Product development cycles, future planning, and the march of technical progress being what they are in the car industry, not even the tough financial conditions facing Jaguar can delay the introduction of some tasty new variants. So while it might not seem like the best time to be launching a hot V8 XF, here we have the new Jaguar XFR, a 503bhp super saloon about to descend into one of the toughest and closely fought niches in performance motoring.
However, there are two main differences with this Jaguar assault compared to recent efforts. Firstly, there’s the base material, the XF saloon, a car that’s been drenched in plaudits since it’s launch in 2007, and rightly so. It’s a good car, and a thoroughly modern one too. And then there’s the mechanical specification of the XFR itself.
Jaguar fans are used to their cars fighting it out with less power than their rivals - usually for a lower price too - but no caveats are required this time: it’s toe to toe with the German competition on the ordnance front, freakish Audi RS6 excepted.
And then there’s the inclusion, for the first time, of a proper mechanical limited slip differential, with its locking capability under ‘active’ electronic control; a new, continuously adaptive suspension setup, co-developed with Bilstein, plus Jaguar’s superb installation of the ZF six-speed auto gearbox, complete with paddle shift control that blips the throttle to match crank and road speeds on a down-change.
Visual impressions mainly depend on whether you’re a fan of the XF to begin with – especially as the styling ‘enhancements’ are fairly subtle. It works better ‘in the metal’ than on paper - particularly in the way the chin mounted air intakes enliven the frontal styling – and the quad exhausts convey their own message to following traffic.
Climb inside, and the subtle mix of performance and style continues. The XF’s cabin is one of its standout features, and here in R trim, it’s even better. There is precisely stitched soft leather, a fine steering wheel and some new multi adjustable sports seats with considerable lumber and side support.
Press the start button and the drive select drum rises theatrically from the centre console and the big V8 rumbles quietly into life: select D, soothe your foot onto the accelerator pedal and the XFR pads forward with virtually all the refinement of an XJ limo.
But that’s just how life with an XFR can be if you so desire it. It’s snug, warm in atmosphere, yet unequivocally modern and cosy-cool rather than coldly technical; the stereo is great – as are the seats. It rides more firmly than the standard car, but despite the glassy roads on the Spanish launch it feels like it will be superbly composed and comfortable on poor British asphalt.
Jaguar claims the XFR will get from zero to 60mph in just 4.7 seconds, with a top speed obediently limited to 155mph, but those figures sell short the remarkable savagery and flexibility of this car’s performance on the road. Fifty to seventy mph in just 1.9sec tells you far more. There’s much less supercharger whine than before, and although it could be louder still at times for these ears, the naughty crackle on the overrun is most welcome.
But what really makes this XFR a revelation is how it uses all its performance. The combination of all that torque, with a chassis that also knows how to switch from refinement to entertainment with seemingly no obvious barrier in between, means you can turn the prodigious acceleration on and off where and when you want like a tap.
Traction is amazingly good, up until the point you want to exceed the grip of the rear tyres on purpose, and the car has an agility that belies its weight and size, helped no doubt by the continuous response of those new dampers. These, and the ‘Dynamic Mode’ that retunes throttle, dampers and diff into a ‘maximum attack’ mode, could have smacked of jaguar being seduced by gimmicks – a real shame when Jags such as the old S-type R and XJR had that trademark fluidity developed by Mike Cross and his team.
No fear: the XFR has the same poise about it, but in Dynamic Mode tenses into something that you really want to drive hard. It steers with the clean and accurate response typical of modern Jags, helped by the quicker rack on the ‘R’, although there’s little weight for the first few degrees either side of the straight-ahead.
The steering on the new XKR weights up the moment you turn, but for the XFR it seems that a degree of limo-lightness has been retained: effortless, but not quite so involving.Could the XFR be a couple of more turns towards ‘angry’ on the character dial? Yes, to be honest, I think it could, although that’s not to say I feel it should.
It’s not been designed or developed to be a car that jumps down your throat the moment you sit in it. It doesn’t thrill you to the bone each and every time you begin a journey, nor does it emit the pure V8 beat of an AMG ‘63’ engine - and certainly not the furious yelp of an M5.