Monday 8th June 2009


JAGUAR XFR: UK DRIVE

We try Jaguar's fantastic new super-saloon on UK roads - Chris-R reports

I’ve never really been a fan of Mondays (or for that matter of bands from Manchester), but some Mondays are undeniably better than others.

XFR - every car park should have one
XFR - every car park should have one
Last Monday, for example, a shiny new Jaguar XFR test car arrived in the PistonHeads car park. This didn’t only make my day, but also made my Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday - at which point I had to relinquish the keys to Stuart on medical grounds, who by that time was threatening to explode with frustrated desire to get behind the wheel. I’ve pretty much always liked Fridays as it happens, so I suppose it could have been worse…

PH first reviewed the XFR in left-hand-drive guise back in March, when our contributor Adam Towler left us in no doubt he felt the new Jaguar had cracked it – describing the 503bhp, 5.0-litre supercharged machine as ‘the best super-saloon all-rounder there is’. He clearly wasn’t alone, as similar rave reviews have piled up in the Jaguar scrap book, so it’s been a tantalising few months' wait to get our hands on the new car here on UK soil.

The seat of power - 503bhp, to be exact
The seat of power - 503bhp, to be exact
‘Our’ car finally turned up looking suitably svelte in its Lunar Grey metallic finish complemented by a soft leather interior in Warm Charcoal and a correspondingly ‘cool’ dark mesh aluminium-finish fascia with Dark Oak veneer wood panels. I love the elegant contours of the XFR body especially in these subtler shades and, although I’m only 99 per cent convinced by the XFR’s exterior jewellery (the chrome grille and air intake surrounds are just a teensy bit ‘blingy’ for my tastes), once ensconced in the driving seat the ambience is absolutely spot-on. In fact it’s hard to think of a nicer place from which to conduct the business of motoring - certainly in the XF range price bracket and especially with all the toys and gadgets that Jaguar has managed to ladle onto the standard spec sheet for the £60K XFR.

The seat of driver, and fantastic fascia
The seat of driver, and fantastic fascia
The theatre starts when you press the start button, as the gearbox drive selector drum rises silently from the centre console and the shuttered-off fascia vents revolve to maintain the climate at your desired settings. Best of all though, is the whooffly cough of the new 5.0 V8 as it bursts into life with a little blip of ECU-induced throttle before settling into a refined idle, a delicious little aural treat which serves as a tantalising warm-up for the real performance still to come.

Ease the selector into reverse to back out of your parking space, and the rear view monitor reveals a fantastically clear picture of the scenery behind you – even at night – while a pair of curving yellow lines predict the vehicle’s path on any given steering angle. It may not be world-beating technology, but I still can’t get enough of systems like this that allow you to ‘point and shoot’ parking spaces with barely a second thought! Adaptive Cruise Control is another incredibly useful gadget that still hasn’t outplayed its novelty value, while features like the touch sensitive interior lights and glovebox catch all help to reinforce the sense that the XFR is a mightily clever box of tricks.

Cabin ambience is unbeatable
Cabin ambience is unbeatable
The XFR driving experience offers nothing to diminish that impression, initially conferring a sense of impressively purposeful refinement that swiftly develops into mind-boggling awe at the level of power, poise and outright performance the machine delivers.

The car gets off to a fine start as the standard XF body is already one of the stiffest in the business, which Jaguar says is the key to the XFR’s superb ride and handling. On top of this rigid platform, two new developments have been employed – Adaptive Dynamics which is a sophisticated active damping system that adjusts settings to road conditions and driving style, and Active Differential Control which is a torque-vectoring axle that actively varies torque between the rear wheels to maximise traction.

Automated dash vents and drive selector
Automated dash vents and drive selector
With 503bhp available under foot, not to mention the 461lb ft of torque driving through an uprated six-speed ZF gearbox (it gets additional clutch plates and a beefier torque converter compared with lesser XF models), the clever diff plays a critical role in keeping the XFR pointing the right way on the tarmac when the thrust is unleashed.

