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.

With that 550bhp (and 680Nm of torque) it’s animal fast too. 0-100km/h is done in a BMW M5-matching 4.6-secs and the top speed as a ludicrously lofty 300km/h. Those figures would not have disgraced a mid-engined supercar not long ago. But, unlike the M5, you don’t drive every second in fear of both your life and your licence. The M5 feels beserk, savage. The XFR-S feels progressive, wieldy. Yes, the Munich Menace can deploy higher levels of power, technology and better consumption and emissions, but on a twisting, unfamiliar road, I’d rather have the XFR-S.

Well, truth be told I’d have the XJR. More expensive (it will cost around €190,000 compared to the XFR-S’ estimated €165,000) the XJR is one of those magical cars that seems to be worth more than the sum of its parts.

It’s bigger than the XFR-S, but lighter (by about 150kg depending on the equipment) and uses the same engine to the same effect. Same 0-100kmh time. Same 11.6-litres per 100km fuel consumption. Same Co2 emissions of 270g/km. Only the top speed is different, with the XJR being limited to 280kmh. Hardly a deal-breaker?

It’s not as aggressive in its steering or its turn in as the XFR-S but the counterbalance of that is that it’s also slightly more languid and more relaxed when you don’t want to drive as if it’s the closing seconds of qualifying. Like the XFR-S, if feels less savage, more progressive in its power deliver than the AMG or M opposition, but is barely any slower, if at all, when pressing on. Also like its smaller brother, the sound quality is fantastic. A refined but still animalistic crackle and snarl - no lazy, woofling V8, this.

What Jaguar has accomplished here is noting ground breaking nor Earth shattering. Neither of these cars massively advances the cause of the automobile, nor do they outpace or outdo their key German opposition in technological terms. Both, though, are more satisfying and enjoyable to drive. The XFR-S has rarity and truly bespoke chassis tuning on its side, but it’s the smooth devastation of the XJR’s performance that wins the day for me.

The lowdown Jaguar XFR-S

ENGINE: 5.0-litre supercharged V8, 550hp @ 6,500rpm, 680Nm @ 2,500rpm

PERFORMANCE: 0-100km/h in 4.6secs

FUEL ECONOMY: Claimed 11.6 L/100km (24mpg)

EMISSIONS: 270g/km (motor tax €2,350)

PRICE FROM: €165,000 (approx)