Jaguar XFR-S 2013: First Drive

words - Mike Sinclair
Jaguar's fastest four-door ever is more civilised and competent than its hot rod looks suggest

First drive
Seattle USA

What we liked
>> Sharp consistent steering
>> Great sounding engine
>> Good balance of grip, ride and handling

Not so much
>> Rear wing is a $3700 option
>> Charging warning light glitch

Somewhere between Jaguar’s head office and the dealership, this car got hijacked. And I reckon I’ve narrowed who did it down to two parties. Fess up, was it the Clayton Crew, HSV, or, those Broadies Boys at FPV?

At the risk of offending, the XFR-S, Jaguar’s ultimate expression of a sporting sedan and its fastest four-door ever, looks all the world like an Aussie performance hotrod. Gaping inlets at the front; power bulge (and vents!) on the bonnet; and that V8Supercar refugee rear wing... The resemblance is such that at some angles you have to look hard to register The Leaper’s presence.

Is there anything wrong with that? We guess not. All the work of Jaguar’s own high performance boffins, the new in-your-face XFR-S is arguably proof positive that our home-grown heroes haven’t been as off the pace as some might suggest. Cue comment explosion...

That’s about where the resemblance stops, however. The XFR-S may look like a racecar, but it’s possessed of a level of refinement and civility that locals are still working towards. Indeed, in terms of how this car rides on less than perfect roads, and the general polish of the R-S, it might be time for some even more fancied German rivals to rethink some aspects of their offering.

Unlike the exterior styling, the key to the R-S’s performance (and there’s plenty!) are subtle, rather than wholesale, changes. In the traditional sense it’s tuning rather than transplants that make the difference between the R-S and its more pedestrian brethren – with a couple of qualifications.

The XFR-S shares the same basis eight-speed ZF gearbox with the XF/XFR, but in this case a sharper, more aggressive shift strategy is enacted. It works.

The 5.0-litre supercharged V8 engine too is tuned, rather than having undergone any internal surgery. Instead, the XFR-S gets inlet and exhaust modification aimed at freeing up extra horsepower and the engine’s natural V8 soundtrack.

And it works. Indeed, no push-over in XFR form, the ‘new’ engine produces 405kW in the R-S, while torque too is boosted right across the rev range. From 2500-5000rpm the R-S pumps out more than the standard car. Peak is 680Nm.

The steel-spring suspension features stiffer bespoke settings (adaptive dampers are adjusted against 13 parameters 100 times per second) and the steering is tuned to the demands of sportier drivers. Again – they work. In particular the latter – the R-S steers better than any Jaguar we’ve driven in some time.

Under the car, it’s at the pointy end that the biggest hardware changes have been made. All-new cast alloy front uprights are almost twice the stiffness of the units they replace to deliver more consistent geometry and better resist the forces of a significantly stiffer suspension set-up.

A new electronic diff is not a match for a high-spec mechanical counterpart, but it’s a very good approximation. Did we mention the forged alloy 20-inch wheels, uprated 380mm, multi-piston Jaguar-branded braking package and specially-developed Pirelli P-Zero tyres?

Newly calibrated stability and traction control, with racetrack mode? Yep, they all work too…

We sampled the XFR-S during a short road and track drive program centred on the US Pacific NorthWest city of Seattle. Streaming wet conditions were hardly the perfect introduction to the challenging, sinuous and up and down 5.1km layout of the new Ridge Motorsport Park, but they went a long way to immediately instil a great level of confidence in the R-S. And the same could be said for the damp B and C-road drive loop.

Unlike some of the current crop of super sedans, the XFR-S retains a civility that ultimately makes it a better road car. Though there’s always a caveat in regards how tightly-suspended cars will perform on Australia’s less than perfect road surfaces, the XFR-S’s ability on the occasional frost and heave damaged Seattle backroads augurs well. For once grip and handling doesn’t equate to cart-hard spring rates and damping.

Indeed, with the possible exclusion of the ‘hero’ racing blue paintwork and racetrack rear wing (a $3700 option on Australian cars), the writer is close to nominating the XFR-S as the best super sedan of the current AMG/M/RS crop -- for grown-ups!

Indeed, all the good points of the latest updated cooking model XFs are retained and/or enhanced in the R-S variant.

Our single caveat in this ‘alignment’ of standard with super is an errant battery charge light that appeared during our R-S road drive. Aussies are still mistrustful of the reliability of Jaguar Land Rover products, though Jag is quick to point out significant improvements in both internal and external quality measures.

The interior is tastefully racey (I especially like the colour-coded seat and dash stitching) but there’s none of the over-the-top flat-bottomed steering wheel palaver some of the others insist upon. And at $222,545 it’s cheaper than the E63, M5 and RS6 with which it logically competes.

Our recent super sedan infographic highlighted the fact the R-S is down on all of the above in terms of outright performance, a function of its lower kW/tonne and Nm/tonne, but any shortfall of performance on the road is arguably academic – and countered by the Jaguar’s confidence-inspiring manners. And it’s hardly slow – 4.4sec 0-100km/h will satisfy most of the hotfoots, most of the time.

On an unfamiliar track the car felt sharp and a class smaller in terms of its overall demeanour and manners. We’d stop short of suggesting it could be driven with abandon (it’s still a 550hp car and that demands attention) but only the all-wheel drive Audi would have been easier to punt quickly.

All of this amounts to a solid thumbs-up for the R-S. Thus, given its overall polish, the real tragedy of the car is that so few drivers will get to experience it; it’s likely only a very small number will make it Down Under.
Outside of the UK, and against the might of the AMG and M brands, the XFR-S will simply struggle to gain acceptance. Given its real world ability, the fact that it’s not the current default choice for super sedan buyers is all the more reason for it to make your shortlist.

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Published : Friday, 16 August 2013
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