Steady, fast Jaguar makes you purr
Jaguar’s new high-performance cars – the XJR and XFR-S – have the mark of German rivals
The sunlight strobing through the trees is a good start. It’s a warm, soft, golden light and the trees seem impossibly tall on both sides. Through the small gaps, we can see tall mountains, still snowy capped even at the beginning of a warm August. The look, to someone born and raised in a country with little enough in the way of true elevation changes, like a photo-real special effect. The road rises and falls, curves and straightens arhythmicaly in what would be a perfect impression of a race track, were it not for the double yellow lines up the middle and signs regularly warning us that the upcoming corner should only be taken a a sedate 10mph. Not in one of these, chum...
We’re in a Jaguar XFR-S. On our tail, looking suitably menacing in the mirrors, is the huge boot spoiler. It’s a rather outré addition for a normally conservative Jaguar, looking for all the world as if a WW1 Sopwith Camel has made an emergency landing on the bootlid.
That spoiler somewhat taints your initial impression of the XFR-S and it’s an impression reinforced by our first introduction being on a race track. The Ridge Park Motorsports track is a tight, fast and technical little circuit about a two hour drive from the centre of Seattle, where Jaguar has chosen to launch a pair of high performance machines. Pair? Oh yes, because for the first time in four years, since the launch of the current Jaguar XJ, there is a range topping XJR model, which shares the same 550hp supercharged V8 as the XFR-S.
Pulling out of the pits and onto the track, your first XFR-S impressions is, then, one of ‘hooligan’. An attention garnering, track-day special designed to be headline-bait for Jaguar as it seeks to build on its recent successes (global sales are up by a third, year to date). The track time just hammers that thought home.
For a four door saloon weighing nigh-on two tonnes, the XFR-S sticks its bespoke 20” Pirelli tyres deep into the Ridge Park tarmac and resolutely refuses to miss an apex. Tail-out silliness is there for the taking, but if you drive it right, it’s responsive and precise as no four door has a right to be. Even through the second-last corner; a 10-metre drop of a left-right homage to Laguna Seca’s infamous corkscrew, that feels as if you’re falling of the side of a tall building, the XFR-S is planted.
On the winding, tumbling roads north of Seattle, then, heading into the hills and crossing over rivers and streams it seems every thirty seconds, the XFR-S should be a hard-riding nightmare, a personal hell of bruised spine and tortured fillings. It’s not. It’s fluid and supple - firm, without doubt, but never falling into graceless bashing over bumps. True, American tarmac tends to be smoother than ours, but even on broken Irish blacktop, I reckon the S will be every bit as capable.