Jaguar's most powerful sedan ever is also one of its most convincing models - but is that enough?
The Jaguar XFR-S successfully ditches the British brand’s ye olde worlde image of the past by being a properly old school sports sedan.
Priced from $222,545, the Jaguar XFR-S takes the luxury-sports XFR as its base then twists the dial closer to what the ‘S’ part of the badge denotes. When the XFR launched locally in 2009 it cost almost as much as the XFR-S does now, but has since been repositioned at $189,900, leaving plenty of breathing room for the newcomer to flaunt its sporting wares.
In some ways a little repositioning was required, because the Jaguar XFR-S has to fight newer rivals such as the Audi RS6 Avant, BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz E63 S AMG – all of which have more than 400kW and cost less than $250K.
Comparing XFR with XFR-S, power from the 5.0-litre supercharged V8 engine has been cranked up from 375kW to 404kW (at 6500rpm) while torque shifts from 625Nm to a fuller 680Nm lathered on between 2500-5500rpm.
An eight-speed ZF automatic transmission transfers grunt to the rear wheels, where an enhanced electronic limited slip differential and 295mm-wide 20-inch Pirelli P Zero rubber attempts to put it to best use.
Using the 2007-vintage Jaguar XF as its base is no great issue, because the XF was such a strong design when it came out, a coupe-like sedan that still look classically beautiful today. An aggressive front bumper and machined alloy wheels do less to harm its looks than the ‘cop bait’ rear wing – to quote a Jaguar dealer – that is thankfully optional.
More of a concern is the lack of rear legroom for what is externally a full-size family sedan, and the 500-litre boot is about 10 per cent smaller than the class benchmarks.
There’s little difference from the XF and XFR inside, either, with the beefy and richly leather-trimmed sports buckets the comfort highlight, and the 825-watt 17-speaker Meridian sound system an aural delight.
The slabby dashboard has the same aluminium trim bits, cocktail blue lighting and acrobatic air vents – they sit flush with the dash when the air-con is off, and revolve to show the vents when switched on – as the regular models.
Betraying the cabin’s age, however, is the small seven-inch colour touchscreen. It has a lower resolution than its competitors, the graphics for the satellite navigation look cheap, the display can often be delayed following a press of a button and the infotainment system lacks internet, digital TV and radio, and app connectivity that is available on the competition.
Other technology available on rivals but unavailable on the Jaguar XFR-S includes active cruise control, collision warning and auto-braking, auto reverse-park assistance and auto boot-lid close.
In other respects the XFR-S is ‘vintage’ but not at all in a bad way.
Where the competition has moved from using non-turbocharged larger capacity engines to smaller engines with a turbo attached, the Jaguar uses a mechanical supercharger to boost its power and torque outputs.
For the driver, the difference in engineering hardware essentially means that with a supercharger there’s no ‘turbo lag’ between the press of the accelerator and reaction from the engine. From the first millimetres of throttle travel, it’s evident that the XFR-S feels keen to respond and edgy to get off the line.
In contrast to being old school with less technology, this is old school for the better.
For straight line acceleration Jaguar claims a 4.6 second 0-100km/h for the XFR-S, which is 0.3sec faster than the XFR but 0.7sec slower than the class-benchmark RS6 Avant. The eight-speed auto shifts adeptly and fluently, and in manual mode – via steering wheel mounted paddleshifters – is swift and obedient.
It’s less about sheer speed here and more about having a direct line of communication with the driver, something of which extends from the throttle to the steering response. The steering is light but tactile, and quite fast when entering tighter corners so the driver doesn’t have to cross their arms when committing to a turn.
The steering complements the car itself, which always feels light on its feet despite a 1987kg kerb weight that easily makes the XFR-S the heaviest car in its class – blame a platform that dates back to the 1999 S-Type.
The front-end of the XFR-S turns keenly into corners, aided by strong tyre grip. The communicative steering and throttle are great to a point, but attempt to expose all 404kW and 680Nm to the rear wheels and the electronic rear differential struggles to deal it all.
Electronic is the problem here. When cornering and one rear wheel lifts slightly more than the other, thereby reducing traction on that wheel, the XFR-S simply brakes that spinning wheel.
An M5 or E63 S AMG, by contrast, have a mechanical limited-slip differential that physically ensures both rear wheels always turn at the same speed, which makes the ‘break away’ point that starts a slight much more manageable.
Neither an XFR we’ve previously tested, nor the XFR-S tested here, have an electronic system that works anywhere near as well as the mechanical units in its competitors. Often the inside wheel can be heard spinning as the car lurches sideways to make it feel edgy near the limit. The stability control is liberally tuned, allowing sideways action in its Dynamic setting, yet it is adept at clamping down too-far moments.
Keep the XFR-S below eight-tenths commitment and it’s brilliant, but right at the point where its German rivals step up, the Jaguar falters. Get back to urban areas, and the suspension doesn’t quite deliver the plush ride of the XFR, being a bit too jiggly and taut. That its rivals all deliver a nicer ride especially makes life difficult for this car.
Therein lies the problem: in the comforts of isolation the Jaguar XFR-S feels like a brilliant premium sports sedan, but other rivals are simply even more convincing. The real bargain of the lot is actually now the regular XFR that costs $30K less, rides better and is only 0.3sec slower to 100km/h. It’s the Jaguar XF sedan we would buy.