And thrust can be unleashed in a big, big way, thanks to the new V8 that has some pretty impressive technical credentials. The engine features a stiff aluminium block with cast iron liners and cross-bolted main bearing caps. The aluminium heads have four valves per cylinder, and Jaguar claims an industry first for its centrally mounted multi-hole fuel injection system. The compression ratio is up to 9.5:1 from the old supercharged 4.2-litre V8. The inlet cam has Camshaft Profile Switching that gives increased valve lift when required, and there’s a variable inlet manifold to help optimise torque across the rev range. The Roots-type twin-vortex blower (apparently the same unit that’s fitted to the Corvette ZR1) feeds air through a pair of intercoolers, and a ‘high helix’ rotor design has all but eliminated the traditional supercharger whine, says Jaguar. In fact, so refined is the new V8 that acoustic trickery has been employed to make sure a decent soundtrack is relayed to the driver. An acoustic filter tuned to ‘tenor C’ ducts the engine’s V8 beat into the cabin, but only when the car is revving hard – and the result is an engine note that howls deliciously like a (somewhat muted) NASCAR racer when you want some fun and games.

Plenty of room in the back seats, too
Plenty of room in the back seats, too
The result of all that new engine technology is some pretty extreme performance – Jaguar quotes 0-60mph in just 4.7secs, and a blistering 1.9secs for 50-70mph, which is a good measure of the XFR’s crushing overtaking potential. Top speed is limited to the usual 155mph, although it has been variously reported that an unrestricted XFR will top out at anything between 180 and 195mph!

My first couple of drives in the XFR were long-ish motorway commutes, during which the Jaguar’s supple damping and general sense of refined quietude belied the car’s capacity to beat up the M5 and the ‘vorsprung durch RS’ brigade. Yet even with the damping in its ‘normal’ setting, you’ll need to be travelling very fast indeed over uneven tarmac before the car’s near two-tonne mass will begin to show any sign at all of overwhelming the active damping system’s firm grip on body control. Select Dynamic Mode, however, and, as well as firming up and further flattening the ride, the electronics are programmed to sharpen up throttle response, and modify the stability and transmission parameters to further stretch the car’s fearsome performance envelope.

Looking glamorous at Goodwood
Looking glamorous at Goodwood
In any mode, the steering is a fantastic piece of work – perfectly weighted, with plenty of feel and razor-sharp turn-in that positively encourages full use of the extreme levels of grip and chassis stability through corners. The brakes too are strong and reassuring, with enlarged discs and callipers lurking behind those big 20ins alloys offering stupendous stopping power and a confidence inspiring feel to boot.

In fact the only impediment to progress I found was that the ‘manual override’ paddle-shifters are too small and occasionally get lost behind the wheel - for instance as you’re getting on the power, unwinding lock and looking for the next ratio when a corner opens out ahead. But with gearbox as clever as the XFR’s, there’s not much call for the manual option anyway. 

For the full-on XFR effect, I think that selecting Dynamic Mode then sticking the autobox selector into ‘S’ instead of D is the most rewarding option on the road. (You can kill the DSC for controllable power-on oversteer, but such antics are probably best left to the track at XFR ‘drift’ speeds.)

Chrome highlights on grille and intakes
Chrome highlights on grille and intakes
In ‘S’ with Dynamic Mode, the adaptive gearbox behaviour transforms the XFR’s character. It kicks down more urgently, holds gears through high g-force corners and hangs onto lower ratios instead of changing up when you lift off the throttle after an overtake. The result is an intoxicating combination of high-revving V8 music and simply devastating performance, particularly on a challenging B-road, when the suddenly more insistent engine note seems constantly to challenge the driver to use more of what the car has to offer.

If you’re tempted to unleash this performance – and it’s so readily accessible that you surely will be - just keep an eye on the fuel gauge. The XFR has prodigious thirst for unleaded when Sport mode is engaged, and probably the rest of the time as well.

Quad tailpipes and a small boot-lip spoiler
Quad tailpipes and a small boot-lip spoiler
My last run in the car was a trip back from Silverstone to Teddington, for which I programmed the navigation system to avoid major roads. Having already noted the speed with which the fuel gauge plummeted in ‘ordinary’ driving, as a matter of interest I left the gearbox in S for the whole journey. Admittedly this included quite a few urban miles, but I was slightly alarmed to return an average consumption of 13.9mpg. Jaguar claims a combined figure of 22.5mpg but, either way, I reckon the numbers suggest you’re more likely to see an XFR at the filling station than blasting past on a twisty B-road!

But while the XFR isn’t perhaps the most politically correct car for these straitened times, it’s certainly indecently rewarding to drive. If your regular commute includes the school run, for instance, I doubt if there’s currently a better way to spend £60k to spice up Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays…

Author: Chris-R