In the pressure cooker that is a race track the Jaguar XFR-S feels like a scalded cat.
While the standard XFR remains largely placid in nature, in line with the regular XF range, the Jaguar XFR-S feels a fair bit more feral. It gets more power and torque, wider tyres, harder suspension, faster steering and a more relaxed stability control calibration, to name a few of the changes.
Priced at $222,545 the Jaguar XFR-S asks $32,645 more than the XFR, but it still slides in beneath its closest rivals, the Audi RS6 Avant ($225,000), BMW M5 ($230,000) and Mercedes-Benz E63 S AMG ($249,900).
Although the XFR-S is the fastest and most powerful Jaguar sedan ever produced, it isn’t, however, quite as quick as its rivals.
The 5.0-litre supercharged petrol V8 now produces 405kW of power at 6500rpm and 680Nm of torque delivered on a 2500-5500rpm plateau. Although that’s a 30kW/55Nm increase on the XFR, the change is purely down to a reworked engine management system and a new exhaust, with the R’s silencer replaced by essentially a straight pipe design in the R-S. The new front bumper with larger intakes feeds more air into the engine, while at the other end the (optional) rear wing forces more air down on the back of the car to increase stability.
While the XFR-S joins the exclusive ‘400 kilowatt club’ it can’t statistically match the 412kW M5 and RS6 Avant and 430kW E63 S AMG (and HSV GTS). Its 4.6 second 0-100km/h claim is also the slowest by at least two tenths.
Down the short main straight of The Ridge Motorsport Park on the outskirts of Seattle, in the USA, on-paper bragging rights are quickly forgotten.
The XFR-S howls loudly and the eight-speed ZF automatic transmission snaps crisply between upshifts, uninterrupting the pace.
With the dial flicked to ‘S’, the revised transmission now boasts the intuition to flick back through lower gears when jumping on the brakes, but uniquely in the XFR-S, corner recognition software means it won’t change up or down mid-corner.
Particularly after driving the Jaguar XJR on the same track beforehand, the quickness with which the XFR-S turns in is initially a surprise.
The XFR-S indeed gets faster steering, yet its on-centre feel remains excellent.
When winding on lock, the XFR-S perhaps doesn’t have the light, yet masterfully accurate steering of an E63 S AMG, feeling frationally too heavy for no good reason, though the Jaguar feels like it has the sharper front end.
It is possible to press the front end very hard into corners, at genuinely decent speed, but that also makes the rear end become light, and the handling response suddenly snappy.
With a shorter wheelbase than the XJR, the XFR-S feels like one frisky cat when attempting to play with it. In tighter bends especially there’s noticeable weight transfer after turn-in, and even brushing the throttle early swings the car into oversteer.
Compared with the XFR, the XFR-S gets a new rear subframe, revised front suspension knuckles and stiffer bushes; in fact, lateral stiffness is claimed to improve by 30 per cent compared with non-R-S models.
Jaguar hasn’t, however, fitted a proper mechanical limited-slip differential to the XFR-S, instead tuning the active electronic differential standard on the XFR.
It does a decent job, and can be felt working, but it largely replaces the trustworthy, progressive oversteer characterised by a mechanical LSD in the E63 AMG, for example, with a certain snappiness that reinforces that ‘scalded cat’ analogy.
At one point the inside wheel could be felt (and heard) spinning up when sliding out of a corner, too. The stability control system, though, is subtle even in its standard setting, and very relaxed in ‘Trac DSC’ mode, which is as it should be.
The characteristics of the Jaguar XFR-S were also highlighted by a flying lap alongside a professional driver the brand had hired for the day; the driver was in some cases wrestling back and forth with the steering wheel in attempt to cut a quick lap time.
The track itself is extremely challenging, with fast straights punctuated by tight bends, blind crests and plunging drops.
With that in mind, the Jaguar XFR-S performed superbly for what is a large, 1875kg sedan. The XFR-S never feels light, but it does feel surprisingly agile, and that is all the more impressive following the post-track drive home.
Despite being more focused than the XFR, the XFR-S does not feel hardcore on the road. (Jaguar essentially describes the ‘R-S’ philosophy as delivering the ultimate in road-going performance without reaching the absolute racetrack focus of the tier-higher ‘R-S GT’ models.)
The adaptive suspension’s Comfort mode tightens up the body movements compared with the XJR, and delivers astonishingly good ride quality for a car wearing 265mm/35-aspect front and 295mm/30-aspect rear 20-inch tyres.
Perhaps even more impressive is that switching to Dynamic mode – signalled by a chequered flag on the LCD display – doesn’t turn the ride to rubbish either. It is certainly firm, but comfortable and in tune with the car’s personality
The XFR-S sounds fantastic from the outside, but although Jaguar claims the quad exhausts are tuned to deliver more crackles and pops than the standard XFR or XJR, not enough of it funnels into the cabin.
This is especially disappointing as the air intake system is claimed to have been tuned to do just that, too.
As with the XJR, there is a fair amount of road noise, however.
The interior gets wonderfully supportive sports seats at the front, but as with the entire XF range, the XFR-S lacks headroom in the rear and offers only average legroom relative to other contenders in the large car class.
Bits of carbonfibre trim and coloured stitched leather do lift the cabin, however.
A 380W, 10-speaker Meridian sound system is also standard.
When the XFR was first released in 2009, it was billed as the British brand’s rival to the E63 AMG and M5, topping $200K. Having since been reshuffled in the range to be more a luxury-sports contender, the XFR-S is in many ways a round-two swing at the sports sedan heavy hitters.
Given that, the Jaguar XFR-S ultimately doesn’t offer the sound and the power-down of its rivals.
Note the cheaper price compared with those competitors, the still-wonderful on-road characteristics it possesses and the on-road presence it has, however, and the XFR-S is indeed a terrific all-round proposition.