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Tested: Jaguar's XFR

2009-11-24 08:04
Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Jaguar
Model XFR
Engine 4.2l, supercharged V8
Power 375kW @ 6 000-6 500r/min
Torque 625Nm @ 2 500-5 500r/min
Transmission Six-speed auto
Zero To Hundred 4.9 sec
Top Speed 250km/h (limited)
Fuel Consumption 16.7l/100km
Weight 1 891kg
Tyres F: 235/35ZR20, R: 285/30ZR20
Front Suspension Double-wishbone, coil-springs
Rear Suspension Double-wishbone, coil-springs
Price R955 000

Lance Branquinho

Since the 1950s, Coventry’s leaping cat bonnet jewellery has adorned some of the most fetching (and fast) four person portable cars around.

When Jaguar’s XF arrived last year, expectations for its subsequent XFR derivative were high.

Here, finally, was a vehicle with the contemporary chassis technology (not to mention direct-injection engine expertise) to compete with the fearsome German trio - M5, RS6 and E63 AMG.

After the disappointment of the S-type R, can XFR redress the balance and rekindle that wonderful supercharged Jaguar four-door heritage? After spending a week with one, I think I'll venture an opinion...

Arrest me styling?

The XF’s striking lines and deft detailing are enhanced by the R model’s go-faster styling trinkets.

This is not always the case when luxury sedans are dressed up in regulation track wear – as anybody who remembers AMG’s products from the 1980s will attest…

Think of the XFR as a muscle bound Springbok rugby player poured into a Saville Row suite - the presence of forbidding power is tangible, yet the overture is subtle.

Seats five adults in serene comfort. Swallows 500l worth of luggage. Happy to cruise at 250km/h all day and snubs the environmental lobby by producing under 300g/co2 per km. What a car...

Subtle subterfuge...

Distinguishing the R designated XF from its naturally aspirated V8 siblings are multispoke Nevis 20-inch alloys, revised bumpers (with air duct cut-outs around the front) and a boot-lid spoiler.

Enthusiasts though, will only take notice of those tell-tale twin dual-exhausts ends and bonnet louvers, betraying the XFR’s brutal performance potential.

Out of the hyper-sedan class of 2009, XFR is undoubtedly the looker – striking, yet stylishly subtle. BMW’s M5 is less contemporary, E63 AMG too asymmetrical (especially the rear) and Audi’s RS6 simply displays too much of its mass visually.

We’ve been here before though. Jaguar’s XJR was always the best looking car in class too, yet its dynamic package was a dangerously toxic cocktail of incommensurable ends - immense power delivered with considerable chassis flex.

Technologically validated, yet user friendly

If you’re looking for a surfeit of cutting-edge engineering kit, you’d be better off with something from BMW’s M-division or Affalterbach.

With XFR, Jaguar’s engineering department optioned on crushing simplicity instead of technological overkill.

Subsequently, the archetypical hyper-sedan vices – punishing ride, petulant throttle response and a trick differential bloated low speed turning circle – were addressed with a blend of simple solutions.

Bonnet architecture does little to hide the presence of something special underneath. Double-wishbone suspension with coil-springs and adaptive dampers at each wheel corner keeps things very neat indeed when changing direction at speed.

Proper, lusty, Jaguar power

Thanks to Bilstein’s perpetually busy adaptive damping system, XFR rides with the aplomb expected of a Jaguar product (despite its low-profile rubber).

Its forced induction regime is engine (instead of exhaust gas) driven via a supercharger, which ensures a groundswell of rotational force from any engine speed.

Does running a supercharger instead of a turbo factor in an efficiency penalty? Sure, but turbocharged Jags (think XJ220) don’t really do justice to the brand’s heritage - and besides, 375kW is hardly underpowered.

Granted, it’s not the most powerful car in class. In mitigation though, when you’re comparing outputs in the rarefied statistical data points above 370kW, a few kWs on paper translate into negligible gains in the real world.

Suffice to say then, despite being third in class in terms of output (RS6 and E 63 AMG best it), it’s still an unwittingly fast four-door car.

Transferring power to the rear axle is a curiously simple ZF sourced six-speed planetary geared transmission, which does much to eradicate any low-speed throttle response petulance in traffic.

Borg-Warner kinetically driven variable camshaft technology with sixth generation Eaton supercharging renders crushing mid-range power delivery. Could do with a greater sense of acoustic urgency when pressing on though.

The big difference?

Perhaps the only really contemporary engineering detail onboard (bar the 5l engine’s direct-injection system) is the way drive between the rear axle wheels is distributed – courtesy of the XFR’s piece de résistance, an ingenious electronic limited slip differential (eLSD).

Although eLSDs have become a euphemism for ABS actuated traction control, the XKR’s system is quite unique - and all the better off for it.

The active differential uses GKN software to continuously monitor traction requirements, and provide a torque vectored (not ABS strained) locking rate of up to 90% on either of the rear wheels when necessary.

When road surface imperfections – or more likely, severe throttle and steering angle applications - compromise traction on one of the rear wheels, an electric motor directly rotates the cam gear of a unidirectional ball-ramp mechanism, actuating a multiplate clutch, correcting torque distribution.

