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Car reviews - Jaguar - XF - XFR sedan

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, throttle response, steering feel, ride and handling balance, smoothness, styling, price advantage over rivals
Room for improvement
Low-profile tyre harshness, cheap and rattley cup-holders, clunky glovebox, hard sides on centre console

17 Jun 2009

IT would be easy to flippantly summarise the new high-performance Jaguar XFR as the Cat sharpening its claws, but – while there is unquestionably a big performance boost as Jag gets serious about its R brand – the new car is really about refinement rather than rawness.

The car’s all-new supercharged 5.0-litre V8 engine is a potent and superbly smooth weapon, churning out a mighty 375kW of power and 625Nm of torque, and on paper it eclipses the super-saloon performance leader, Mercedes-Benz’s mighty E63 AMG.

XF chief engineer Kevin Stride proudly points out how the supercharged V8 develops considerably more torque than the AMG’s normally-aspirated 6.2-litre V8 up to 4000rpm and then holds its own against the Benz.

However, the German car still accelerates to 100km/h much faster – 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds versus 4.9s for the Jaguar – and does so with a bit more theatre.

The AMG bursts into life with an awesome cackle and always sounds fast whereas the Jaguar is intentionally more refined. Supercharger whine, which was already quite subtle in the superseded SV8, cannot be heard at all and only a select amount of engine note is transmitted to the occupants.

Where the XFR most impresses is with the instant response when burst of speed is needed, leaping from 80km/h to 110km/h in less than two seconds, which should see off the Benz.

That mid-range performance is aided by improvements to the ZF six-speed automatic transmission, which has more lock-up for the torque converter but is still no match for the Mercedes seven-speeder let alone BMW’s twin-clutch unit in the M5.

Like both the E63 and the M5 – which are $20,000 more expensive – the $208,450 Jaguar has gone for subtlety with the styling of its executive express, opting only for the required larger air intakes at the front and relatively minor bodywork refinements including a small built-in rear spoiler and bonnet vents to distinguish the fastest four-door saloon the company has ever built.

It is hardly an ostentatious ‘look-at-me’ kind of car, but make no mistake – you will be noticed driving the XFR, especially if painted black, which really shows up the chrome highlights around the nose, the 20-inch alloys and the car’s purposeful stance.

As a sporty saloon, there is no doubt in my mind that Ian Callum’s beautiful XF is a much better-looking car than its German mid-size rivals, let alone the ungainly Lexus GS, and the R version simply stands out in the performance stakes. In my book, the man deserves a statue next to Sir William Lyons at Jag HQ.

Inside, our launch car was all black trim and purposeful, with seats that were comfortable rather than hugging in an interior that oozes quality rather than the stuffiness of old.

However, while the R trim provides extra sportiness without being gaudy, the interior is still let down by sub-standard fit and finish of fittings such as the cup-holders and glovebox, which spoil an otherwise classy interior and need to be improved in the future.

And long-distance comfort was still spoiled by the lack of padding on the centre console, which caused us some discomfort with a numb knee while the lack of a digital speed read-out and small spacings for the speedo itself made it difficult to stay safe from speed cameras.

But we still like the start-up ‘handshake’ function, which rotates the air-vents into position and pops up the unique gearshift controller when you turn on the ignition, as well as the soft-feel dash, the chrome and rubber steering wheel controls, the size and shape of the wheel itself and even the attention to detail with the Jaguar name embossed into the chrome air-vent direction sliders.

The sloping roofline barely compromises ease of entry to the rear seat and there is no problem with headroom, legroom, visibility or comfort once inside.

Jaguar makes much of its in-house active differential development and its wide-ranging ‘Adaptive Dynamics’ suspension system – which apparently monitors the body position 100 times a second and the wheels 500 times a second to predictively improve damper control – but unfortunately the launch drive was anything but challenging.

Busy country highways are not the place to test such a car, let alone analyse complex systems and explore the limits of its capabilities, so we remain in anticipation of a more thorough examination over an extended time on local roads.

In the meantime, we can tell you that the XFR is suitably grippy and rides well for such a car, but suffers from sharp road irregularities, as you would expect from low-profile performance tyres, which also generate too much road noise.

The fast electro-hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering (electronic control, not electric power) is hard to fault, being fast and direct, with a lightness of touch at low speeds combined with good feel, responsiveness and on-centre feel on the highway.

Jaguar is certainly serious about its R brand and has dedicated significant engineering resources to revive the brand’s sporting heritage. AMG and the M people may not yet be quaking in their boots, but the XFR is undoubtedly a huge step in the right direction.

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