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POLISHED CLAWS


Jaguar's refreshed XFR is more desirable than ever and remains the supersaloon BMW and Mercedes have to beat, as Jonathan Crouch reports.

Ten Second Review

With over 500bhp from its 5.0-litre supercharged V8, a price of just over £65,000 and a subtle helping of styling aggression, Jaguar's XFR has the all right ingredients to gain entry to the super saloon elite. This revised version adds sharper looks and extra hi-tech to a tempting high performance package.

Background

If you make an executive saloon in this day and age, you've also to make a fire-breathing version. So we have M5 BMWs, E63 AMG Mercedes' and S6 Audis. Less because they sell in any significant numbers and more because of the powerful statement they make, building their brands. Such cars are all about the engines they carry, offering supercar speed in a sensible saloon. But perhaps they should be about more than that. Perhaps, instead of simply creating a thug in a Saville Row suit, there's room for a more thoughtful set of engineers to create something that, though still ballistically fast, is a little more subtle - a little more day-to-day usable. Something like this - Jaguar's XFR.

Launched in 2009, this was the British approach to creating the world's fastest four-door. It didn't involve joining the Germans in their ever-spiralling horsepower race. Nor was there a need for gaudy badgework or showy skirts and spoilers. Here, we were promised, was a car that wouldn't need to prove itself on paper, or on the driveway. It wouldn't even have to trumpet its intentions with an over-firm ride and a noisy engine burble on a trip around the block. XFR motoring was a sophisticated and very desirable take on how to produce an executive super saloon and it shocked the German opposition enough to make them up their game. Since this car was first introduced, we've seen all-new versions of the BMW M5 and Audi S6 and an all-new 5.5-litre engine for this car's other great rival, the Mercedes E63 AMG. A much tougher band of rivals for this Jag to beat, hence the need for this revised version, launched in 2011. Let's try it.

Driving Experience

Settle into the soft grain leather seats and there is little to warn of the fireworks to come. Until you take a closer look, the cabin seems similar to that of any other well specified XF and the 'start' button pulses heartbeat red just like your company Fleet Manager's Turbo Diesel model. Punch it though and things begin to change. Though the rotary transmission selector knob's gradual rise from the transmission tunnel is familiar, the sound from under the bonnet that accompanies it is very different, uniquely XFR. True, firing this V8 into life won't startle small animals and children as it would in, say, an AMG Mercedes, but it leaves you in no doubt that you're about to experience something very special indeed.

503bhp may not be quite as much as you'd get in a rival Mercedes E63 AMG or BMW M5 but it's still the kind of power that F1 cars boasted as recently as the Seventies. Trickle this car through the traffic though, and you're rarely reminded of the fact, unlike you would be in an uber-powerful German competitor, especially since extra sound-deadening material and restyled wing mirrors were added to further improve this car's refinement. It all enables the XFR's 5.0-litre direct injection supercharged V8 to go about its work with a subtlety that masks its quite astonishing firepower, with a thumping 625Nm of torque available from as little as 2,500rpm.

Forget the fact that this delivers a rest to sixty time of just 4.7s. More important is that the commoner 50-70mph overtaking increment is demolished in less than 2s, whether or not you choose to use the neat steering wheel paddles that can manually drive the 6-speed automatic gearbox. No rival engine delivers so much pulling power over such a wide range. Top speed is limited to 155mph but were the nannyish speed limiter removed, you'd probably be edging up to 190mph.

But power of course is nothing without responsibility. So there are 30% stiffer springs that still somehow manage to deliver such a supple ride with fluid body control that some German rivals by contrast seem rather crude. In the same way, there's a sharper steering rack that still delivers a feelsome helm without following every contour in the tarmac. Even better, instead of one of those rather crude selectable 'soft' or 'hard' damping systems, you get a continuously variable set-up that delivers exactly what it promises on the tin, automatically choosing the right suspension set-up for the mood you're in and the road you're on. If you want to stay in red mist mode, pressing this 'Dynamic' button will not only keep the suspension firm and the gearchanges quick but also let the engine sing more lustily as the exhaust silencers are bypassed. Brilliant.

But the best bit - the trick electronic rear differential - is what'll probably be responsible for your lasting memories of this car, should you be fortunate enough to enjoy one over an empty roaded cross-country dash. The e-diff generates extra traction on all kinds of surfaces in all kinds of conditions, but you notice it most the first time that you throw this XFR into a corner. That's when the system can instantly divert torque to the outside rear wheel to stop the tail beginning to slide. So the car always feels planted and you always feel in control, completely confident in its abilities. The faster you go, the better it feels. I'd been sold on the merits of 4WD before I tried this Jaguar. Now I'm not quite so sure.

