Jag’s nose biting into turns way quicker than you might expect of a rapid exec. Once you learn to dial out that frustrating bit of numbness in the steering, you can rely on the XFR-S’s front end completely.
The suspension and chassis have seen an overhaul which takes a lot of inspiration from the XKR-S. Tougher springs and stiffer bushes at the rear eliminate the strange, floaty feeling the standard car sometimes had, the feeling that the body was detached from the undercarriage. But that’s only part of it – front suspension from the XKR-S, wider forged Varuna 20-inch alloys front and back shod in bespoke Pirelli P Zeros and new damper settings are finished off with a recalibrated active differential.
The net result is that the XFR-S is now a bona fide, certified piece of brilliance to hoon about in. While it isn’t quite the perfect machine (there’s the steering gripe, and it is an auto, at the end of the day; as good as this slushbox is, I’d love to see a manual version – XFR-S GT, anyone…?), it’s so close that anyone with a good old-fashioned sense of patriotism should be able to overlook these foibles and proclaim this as the best in its rarified class.
The XFR-S is so keyed in to the tarmac that it feels like it is about 300kg lighter than the XFR, so that extra 40bhp and 40lbf.ft makes a bigger difference than you might suspect. The big Jag is a gem when it comes to linking up a series of nasty corners on a narrow B-road. You never feel terrified trying to deploy the V8’s full explosive power, the car’s rigid body control and superb damping meaning it keeps as much of that special Pirelli rubber on the ground for as much time as is physically possible. You can still feel its 37.6cwt (4215lb) mass, but it no longer wibbles and wobbles around as you’re trying to set the car up for a corner.
And the V8 was never a weak point of the standard car, either. With its extra muscle for the XFR-S, there’s no real area you can criticise it for – it’s perhaps a little more muted inside than you’d like for something which is clearly this extreme, but I can testify that if someone is giving it ‘the beans’ past you as an observer, the real aural rewards are for gaping bystanders. It sounds epic as it blasts by, so you forgive the slightly-too-quiet noise inside and just revel in the any time, any place shove the 5-litre bestows upon this XF.
Because the XFR-S can still be a Jag – when you aren’t consuming super unleaded at a rate that would make even an Arabian oil magnate weep for the environment, the XFR-S can cosset, and it’s then that the near-silent V8 is a welcome boon. Its ride is naturally firmer than the standard car but it’s hardly a floppy disaster, and as soon as it stops snarling for apices, the XFR-S can purr along more bland stretches of road (think dual carriageway or motorway) as you would demand of the marque.
Overall, it’s a phenomenal performance from the XFR-S. I’d have never considered the original against an E60 M5 or a Maser Quattroporte, it was way too soft. But, if I had enough money to consider buying a supersaloon today, then the XFR-S would be at the top of my list, ahead of an M5 or any AMG Merc you could think of. It really is that blindingly good. Crikey, I’d even have it in French Racing Blue.
Tech Spec Jaguar XFR-S
- Body Front-engined four-door supersaloon
- Engine 5000cc 32v supercharged V8
- Transmission RWD, eight-speed Quickshift automatic with paddle shift
- 0-62mph 4.6 seconds
- Top speed 186mph (limited)
- Max power 542bhp @ 6500rpm
- Max torque 502lbf.ft between 2500 and 5500rpm
- Fuel consumption 24.4mpg (claimed combined)
- CO2 emissions 270g/km
- Price from £79,995
The Truth & Nothing But…
+ Sensational upgrades to chassis and engine turn the XFR from slightly too soft to full on M5-baiter. While it might not be to all tastes, either, we love the French Racing Blue paint and the mad wing on the boot.
– Not much – although it’s £80,000 and it still lacks the final attention to dynamic detail to make it absolutely perfect.
∴ A mental machine that approaches the very highest levels of dynamic ability, it’s a Jag everyone can love.