The cats got claws
The world of luxury saloons isn't innundated by their performance variants. Pity, because a car that can blend real world comfort with hyper performance is a rare thing indeed. Purists would argue, a sports car is a sports car and the intergity of sportscars shouldn't be diluted by creamy leather, an MP3 player, sat nav and air-conditioning. But spank a 5.0-litre superbly charged V8 with 500 horses and you can easily blow away a purist like leaves breaking away from a tree in a hurricane.
So when one of the most prolific sports car manufacturers on the planet gives an upgrade to their luxury saloon, you just grin and bear it. And that was exactly what I found myself doing inside the XFR, grinning from ear to ear. The XF I've driven in India, but an R at the end makes this experience surreal. At this point I'd like to dissect the XFR, this is very much the XF and from where I'm perched right now this does feel sporty though not much different from the car I drove for our road tests. There is a solitary 'R' stuck on the lower arm of the steering wheel, a supercharged motif on the dials and thats about the only difference I can see. In every other aspect these interiors - dashboard, seats, upholstery et all looks and feels familiar. This cabin has a sense of drama, the gear selector does the popping out of the woodwork bit (which never ceases to amaze me) and the ignition start/stop button does the dull heartbeat like throb. The dashboard for a model year change is still the same, the air-con vents, the interface screen, the buttons, its all familiar until you actually press down on the starter button and get taken back by the sharp bellow of the supercharged V8. This isnt familiar, it doesnt even sound friendly and for a sound so alien to a cabin this luxurious which will seat four comfortably I am beginning to like it already. Externally however a few changes unless you are a true Jaguar fan will go unnoticed. These are the subtly redesigned though substantially larger to look at bumpers at both ends with the front marked by massive air scoops and the new twin projector headlamps that are now swoopy and lose the kink in the middle. They also get the new signature J-Blade LED array that makes the entire headlamp look almost the same as the XJ though its not as slim and long.
The XFR is to Jaguar what the M series is to BMW and AMG to Mercedes and there's a whole slew of them, the XKR, the XJ Supersport and the XKR-S which you can read about on page 102. What the R does is add a performance pack to Jaguars standard road cars in the form of an uprated engine, suspension, drivetrain and in some cases aero bits.
However there being a limited choice of engines in the Jaguar fold, almost all of these performance saloons or coupes get the AJ-V8 Gen III supercharged engine which makes 510PS across the range. Except for the XKR-S which gets more horsepower, more torque and a bit more oomph.
What the XFR gets apart from the 510PS engine is Jaguar's drive control, adaptive dynamics and active diferential. Drive control allows you to select one of four dynamic stability modes. Y0u could opt for normal mode which provides the full range of stability control, winter mode allows progressive control in slippery conditions, TracDSC allows a bit more fun before it cuts in and stabilises the car while DSC off allows a lot more slip though traction control catches up with the car and corrects it at the very extreme.
Drive control also works together with the adaptive dynamics to offer a sportier feel. In dynamic mode which is activated when you press down the flag icon, the steering gets heavier, the gears shift quicker, the suspension damping rates get stiffer and act faster up to nearly 500 times per second , the engine uses an aggresively configured fuel map and the exhaust lets a few valves go on holiday to induce a Man Utd versus Chelsea drowning roar from those quad pipes that is quite splendid in note and body. Active differential on the other hand is where the game moves a notch higher, it vectors torque to the wheel that needs it, corrects wheel slip by increasing or reducing power and generally keeps the XFR unruffled.
So for a luxury sedan the unruffled bit is critical, but where's the fun in that? So switch off or turn on the various buttons that need switching on or turning off and give it the beans. The XFR explodes like a cat after pigeons! The supercharger unlike a turbo lacks lag and pounding hard on the throttle allows the mighty 625Nm of torque to give you a wedgie, when you're seated, in a leather wrapped seat! This intense shove is what makes the Jag quite unlike any of the German hyper saloon army. Jaguar claims the XFR will reach 100kmph in 4.8 seconds, thats a breath short of what the lighter and more powerful XKR-S will do though top speed is limited to just 250kmph. But coming back to the torque, the full brunt of which is available between 2500-5500rpm, this car will break into flight in any gear from ridiculosuly low speeds, in-gear acceleration is just breathtaking. Now see if the M's, AMG's and RS's of the world come close.
Yet ease some pressure off the throttle calm your nerves down and allow the XFR to potter along mirthlessly using the full range of its 6-speed automatic gearbox and it will instantly do what it also does very nicely, waft!
The XFR's adaptive damping however soft and cushy isn't to my liking. Even in dynamic mode there is some amount of residual body roll and softness in the damping. Unlike its German counterparts the suspension does not get rock hard on you and were I to drive this car on a track there would be a fair amount of understeer when you leave the full set of stability controls on. Switch them off and you can slap the rear end around till you get power slide drunk. Yet it is signifcantly more composed and dynamic than the standard XF.
Jaguar is contemplating getting the XFR to India and while I do like the thought of driving it here, there's only going to be that occasional once or twice when even I will lick its performance envelop. Most of the time I'd be perfectly happy to just sit back fiddle around with that fiddly infotainment system till I get the music to sound just right on the very talented Bowers and Wilkins system and let the normal drive mode soothe my frayed nerves in traffic.
The XFR is in no small measure spectacular, but in a class where the German performance cars have carved legendary staus, the XFR plays it rather diversely. Unlike the Germans it's a damn sight more comfortable and like the Germans it goes like stink. Jaguar then need not look any further for a more complete brand icon.