Design and Build

With dynamic improvements kept to a minimum in this facelifted XFR, aesthetics are where the main changes have taken place. So, as with other variants in the revised XF line-up, the front wings and bonnet have both been restyled to create more of a family resemblance to the larger XJ model. The slimmer bi-function xenon headlamps create a meaner, more focused look and feature LED running lights arranged in what Jaguar calls a 'J blade' shape. There's a smarter, more upright chrome-meshed radiator grille too, with the three bigger vents below it now finished in black rather than chrome and matched to a more prominent chin spoiler.

I love the detail touches too. The bonnet for example, which now has a bigger power bulge, features these lovely twin-louvered air intakes featuring the same 'SUPERCHARGED' lettering to be found on the huge 20-inch 'Nevis' alloy wheels. Then there's these vertical vents behind the front wheels, now topped with a horizontal chrome strip bearing the Jaguar name. Subtle side sill extensions are as before, but at the back, there are smarter LED lights and a re-shaped bumper above a potent pair of tailpipes.

Inside, the changes are a little more subtle, but equally welcome. You sit in grippier sports seats embroidered with the 'R' logo that position you nicely behind a smarter steering wheel. You operate buttons finished in soft-touch plastic rather than faux aluminium, which makes them easier to locate in bright sunlight. And you're informed by colour (rather than black and white) graphics used in the information display between dashboard dials featuring subtle red needles and the 'supercharged' legend. As before, most of the other functions you'll need are marshalled by a 7-inch centre console colour touchscreen and this too has been updated with smarter software and graphics to make it quicker and easier to use.

In the back, as with any XF, that coupe-style sloping roofline will compromise the headroom of the very tallest passengers just as the prominence of the central transmission tunnel will make it difficult to transport three adults for any huge distance. Yet two normal adults will be extremely comfortable here, with plenty of leg and shoulder room. And copious space for their luggage too. The 500-litre boot is one of the largest in the class - and can be extended further to 923-litres by flattening the rear seats.

Market and Model

To understand this supercharged car's pricing, you have to understand where it sits in its market. Yes, the pricetag of over £65,000 (around £12,000 more than a normally aspirated XF 5.0 V8) does look expensive compared to, say, an Audi S6 or a Lexus ISF. But both of those cars have around 100bhp less to offer. At the other end of the scale in this segment, the XFR's asking price doesn't look too bad against the budget required for slightly more powerful Teutonic rivals, cars like a BMW M5 or a Mercedes E63 AMG both of which sit in the £75,000 bracket.

Standard equipment runs to Bi-function xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, cruise control, rear parking sensors, leather heated and cooled seats, climate control, a premium 1200w Bowers & Wilkins premium sound system accessible via a 7-inch colour touch screen with Bluetooth compatibility. Oh and those huge 20" alloy wheels, between the spokes of which you can glimpse chunky silver brake callipers. Safety-wise, there's everything you would expect, including twin front, side and curtain airbags, ESP stability control, tyre pressure monitoring and all the latest electronic traction and braking aids, including Cornering Brake Control.

Cost of Ownership

No supercharged V8 super saloon is ever going to be an inexpensive car to run and the XFR is not for those looking to shave a few quid off the annual budget. Take the insurance - group 47. That said, when its prodigious power is taken into account, it's a creditable performer. In terms of fuel economy per horsepower, it's actually more efficient than a Toyota Prius. True, you'll only ever replicate the published 22.5mpg combined fuel economy figure if you drive the XFR as if you're leading a funeral cortege, but it's slightly better than what you'll manage in a Mercedes E63 AMG.

Both these cars though, lag significantly behind their BMW and Audi rivals, both in this respect and when it comes to CO2. The Jaguar's figure of 292g/km is again, marginally ahead of its Mercedes rival, but some way off the 232g/km recorded by a BMW M5. Where the XFR can match all its competitors nowadays is when it comes to the issue of residual value, this contributing to a three year ownership period running cost that industry experts reckon will be massively better than that of the equivalent Mercedes. And that's before you've taken the XFR's superior equipment levels into account. Suddenly it doesn't seem quite such an expensive option.

Summary

Does the world need a 5.0-litre, 500bhp supercharged V8-powered Jaguar capable of nearly 200mph? Probably not. But then the automotive landscape would also be a poorer place without cars like this one. Here's a Jaguar able to offer something that was missing from the very pinnacle of the executive car sector for a long time: an alternative to buying German. That might count for a lot.

This is a car that, more than ever in this improved guise, is beautifully made, astonishingly capable and as real-world fast as almost anything you can buy. A car that can crush you with a tsunami of torque, yet one that in an instant, can switch into wafting you in the lap of luxury. It's an astonishing achievement. It's British. And we should be proud of it.

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