Best thing about it? It runs as a stock open differential most of the time, which means no low-speed wheel scrubbing or understeer bloated turning circle compromises.

Only the third most powerful car in class  - and the second heaviest - but the performance is so flatteringly exploitable that mere numbers are of no consequence.

Iron fist principle

I have no wish to colour in the XFR’s driving dynamics as underwhelming, but it’s just such a disarmingly effortless car to drive – especially considering the latent performance on offer.

Mindful of obstinate M5 SMG transmission behaviour, numb RS6 steering and punishing AMG ride quality, XFR is an otherworldly experience…

I adore its simplicity. XFR’s driving aids and digital adjustability is 1-2-3 simple.

The DSC system is either on, set to TRAC bias or completely off (you need to depress the button for an eternity to disengage it though). If you turn the drive controller to S, throttle and transmission response are seamlessly remapped to more hooliganesque parameters.

With XFR there is no need for a maddening navigation of menus or litany of buttons to engage for the XFR to be properly geared for action. You can just hop in and power away with the full 375kW at your disposal.

The manner in which the drivetrain converts 625Nm to towering propulsion is magnificent.

Allow the engine speed to wind up to 6 000r/min gear-after-gear and roadside details in your peripheral field of vision blur to a uniform mass of unrecognisable speed-matter.

Split-spoke seven blade alloys roll 20-inch low-profile rubber, yet offer 16-inch wheel ride quality. 'Supercharged' wheel boss logos a trifle silly. Massive (380mm) internally vented rotors able to stop time.

Velvet glove logic

It’s a manically swift car, yet smoothness is always the underlying sensation with everything XFR does.

During full-bore acceleration XFR displaces your last meal into the small of your back instead of snapping your neck back, all whilst effortlessly shadowing the best acceleration times the German hyper-sedans have on offer…

XFR’s steering is perhaps a touch light (with a 1.8t hyper-sedan copious levels of assistance are a given) but it’s just so quick-witted, linear and accurate you find yourself flicking the XFR around with reckless abandon and scant fear of consequence.

If your hyper-sedan frame is reference is German (what else could it be?) the XFR’s uncanny level of ride comfort will at first be hugely disconcerting.

There is a miscalculated sense of trepidation when you first allow all 375kW to make play on the XFR’s chassis. Especially if road surface is changing to accommodate topography.

You expect XFR to pitch and roll, as the full extent of the engine’s power mauls the cosseting suspension set-up, but it doesn’t – not even nearly.

How many hours Jaguar and Bilstein’s engineers spent perfecting the adaptive dampers will probably never be officially known. I wish to thank them (and their families) personally – your sacrifice does not go unnoticed.

Plainly there is no other hyper-sedan which rides with such resolve, yet tracks adventurous cornering lines with a similar level of confidence. In my limited experience with it, Merc's W212 E63 AMG might come close…

Diligence is only called for with the DSC disengaged.

XFR is capable of producing very amusing power-on oversteer dynamics at lower speeds. This translates into alarming step-out behaviour from the rear axle when exiting faster corners at the limit, though you need to be in a single-mindedly suicidal mood to expose such behaviour from XFR on public roads…


XF shape is hugely original. Added ‘R’ trinkets make it even better. ‘Supercharger’ embossed wheel centres not the most understated of touches…


Stylised, comfy, with clean surfacing and soothing blue mood lighting. If you're oblivious to temperature extremes, switch-off the climate control and have the ventilation ducts flip backwards to render a strikingly clean fascia surface. Clever.


Jealous German hyper-sedan owners will harp on about how much more powerful the XFR could have been if it was turbocharged. XFR owners will simply enjoy its crushing pace everywhere. And the flawless ride quality. And the smooth shifting ZF transmission. And the harmless low-speed driveability…

Launch control is a notably absent feature – elucidating much about how well Jaguar knows its customer base…


Disgracefully fast and impeccably stable, the manner in which XFR brings together 375kW worth of velocity and premium sedan ride quality is simply astounding. Revolutionary even…

It’s a fitting ode to the impeccable engineering pedigree and driving ability of Jaguar’s chief engineer Mike Cross.

A plainly unassuming man, Cross has an extraordinary ability to drift cars effortlessly (at high speeds), then download the data, do the analysis and affect the necessary changes.

Mike does all this with huge conviction before the Jaguar product in question comes rolling off the production line to your dealer's showroom floor. It's the reason Jag's current cars are so good.

With XFR, all those hours navigating the challenging roads of North Wales at speed have germinated a properly British - yet fearsomely accomplished - hyper-sedan. And it’s been a while since the world’s had one of those.


Stupefying, yet smooth, pace

Stylish surfacing - inside and out

Benevolently accessible dynamics

Lack of temperament

Real luxury car ride quality


Lack of acoustic drama

Unnervingly light steering feel at first

You can't have one in British Racing Green...

Some of the switchgear feels cheaper than it should

Oversteer bias not for inexperienced drivers


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